While U.S. industrialists and government officials watched with dismay, Soviet Foreign Trade Minister Nikolai S. Patolichev put on a first waving denunciation of American policy earlier this week, culminating in the declaration that "we don't want your trade."
According to participants in the stormy private luncheon Monday at the Madison Hotel, Patolichev's ire was raised by a statement of Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) that congressional action to grant most-favored-nation status to the Soviet Union is unlikely without Soviet action to ease restrictions on Jewish emigration.
Raising his voice and his fist and sometimes pointing his finger, Patolichev mounted what a witness called a "Khrushchev-like" response. At one point he claimed that only 1 per cent of Soviet Jews wish to emigrate and at another point declared that "all you are concerned about is Jews."
Patolichev charged that "provocateurs" are trying to spoil U.S. Soviet relations by raising the emigration issue. He insisted that the Soviet Union does not need to do business with the United States, because there are other nations that can meet its needs. "We don't want your trade - we can live without it," Patolichev declared, according to participants.
The occasion for the session, which was intended to improve the climate for bilateral trade, was a luncheon meeting in patolichev's honor given by the executive board of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade and Economic Council Inc. Nearly two dozen chief executives of large U.S. corporations and financial institutions were present, including Donald M. Kendall of Pepsico, A.W. Clausen of the Bank of America and Irving Shapiro of Dupont. The organization was founded in June, 1973, to promote U.S.-Soviet economic ties.
Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury C. Fred Bergsten and State Department Soviet affairs consultant Marshall Shulman were also present, along with Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.) and Ribicoff. Long is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Ribicoff chairman of its international trade subcommittee.
In late 1974, Congress tied the granting of most-favored-nation trade benefits for the Soviet Union to freer emigration of Soviet Jews in the Jackson-Vanik amendment and also placed tight limits on Export-Import Bank credits for Soviet trade. The Soviet Union, which strongly objected to the congressional action, refused in turn to bring into force a U.S.-Soviet trade agreement signed in 1972.
Emigration of Soviet Jews dropped from about 35,000 in 1973 to some 13,000 last year. Some authorities believe the drop is due in major part to the Soviet reaction to the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has been condemned by Russian officials as discrimination and interference in their internal affairs.
Then-President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger strongly opposed the Jackson-Vanik amendment as counterproductive. President Carter, while a candidate for office, first called the amendment a mistake but later promised to implement it effectively. The Carter administration has not taken a clear position on repeal of the amendment.
At meetings here last week Patolichev informed U.S. officials that Russian imports of American non-agricultural products will drop sharply in 1977 and 1978 because of the trade and credit restrictions.A U.S. source quoted Patolichev as saying that the imports will be cut in half from the present level of about $800 million.
One of the participants in Monday's luncheon said Patolichev's remarks had been uncompromising but moderate in tone before Ribicoff rose to make a requested report on the legislative situation. This source interpreted Patolichev's denunciation as a relatively standard Russian means of showing displeasure through shock tactics.
"It was unusual from our point of view, but not so unusual from the Russian point of view," said this businessman. However, the incident cast a pall over the meeting of Americans and Russians leading to further pessimism about the chances for trade advances.