Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said today that he hopes for congressional repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which limits U.S. trade with the Soviet Union until the Soviets allow more Jews to emigrate.
The move, apparently a trial ballon, came at a press conference ending Vance's three-day visit to the Organization of American States General Assembly here. He said repeal of the amendment is "not likely in the near future," considering the current "climate" in Congress.
"However, I would hope that in time this could be done," he said.
In a brief reference to continuing negotiations with Panama on a new canal treaty, Vance said that he does not believe that the Carter administration could muster enough votes now for ratification by the Senate, where there is strong opposition to giving up U.S. control of the canal.
"We're got a lot of work to do in the Senate," Vance said, and he indicated that Carter will take the canal issue to the public. Vance said yesterday that he hoped the treaty negotiations would be completed by the end of this summer.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act tied most-favored-nation status for the Soviet Union to eased emigration of Soviet Jews.
Passage of the amendment was a major setback to U.S. Soviet detente, and since then relations between the two countries have generally been on a downward course.
The Soviets responded by refusing to bring it no force the U.S. Soviet trade agreement signed in 1974.
Some authorities believe that the amendment was directly responsible for the subsequent decrease in the number of Soviet Jews who have been allowed to emigrate, although its sponsors - Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and Rep Charles A. Vanik (D-Ohio) - insist that the decrease stems from other factors.
Monday Soviet foreign trade minister Nikolai Patolichev told American businessmen and government officials in Washington, "All you are concerned about is Jews," and in an angry reference to the three-year-old amendment, said: "We don't want your trade - we can live without it."
Earlier in his U.S. visit, Patolichev said Soviet imports of nonagricultural American products would decrease substantially from the current annual level of about $800 million.
Vance said today, "We heve not made the kind of progress [with the Soviet Union] in the field of trade that I would have hoped." Vance described trade as "an important underpinning of our relationship."
Vance did not indicate whether any initiative would be taken with Congress. An official, asked later to clarify Vance's remarks said:
"It will, of course, be up to the Soviet Union to improve the climate such that it might be possible to change the situation. It is not something that we can predict as to time."
Vance repeated earlier statements on the strategic-arms limitation talks, saying he has "no idea" whether it is possible to reach a new SALT agreement with the Soviets before the current accord expires Oct. 3. "We don't feel ourselves under a deadline," he said.
Most of Vance's comments concerned human rights, the issue that has dominated this year's OAS assembly. That domination, Vance said, shows that "The sensitivity of all parties has been greatly raised" - a process he described as "a very important step for [the OAS] and for the issue of human rights not only in this area, but throught the world."
Vance left the week-long conference today for an evening of talks in Trinidad and Tobago with Prime Minister Eric Williams, and is to return to Washington Friday. A spokesman characterized the overnight visit to the small Caribben nation as a positive way to show U.S. support for any nation, whatever its size, that has up-held democratic principles.
Vance has left in his wake a rising conflict that according to some OAS members, threatens to split the organization.
Advocating OAS passage of a resolution condemning human-rights violations, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ramon Escover Salom said that "if no substantively clear definition of human rights results" from this conference, it would mean that the "OAS is ineffective" for obtaining "the highest end of the Americas and the world."
Other delegations, however, including alleged rights violators Chile and Argentina, want an OAS resolution condemning Communist terrorism and essentially authorizingf governments to suspend human rights to combat it.
"If there is no resolution over terrorism," an Argentine delegate said, "it could be the end of the OAS."
Following a private meeting this morning with Vance, the Argentines said they would be willing to accept a single resolution condemning both terrorism and human-rights violations. Apparently pleased with the results of that meeting, an Argentine official said the two countries had agreed to "continue to exchange information."
The official said that Vance had not asked if and when Argentina would begin releasing or trying political prisoners, estimated to number in the thousands, or publish a list of uncharged prisoners currently being held.
Asked whether he had received any such assurances from military governments in Argentina, Uruguay or Chile, Vance told the press conference "I have been told the steps are intended which will improve the human-rights situation in various countries, and that they are sensitive to these problems. We shall have to wait and see what happens."