Vice President Mondale praised two leading Soviet dissidents yesterday, declaring that "those who seek to deny individual rights must answer for their actions to the court of world opinion."
Mondale's speech at the Anti-Defamation League's luncheon honoring Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Scharansky was an unflinching reaffirmation of the United State's commitment to human rights abroad, despite recent tension with the Soviet Union over the issue.
The Vice President avoided direct criticism of the Soviet, telling the 500 Jewish leaders that "this nation's commitment to human rights is not aimed at any country or ideology, or Political Philosophy, right or left."
However, in his tribute to the dissidents - one of whom, Scharansky, is in prison, accused to being a CIA agent - Mondale waded into a sensitive foreign relations area. The Soviet Union has made it plain that any U.S. interference in its internal affairs could jeopardize delicately balanced U.S.-Soviet relations.
President Carter has denied Scharansky was a CIA agent and has privately urged the Soviet Union not to bring him to trial.
Administration officials last week downplayed the international significance of Mondale's speech, saying the Vice President accepted the engagement mainly because of his personal friendship with ADL National Chairman Burton M. Joseph, a fellow Minnesotan.
However, the language of the mitment to human right may have flagged in recent months.
"Human right know no boundaries," Mondale said. "We cannot protect our freedom as Americans if we ignore those parts of the world which are not free. In our relations with other nations we cannot put our democratic ideals on a shelf in the name of some higher pragmatism without denying those very ideals."
"Human rights must not be this year's political vogue or today's fashions . . . Let no one doubt where the American people and this administration stand. We are committed to advancing the cause of human rights throughout the world."
The league applauded enthusistically the Vice President's pledge to "stand by Israel always," and his assertion that "our foreign aid bill will no longer be simply a blank check to be filled in without regard for the condition of individual rights."
The personal suffering endured by Soviet dissidents and their families was painfully illustrated yesterday when Natalia Scharansky stepped up to the podium to accept the ADL's human rights prize a medal and a check for $5,000, in her husband's name.
Breaking into tears, Mrs. Scharansky said in halting English, "I am sad speech seemed calculated to dispel continuing speculation here and abroad that the administration's commy husband is still in prison in Russia since March 15 . . . I want to thank you for all you have done. I ask you to do more. I want only to be with Anatoly in Jerusalm to begin our Jewish family."
The 26-year-old woman, a slight figure with close-cropped dark hair, was dwarfed in the immense Hyatt Regency ballroom, as she covered her face with both hands and sobbed. The audience stood and applauded until she recovered.
Mrs. Scharanksky was forced to emigrate to Isreal in 1973 without her husband, one day after their marriage, was refused permission to emigrate on the grounds that he knew state secrets. Before his arrest, he was a member of an unofficial group attempting to monitor Soviet human rights performance.
Mrs. Scharansky asked the ADL "to fight for Anatoly's freedom as you fought against the Arab boycott and discrimination, to use your influence to free Anatoly." Sobbing again, she added. "Mr. Vice President, friends, help me. Help me to have my husband free and well in Israel. I believe the American government and the American people can help, must help. Please help."
As many in the audience cried themselves, Mondale praised her "moving and eloquent plea for social justice." He told her, "We love and respect you. Your message speaks to the whole cause of human rights. It is one I will personally report to the president following this meeting."
The Vice President said of Scharansky, "The American people feel a special bond with this good and decent man. We are a nation of immigrants. Most of our parents or grandparents made a vouage to freedom such as the one he seeks to make."
Mondale also praised Sakharov, the Nobel peace laureate, "whose passion of peace, and for a world forever free from the threat of nuclear destruction, is matched only by the quiet eloquence of his passion for human rights."
Sakharov, an eminent physicist who helped build the Soviet hydrogen bomb, has been a passionate leader of Soviet dissidents. In a message smuggled out of Russia a few weeks ago, Sakharov told the league, "A continuous slandersous campaign is conducted against [dissidents] using any and every pretense, and if they are prosecuted, the charges are always false . . . The Soviet authorities do not shun the most brutal forms of violence and lawlessness."