Secretary of State George P. Shultz charged yesterday that persecution of Jews and other minorities in the Soviet Union "seems to be getting worse" and that an increase in officially sanctioned anti-Semitism there is "alarming."
Shultz's unusually harsh comments about Soviet human rights abuses came on a day when the State Department also announced the suicide in a Soviet labor camp of a Ukrainian human rights activist, Yuriy Litvin. Officials said the two statements in the same day resulted from coincidence rather than any new decision to take Moscow to task publicly on such issues.
President Reagan, in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly last month and remarks connected with the subsequent White House visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, called for dialogue between Washington and Moscow and seemed to mute his public criticism of the Soviet Union.
Shultz, in a speech last week, said it is a U.S. obligation to "speak out" about human rights abuses in spite of the often expressed viewpoint, which Shultz cited, that such statements harm U.S.-Soviet relations.
On the negotiations front, Shultz was depicted by State Department officials as planning to see Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin in the near future to explore statements by Soviet President Konstantin U. Chernenko in a Washington Post interview last week. Chernenko suggested several actions in the arms-control field that Washington could take to improve Soviet-American relations.
Shultz's public remarks yesterday were in a breakfast address here to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, which presented him with an award for taking up the plight of Soviet Jews with Gromyko and other officials. Last night, actress Jane Fonda was scheduled to receive an award from the same group for her personal efforts on behalf of Ida Nudel, a Soviet citizen who has long been seeking to emigrate to Israel.
The secretary of state charged that Soviet human rights performance has been in the past "nothing more than the cynical manipulation of human lives for political purposes."
To back up his charge that the situation of Soviet Jews is worsening, Shultz said:
Four well-known Hebrew teachers have been arrested within the past two months "in what appears to be an intensifying campaign of repression aimed specifically at Jewish cultural activities."
An upsurge in officially sanctioned anti-Semitism, he said, includes cartoons and articles comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
The health of dissident Anatoly Shcharansky is "deteriorating" in a Soviet prison, where he is being held on "the blatantly false charge" of spying for the United States.
Soviet authorities are seeking to discourage many of those who wish to leave the country by threatening them with confinement in psychiatric hospitals, loss of their jobs and internal exile.
Shultz said Jewish emigration "has come to a virtual standstill," saying that just over 1,300 Jews were permitted to leave last year, which is about 2 percent of the 51,000 who left in the peak emigration year of 1979.
State Department spokesman John Hughes, in a separate statement, announced with "special sadness" the death of the Ukrainian activist in a Soviet prison, reportedly by suicide, sometime in August.
Hughes described Litvin as a poet and journalist who spent most of his life in prisons "due to his persistent and courageous struggle for human rights in the Ukraine." Hughes said Litvin was one of three prominent Ukrainian human rights activists to die in Soviet prisons in the past six months.