President Reagan and Soviet dissident Natan Shcharansky met yesterday at the White House on the eve of the Jewish new year in what a senior U.S. official called a move to "keep the spotlight on efforts to increase the flow of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union and other human rights issues."
Shcharansky, who has been sharply critical of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, said afterward that Gorbachev "recognizes the power of the human rights issue." Under his leadership, "We will get more than any of his predecessors," Shcharansky predicted. But he said the Soviets will be content to make "gestures" rather than significantly increase the flow of emigration unless pressure on this issue continues from the West.
Shcharansky said several hundred thousand Jews have expressed a desire to emigrate and as many as a million might leave the Soviet Union if given an opportunity.
Reagan exchanged new year's greetings with Shcharansky and his wife, Avital, during a photo session at the White House. The president told the Shcharanskys that Secretary of State George P. Shultz stressed human rights issues in his meetings with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington last week.
Shultz was optimistic about human rights progress after these meetings, telling reporters that the Soviets had been receptive to U.S. proposals.
But Shcharansky said that he urged Reagan yesterday to keep putting pressure on Gorbachev to release political and religious dissidents. He also called on Americans not to be satisfied with the release of prominent dissidents.
"Our struggle continues, and we will not be satisfied with less than the freedom of all our people," Shcharansky said.
It was the third time Reagan had met with Shcharansky since the dissident's release from a Soviet prison last year.