MOSCOW, OCT. 22 -- Meeting with a group of people whose cases have become a fixture of U.S.-Soviet talks on human rights, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said tonight he had detected "some headway" on the issue.
Shultz made a brief stop at a gathering at the house of a U.S. diplomat to declare his support for a group of about 60 refuseniks, or people refused permission to leave the Soviet Union, and members of families divided by Soviet emgiration policies.
In comments this evening, Shultz and Richard Shifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights, noted some change in the Soviet approach to emigration, but Shifter stressed that "we still have a very, very hard road ahead."
Many in the crowd have not yet benefited from shifts in immigration policy. Some have waited more than 10 years for exit visas, denied because they or members of their families had once done work defined as secret by the authorities here.
According to Shifter, Soviet officials indicated today for the first time that a serious review of such cases is under way. He said he had been told that a new commission, announced last spring, started functioning last month.
"My conclusion was that the commission exists and that its process seems reasonable," he said. The commission has set a six-month deadline for a review of applications forwarded to it, Shifter said.
Several of those present tonight have applied to the commission. About 60 refuseniks were told recently that answers in their cases will be ready this month, according to Benjamin Charny, whose request for an exit visa was denied because of computer work done more than 17 years ago.
Tonight's scene was similar to one last April, when Shultz was here for another series of meetings. But this time, there were some notable absences. Vladimir Slepak, the long-time refusenik who was given a picture of his American grandson by Shultz in April, was absent tonight. He was at home preparing to leave the country after finally receiving a visa.
Slepak is one of several well-known refuseniks who have recently received visas. Another is Svetlana Braun, whose permission to leave was announced by the official news agency Tass several weeks ago.
But it was only today, after Shultz had met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, that Braun got word from the Moscow visa office that her visa was ready.
"Maybe if Shultz had not come today, they would have kept silent a longer time," said Braun, who has been waiting since August 1984 to join her husband, Keith Braun, in the United States.