MOSCOW, JUNE 5 -- The Soviet legislature today postponed final approval of a law to relax emigration restrictions that is viewed by the Bush administration as a condition for ratification by Congress of a new U.S.-Soviet trade agreement.
Several Soviet lawmakers objected to the decision by the legislative leadership to delay consideration of the bill, saying that it could undermine American trust in the Soviet Union. The travel law would make it much easier for Soviet citizens to visit the West temporarily or emigrate permanently.
In other action, the legislature, or Supreme Soviet, decided to extend its spring session for a week to conclude important business, including consideration of a report by President Mikhail Gorbachev on his summit meeting with President Bush. The body will then recess until September.
Gorbachev flew back to Moscow from San Francisco with a brief refueling stop in Newfoundland, canceling earlier plans to visit the Soviet Far East. In addition to his mounting domestic problems, he faces a Warsaw Pact summit meeting in Moscow on Thursday that will be viewed by many as the end of an era of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe.
Since last July's Warsaw Pact summit in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, Communist dictators have been swept from power all over Eastern Europe. Their place has been taken by former dissidents and opposition leaders, several of whom already have begun negotiations with the Kremlin on final departure of Soviet troops from their countries.
Over the next few weeks, Gorbachev also will be faced with crucial decisions on the future of the ruling Communist Party and government moves toward a market economy. Many political analysts here expect that the party, which has held power in the Soviet Union for the past 73 years, will split into two or three rival groups at its forthcoming congress, which opens in Moscow in early July.
The government's economic reform plans, which triggered a wave of panic buying last week, have been effectively on hold during the Soviet leader's absence in the United States. The plan, which envisions sharp price increases beginning July 1 but only a gradual transition to a market economy, has attracted intense criticism from conservatives and radical reformists alike.
The chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Anatoly Lukyanov, offered little explanation today about why the travel law was not included on the legislature's agenda, telling members only that it was necessary to consider both the economic and political aspects of the bill before its final approval.
Arab countries have protested vigorously to the Kremlin about the bill, which would remove most obstacles to the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. At a press conference in Washington last week, Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union might be forced to review Jewish emigration unless Israel provided guarantees that Soviet Jews would not be settled on Arab lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The bill, which passed its first reading in the legislature last September, gives virtually any Soviet citizen the right to travel if he has no pending criminal charges against him, alimony obligations or recent knowledge of state secrets.
During the Washington summit, U.S. officials linked ratification of the U.S.-Soviet trade agreement signed by Gorbachev and Bush to final passage of the travel bill in Moscow. The bill originally had been scheduled to receive its final reading on the day Gorbachev arrived in Washington.
An ethnic-Russian legislator from Lithuania, Nikolai Medvedev, told the Supreme Soviet today that delay in passing the bill could lead to charges of Soviet cheating from Washington. "We won't be trusted. They will say, 'They made a promise, and again the Soviet Union is deceiving,' " he said.