President Bush said yesterday he would consider waiving U.S. trade restrictions and provide the Soviet Union with export credits to help reduce food shortages this winter.
Bush denied the possible shift in U.S. policy was a quid pro quo for Soviet backing of U.S. policies in the Persian Gulf, particularly its United Nations vote Thursday to authorize the use of force against Iraq. Those two issues, he said, are "totally separate and unrelated."
The president said he has asked top aides for recommendations by next week on how to deal with a 1974 law that denies the Soviets most-favored-nation trade status because of their restrictions on emigration.
Bush said he was undecided on whether to waive the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act and offer the Soviets export credits through the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp. The amendment denies such aid unless the Soviets have enacted laws that allow freedom of emigration.
The Soviets have been debating such law changes for months but have not approved the legislation. The Bush administration's policy for a year has been to withhold direct aid, export credits and other such direct help until the legislation is passed. Last week, Bush restated that policy, saying he would consider direct food aid if the Soviets asked for it but was not able, under the law, to go beyond that.
Yesterday, in a news conference devoted almost entirely to the gulf, Bush expressed a "willingness to entertain proposals for food, particularly if the reports prove to be accurate in terms of the severe winter and the hardship that this will inflict on the Soviet people."
On the question of giving the Soviets credits to buy food, Bush said, "It's an evolving . . . question here, and I don't know exactly what I am going to do."
The Jackson-Vanik amendment bars all export credits or credit guarantees to communist countries that restrict emigration and impposes tariffs on their exports to the United States.
"It has been my position that the Soviets should pass the necessary emigration legislation," Bush said. "That has not taken place. But some are saying that I now have a clearer waiver authority than I thought."
The Soviets have had U.S. credits previously, including a three-year package approved in 1972 that involved $750 million in credits for the purchase of U.S. grain. Only part of that was used before Jackson-Vanik was enacted.
Bush said the administration policy of sticking with trade restrictions had helped increase the emigration of Soviet Jews. "We've been steadfast in encouraging the exodus of Soviet Jews. And so that will weigh on my consideration when I get down to -- have to make this final decision about the waiver of Jackson-Vanik," he said.