US Plugs Away on Rights Issues

UNITED STATES and Soviet officials were already hard at work on human rights discussions before Secretary of State James Baker III flew into Moscow this morning. Richard Schifter, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, arrived early to begin working through the US lists of refuseniks (those who have been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union), alleged political prisoners, and divided families.

The US is still making its support for Moscow's hosting of an international human rights conference conditional on continued Soviet progress in these cases, and on changes in Soviet laws. France hosts the first of three annual human rights conferences agreed on in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Moscow is slated to host the third conference in 1991.

While the US will continue to press on individual cases, the ``institutionalization'' of new Soviet rhetoric and commitments to human rights is what the Bush administration is looking for.

The Soviets are working on a number of liberalized laws, some of which should be ready soon. The new emigration law, for example, is nearing completion. Privately, US officials have been offering feedback on Soviet revisions. But the proof will be in the pudding, they say. There are still more than 700 refuseniks and some two dozen divided families, the US says. The US also lists more than 100 political prisoners. About 25 are thought to be in psychiatric institutions. Some 80 to 85 people are believed in prison on criminal charges. The Soviets say about 30 to 35 of the latter cases are common criminals, and claim they cannot identify the others.

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