Rice, Thomas stand in way of Jackson-Vanik repeal: Weldon

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are to blame for the United States’ taking so long to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade measure from Ukraine, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) said in a recent interview.

Ten months after Ukrainians overthrew a regime widely regarded as corrupt and freely elected President Viktor Yushchenko, Weldon said, it is “embarrassing” that Washington has yet to take action.

The Jackson-Vanik provision, part of the 1974 Trade Act, was originally imposed on the Soviet Union to punish it for its refusal to let Jews emigrate to Israel and the United States.

The provision barred the Soviet Union — and, after the 1991 communist collapse, the 15 independent, post-Soviet states — from gaining most-favored-nation status.

Being a trade measure, Jackson-Vanik falls under the jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas has staked out no public position on the measure.

“It’s not the issue of trade,” said Weldon, who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “It’s the issue of respect. The president needs to call Bill Thomas and tell him to get it done.”

Asked if he had discussed the trade measure with Thomas — and why, almost a year after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, it remains in place — Weldon said: “If you talk to Thomas, he’ll tell you it’s Condi Rice.”

Weldon recalled that on a recent Air Force One trip with President Bush, the issue of Jackson-Vanik came up. Weldon said the president voiced full support for lifting Jackson-Vanik.

Ianthe Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Ways and Means Committee, declined to comment.

A State Department press officer noted that the last public comments made by a State Department official on Jackson-Vanik came in late July, when Daniel Fried, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, addressed the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats.

At that hearing, Fried reiterated the administration’s wish to move as rapidly as possible to lift Jackson-Vanik.

Weldon added: “It’s really an embarrassment that when Yushchenko was here we didn’t get that bill up on the floor.” The Ukrainian president visited the United States in early April; during his stop in the nation’s capital, he addressed a joint session of Congress.

While most members of the House International Relations Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee — Republicans and Democrats alike — support lifting Jackson-Vanik from Ukraine and Russia, some members believe the measure is a useful bargaining chip. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) switched his support for lifting the measure in 2002, after Russia imposed quotas on U.S. poultry imports.

In recent years, some of the post-Soviet states have been “graduated” from Jackson-Vanik. Others, such as Russia and Ukraine, receive yearly waivers.

While the trade measure has no direct economic impact, it retains symbolic power that, many Ukrainians insist, deters foreign companies from investing in the country.

During his trip to Washington last week, the new Ukrainian prime minister, Yuriy Yekhanurov, discussed Jackson-Vanik with Weldon and other U.S. officials.

Weldon hosted a breakfast for Yekhanurov while he was in Washington.

The issue of Jackson-Vanik, with Ukraine’s application to the World Trade Organization and its desire to obtain market-economy status from the United States, tops Kiev’s foreign-policy concerns.

Sergiy Korsunsky, the charg