Neither, Mr. President, is Moscow the place for such a human rights meeting of the 35-nation Helsinki Pact. A conference in Moscow is a pat on Gorbachev's back for a job well done on human rights - an endorsement not of achievements, but of promises.
It is logical for human rights groups and knowledgeable members of the
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to visit Moscow to discuss human rights conditions with Soviet authorities - as occurred frequently in 1988. However, when people on the ambassadorial level and up
from 35 nations convene in Moscow to review human rights performance, it suggests the problem has been solved, and conveys the image of a worldwide stamp of approval.
It is odd that the administration justifies its decision to support the Moscow conference by telling us to trust Gorbachev's promises of instituting ''new laws respecting individual liberties." Gorbachev also promises a ''mechanism" to review all unsettled refusenik cases.
Before rushing in to forgive and forget, Secretary of State George Shultz and his successor James Baker 3d should pause to reflect that political and religious dissenters still languish in Soviet jails and psychiatric hospitals.
We cannot be sure of the numbers. Only Moscow knows.
By going to Moscow, surely we are breaking faith with these victims of Soviet repression, and we're also breaking our own promises. According to the standards set by U.S. negotiators, Moscow would be eligible for a 1991 international human rights conference if it releases all political and religious prisoners and gives permission for all refuseniks to emigrate.
Apparently, the administration is satisfied that Moscow has met these conditions. Some people are not, such as Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who are chairman and co-chairman of the CSCE. In a series of letters to Shultz, Hoyer and DeConcini noted that the Moscow conference was moving forward despite the fact that numerous innocents were still in captivity.
In another letter to Shultz, Hoyer and DeConcini mentioned two specific cases. Two refuseniks, one who is terminally ill with cancer, were refused permission to leave the Soviet Union. They wrote, "We find these refusals an inconsistent and disturbing contradiction to the attitudes displayed by Soviet officials with whom we met during our trip." (Hoyer and DeConcini and high- level commerce and defense department officials visited Moscow last November as part of an official CSCE mission to investigate Soviet human rights practices.)
Indeed, "inconsistent" is precisely what we can expect from a system whose reforms are so reversible and arbitrary. Even in the warmth of glasnost, are Soviet citizens free to vote, organize political parties, form labor unions, travel, speak their minds, worship their religion of choice?
The answer is no to all the above. Is this the proper atmosphere for a prestigious international CSCE review conference on human rights performance?
As of now, human rights progress in the Soviet Union is based not on legislation safeguarding Soviet citizens against persecution, but rather on the whims of one man, who desperately needs Western money to liven a failing economy.
For the sake of Western trade, the Soviets have been willing to offer human rights concessions here and there. They have been willing to release some - certainly not all - of their falsely-accused prisoners, bartering, it appears, Soviet hostages for Western good will and financing.
Such "compliance" with "human rights" hardly deserves our blessing. It is noteworthy that dissident Soviet writer, Sergei I. Grigoryants said recently: "Right now, the situation with human rights is getting worse." He had just spent four weeks in a jail cell after a demonstration calling for freedom in Armenia.
Shultz says that if the Soviets don't live up to their end of the bargain, the United States won't go to Moscow. Do we then face the prospect of the Soviet Union playing host to a world conference on human rights, absent the United States?
There should be international conferences on human rights, but in Paris and Copenhagen. Not Moscow. Moscow is not the place.