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Rice strong on human rights,
Soviet Jewry advocates say

The Washington Jewish Week
January 4, 2001

New Jersey Jewish News
Condoleezza Rice, who is slated to serves as national security council adviser to President-elect George W. Bush.
WASHINGTON—Condoleezza Rice believes in power politics. Power matters, both the exercise of power by the United States and the ability of others to exercise it, she wrote in the Jan.-Feb. 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs. In that same article, she suggested that "humanitarian interests" should play less of a role in U.S. policy abroad than "national interest."

Yet, for all her realpolitik, Rice, who was tapped by President-elect George W. Bush to serve as his national security council adviser, also harbors a sensitivity for human rights.

So say several advocates of Soviet refuseniks and dissidents who worked with her in her first stint at the NSC under the former Bush administration.

"Condoleezza Rice had a very good track record on working with dissidents and human rights activists while she was at NSC," said Paul Goble, a former special adviser on Soviet national problems and Baltic affairs at the State Department, whose tenure there overlapped with hers.

"Both because of her own personal background and her commitment and beliefs, she has always been a strong proponent of individual human rights," added Goble, who now serves as director of communications and technology for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and publisher of RFE/RL Newsline.

Indeed, Rice brings both her personal experience and her professional training to these concerns. Born in segregated Birmingham, Ala., in 1954, she lost a young friend in the bombing of a black church there a decade later, the same year as the passage of the first Civil Rights Act.

In a speech last year to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Rice alluded to these events, suggesting that, given her roots in the segregationist South, she could not escape a poignant awareness of the U.S. civil rights movement.

It was also natural for Rice, a self-described "Europeanist" fluent in Russian, to take an interest in the struggle for human rights in the Soviet Union. Her expertise led to her two-year service at the NSC as a Russia specialist in the early '90s.

Micah Naftalin, the national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, has high praise for her performance there. He recalls meeting with Rice every two months or so on matters involving refuseniks and prisoners-an unparalleled level of access, in his experience.

"She was always available to brief us on what she knew or to hear what we knew," said Naftalin. "She was always extremely responsive, thoughtful, caring. She's a real standout."

Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ-Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, also worked with Rice during this period.

"I found her to be very straightforward, accessible, direct, and given her [academic] background, someone of great knowledge," he said.

Levin's contacts with Rice, he said, ranged from working on individual refusenik cases to anti-Semitism to the application of the Jackson-Vanic Amendment, linking U.S. trade relations with human rights, to the Soviet Union.

Jerome Shestack, a former U.S. ambassador for human rights under President Carter who now serves on the executive committee of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, views Rice as supportive of human rights across the board.

"I give her good grades as someone very sympathetic and very mindful of international human rights," Shestack said.

One longtime observer suggested that if Rice had a blind spot, it would be a lack of sympathy for group rights or self-determination of ethnic minoritiesDuring the next four years, this issue could surface in the former Soviet Union, the Balkans and the Middle East, among other regions.

Yet most who have dealt with her on human rights concerns, seem optimistic about the influence Rice will wield on U.S. policy. As Jewish communities face persecution in such volatile places as Russia or Iran, these advocates expect, at the least, a sympathetic ear.

"Human rights has been part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy-whether [regarding] Russia or the independent states-and I expect it will continue that way," said Levin.

© The Washington Jewish Week, 2001. May not be reproduced without written permission


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