In its quest to democratize the planet, Washington has invaded countries, funded fighters, convened high-level summits and pushed transcontinental trade pacts. Oddly, it has yet to "graduate" Ukraine from an antiquated human-rights measure that, if left in place, could slow the
spread of freedom in the former Soviet Union.

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, designed primarily to restrict Soviet exports to the U.S., remains a canker sore in U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Most every senior Ukrainian official, from President Viktor Yushchenko to Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, both of whom traveled to the United States this month, has called for lifting it.

This emphasis on Jackson-Vanik might seem to be misplaced; Ukraine gets annual waivers from the provision, so Ukrainians' access to U.S. markets is not curtailed. But it has political and symbolic meaning for a nation still struggling to overcome its Soviet past.

There is a widespread feeling among Ukrainians that their country cannot be considered "normal" as long as this remnant of the old days lingers.

Lifting Jackson-Vanik would cost the U.S. nothing. President George W. Bush has signaled support for taking action. So, too, have foreign-policy mavens, Republicans and Democrats alike, on Capitol Hill, as well as Sovietologists and Russia scholars at the State Department and the National Security Council.

So what's the holdup? Simply put, American democracy is getting in the way of democracy overseas. Parochial congressional interests -- involving everyone from chicken farmers to movie stars -- are stalling efforts, spearheaded by Republican Sen. John McCain and Rep. Henry Hyde and Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, to lift Jackson-Vanik from Ukraine.

While most everyone who cares about geopolitics and democracy in the former Soviet Union backs graduating Ukraine from Jackson-Vanik, some members of Congress have found the provision useful when bargaining with Kiev and other former Soviet capitals such as Moscow.

Case in point: In 2002, after Russia and Ukraine imposed quotas on U.S. poultry imports, Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden rescinded his support for lifting Jackson-Vanik.

Similarly, the Motion Picture Association wants authorities in Ukraine to protect intellectual property rights. American oil and gas executives want access to Ukraine's energy markets. And bankers, lawyers, hotel owners, car manufacturers, venture capitalists and other potential investors want
Ukraine's banking, torts and law-enforcement systems cleaned up so they meet Western standards of transparency and accountability.

All of these groups have, directly and indirectly, led lawmakers to take a cautious stance on lifting Jackson-Vanik. Their demands are reasonable, and Ukraine would be wise to listen to Western officials seeking to bring the ex-Soviet republic into the liberal fold. Nor can Sen. Biden and other lawmakers be blamed for representing the interests of their constituents.

But delaying an end to Jackson-Vanik -- for whatever reason -- would hinder the democratic transition by depriving Mr. Yushchenko of a much-needed political win and, possibly, complicating Ukraine's efforts to be admitted to the World Trade Organization.

This would be an ironic twist. Jackson-Vanik was never intended to be a bargaining chip for opening markets to U.S. business. It was meant to punish the Soviets for restricting Jewish emigration, and it did so by barring Moscow from gaining "most favored nation" status. In other words, Jackson-Vanik sought a human-rights end via trade-related means.

Never mind that the country Jackson-Vanik was intended for no longer exists. (A similar argument convinced many Republicans a few years back that the U.S. should pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.) What matters is that Jackson-Vanik, once meant to foster progress, now runs the distinct risk of impeding it.

Even Jewish groups concerned that Ukraine has yet to confront its past -- including support of many Ukrainians during World War II for Hitler's holocaust and the pogroms of the czarist and Soviet eras -- want Jackson-Vanik lifted now. Despite legitimate reservations, these groups recognize that it's time to take this step.

Consider the American Jewish Committee. An Aug. 2 letter from David Harris, the AJC's executive director, to all 535 members of Congress states: "The Jewish community has come a long way since the end of communism in 1991 and the re-establishment of Ukrainian independence....To be sure, some difficult issues remain.

First, there is still work to be done by the government in the matter of restitution of Jewish communal property. And second, manifestations of anti-Semitism, though condemned by the government and by no means unique to Ukraine in today's world, remain a matter of concern. Even so, the current vitality of the Jewish community is a remarkable sight to behold."

Referring to a recent trip taken by AJC representatives to Ukraine, Mr. Harris concludes: "One issue in particular on the minds of those officials with whom we met is the hope for graduation from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a goal we fully share."

Graduating Ukraine from Jackson-Vanik does not mean anti-Semitism is no longer a problem in Ukraine. It means helping an embattled leader continue doing what must be done -- razing the old regime and constructing a new economic order.

In a little more than five months, voters will decide whether they want this new order in important parliamentary elections. At stake is Ukraine's nascent democracy and, less obviously, reform movements in Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Central Asia; efforts to curb arms and drug trafficking; and the international struggle pitting the civilized world against terrorists and the criminal states propping them up.

"Lifting this amendment would send a positive signal to the Ukrainian people," said Sergiy Korsunsky, charge d'affaires at Ukraine's embassy in Washington. It would show, Mr. Korsunsky explained, that President Yushchenko is accomplishing something.

Mr. Yushchenko might be a flawed leader, but his aspirations overlap with the West's aspirations for Ukraine. That is what matters. By lifting Jackson-Vanik this year, before the parliamentary campaign begins in earnest, Washington would let everyone know that the Ukrainian president is not alone.
COMMENTARY: By Peter Savodnik
Political editor of the Hill newspaper
The Wall Street Journal Online (Europe)
The Action Ukraine Report

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