271. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Department of State (Sonnenfeldt) to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • Talk with Vorontsov: Soviet SALT Proposal on Its Way; Angola; Moscow Embassy Radiation

Dobrynin’s Health

When I had Vorontsov in to discuss our various efforts regarding the attacks on and harassment of Soviet personnel and facilities in New York, I asked him about Dobrynin’s health. He said Dobrynin was now recuperating from severe flu and pneumonia and it would be some time before he returns.


I then asked whether this means a delay in their response on SALT. He said it did not. I kept Vorontsov back alone after our other business was complete to ask him more specifically about SALT and the stories out of his Embassy that there will be an agreement in two months. Vorontsov said he was expecting, possibly still today, a letter from Brezhnev to the President which, he thought, would advance the SALT dialogue. Vorontsov said he would contact you as soon as he has precise instructions. He added that our last position offered some possibility for discussion but “did not save enough face.” I simply said I hoped the Brezhnev letter would advance matters. Vorontsov said they hoped an agreement could be wrapped up before the election campaign got too far along, i.e., in May some time. (This in fact fits with the Embassy dope stories which thus would seem to be authorized.)

Joint Commissions

Vorontsov then asked why we were “killing” the joint commissions by cancelling meetings. I said our purpose was to remove high visibility activities from the line of fire at a time when we and the country at large were profoundly disturbed by Soviet/Cuban actions in Angola and, perhaps, beyond. Vorontsov said we should have explained to him what we were doing rather than launch a boisterous press campaign to the effect we were punishing the Soviets. I told him that the original press story was unauthorized, that our plan had been [Page 1020] for each cabinet or agency head involved to inform his Soviet counterpart and that we would then confirm the postponements.


Vorontsov said he had been repeatedly asked by Moscow why we were reacting as violently to Angola as we were. Vorontsov said he thought we were overreacting. They could understand that we should have been “sore” about “losing” in Angola, but now we were saying and doing things that really go to the core of our relations and this was unwise. Vorontsov said the Soviets have no intention to go beyond Angola and neither do the Cubans. Moreover, we should remember that the Soviets are poor colonizers and have been notably unsuccessful in remaining influential in African states.

I told Vorontsov that he sounded like me since I too regarded the Soviets as “lousy imperialists.” On the other hand, we were bound to react to Angola with deep concern. Not only had the Soviets, with Cuban troops, imposed a minority regime, but they were now implanted in the midst of a highly explosive situation in Southern Africa where they could greatly add to the turbulence. Vorontsov said we should relax; the Soviets would not get themselves dragged into the conflicts of the region. As for the Cubans, we really should not feel that they will conquer Africa and Asia, like Alexander the Great.

I said the best thing they could do was to get the Cubans out of Angola and to reduce their own role to a more normal one. Vorontsov said we should be patient. As for the Cubans, there was no way to simply tell them to pull out. Castro was a very mature man now and we could rest assured that what happens in Southern Africa will be done by Africans. I told Vorontsov that I did not find this reassuring. The Soviets and Cubans were there on the ground with thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks and other military equipment. Even with all the maturity in the world, they would find it hard to refrain from intervening and this was bound to give us the gravest concern.

Vorontsov said again that we were exaggerating the problem, that the Soviets had no intention to involve themselves beyond Angola and that the Cubans would eventually leave, though they would no doubt want to help the MPLA establish itself. Vorontsov said that all our warnings and threats might have been understandable when we first lost out in Angola but now they sounded like we were trying to whip up public sentiment against the USSR. I said we were profoundly concerned both by what had happened and by what might happen and want to be sure this was clearly recognized by all, at home and abroad. Vorontsov said we should remember that the Soviets had shown great restraint in the Middle East, where we had driven them out of Egypt and reduced their influence. In that area, the Soviets could have been [Page 1021] far more vigorous in their actions. So, we should not assume that they will be adventurous thousands of miles further away.

Moreover, there were no Soviet troops in Angola, nor would there be. We should also remember that détente was born under the bombs of the US falling on Hanoi and Haiphong in 1972; so it could thrive with Angola, also. I said those bombs covered our withdrawal from Vietnam, while the Soviets have established a new position where they never had interests and from which they could move forward. Vorontsov said they still have no interests there. (And so it went.)

The Election Campaign

Vorontsov then said that they had assumed that after the President had won a couple of primaries our emotional talk would subside. But now, even though Reagan was obviously out of it, they really could not account for what we were saying. I said that what the President and you had said was not for political purposes but reflected real concern. Vorontsov said they have concluded that the President will be re-elected and they were pleased by the prospect. But we really should not exaggerate the danger of Soviet, or Cuban, involvement in the further course of events in Southern Africa.

Moscow Signal

At the end, I asked Vorontsov when, or indeed whether we could expect a reply, in word and deed, to our response to their initiative on the Moscow Embassy radiation problem.2 He said he did not know but would inquire again; they had responded “in deed” by turning down the intensity. I said the problem remained both because of the health problem and because we are after all in an asymmetrical situation where they interfere with our Embassy and we do nothing to them. Vorontsov said there was nothing to jam in the Soviet Embassy, anyway. I said he should check with his intelligence types on that. Vorontsov then said that they were convinced there is no health hazard in Moscow. I said we cannot be so sure and are making careful medical checks. The situation on Stoessel was a painful illustration. Vorontsov agreed that health had to be taken seriously. I told him to use his influence in Moscow to get a response to our proposals since we continue to regard the problem as one of the utmost seriousness.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 7, Soviet Union, Jan–April 1976. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. On February 11, The New York Times reported concerns among Embassy employees in Moscow, as well as foreign diplomats, about the possible harmful effects of microwave radiation caused by Soviet listening devices. (“U.S. Radiation Report Worries Foreign Diplomats in Moscow,” p. 16) The Washington Post reported on February 27 that Ambassador Stoessel was suffering from anemia, possibly as a result of the radiation, and that the Department of State was sending a doctor to the Embassy to assess the risks. (“Health Test Set at U.S. Embassy,” p. A1)