2. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Letter to You from Andrey Sakharov

I transmit herewith Secretary Vance’s memorandum regarding the handling of Sakharov’s letter to you.2 The Secretary recommends: (1) that a response on your behalf be conveyed by him through the US Embassy in Moscow; (2) that Sakharov be told that in the future he can communicate his views to us through the Embassy, thereby providing him with the channel he requested.3

I have discussed the enclosed with Cy, and I feel this matter ought to be weighed very carefully. It could establish a dangerous precedent. [Page 4] Moreover, consideration might be given to alternative forms of response:

1. Since Sakharov’s letter was made public, our response will almost certainly become public. Because of that, perhaps less inflammatory to the Soviets would be a public release in Washington of a reply expressing your general sentiments on the issue. This avoids the problem posed by direct communication with a private citizen who is in opposition to his government.

2. There is a risk in the Secretary of State becoming too directly involved in such a communication because he will also soon be having direct negotiations with the Soviets. Thus, a general response by you, either through a public release or in the form of a private letter, might still be preferable.

Sakharov, who is a Nobel Prize Laureate, did write to you, and thus there is some justification for a response from you. For you not to respond might cause some to draw analogies with Ford and Solzhenitsyn.4

In any case, the proper channel in Moscow would be the Consul General (rather than the Ambassador), because Sakharov has been dealing with the Consul on other business which brings him to our Embassy.


Since all of the foregoing establishes troublesome precedents, irrespective of the nature of our response, I would recommend that this matter be more fully discussed with Cy before proceeding.

If, however, you wish to approve Secretary Vance’s recommendation, his proposed reply is at Tab A.

If you prefer, a public response in your name, a draft based on the Vance text, is attached at Tab B.5

[Page 5]

Tab C

Letter From Professor Andrei Sakharov to President Carter 6

Dear Mr. Carter,

It’s very important to defend those who suffer because of their unviolent struggle, for openness, for justice for destroyed rights of the other people. Our and your duty are to fight for them. I think that a lot depends from this struggle—trust between the people, trust to the high promises and in the final result—international security.

Here we have hard almost unbearable situation—not only in the USSR but also in all the countries of the Eastern Europe. Now, before the Belgrade meeting7 and in the conditions of the raising of the struggle for the human rights in the Western Europe and in the USSR, authorities not wishing to make any concessions towards the most necessary human rights (freedom of belief and information, freedom of conscience, freedom of the choice of the country of living etc), being not capable for the honest competition of the ideas, increase the repressions and make the attempts to comprometise (sic) the dissidents; the persecution of the members of the Group of the Assistance to the fulfillment of the Helsinki Agreement in Moscow and Ukraine, and especially the provocation in Moscow subway, which should be resisted energetically (we compare it with the Reihstag (sic) fire in 1933 and killing of Kirov in 1936).8

It’s very important that USA President should continue the efforts for the release of those people who are already known to American public and that these efforts shouldn’t be useless. It is very important to continue fight for the heavily ill and women—political prisoners. (The detailed information about all of them is in Chronica-Press (Ed Klain).

I have serious problems with the communications. Telephone communications with the West is blockaded fully and no tel. calls reach me. It’s useless to go to the tel. station as I’m always told that my correspondent doesn’t answer. (I’m always closely watched.) This question is principly (sic) important for my public activity and for all the human [Page 6] rights movement in this country. I ask you to take some steps on the International level in connection with this.

For the urgent circumstances it is very important that I should have an channel to contact your country and your close advisers. I’m not going to abuse it, but one can imagine the situation when such line could be the most decisive—not only for us but also for your country. It is not unmodesty from me.

With Deep Respect

Andrey Sakharov9
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Name File, Box 3, Sakharov, Andrei, 2–3/77. Confidential. Sent for action. Carter wrote in the upper right-hand corner, “Zbig—Where is Cy’s proposed message—(att. 1)? J.” Carter wrote in his memoirs, “While improving diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union was an important goal of mine, I had made it clear in the campaign that I was not going to ignore Soviet abuse of human rights, as I believed some previous administrations had done.” (Keeping Faith, p. 146)
  2. Vance’s memorandum, January 30, is attached at tab A but not printed.
  3. Carter wrote “ok” in the margin adjacent to this paragraph then struck through it.
  4. Reference is to Kissinger’s advice to Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn in 1975 because he believed such a meeting would have a negative impact on U.S. relations with Soviet leaders. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 155.
  5. Tab B, the undated draft, is attached but not printed.
  6. No classification marking. Printed from a typed copy of an original English-language letter signed by Sakharov.
  7. Reference is to the first of three CSCE follow-up meetings held in Belgrade, October 1977–March 1978.
  8. References are to the Reichstag Fire in 1933, which resulted in greater political authority for Hitler after Communists were blamed for the incident, and Sergey Kirov’s assassination in 1934, believed to be ordered by Stalin.
  9. Printed from a copy that indicates Sakharov signed the original.