260. Letter From Secretary of State Vance to Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko1

Dear Mr. Minister:

I have carefully studied Ambassador Watson’s detailed report of his January 30 meeting2 with you and reflected on my discussions with Ambassador Dobrynin since his return from Moscow. Clearly there is a high risk of miscalculation between us. In order to avoid this danger, I am writing you privately and personally to make clear our actions and policies.

As the President stressed in his State of the Union message,3 the relationship between our two countries is the most critical factor in determining whether the world will live in peace or be engulfed in conflict. A series of events culminating in the Soviet actions in Afghanistan have brought us to a critical juncture in our relations. It is vital that both of us give sober and dispassionate consideration to the implications of the current situation for each side’s interests and the maintenance of world peace.

Despite the differing political convictions of our two countries, and because of the inherent competition between us, we have sought to establish common rules of behavior which would reduce the risk of [Page 747] conflict, and to search for areas of cooperation which would help produce a more stable world. I have hoped and believed that this might be possible. This will not be possible, however, unless both of us recognize the need to act with restraint in troubled areas across the globe. As events following your actions in Afghanistan make clear, unrestrained actions in any one area inevitably have an impact on our relations as a whole.

Our most serious concern at present centers in Southwest Asia. The presence of Soviet military forces in Afghanistan creates a new and more dangerous situation in that region. We do not know your ultimate aims in sending your forces into Afghanistan. We do know, however, that your action has violated the sovereignty of an independent nation.

The continued Soviet military presence in Afghanistan will inevitably continue to raise concerns about the desire of the Soviet Union to conquer and subjugate the Afghan people and the further possibility of Soviet military action against Pakistan and Iran. Both the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, and the precedent of their use there, are of serious concern to Pakistan and other states in the region. The Soviet action in Afghanistan and increasing Soviet military activity along the northwest border of Iran also generate apprehension about the possibility of Soviet actions to undermine the independence and territorial integrity of [Page 748] that country.

It should be evident that the prompt withdrawal of all Soviet military forces from Afghanistan is necessary to restore stability to this region. The actions of the United Nations and the Islamabad Conference of Islamic States4 have made it clear that most of the peoples of the world share this conviction.

For our part, we have no interest in seeing a government in Kabul hostile to the Soviet Union. A return to a neutral, non-aligned but genuinely independent Afghanistan would be in the interests of all and we would support such a development.

There are similar dangers in the Middle East and in particular the Persian Gulf. It is essential you understand that the United States has vital interests at stake in this region. We are prepared to defend those interests. But if there is restraint on both sides, as befits our two great nations, and respect for the independence and territorial integrity of the states in the region, our respective interests need not lead to confrontation. In this connection, I must note that the substantial Soviet/Cuban presence in the PDRY is a matter of grave concern to us and perhaps we should search for ways whereby we could reduce the possibility of confrontation.

The US has made clear that it supports the independence, unity, and territorial integrity of non-aligned Yugoslavia. In my discussion with Ambassador Dobrynin, he indicated that the Soviet Union does also. We welcome this position. We and our allies have no intention of interfering in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs and would view any effort to weaken Yugoslavia’s internal cohesion or undermine its independent foreign policy with gravest concern, as we understand you would.

In his State of the Union message, the President gave particular emphasis to the importance of SALT in the prevention of nuclear war. It is the President’s intention to press for the ratification of SALT II at the earliest moment that the political climate permits. In the meantime, as we have said privately and publicly, we believe that observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of the SALT I and SALT II treaties will be in the best interests of both our countries and will help to preserve world peace.

Mr. Minister, I look forward to any response you may wish to make on these matters and any clarification you may care to provide.

Sincerely yours,

Cyrus Vance
  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretary, Personal Files of Secretary Cyrus R. Vance, Lot 80D135, Box 4, Chronological Files—January 1980–May 1980. No classification marking. Vance’s stamped initials are in the upper right-hand corner of the letter.
  2. In telegram 1670 from Moscow, January 30, Watson described his two-and-a-half hour meeting with Gromyko, during which Gromyko responded to the U.S. démarche on bilateral relations and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files P900077–1625)
  3. For the text of Carter’s 1980 State of the Union address, see Public Papers: Carter, 1980–1981, Book I, pp. 114–180.
  4. The United Nations Security Council met six times between January 5 and 9 to address questions dealing with Afghanistan. For a summary of those meetings, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1980, pp. 297–302. The First Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers met in Islamabad from January 27 to 29. The first resolution of the conference condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, suspended the Afghan membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and called on all member states to suspend aid to the current Afghan regime.