268. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

The conversation started with Dobrynin expressing considerable pessimism about the longer range trends in U.S.-Soviet relations. He feels that we are on a spiral—that both sides are becoming increasingly antagonistic, and that he does not see much prospect for an early improvement.

I suspect that this was a deliberate line designed to “smoke me out.” I made the point in response that he may well be right, but that what happens this year in U.S.-Soviet relations is likely to influence a great deal the next four years. This is why we both have an obligation to see if something could not be done in the near future to reverse the negative trends set in motion by the Soviet action in Afghanistan.

Substance

The discussion then turned more specifically to the question of Afghanistan. Dobrynin spoke at some length, reviewing recent history. He said that the Soviets had no intention of moving into Afghanistan but the deteriorating situation gave them no choice. (Incidentally, he told me that Babrak returned secretly to Kabul in October of last year.)

The Soviets have no intention of dominating the region according to him and will withdraw once a “stable government” has been created. He put a lot of emphasis on organizing a new Afghanistan army which will carry on once the Soviets have left. In response to a question, he indicated that it may be up to a year or so before the Soviets can leave, but he professed great optimism about their capacity to crush the resistance.

He said that the Soviet Union would be willing to give guarantees to us that it has no designs against Pakistan and Iran.

I responded by saying that the key issue is whether the Soviet Union insists on imposing a Communist government on Afghanistan or whether it desires an Afghanistan that is genuinely non-aligned and non-hostile to the Soviet Union. If it is the former, conflicts between us [Page 773]will persist because it will require the Soviet army to maintain such a regime. But if it is the latter, I am sure that we could work out international arrangements, including transitionally some neutral forces from Moslem countries to assure Afghanistan’s genuine neutrality. Communists could participate in such a government, even if they could not dominate it. (I cited Finland as an example.) In effect, the Soviets have to decide whether their objective is to make Afghanistan into a Mongolia or whether they can live with an Asian variant of Finland. In the latter case, there could be a relatively quick upswing in U.S.-Soviet relations.

Dobrynin responded by saying that the above is a “harder” statement than made to Moscow by “some of your allies.” He gave me the impression that my position on this is also harder than he thought the U.S. position actually was. He maintained that his impression was that we would be satisfied with Soviet “guarantees” for the region and with Soviet departure after Afghanistan has become “stable.” Our allies are more interested in the region than in Afghanistan and the Soviets can assure us about the region.

I responded that the President in his letter to Tito2 made it clear that we saw neutralization and departure of the Soviet troops as linked, though we are not insisting that the latter is sequentially a precondition for the former. I drew his attention to the sentence in the letter which said that we would be prepared to enter into guarantees “with the prompt withdrawal of all Soviet troops” and I emphasized that the word “with” implied simultaneity.

I went on to say that the issue is not assurances but arrangements that can endure. If the Soviets insist on a Communist government in Kabul, the Soviet army will have to stay in Afghanistan for a long time and this has objective consequences not only for relations with us but for stability in the region.

At this point, Dobrynin seemed to hint that it is not to be excluded that there could be some change in the Afghani government and Babrak could become non-essential—though he immediately qualified this by saying that he is not in a position to negotiate on this subject with me.

I responded by saying that the creation of a genuine Afghani government need not be the point of departure for a solution because it is not our intention to humilitate the Soviet Union, but we do have to [Page 774]agree in advance on where we will end up (i.e. a genuinely neutral and independent Afghanistan) and then we can work on the steps of getting there. (I have to add that the hint about Babrak’s dispensability was quite vague and I am not certain whether it did indicate some flexibility on the Soviet part.)

Procedure

Dobrynin said that formal talks on the VanceGromyko level are premature. He thinks it is better to continue his discussions with Vance and occasionally perhaps with me, and then formal Vance-Gromyko talks can be held when the time is right. He thought it would be inappropriate to hold them at Tito’s funeral. He then referred disparagingly to the idea of sending Shulman as an emissary to Brezhnev, but I did not respond to his baiting.

Other Matters

On the Olympics, he did not respond to the possibility of postponement.

On this Administration, he asserted a similarity between its anti-Sovietism and Reagan’s, but I felt he was saying that for the record. I did talk to him about SALT and MBFR and reiterated our intention to pursue both. I told him flatly that we will not wage the Presidential campaign on an anti-Soviet basis but that we will also not rescind our current measures unless the situation in Afghanistan alters in a reasonable fashion.

He is leaving this weekend for Moscow and hopes to see Cy before he goes. He said he would call me if he has any afterthoughts, and he also urged me to do the same.

The whole evening was very cordial and also involved some exchange of personal gifts.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 19, U.S.S.R.—U.S.-Soviet Relations: 7/78–3/80. Secret. The meeting took place at Brzezinski’s residence. The initial “C” is written in the upper right-hand corner of the first page, indicating that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Carter’s February 26 letter to Tito addressed how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had changed the dynamic of détente and offered support to Yugoslavia as an independent and nonaligned country. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 22, Yugoslavia: President Josip Broz Tito, 6/79–2/80)