278. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Secretary of State Muskie and Foreign Minister Gromyko


  • U.S.
  • Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie
  • William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • Foreign Minister Andrey A. Gromyko
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter

Foreign Minister Gromyko opened the conversation by suggesting that he and Secretary Muskie conduct their talks in compact form since they did not have much time at their disposal. It was his understanding that there was no formal agenda for this meeting; thus they would be free to choose whatever topics they wanted to discuss.

Bilateral Relations

Gromyko thought he would be fully justified in asking a specific question in order to obtain Mr. Muskie’s reply to it in his capacity as Secretary of State of the United States: how was the Soviet leadership to understand why the U.S. Administration had decided to enter upon a path of serious disruption of the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union? Why had the U.S. Administration done so much to throw back these relations, throw them back a considerable distance, he would say, although in the Soviet view there were no reasons for such setbacks. That was his first question. Where did the U.S. Administration intend to lead matters with regard to Soviet-American relations?

The Secretary wanted to tell Gromyko first that the question of whether or not their present meeting should take place had been pending when he became Secretary of State. His own reaction had been based on his background as a legislator. It was important to explore each other’s positions, and, therefore, he was glad to be here. He thought he could answer Gromyko’s question best from his perspective as a member of the U.S. Senate and his reaction to the events which had [Page 808] led to the disruption of relations of which Gromyko had spoken. His answer would be based on the reaction of not only President Carter and the present Administration but also on the reaction of the Congress of the United States and the country at large. He would try to put his answer in as precise and clear terms as he could because he believed, as Gromyko did, that the answer to this question was central to everything else.

At the point of the events in Afghanistan, we were facing a very difficult challenge in the Senate in connection with ratification of the SALT agreement. If Gromyko could recall their meeting in Moscow in 1971 (and the Secretary felt that he had more reason to remember that meeting than Gromyko), he had even then been a supporter of SALT. He had to tell Gromyko that last year the prospects for ratification of the SALT Treaty, which initially had been quite good, had deteriorated during the summer, and the Administration faced the problem of picking the right time to put the issue to the Senate. Senator Byrd,2 the majority leader, had been for the Treaty, and Gromyko would recall that Senator Byrd had told him so last summer; the Secretary, too, was a supporter of the Treaty, and at that time a majority of senators, although perhaps not two-thirds, were in favor of the Treaty. The Senate leadership had decided that January of this year would be an appropriate time for consideration of SALT II and had cleared the Senate’s calendar of all other business, disposing of domestic issues in order to be ready to debate the Treaty in late January and early February, expecting that after several weeks of debate the Treaty would have a fighting chance of being ratified. The events in Iran3 had set us back in this respect, simply because Iran had stimulated and strengthened the conservative elements in the U.S., those who in any event were already opposing SALT. The events in Afghanistan destroyed any chance of getting a two-thirds majority for this very reason. The Soviet intervention with troops across the Afghan border had created doubts as to whether detente had the same meaning for the Soviet Union as it did for us. The belief became prevalent that the Soviet Union had changed direction in its foreign policy, thereby creating new risks and challenges for us. Afghanistan was geographically close to the Persian Gulf region, appeared to be a threat to the oil life line of the U.S. and the West, and in addition the Soviet action looked like pointing a dagger at the U.S. and the West. That was a real perception with which a politician simply had to deal.

The Secretary added that a lot of people in the U.S. still would like to see the SALT Treaty proceed toward ratification, but could not see [Page 809] any prospect of obtaining the necessary votes unless the Afghanistan problem was resolved. Even then, it would take some time to re-build the positive atmosphere which had been carefully built up by both sides during the decade since the Secretary had last seen Gromyko.

In that connection, we were aware that the calendar exerted certain pressures; that there were provisions in the SALT Treaty that would become outdated with the passage of time unless the Treaty was ratified this year or early next year. He believed it urgent for the sides to get back on track if at all possible.

There were other issues between us, such as Theater Nuclear Forces in Europe, SALT III, the CSCE Final Act Review in Madrid, MBFR, and others, all of which had a high priority. But, what stood in the way of possible support in connection with these problems was the problem of Afghanistan. The President as a politician had to respond to public opinion. When people feel as deeply as ours did as a result of this event, the President had to respond.

The Secretary wanted to add one other perspective. At the beginning of 1979 a lot of people in the Senate thought that we were on the right track, although a number of problems were still with us: economic problems which affect the entire world, SALT II, getting our federal budget under control, and several other critical domestic issues in the United States. There was therefore no disposition for us to be diverted by events abroad which exacerbated relations between us and the Soviet Union or anyone else. We had plenty of work to do. In addition, as a result of the SALT hearings in the Senate there was a perception that the Soviet Union had engaged in a massive expansion of its arms and that we had reached a point where we had to build our defenses in order to match the Soviet effort. This applied both to strategic and to conventional arms. In his position as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee the Secretary had not been able to achieve any success in curbing such tendencies. Therefore, even before Afghanistan, support in the Congress for defense spending had reached proportions we had not seen since Vietnam. That support had grown even further after Afghanistan. The Secretary was sure that Gromyko was familiar with similar tendencies in his own country: if the military has public support for a build-up of weapons (and that was really their job), it became very difficult to erode that support for economic reasons, to fight inflation by reductions in domestic spending. The whole situation had added burdens which we certainly did not welcome. It is with this background that the Secretary welcomed the present chance of talking with Gromyko, assuming that perhaps some misapprehension on the Soviet part with respect to our reaction to Afghanistan might be cleared up. What we might do about the Afghanistan problem was another matter; the Secretary had no answers and could only express the hope that out [Page 810] of these discussions might come some ideas that would lead in the direction of resolving the problem.

Gromyko said he fully understood that it was not an easy task to respond to the question he had asked at the very beginning of their present talk. To provide an objective response to that question it was necessary to refer to the actual facts which had a bearing on it. He would now recall some of these facts, which could not be refuted by the Secretary or the President or anyone else if the purpose was to arrive at an objective assessment of the present situation.

The first such fact was the following: several years ago the U.S. had undertaken a sharp escalation in the area of weapons. The question arose as to whether the U.S. had deliberately engaged in an increase of military spending at the very time when the Soviet Union at the U.N. in New York was proposing measures aimed at disarmament or at least at restraining the arms race, measures to be taken jointly by both states. In spite of that the U.S. had gathered with its allies in Washington and had taken the decision to engage in a sharp upsurge in military spending for many years ahead. This had come as a surprise for the Soviet leadership and not only for the Soviet leadership; this had been taken to mean that the U.S. was moving counter to all the efforts the Soviet Union had undertaken jointly with the U.S. and with other countries toward curbing an arms build-up and toward disarmament. And, he would point out, this had taken place long before Afghanistan. How was the Soviet Union to assess this fact? At that time there had not even been a hint of any problem in the Afghan situation. The second fact was that following the meeting between President Carter and Brezhnev in Vienna,4 the U.S. had promptly moved ahead with the decision to introduce large numbers of new weapons in Europe, weapons which were usually referred to as medium-range missiles, some of which, however, also had strategic significance, although, Gromyko strongly emphasized, in Vienna both sides had solemnly declared that approximate equality existed between the forces of the two sides. President Carter had spoken to that effect and Gromyko could assert that because he had been present. Brezhnev had said as much on this subject. As soon as the U.S. President had returned to Washington, it had turned out that what he had solemnly stated in Vienna was not at all in accord with reality, and what he said now had run counter to the statements he had made in Vienna. Official Washington took the position that it was necessary to introduce new weapons into Western Europe. Gromyko was sure that there could not be two different truths; there was only one. Where was the truth? Was it what the President had said in Vienna or what he had said in Washington? Gromyko stated emphat [Page 811] ically that the fact was that in Vienna he had expressed a generally objective assessment of the existing equality between the sides; i.e., the Soviet Union and the United States, while in Washington he took the position of striving for a military advantage for NATO and first and foremost for the United States. Gromyko would now cite a third fact; the Secretary had mentioned SALT II and while he, Gromyko, had intended to speak on this subject separately, he would present the third fact here. This fact was that the U.S. had undermined the Treaty. The U.S. Administration seemed to have been selling it, but it could be said that in fact it had buried the Treaty. This, too, happened before the events in Afghanistan. The U.S. Government invented a certain situation in Cuba, and this had made it very clear for the Soviet authorities that something was brewing in Washington. The Soviets understood then that the Cuban situation had been invented artificially for a specific purpose. It became clear that SALT II was being pigeon-holed for a long period of time and that the Senate had decided at an early stage to remove SALT II from its agenda. Leaving aside the fact that the U.S. had taken a very frivolous attitude toward an agreement that had been carefully arrived at as a result of lengthy negotiations, and had been signed by the two heads of state, the practical result of withdrawing SALT II from the ratification process had struck a severe blow at the relations between our two countries and had gone a long way to undermine the Soviet Union’s confidence and trust in the U.S. Administration, its words, and its agreements and understandings with the Soviet Union. Indeed, the U.S. Administration was acting quite frivolously—achieving understandings today and rejecting them tomorrow. Gromyko said that the Secretary might reply that in the U.S. the President, the Secretary of State, many officials and other people, among them the Secretary’s predecessor as well, had made speeches in favor of SALT II. It is true that some statements to that effect had been made, but they were of the kind that undermined rather than supported the substance of the Treaty.

These three facts were irrefutable; they could not be denied by anyone. All three taken together and, indeed, each one of them separately, constituted a well-rounded system designed for striking a severe blow at Soviet-American relations. Considering the role that the U.S. and the Soviet Union played in world affairs, such a severe blow could not but have a negative effect upon the international situation as a whole. This had already produced a strong effect: many people today are worried about their tomorrow. The Soviet leadership had the impression that there were some people in Washington who had completely lost their self-control, particularly in these days, when weapons of terrible destructiveness were in the hands of both sides. This was an entirely different situation from anything twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. The Soviet leadership asks itself how responsible statesmen could [Page 812] make such frivolous statements on a question of such vast importance for the entire world. Gromyko had no desire to name names today; the people he was referring to were well known to the Secretary, people who influenced the foreign policy of the United States directly or indirectly. If one analyzed the whole situation, one was forced to ask how all this could have come about. It was indeed true that not only the U.S. Administration, but also those forces in the U.S. which play a role in determining U.S. foreign policy had taken such views. How could it not be clear to them that the absence of friendly relations between our two countries would destroy detente and be contrary to the genuine interests of world peace? Here Gromyko wanted to emphasize in this first contact with Senator Muskie in his capacity as U.S. Secretary of State that the Soviet Union was equally interested in improving the international atmosphere, and its relations with the U.S., as was the U.S. He would ask the Secretary not to misunderstand: when the Soviet Union raises these questions and expresses concern, it is not standing there with outstretched hand, begging as it were. No, the Soviet Union proceeds from the premise that both countries are equally interested in basing their relations on equality and respect for each other. At the present time it appeared that the U.S. was proceeding from a different principle. It was trying to get an advantage over the Soviet Union, to outstrip the Soviet Union in its military might. Many skillfully worded official statements in the U.S. made this quite clear, failing to conceal this striving for superiority over the Soviet Union. Indeed, it is quite impossible to conceal something like that. The Soviet Union will not and cannot permit such superiority to develop. Perhaps some U.S. officials underestimated the capabilities and determination of the Soviet Union in this respect. They keep on trying to get an advantage, but the Soviet Union will not permit that to develop, whether in arms or other crucially important fields. He would say that there was no need for anyone in the U.S. to step on Soviet toes or seek to gain an advantage. This would hardly be a promising endeavor. If one looked at the entire history of Soviet-American relations, many presidents—Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and now Carter—not even to mention Franklin Roosevelt, for at that time our two countries were fighting on the same side—both our countries always benefited only when they conducted their relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect, when they did not try to gain an advantage over each other. It is only on this basis of equality that he wanted to and indeed could conduct our bilateral relations.

Gromyko noted that the Secretary had said before leaving Washington that at this meeting between them he would not intend to go into detail, but would want to speak in more general terms on matters of principle. Gromyko could only agree to such a way of proceeding. He had discussed this matter with L.I. Brezhnev personally and they [Page 813] had decided to let the Secretary know through the Soviet Embassy in Washington that they agreed to speak in terms of principle. That was indeed what they were doing now. Gromyko emphasized that if the most important principle of equality was adhered to in the conduct of our mutual relations, our two countries could move forward toward normalization. Should that principle be violated, however, it would be most damaging to both our countries, and here he was not speaking in terms of money only; not everything could be measured in terms of money. On that basis the Soviet people in general, its Party, its Central Committee, and its outstanding leader, L.I. Brezhnev personally, favored the development of normal relations with the U.S. and believed that hostility between us would not only be unreasonable but would also inflict major damage and involve enormous risk. Taking into account the enormous strength of each side there was no need to prove the enormity of the risk involved. The risk ensued from hostility, from the possibility that someone might not always carefully manage these forces. Gromyko would point out that he expected no profit or interest payments from propaganda efforts. Therefore, when he and his colleagues said that there was no reasonable alternative to peaceful relations between us, this was not propaganda, not by any means. In the Soviet view this represented a realistic assessment of the existing situation, and up to very recently U.S. political leaders had also made identical statements on this subject. He recalled the statement made by President Carter in Vienna last year—he had been present on that occasion.

Gromyko said that he intended to speak separately on the problem of Afghanistan, but would stop at this point in order to give the Secretary an opportunity to respond to what he had said so far.

The Secretary agreed to this way of proceeding: two words occurred to him to describe a problem which he supposed would always plague our two countries in dealing with each other. Both concepts resulted from our respective strengths. One of these words was “miscalculations”; the other was “misreading.” The Secretary intended to cover briefly the first three points Gromyko had made.

1.—defense spending,

2.—Pershing missiles, and


In discussing these issues he would not assume that he would be able to disabuse Gromyko of all misperceptions. As concerns NATO spending, he supposed that Gromyko had referred to the 3% real increase in spending each year over the next five years, which the NATO defense ministers had agreed upon two years ago. The fact was, of course, that with respect to the forces in Europe it has been difficult for opponents of such increases to prevail in view of the Soviet build-up and in view of the fact that the steps taken in the MBFR negotiations to [Page 814] reduce those forces had not succeeded. The NATO ministers were persuaded that the advantages gained by the Soviet side were of such an extent as to make it necessary to increase spending by NATO countries each year. Of course, the entire question had been a controversial subject in our Congress. Not all the NATO countries had met their commitment. There were some dissimilarities between NATO conventional forces vis-a-vis those of the Soviet Union, and it was these dissimilarities that the increases had been intended to correct. In our judgment at least, the kind of increases provided for would not constitute an offensive threat for the Soviet Union. Whether that level of spending can be sustained, of course, is a question and will to a large extent depend upon successful conclusion of the MBFR negotiations. As for the Pershing missiles, which had been developed long ago, the Secretary would only point to the development of Soviet SS–20 modern and advanced missiles, against which we did not have comparable weapons in Europe. The Secretary would also recall in this connection that the decision taken by the NATO countries December 12 last year involved weapons that were not covered by the SALT Treaty. Each side, of course, viewed this differently: we saw this in terms of the SS–20s deployed, while the Soviet side viewed this in terms of missiles that were not yet in place. We believed that it was entirely legitimate to discuss this issue and still supported such talks because whenever one side or the other goes ahead with new weapons systems, this was bound to raise questions on the other side. The asymmetries involved concern different defense requirements in view of the Soviet Union having a larger and stronger army. This was one of the complex questions—how to act with respect to requirements that were not symmetrical. The Secretary had the impression that in the SALT negotiations both sides had exercised a great deal of skill in dealing with such asymmetries.

As for SALT II, Gromyko had referred to the Senate’s decision to remove this issue from its agenda. In fact, however, no such decision had been taken.

As for Cuba, perhaps we had misread the situation in Cuba, but in any case this item had dealt a setback to ratification of SALT II. By the end of 1979 that perception had blown over and we had thought it possible to obtain ratification and were determined to do so. He could only assure Gromyko that this was so, although he realized it may take some time before Gromyko could accept that assurance as to the background of SALT II ratification.

As for the question of equality, the Secretary would tell Gromyko that he had long ago abandoned the notion mentioned by Gromyko that either side could win an arms race should we give each other the signal that arms control was no longer possible. However, he did not believe this to be the case. He was in a position to think back to World [Page 815] War II; in fact, he had been in it. Until the early 1960s we had been in a superior position in nuclear arms. A number of conflicts had arisen during the early 1960s (for example, the Cuban missile crisis), but that had not deterred us from seeking genuine arms control negotiations. It had not stopped us from understanding that equality and not superiority must be the test. We had watched the development of Soviet technology and knew what the Soviets could do. We had no desire or expectation that the Soviet Union would come to us as a petitioner as it were. It had come to us as an equal, and the Secretary accepted that and believed that the people of the U.S. had accepted that. The Secretary would add one other characteristic which rendered the situation most difficult: equality was a fact that can be recognized, while respect was something that had to be earned. Trust and confidence in each other’s intentions and motivations had been shaken. What Gromyko had said indicated that clearly. On the other hand, what the Secretary had said with respect to Afghanistan was that the situation there had also created these kinds of doubts. He agreed with Gromyko that normalization of relations served each of us better than any other basis. He did not know if there was any test of normalization of relations between the two superpowers. It was difficult to arrive at in view of our different cultures and histories. Whenever any nation has the kind of power that we each had, it was difficult to establish mutual trust. We knew that and believed the Soviet side knew that. Much could be said that would be useful for discussion at great length. The Secretary was glad that Gromyko had raised these points, because he had seen press reports about the concern in the Soviet Union with respect to our country. He would only suggest that Gromyko consider the situation thoroughly and use his experience in arriving at a judgment that he could convey to his people.

Gromyko said that before addressing the Afghanistan issue he wanted to make two or three points in connection with the questions the Secretary just discussed. The Secretary had alleged that the U.S. and NATO move to deploy medium-range missiles in Western Europe had been dictated by the deployment of SS–20 missiles. In this connection he had to tell the Secretary that this was not a new weapons system. The SS–20 was an old missile, but the Soviet Union was modernizing it; in brief, equipping it with MIRVs, although the overall yield of the missile remained the same. Thus, what NATO had done in Western Europe and in the Mediterranean was something entirely different. It had decided to deploy new missiles armed with nuclear weapons, which could reach deep into the territory of the USSR. Apart from that, he could recall a time when the U.S. did not have ships in the Mediterranean, armed with nuclear weapons that could also reach deep into the territory of the USSR. Now such a fleet was there, and so were U.S. air forces in the British Isles, also capable of reaching Soviet territory, not [Page 816] to mention the territory of Soviet allies such as Bulgaria, GDR, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. He would point out that Soviet SS–20 missiles cannot reach the territory of the U.S. and that this weapons system had not been designed for that purpose. Consequently, if there is equality in Europe at present, the balance works in the favor of the U.S.

Gromyko was sure that the Secretary knew all of this very well. Therefore, it seemed to him that when the Secretary was referring to Soviet actions, in particular deployment of SS–20s and alleged that these constituted a threat to NATO forces in Europe, he was convinced that the Secretary himself did not believe that Soviet arms or Soviet policy could be a threat to the U.S. and NATO. But, if that was so, he would ask the Secretary to put himself in his shoes and think objectively. As for the Soviets, since there was no basis for NATO’s decision, it had to ask very serious questions as to the purpose of some of the statements made in this connection. It was evident to Gromyko that such statements were made for the purpose of concealing NATO’s own actions. That was how the Soviet side assessed the situation, and he would ask the Secretary to look at it objectively.

Gromyko said that further, as far as strategic weapons were concerned, the U.S. was now planning to deploy the MX missile. He had to tell the Secretary that the Soviet Union had not yet reacted to those plans, that it had not yet had its say. The time will come when the Soviet side will have to say something about this system of strategic arms.

Further to the subject of strategic arms, Gromyko noted that some statements had been made, including one by the Secretary after entering upon his new duties, to the effect that SALT II had been suspended, but that the U.S. would like to have an understanding with the Soviet Union for both sides to observe the obligations under the SALT II Treaty as if it had entered into force. That was strange logic indeed. How could there be a situation when a treaty was not in force, but the parties to the treaty had to observe its provisions? No, it seemed to him that this could not be done. Those who made statements to the effect that a treaty not in effect obligated anyone to do something or other were probably the only ones in possession of the secret of how that could be accomplished.

Gromyko had a second point. Since he and the Secretary were speaking frankly he had to tell the Secretary something that might not be to his liking. It was a fact today that the Soviet Union did not fully trust the U.S., that if the two sides were to agree that they would observe the provisions of the Treaty, the Soviet side would not have full confidence that the U.S. side would do so, in view of what had been done by the U.S. side with respect to agreements and understandings [Page 817] concluded with the Soviet Union. This was all he had to say on the subject of arms.


Gromyko now wanted to turn to the subject of Afghanistan. He would deal with it in the context of how this problem had affected other problem areas between us. First of all, he would like to demonstrate the complete untenability and absurdity of an argument current in the U.S. today. He had not yet heard it from Secretary Muskie in so many words (in this respect being a new man was an advantage), but he had certainly heard many statements on the U.S. side to the effect that the Soviet Union wanted to dig in in Afghanistan. It was said that the Soviet Union wanted to occupy Afghanistan in order to target the oil-rich regions in the Gulf of Iran, thereby either depriving the U.S. of the possibility of buying Iranian oil, or making it more difficult to produce and to transport oil from the Persian Gulf to the U.S. Gromyko wanted to emphasize as strongly as he could that such a view was possible only as a result of a very low level of understanding of Soviet policy, a very low level indeed. Some people were talking of some sort of “Arc of Crisis” which started no one knew where and ended perhaps in Africa or perhaps even in the Atlantic. The Secretary should realize that such an “arc” existed only in the thinking and imagination of those who talked in this manner. The Soviet Union did not need any kind of Iranian oil. The very manner of looking at the question from this standpoint could only be regarded as schoolboyish, nothing more. He believed it important to explain the Soviet position on this subject to the Secretary. He did not know whether he would be able to convince the Secretary, but such was the Soviet position nevertheless. He would state it on behalf of the entire Soviet leadership and L.I. Brezhnev personally.

Now to the substance of the Afghanistan question. The Soviet Union had introduced its forces into Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan Government in order to assist it in repelling outside aggression against that country. That request had been made not only by the present Afghan leadership, but had also been made repeatedly earlier by Amin and before him by Taraki. The Soviet leadership had reflected on that request for a long period of time, hoping and expecting that the external intrusion would cease. Under the UN Charter such intervention could only be qualified as aggression. When the Soviet leadership saw that this aggression was being expanded, when it saw that forces were being trained and armed on the territory of Pakistan and then sent into Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had sent in its contingent of troops. The Secretary surely knew that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan runs through a mountainous region and that there were literally hundreds of passages through the unsecured border. Each year at [Page 818] least 100,000 people crossed through them. When forces crossed from Pakistan, where they had been armed and trained, the Soviet Union had come to the conclusion that it must send in its own forces to put an end to the threat to Afghan independence. At the very outset, the Soviet Union had stated that as soon as the reasons for which it had sent in its forces ceased to exist, and as soon as the Afghan Government was in a position to ensure its country’s independence, the limited Soviet troop contingent would be withdrawn from the territory of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had stated that on the very first day of its action, and the U.S. Government had the text of the relevant Soviet statement. He would repeat that statement today and add that there was no need for the Soviet Union to say anything else in clarification. There had been no zigzags in Soviet policy. If anyone on the Western side believed that the Soviet Union would comply with the wishes expressed in several capitals, and withdraw its forces as a precondition for a political settlement in Afghanistan, he would have to tell the Secretary very frankly that those who had such expectations were very poorly informed of the actual situation. They had their heads in the clouds and were engaging in fantasy and unrealistic polemics.

Nevertheless, statements continue to be made, calling upon the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces. That is totally ruled out. He would repeat that as soon as aggression against Afghanistan from the territory of Pakistan and to a lesser extent from that of Iran was halted, the Soviet troop contingent would be withdrawn. He was availing himself of the opportunity to clarify Soviet policy for the Secretary.

Gromyko said that the Secretary might want to ask the question (and he had encountered such questions in his talks with others): was it really true that there was a massive invasion into Afghanistan from the territory of Pakistan or Iran for the purpose of fighting against the present Afghan regime? He would ask the Secretary to look into this matter more thoroughly. He would suggest that he ask President Carter and Zia ul-Haq, President of Pakistan, that he ask if there are dozens of camps on the territory of Pakistan where forces are being assembled, trained and equipped, and whether incursions into the territory of Afghanistan are taking place. Even President Carter had recently said publicly: “Yes, we do assist those forces and will continue to assist them.” He had called this assistance, but in fact it was a struggle against the regime in Afghanistan. President Zia had confirmed this and said that he was aware that this was taking place, but that he could do nothing to stop it. It was strange, indeed, that the President of Pakistan cannot stop all this, although it was taking place on the territory of his country; that he was unable to put his house in order. Gromyko wondered if the Soviet Union should offer its assistance to Zia to accomplish that purpose. However, he had not heard Zia make such a re [Page 819] quest of anyone. As for the domestic affairs of Afghanistan, one thing had to be said firmly: questions of the internal leadership of Afghanistan were internal affairs of that country and could only be resolved by the Afghans themselves. No one had the right to interfere in these matters. The President of Pakistan had said that he did not wish to negotiate with the President of Afghanistan, Babrak Karmal. Gromyko wondered whether Zia had asked himself the question of how many people liked the present leadership of Pakistan. Many people recalled that Zia himself had come to power at the point of a rifle or bayonet; but now Zia did not want to talk to these people, although people did talk to him. Gromyko wanted to emphasize that the core of this problem was that any settlement had to be arrived at in negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that there must be peace between these two countries. The Afghan leadership agreed with this premise and was prepared to enter into negotiations. Naturally, Iran must be involved as well, but first and foremost this was a matter of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just two days ago the Afghan leadership had once again made its proposal, but Zia says that he does not want to sit down at a table with them. Gromyko would urge the Secretary to try and persuade Zia to enter into negotiations. If he genuinely wished to settle this matter peacefully, Zia must be persuaded to enter into negotiations. The Soviet Union was certainly in favor of a political settlement, and believed that such a settlement was necessary and possible. Thus, it was necessary to persuade Zia. As soon as the invasion of Afghanistan was halted and a settlement reached, and relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran returned to a peaceful basis, Soviet forces would be withdrawn and Afghanistan’s neutrality would be guaranteed. Of course, guarantees would be required and, as Brezhnev had said, one such guarantor power could be the U.S., perhaps also the Soviet Union and some other countries. That question, too, should be discussed between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Gromyko could not understand why this was not acceptable to the U.S. He had explained his position to the Secretary. He had explained that the Soviet Union favored a peaceful solution, but no one should demand that Afghanistan conduct its affairs to suit some other capital, whether it be London or any other. In conclusion, he would point out that this was an internal matter for Afghanistan. He would urge the Secretary to reflect on this matter. In the Soviet view it was something well worth reflecting on. If such a course is followed and a settlement reached, the question of Afghanistan will simply disappear and disappear completely. It was currently being used in an artificial manner to stop progress on other issues. While the Secretary might not agree, Gromyko was certain that it can and must be resolved in a political manner.

There were two more issues Gromyko wanted to address briefly—China and Iran.

[Page 820]


This was one issue to which the Soviet Union had drawn attention repeatedly. L.I. Brezhnev had talked about it during his meeting with President Carter in Vienna last June. In effect the U.S. had now started to cooperate with China in a number of fields and to some extent at least—Gromyko did not know to what extent—in military areas. In the past U.S. Administrations had repeatedly stated to the Soviet leadership, including L.I. Brezhnev, that the U.S. would not endeavor to develop its relations with China to the detriment of its relations with the Soviet Union. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter had made statements to that effect. Today, however, the situation appears to be different. Gromyko could tell the Secretary that from the standpoint of our bilateral relations, both present and future, and also from the standpoint of the long-term prospects of world peace and the entire international situation, such a policy will be very harmful indeed. He felt there was no need to go into detail, except to point out that the very heart of China’s policy is a course toward war (in their dreams, a war between the United States and the Soviet Union). In fact, this is the main reason for the break between the Soviet Union and China. Soviet policy is a policy of peace, theirs a policy of war. Of late, the Chinese leadership has retouched their war-like statements to some extent, but their basic policy remains war-like and can have very dangerous consequences.

So much for China.


Turning to the question of Iran, Gromyko said that some political leaders had frequently asked him why the Soviet Union had not publicly advocated release of the American hostages,5 saying that this would ease tensions throughout the world. Gromyko would tell the Secretary that the Soviets had made very clear statements to the effect that the holding of U.S. hostages by Iran violates international law and all relevant international conventions. Moreover, the Soviet Union had undertaken a private demarche with the Iranian leadership through restricted channels, calling for the release of the American hostages. At the time of this demarche Washington had been informed to that effect; that was several months ago. But, instead of hearing thanks for its initiative, the Soviet leadership had heard nothing but an avalanche of unfriendly statements against the Soviet Union. True, there was a minor assistant who had expressed appreciation, in passing as it were, but the [Page 821] Soviet leadership had heard nothing from the President of the United States or from the Secretary of State. Let no one throw stones at the Soviet position with regard to hostages. But, the Secretary knew very well that the Soviet leadership did condemn military methods of liberating the hostages. It believed that such methods cannot help the United States and can only damage U.S. prestige. That also applies to the recent action undertaken by the United States. In his judgment, had the mission proceeded, it would have resulted in the death of all the hostages and probably in the death of many other people as well.

The Soviet Union did not need anything at all from Iran. Let Iran develop its own country peacefully and live in peace with all its neighbors and everyone else.


Gromyko wanted to add one additional thought with respect to Afghanistan. He would like the Secretary to know that the Soviet Union was in favor of Afghanistan being a non-aligned state, and that it had informed the Afghan leadership to this effect. Non-aligned status for Afghanistan fully suited the Soviet Union.

The Secretary noted that they had come to a very difficult problem. He believed that their discussion today could be most valuable if he were to convey to Gromyko a frank description of perceptions in the United States.

Gromyko had asked how a treaty could be in effect if it had not entered into force. He would point out that restraint does not require a treaty. It was obvious that restraint could not operate indefinitely in the absence of a treaty, but restraint might be useful for both sides; both sides would be taking risks. That was the reason why he and President Carter had made statements about mutual restraint pending ratification. That was a policy that they wanted the Soviet Union to consider. Neither of them regarded this as a substitute for the SALT Treaty but rather as an interim kind of measure. He recalled that something similar had been done during the negotiation of the Test Ban Treaty, i.e., the sides had exercised mutual restraint prior to signature of that Treaty.


With regard to Afghanistan the fact was that as a matter of geography many Americans viewed the Soviet move into Afghanistan as giving the Soviet Union the potential to interrupt our oil supply lines whether or not such was the intention of the Soviet Union. This was a very sensitive matter and as long as the Soviet Union appeared to possess such capability, it was bound to lead to apprehensions among the American people. After all, we were thousands of miles away from the Strait of Hormuz while the Soviets were just 200 miles away. This [Page 822] indicated clearly that even in the absence of any inimical intentions by the Soviet Union, its move into Afghanistan was regarded as a risk, whatever the reasons for it. He would add that in the Senate Budget Committee hearings a number of witnesses had appeared who were not at all in agreement regarding Soviet motives. Thus US concern in this regard was not a frivolous matter. If it were, we would not have acted that way.

As for the justification Gromyko had provided for the Soviet move into Afghanistan—if by massive arms intervention from the outside he had meant the involvement of U.S. forces, that was not a fact. He had to say that we were not yet persuaded that there was justification for the Soviet action. However, he had listened to what Gromyko had told him today. In fact, he had come here to listen.

Gromyko had also asserted that the Soviet Union had moved its troops into Afghanistan at the request of that country’s government. And yet, Amin, who had been President of Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet move had not survived. That appeared to us to be very strange indeed.

As for the precondition Gromyko had mentioned, the Secretary had simply stated the fact at the outset of the present talk that the problem of Afghanistan was a roadblock to the development of relations between us. It would not be hard to make a distinction between that statement and a statement concerning preconditions. He would only repeat that if this problem was not resolved, it would be very difficult to make progress elsewhere. Therefore, the failure to withdraw Soviet troops had to be regarded as the largest obstacle to resumption of detente. He would repeat that he had not spoken about a precondition, but had simply stated a fact. What formula could express this adequately remains a problem.

As for the proposal Gromyko had outlined today, it was the same proposal that had been offered by Afghanistan during the last two days. We had studied it and saw the biggest problem in legitimization of the government of Karmal. Such legitimization would give the Soviet Union full control as to the judgment when the reasons for Soviet intervention cease to exist. Therefore we had trouble with this proposal. He naturally intended to indicate to President Carter that he and Gromyko had discussed this proposal today.


Normalization of U.S. relations with China in the first instance was not directed against the Soviet Union. Before normalization the Secretary had led a Congressional delegation into China in the belief that it made sense for us to normalize our relations with that country. We were not contemplating any military alliance with China. Indeed, we [Page 823] had not sold any weapons to the Chinese and could see the risks involved in such a relationship. It was unfortunate that the situation in Afghanistan created pressures to develop a military relationship with China, although we had no intention to develop such a relationship. Our relations with the Chinese were aimed at assisting that country to modernize in peaceful areas. Gromyko surely was well aware of the fact that as part of our agreement with China we continue to provide arms to Taiwan. We agree with the Soviet Union that it would be unfortunate if pressures to develop that relationship continue.


The Secretary said that he was aware of Soviet support and opposition to taking hostages last January. He appreciated that support in spite of other difficult problems we have with each other. But he had to tell Gromyko that two questions were being raised in the United States in connection with Soviet actions with respect to Iran. First there was a feeling among some that the Tudeh Party of Iran was an instrument of Soviet policy in that country, and that part of the problem with the hostages was the fact that no one in Iran today had authority. The Iranians have not finished structuring their government; perhaps when they finish we might be able to do business with whoever emerges. Secondly, the Secretary had been told of radio broadcasts from the Soviet Union that were provocative in nature and fed anti-American feelings in Iran. He would make one final point in conclusion. The rescue effort we had undertaken was not regarded by us or intended as a military effort against Iran. It was strictly a rescue effort. It was his view that any government would be remiss in its responsibilities if it did not consider and implement efforts to rescue its citizens. It was unfortunate that our effort had failed, but no one could say with certainty what would have happened had it succeeded. In any case, the rescue effort had served a useful purpose in dispelling some of the frustrations felt by the American people. The hostages have now been held for more than six months and it must be clearly seen that the United States as a great power had displayed extraordinary patience toward a much smaller power such as Iran. The course of patience is what we must follow and hope that diplomatic contacts with Iranian authorities would demonstrate to them that their own best interests dictated release of the hostages. The Secretary did not know whether we will succeed or not. In any case, the failed effort had bought us some time. This was an election year in the United States and he did not know whether in the heat of the contest a policy of patience can survive. Gromyko knew who the contestants were and he could draw his own conclusions. Conservative opinion in the United States is on the rise and it has had its effect on questions involving detente, arms control, and defense spending. There are pressures on the President who is running for reelection and [Page 824] he cannot ignore those pressures. The Secretary suspected that he had been selected for the office of Secretary of State precisely because he had a political constituency that would take pressure off the President. He was willing to do that. In that spirit he had come to the present meeting in order to explore possible solutions. He hoped that its result would be more than simply he and Gromyko gaining confidence in each other. He hoped that some ideas for solutions would emerge from this meeting, enabling both sides to pick up the policy of detente, which in the Secretary’s view was the only sensible and serious course to follow. Both of them had said things to each other that were unpleasant, trying to be frank. Perhaps they would be able to communicate some of these sentiments to those they represented.


Gromyko first wanted to reply to the Secretary’s comments about the Tudeh Party. This was an internal domestic political force in Iran, and the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it. It seemed to be an old habit of political leaders in Washington to refer to special relationships between the Soviet Union and such forces as the Tudeh Party. He could only say that these political leaders were victims of their own inventions.

As for the Soviet radio broadcasts to Iran of which the Secretary has spoken, Gromyko could only point out that these broadcasts stated official Soviet policy, i.e., condemnation of the military means contemplated by the U.S., condemnation of the actions of the U.S. fleet of contemplated blockade and mining. That was official Soviet policy and it had been stated in the broadcasts. It was difficult for the Soviet Union to understand why such military actions were being contemplated or undertaken. In particular, the last rescue operation seemed to him to be contrary to the purposes the United States wanted to accomplish. Had it continued, it would surely have led to the death of all the hostages and perhaps many other people. It would surely be much better to get the hostages out alive. As for the broadcasts the Secretary had mentioned, if one were to compare these broadcasts with those the United States beamed at the Soviet Union, one could only come to the conclusion that if medals were awarded for hostile statements, the United States would walk away with all the medals. He would only ask the Secretary not to consider these to be Olympic medals since the United States obviously did not believe in the Olympics.

Gromyko said that the only policy toward Iran the Soviet Union was pursuing was aimed at seeing an independent, sovereign state, peacefully developing its own interests without any outside interference or intrusions.

Gromyko noted that they were now approaching the end of their conversation and surmised that each of them would probably be asked [Page 825] a lot of questions by representatives of the press. For himself, he would say that they had had a meaningful discussion, that they had discussed a number of important problems of Soviet-American relations, as well as a number of important international problems. Since this was the first meeting between the Foreign Ministers of our two countries in several months, it could be said that the meeting was necessary and he would express the hope that it will turn out to have been useful as well. Quite obviously, certain questions will continue to crop up between our two countries, but he would express the hope that the Secretary will reflect on what Gromyko had told him today and that he would find a way to provide a response through whatever channels were available to him.

The Secretary said that he would make a very similar statement to the press. In addition, he would say that he preferred not to discuss the details of this talk before reporting to President Carter. Of course, that will be somewhat more difficult for him than for Gromyko, for a number of press representatives were flying back to the U.S. on the Secretary’s plane. He would try to resist their pressure. He believed that it was very important for them to have had this talk. He had not expected that either of them would come up with proposals to which the other one could agree. But he believed it important that they each understand what the real problems with each other are so that they can work out proposals to resolve these problems.

Gromyko agreed with the Secretary’s view of the importance of their meeting today. He had believed that it would turn out to be useful, and he had been joined in this view by all his colleagues in the Soviet leadership, including L.I. Brezhnev, with whom he had a long talk just yesterday.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 61, Soviet Exchanges: 1/79–10/80. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting took place at the Hofburg. Muskie and Gromyko were in Vienna attending ceremonies celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty. An unknown hand wrote in the upper right-hand corner a May 23 note addressed to Brzezinski: “The approved version. Muskie has asked that it be very closely held.”
  2. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia).
  3. See footnote 2, Document 236.
  4. See Documents 199208.
  5. Reference is to the aborted, April 24, 1980, attempt to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran. Information about the Iranian hostage crisis and rescue attempt is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XI, Part 1 and Part 2, Iran: Hostage Crisis, November 1979–January 1981.