279. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

8339. Special encryption. Subject: Ambassador Watson’s Call on Foreign Minister Gromyko. Ref: (A) State 135799, (B) State 137543.2

1. (S-entire text)

2. Summary: I had a wide-ranging discussion with Gromyko on various issues affecting U.S.-Soviet relations and, drawing on Department’s instructions, made a general presentation of our views on these subjects. On the overall state of U.S.-Soviet relations, Gromyko repeated the Soviet position that responsibility for normalization of relations and repairing the damage is that of the United States administration. He took an uncompromising line on the Afghanistan question and urged the U.S. to “be more or less objective” so that “a common language can be found” to resolve this issue. He said the U.S. underestimated the significance of the May 14 Afghan proposal.3 On arms control negotiations, Gromyko claimed that both bilateral and multilateral negotiations were “terminated” by the U.S. before Afghanistan. While stating that the entire burden of blocking SALT II was on the U.S. side and that the Soviets do not place much hope on repeated U.S. statements of intent to have SALT II ratified, he voiced guarded optimism over “hints” of positive developments leading possibly to SALT II ratification. On the U.S. offer to negotiate mutual and equal limitations on LRTNF within the SALT III framework, Gromyko said this is not contrary to the Soviet position but that the way to do it was on the basis of the Soviet proposals for the cancellation or suspension of the NATO LRTNF decision and after SALT II ratification. He specifically rejected preliminary negotiations on TNF. He supported the Madrid CSCE Conference, but cautioned against anyone undermining the conference well in advance of its taking place. Concerning Iran, he repeated the Soviet position on diplomatic immunity, charged that the U.S. is ex [Page 827] ploiting the hostage issue more and more against the USSR and condemned the U.S. rescue attempt and any use of force in Iran. On Cuban refugees, he basically said that Cuba was free to choose its own policies and the U.S. was exploiting the issue for hostile purposes against Cuba. On Soviet media and official attacks against President Carter, Gromyko deflected the issue by stating that if a comparison was made, U.S. officials and media accounts would win “first place” in the intensity of criticism against Soviet officials.

At the end of Gromyko’s long presentation I said it would be useless to comment on each of the points he made and singled out some of his key statements for rebuttal. I made clear that since the beginning of our relationship with the Soviet Union there has not been anything to parallel their military invasion of Afghanistan which was recognized as a nonaligned state. The Soviet action has jeopardized the international situation to such an extent that the Soviet Union must live up to its responsibilities and a way must be found to make some forward movement, lest the situation become even more dangerous. I stressed that it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which forced the postponement of SALT II ratification, that the U.S. intent to pass SALT II at the appropriate time was real, and that our interest in preliminary negotiations of LRTNF within the SALT III framework was serious and could help relieve tensions. I pointed out the unilateral Soviet deployment of SS–20’s is the cause of the unbalance in European theater systems. Finally, I concluded that Gromyko’s allegations of the U.S. seeking unilateral strategic advantage were patently false. End summary.

3. I called on Foreign Minister Gromyko on May 25, at our request, and made a basic presentation based on Department’s instructions contained in reftels, which included U.S.-Soviet relations post-Afghanistan, arms control negotiations, Iran, Cuban refugees and attacks on President Carter by the Soviet media and officials. I also handed over our representation list of divided families and a shorter list of U.S. citizens and their families who wish to depart the Soviet Union. Gromyko asked that I proceed with my talking points and that he would respond after I had finished. He took notes on specific issues throughout the course of our meeting. I preceded my presentation by informing Gromyko that I would be leaving this week for the United States to testify before the SFRC on the state of our relations and expressed my appreciation for his meeting with me on such short notice. Gromyko was cordial and relaxed throughout the course of the meeting and made his remarks in a calm and reflective manner interspersed with instances of his well-known barbed wit.

4. Gromyko prefaced his remarks by stating that his government would reserve the right to make any additional response or comments, [Page 828] if necessary, after studying the substance of the points I had raised more fully. Gromyko then stated the following:

5. Afghanistan

You emphasize that Afghanistan is the main event which has brought about the deterioration in relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and which is responsible for the general deterioration in the international situation. We categorically reject this. We believe that the problem has been artificially exaggerated. Afghanistan is not the main problem, especially if it is viewed factually. In any event, Afghanistan should not be viewed as a problem resulting in negative consequences for U.S.-Soviet relations and for international relations in general. The U.S. completely distorts the meaning of Soviet actions and the introduction of Soviet forces into Afghanistan. We introduced those forces to help Afghanistan repel aggression and did so according to the UN Charter and our treaty with the Government and leadership of Afghanistan. We have not violated anything by that action and have acted in accordance with international law. We categorically reject all these distortions of the situation which are made by Washington. We shall withdraw our forces after we are requested to do so from the Afghan Government and, of course, if there is such a request. Also, our withdrawal is dependent on whether or not interference and intervention cease from Pakistan and Iran and they stop fighting against the legitimate Government of Afghanistan. The withdrawal of our forces will be accomplished also when an agreement is reached and it is guaranteed. The question of a withdrawal of our forces before that is beside the point. Those who raise such questions are wasting not only their time but our time. We have expressed our position publicly and Leonid Brezhnev has done so on more than one occasion. Our position has been explained to the United States and I repeated it the last time in my meeting with Secretary Muskie.4 Our position should be clear to you. Why does the U.S. continue to take such an unrealistic position on Afghanistan after all these explanations? We are aware of what Washington and the West wish to see happen (in Afghanistan) but are you prepared to take a realistic position? If the U.S. were prepared to be more or less objective, a common language can be found but, I repeat, only if you are prepared to look objectively at the situation and take an objective position.

Concerning the Afghan Proposal which was recently made and which the U.S. has been critical of, it seems to us that the U.S. underestimates the significance of that proposal. If you do wish to settle the situation around Afghanistan, your attitude would be different. The [Page 829] Afghan Proposal is aimed at normalizing the situation around Afghanistan, including Pakistan. It is a good basis for normalizing the situation.

6. Arms control

The U.S. alleges that the events in Afghanistan and Soviet activities had provoked some negative effect on negotiations that had taken place on arms control before Afghanistan. Indeed, there were negotiations in both the bilateral and multilateral fields but it was the U.S. that terminated them before that. Why did you do this? You must know the number of times the American side terminated negotiations because it did not want them. And all this before Afghanistan could have ever been thought up. That approach should be rejected.

7. As for SALT II, you are aware of our position. The entire burden of blocking the entry into force is on the U.S. side. The U.S. has made very many statements on SALT ratification. We have had promises, half-promises and quarter-promises. Therefore we don’t attach much weight to these promises. What comes out of these statements are nothing—zero. There have been hints given of positive developments. We will now see how the U.S. administration acts from now on. To be optimistic would be hasty on our part. Nevertheless, the entry into force of SALT II would be a major event and would contribute to U.S.-Soviet relations and the international situation as a whole.

8. On SALT III, it seems the U.S. administration believes it is possible to exchange views on medium-range systems. When the question arose lately on an exchange of views on SALT III, it was understood we could do so if SALT II was ratified. This is not contrary to our understanding. There are ways to resolve the question of medium-range systems in Europe and it is possible, but the way to do it is on the basis we have proposed. In order to resolve the problem without any long delay what is needed is to cancel the NATO decision or to officially suspend its implementation. Concerning preliminary negotiations, how can one separate preliminary and non-preliminary negotiations? What will be decided in these negotiations will be the same subject. Nothing will change if you call these negotiations preliminary. But you have removed the basis for these negotiations. Washington did not want those negotiations and the West has sought unilateral advantage. We want to work on the basis of the principle of equality. Leonid Brezhnev said that to Carter in the Vienna meeting and I repeated this to Muskie in Vienna. We cannot accept a situation where the U.S. seeks unilateral advantage. The idea of preliminary negotiations does not remove the barricades surrounding this problem.

9. U.S.-Soviet relations

Concerning actions which have allegedly harmed the fabric of U.S.-Soviet relations, this is a distortion of the situation. The responsi [Page 830] bility for normalizing and repairing the damage is that of the U.S. administration. It’s not Soviet actions which have damaged U.S.-Soviet relations or the Afghanistan problem. Rather, these relations have been damaged as a consequence of the U.S. administration’s frivolous actions, not to put it harder. The real reasons for the damage are not Afghanistan at all. One has the impression that Washington is trying to cram all the hard words it can into this issue. They understand our policy and character poorly in Washington. Before, they used to understand our policy and our character better and they viewed U.S.-Soviet relations more soberly. It is not we who are responsible for what has happened in our bilateral relationship.

10. Attacks on President Carter

It is not our style to be much interested in personalities and refer to them frequently in statements in our mass media. But there is an avalanche of anti-Soviet statements in the U.S. media and on the part of officials including those at the highest levels. We have no special interest in mentioning personalities like President Carter. From time to time some representatives of the President make references concerning us which, I can assure you, cannot be compared to what is done in the Soviet Union. You would certainly win first place on this issue. References are made in our media, but we do not take any official steps toward our press.

11. CSCE

We are for Madrid and wish it to be positive and successful. This depends, of course, if all the countries including the U.S. work for the success of the conference. But if any party wishes to undermine the conference well in advance, then it will have to bear its responsibility.

12. Iran

Briefly, our position on the hostages is well known. We condemn the arbitrary actions against diplomats. As I told Secretary Muskie, we sent private messages to the Iranians and informed Washington about that. The response of the U.S. administration was a rude and tactless reaction. We received the most hostile statements from Washington. We decided at that time that Washington was not thinking of putting the various elements of its policy together or that Washington was thinking of the matter in an entirely different way.

It would have been an elemental matter to explain one’s gratitude for our actions but, when we saw that our actions were not appreciated and that Washington was not interested in our assistance, we decided that the minimum behavior of the U.S. administration clearly deprived us of the opportunity to take another step on the hostage question. It is hard for us to act on that problem when it is used against the Soviet Union, and it is being directed more and more against the Soviet Union. [Page 831] The U.S. cannot really think that Washington’s camouflage can actually hide that aspect of U.S. actions.

We resolutely condemn U.S. military action against Iran and there can be no other approach. Iran did not invite you, you did yourself. No one objectively can agree to your military action. We resolutely condemn any use of force in Iran in any form.

13. Cuba

We are for having the Cubans resolve their emigration issue and problem themselves. They are free to resolve their emigration problem in their own way. It is an entirely different problem how one or another government may assess the Cuban Government’s policy. As far as we know, Cuba is doing nothing which goes beyond its sovereign rights. The U.S. is exploiting this question for hostile purposes against Cuba. This fact is demonstrated in the southern part of the United States, and especially in Florida facing Cuba. The U.S. is a big country. Why is this all necessary? These actions can backlash against your policy. U.S. policy can find no justification beginning with your presence in Guantanamo and ending with the emigrant issue. I will confine myself to these remarks on this issue.

14. Upon the completion of Gromyko’s remarks I told him that I would, of course, communicate what he said to my government and that it would be useless at this point to try to address each point he had made, many of which I took strong objection to. I then singled out some of his key statements for rebuttal and made the following comments.

15. Since the beginning of our relationship with the Soviet Union we think there has not been anything that parallels the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan which was recognized as a non-aligned state. I stressed the importance of the historical implications of the Soviet Union’s actions and that they had endangered international stability and peace. The Soviet Union must understand this. It is now necessary to find a way to make some progress in removing tensions lest the world situation become even more dangerous. In this respect the Soviet Union must live up to its responsibilities as a world power.

16. I questioned Gromyko’s remarks on U.S. termination of arms control negotiations. It was evident that withholding SALT II ratification was our decision and that we recognize our responsibility to move forward on that at the appropriate time. However, it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which forced the postponement of SALT ratification. Also, I was unaware of the U.S. unilaterally terminating any major arms control negotiations. Concerning TNF negotiations within the framework of SALT III, I stressed that what was important was to make forward movement in arms control negotiations wherever we can and, thereby, reduce tensions. That is why the U.S. is prepared to begin preliminary exchanges on TNF without preconditions or delay even before [Page 832] SALT II is ratified and SALT III begins. I pointed out that it was the Soviet deployment of SS–20’s which has given the Soviet Union a definite lead in theater nuclear weapons in Europe. Our theater systems would not be deployed until the mid-80’s. In effect, the whole purpose of our TNF decision was to establish equilibrium in Europe, which had been disrupted by unilateral Soviet deployments.

17. Concerning Gromyko’s remarks on our quest for unilateral advantage, I told him that his allegation was patently false. After spending two years on arms control matters, I saw no way that either side could successfully seek unilateral advantage in a thermonuclear environment.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 83, USSR: 5/80. Secret; Cherokee; Immediate, Nodis.
  2. Reference telegrams are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P910096–2034 and D800255–0782. Telegram 137543 to multiple posts, May 24, issued policy guidance when talking with Eastern European governments on the following issues: Afghanistan, U.S.-Soviet relations, U.S. relations with Eastern Europe, SALT, TNF, MBFR, CSCE, and Iran.
  3. The May 14 Afghan proposal is outlined in telegram Tosec 30031/127465 to Muskie in Vienna, May 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P890005–1914) The proposal, which was similar to earlier proposals, addressed issues of Soviet withdrawal, and was believed to be timed to influence the Islamic Conference.
  4. See Document 278.