281. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US-Soviet Relations


  • Alexander A. Bessmertnykh Minister-Counselor, Soviet Embassy
  • Marshall D. Shulman Special Adviser on Soviet Affairs to the Secretary of State

Muskie-Gromyko Meeting at Vienna2

Bessmertnykh said that before the meeting took place the Soviet side had been following with some apprehension the things that were said about the meeting beforehand. However, Bessmertnykh said that Gromyko had come away from the meeting itself with a good feeling and with a favorable impression of Muskie. He had found him an extremely intelligent man who presented the US positions in a very effective, reasoned, and non-irritating way.

Watson-Gromyko Meeting3

Bessmertnykh said there had been some puzzlement in Moscow as to why Ambassador Watson had been sent in to see Gromyko so soon after the Vienna meeting. It seemed to them that the Watson message reflected a hardening of the US position and they wondered if something had happened in the interval to produce this hardening.

I indicated that one of the purposes of the Watson meeting with Gromyko was to be sure that Gromyko did not have the impression that the American reaction to Afghanistan was primarily a function of the election season; Bessmertnykh assured me that neither Gromyko nor other high officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believe that this was so or thought that their troubles on this issue would be over after the election.

Negotiating Process

Bessmertnykh said that they had noted what the Secretary had said about the need to keep the channel open and they agreed with this, although it might be a while before the Afghanistan problem can be re[Page 835]solved. “We will definitely get out of Afghanistan—there can be no doubt about that—but it may take a while before conditions make this possible.” The negotiating process should not wait until we are ready to withdraw, he said. It would be good if there could be discussions beforehand of the steps that each side could take as part of the process. Perhaps there will be a role for third countries to play in the process.

In the meantime, he said, the channels of communication should not be solely occupied with Afghanistan. Other subjects could be discussed as well.

He said that Gromyko would probably take his vacation from the latter part of July into August. The Soviet Embassy here had not received definite word, but he assumed that Gromyko will be coming to the United Nations General Assembly in late September, as he has done in previous years. His personal view was that if there were to be a meeting between the Secretary and the Foreign Minister in New York at that time it might be good; conversely, the absence of such a meeting would be regarded as a negative break with the precedent of earlier years.

Bessmertnykh is leaving for his regular vacation in the Soviet Union this coming week. He expects to be back in the latter part of July, and anticipates that Dobrynin would take his vacation following Bessmertnykh’s.

Soviet Vessel Port Stop

At the end Bessmertnykh asked me whether we could do anything to clear up the refusal they had received about the stop of a Soviet vessel in Baltimore for five hours on June 26 to pick up members of the Soviet Embassy and take them on a vacation cruise. The Baltimore Port Authority had cited political and labor factors in their refusal, but Bessmertnykh believed that the labor difficulties had been cleared away in a conversation with Gleason.4 Vasev had mentioned this to Barry yesterday, and Bessmertnykh said he would appreciate anything we could do about this since all the vacation schedules at the Embassy had been built around the anticipated port stop of the ship. I said I would do what I could.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 5, MDSBessmertnykh Meeting, 6/5/80. Confidential; Sensitive. Drafted by Shulman.
  2. See Document 278.
  3. See Document 279.
  4. Not further identified.