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

9449. Subj: (S) Delivery of Secretary’s Letter2 to Gromyko on Afghanistan.

Ref: (A) State 150827, (B) Moscow 9439.3

1. (S-entire text.)

2. Summary and comments. Though Gromyko was in an amiable mood during my 90-minute meeting with him this afternoon, his line on Afghanistan was hard. In effect, he said that the proposals in the Secretary’s letter offered no prospects for reaching a settlement, stating that insistence on prior withdrawal of Soviet troops is a dead end. If the US really wished to promote a political settlement, he said, it should urge Pakistan to stop the aggression and enter into a dialogue with Afghanistan.

Gromyko repeated what he said he had made clear at Vienna—that the withdrawal of Soviet troops could take place only after—repeat after—an agreement on cessation of external aggression had been reached and implemented. He focused on the formulation in the Secretary’s letter on implementing other arrangements “with the prompt withdrawal of Soviet forces” but seemed to reject any notion of simultaneity. He criticized the idea that outside states should have any voice in the nature or composition of the Afghan regime and, while not absolutely rejecting it, questioned the reasons for suggesting third-party peacekeeping forces. As for “transitional arrangements,” referred to in the letter, Gromyko said the proper subject for discussion under that heading would also be the stopping of outside aggression—this by implication being the transitional stage to a troop withdrawal. After discussion of Afghanistan, Gromyko made a demarche (reported separately) on the two recent NORAD computer malfunctions.4 End summary and comments.

[Page 838]

3. At the outset of my meeting with Gromyko at 4:45 this afternoon (June 12), I mentioned briefly my meetings in Washington last week with the President, the Secretary, and members of the Senate and House committees, then stated that the Secretary had asked me to deliver a letter, which was the result of very careful deliberations in Washington. Gromyko first asked his interpreter to read a translation of the letter into Russian, then went over the English text very carefully himself.

4. In the initial translation, the Soviet interpreter, in the second sentence of the second paragraph (“accordingly, with the prompt withdrawal of all Soviet forces . . .”) rendered the word “with” as “after” (posle). My political counselor, who was present as notetaker, interrupted to suggest that “after” was not an accurate translation and after some discussion with the interpreter and USA Director Komplektov it was agreed that “pri” might be a better Russian translation.

5. Gromyko stated that he would like to say the following in response to the Secretary’s letter; the position of the USSR was set forth very clearly and precisely in Vienna during my meeting with the Secretary. I will repeat briefly the essence of that position; the Soviet Union will be prepared to withdraw its military contingent from the territory of Afghanistan, as it has stated many times, after—and I emphasize the word after—the aggression and armed intrusion into Afghanistan from the territory of Pakistan and, naturally, from Iran also, to the extent that it is taking place from Iran, is terminated. If that termination is guaranteed, [omission is in the original] contingent will be withdrawn. Until that has been done, there can be no discussion of the withdrawal of the Soviet contingent.

6. Gromyko continued that the Soviets resolutely reject any statements that the Soviet Union is interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, any allegation that the introduction of the Soviet military contingent is a form of interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, or any allegation that it is as if the Soviet forces created the current leadership or current regime of the Afghanistan Government. “We introduced our contingent in order to assist Afghanistan at repelling aggression, in order to liquidate interference in the most flagrant form—armed interference in the affairs of Afghanistan. It is not our action which constitutes interference; rather our military contingent is the means of eliminating that interference, of repelling aggression.” It is in this way that the situation must be viewed if one wishes to view it objectively.

7. Gromyko continued by stating that one can hear from the American side statements to the effect that the Afghan leadership or regime must be acceptable to other states, especially to neighboring states such as Pakistan. Since when, he asked, do other states have the right to [Page 839] create the regimes or leadership of a neighboring state? Such claims must be resolutely rejected. One can only marvel at the view of those who say that the nature of the Afghan Government must correspond to the taste of its neighbors. Does the US really share such a view, that for the Afghan regime to have the right to govern it must suit the taste of the leaders of other states?

8. Turning to the reference in the Secretary’s letter to an international peace keeping force, Gromyko asked whether the reference was to the forces of other states, forces which were not now on the territory of Afghanistan. Why, he asked, were such forces needed? The US administration knows very well that this is not a realistic idea, that it has no prospects. Gromyko said he could only express surprise at the reasoning of the USG in expressing such a view.

9. If, Gromyko went on, the US administration really wanted to contribute to a resolution of the problem, to settle the situation around Afghanistan, it could do so. It would simply need to drop a few weighty words to Pakistan to the effect that Pakistan should stop the aggression and all acts of banditry which it is now taking against Afghanistan. One must be afflicted with political blindness, he added, to take such acts against Afghanistan, because the goals of the organizers of the aggression are futile. Gromyko then added that he was not speaking formally to the paragraphs of the Secretary’s letter but rather was responding to the position of the US administration on the Afghan question. It appeared, he said, that that position is expressed in the letter of the Secretary of State, and at this he could only express regret. He added that a policy has strength only when it is based on an objective formulation, on a realistic evaluation of the situation. That factor is unfortunately lacking from the policy of the USG on the Afghan question. So far, we have seen no attempt to take a more realistic position, no indication that Washington is so far ready to do so.

10. Gromyko then asked me to transmit the foregoing views to the Secretary with the request that he be understood correctly. He had no wish to enter into polemics; he had expressed his thoughts because there is a tremendous difference between the positions of our two countries on the Afghan question.

11. Without waiting for me to respond, Gromyko then picked up the letter again and began to comment on some of the individual formulations. The reference, he said, to “arrangements” in the second and fourth paragraphs in itself represented flagrant interference in Afghan affairs. The possibility of such “arrangements” is totally excluded, he said; there is no room for an accommodation of our positions.

12. In referring to the “prompt withdrawal” of Soviet troops, Gromyko continued, the letter loses sight of the main question, which is stopping the armed aggression from the territory of Pakistan and Iran. [Page 840] To stop that armed intrusion, an agreement is needed. Once agreement is reached, to sign a paper embodying the agreement takes only three minutes. It is after that that the question of the withdrawal of Soviet forces will arise.

13. Gromyko then focused on the passage in the fourth paragraph concerning exploration of a “transitional arrangement” and asked what was envisaged by that. Obviously, he said, it referred to the early language in the letter concerning changing the regime and leadership of Afghanistan. If the US has something else in mind by “transitional” then it should say so. But to be precise, what one should have in mind by a “transitional arrangement” is the stopping of the aggression. That is what he would consider the appropriate transitional stage; what the US meant by the term he did not know.

14. I then responded that Gromyko had covered a great many points and that I would only reply to a few of them. We in the Embassy, I said, had considered this message from the Secretary as something which would open the door at least a crack for further discussion. I was therefore disappointed at Gromyko’s reaction to the letter. On the one point in which there had been initial confusion in translation, I commented that, although I was not in a position to interpret the Secretary’s letter, which I thought spoke for itself, my own understanding was that the phrase “with the prompt withdrawal” would mean “simultaneously”. As for Gromyko’s suggestion that the US was somehow in a position to facilitate the stopping of the “aggression,” I said it was difficult to see how we could prevent the sorts of intrusions from outside on which he generally based his conversations, but said we would like to have any suggestions he might have in that regard. As for his assertion that the Soviet Union is not interfering in Afghan affairs, I commented that I have frequently expressed the position of the US on that matter and would not waste his time by repeating it. Finally, as for his comment concerning the acceptability of the Afghan Government to its neighbors, I said I had the impression that it in fact would be in the interest of the Soviet Union to have an acceptable government because of Afghanistan’s traditional buffer status. Gromyko seemed to be adding a new dimension. To this latter point, Gromyko said that I had not interpreted his position correctly; the interest of the Soviet Union was that there be a leadership established by the Afghans themselves and that no one interfere in its internal affairs.

15. Gromyko then returned to the question of simultaneous action, stating that it was surprising to suggest that there could be a coincidence in time between the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the stopping of aggression. It should be an easy task he said to stop the aggression and easy to sign an agreement on stopping it; this would take only a few minutes. But the withdrawal of forces takes time. And a with[Page 841]drawal cannot take place in any way other than by the guaranteed agreement on the stopping of aggression and the entering into force of that agreement. “There can be no thought of simultaneity of these two things; the concept is devoid of sense.”

16. Gromyko then referred to statements that the US side is “still” not convinced that armed intrusions into Afghanistan are taking place from Pakistan. He acknowledged that the terrain was difficult and the border complicated but insisted that the intrusions were nevertheless taking place and that no thinking person would seriously assert the contrary. One only need read statements being made in Washington and also by the Pakistani president. He also attacked a statement by President Zia to the effect that it was not within his power to stop the intrusions, asking whether this meant he was unable to manage the situation in his own country and what one could expect in the way of adventures from such a country. But the point is, he said, that no one believes in Zia’s inability to stop the intrusions: this is a deliberate distortion of the situation.

17. Gromyko asked that Secretary Muskie think over what he had had to say. If the US also wants a political settlement of the issue, he said, there is a possibility for settling it. What is required is for Pakistan to stop the carrying out of intrusions from its territory. The Soviet Union has no doubt that a word from the USG to that effect would be of great significance for stopping the action. Gromyko then stressed the importance of a meeting between representatives of Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to reach agreement on the complex of issues involved, criticized Pakistan’s rejection of such a meeting, and expressed the view that the USG could play a realistic role in initiating a dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also noted that such a dialogue between Iran and Afghanistan was desirable but added that he doubted a US role was possible in the case of Iran.

18. Responding to Gromyko’s earlier question about the introduction of third party forces, I noted that Afghanistan is currently occupied by Soviet troops, that it is a very primitive country and that when the Soviet troops pull out someone must be there to maintain order. Of the possibilities which might be explored, it seemed to me that the UN might offer one approach. As for his reference to our endeavoring to persuade Pakistan to sign an agreement on “stopping the aggression,”5 I thought if he reread the Secretary’s letter carefully would find that that possibility was not excluded so [long?] as there were other actions on the part of the Soviets. While I said I thought it unnecessary to comment on all of the positions he had stated with which we disagree, I [Page 842] would emphasize that it would be difficult for us to support a regime which had been established and maintained by Soviet troops. But I added that we had been over the ground before on our respective views on the nature of the current regime and that it was perhaps unnecessary to repeat those views.

19. Before turning to another subject, Gromyko asked me to tell the Secretary that the formulation in his letter was a deadlock—that insistence on prior withdrawal of Soviet troops is a dead end. And to discuss the simultaneous withdrawal of troops and the stopping of the aggression is “quite impossible”—it is like trying to add together two things that are quite different and incompatible—like comparing the painting on the wall with the weather in Moscow. Warming to his simile, he went on that to try to compare these things is like saying Komplektov wants to go to the Crimea and isn’t that a very pretty clock.

20. At the conclusion of the meeting Gromyko, taking up a new subject, read a statement concerning the recent NORAD false alarms (reported septel).6

21. Department please repeat to other posts as desired.

  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, Delivery of June 5 Muskie Letter. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See Document 282.
  3. Telegram 150827 to multiple diplomatic posts, June 7, transmitted the text of Muskie’s letter to Gromyko and telegram 9439 from Moscow, June 12, reported the delivery of Muskie’s letter to Gromyko. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880029–1204 and P880025–0504)
  4. Telegram 9472 from Moscow, June 13, provided the Soviet démarche on the June 3 and June 6 NORAD computer malfunctions. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0488)
  5. An unknown hand corrected the previous phrase by adding “As” and “Pakistan.” They wrote “corrected para” in the right-hand margin adjacent to the paragraph.
  6. See footnote 4 above.