291. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin

The Ambassador opened by saying that he wished to ask me two questions prior to his return to Moscow, because he will be asked them by the Politburo: (1) who will win the elections; (2) what outcome would be better for U.S.-Soviet relations?

I responded by saying that my objective judgment is that Reagan’s lead will evaporate as the public nears the moment of decision regarding who ought to be the President of this country, especially since Reagan will not be able to withstand close press scrutiny, and that the reelection of the President is obviously better for U.S.-Soviet relations because the President can pursue both a policy of firmness in dealing with Soviet expansionism and arms control as well as detente. Accordingly, his reelection can avoid the decade of the 80’s being a repetition of the unmitigated Cold War of 1945–1955.

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Dobrynin responded by saying that he fully agrees but wanted to know what, in that case, prevented an improvement in our relations. I told him that there is no point in playing games with each other, that Afghanistan was clearly the issue because it not only posed a strategic challenge to our interests but also because it has become a symbol of what is perceived in this country as Soviet expansionism.

This led to a discussion of whether the Afghanistani problem can somehow be solved. I explained to him what we mean by the “transitional arrangements” designed to create a government in Afghanistan which is not hostile to the Soviet Union but which is not dependent for its survival on the presence of a Soviet occupation army.

Dobrynin maintained that we are in effect insisting that Babrak Karmal has to go, whereas the Soviet Union is willing to solve the problem on the basis of withdrawal of Soviet forces, once an Afghan army that is capable of sustaining Karmal has been created. “Why not accept then a solution based on the principle of neutrality and non-interference?” he asked.

I pointed out that Babrak Karmal is part of the problem that needs to be solved and hence cannot be the solution. To govern he has to have a Soviet army of occupation. Moreover, to govern without Soviet troops, there would have to be a massive and inevitably brutal counterinsurgency operation which would further poison U.S.-Soviet relations. This is why it is in our mutual interest to try to find an accommodation soon, perhaps through more extensive explorations of what a transitional arrangement would involve. If such a solution could be found, it would be a real breakthrough, making possible rapid progress on other issues, notably arms control.

Dobrynin then asked me about the prospects for SALT. I told him that the President and the Secretary of State are fully committed to it and that we will seek its ratification. However, (1) if the present situation in Afghanistan continues, ratification will be difficult; (2) if there is a massive Soviet counter-insurgency after the Olympics, ratification will become even more difficult because public emotions here will be further aroused; (3) but if there is some genuine progress on Afghanistan, pointing toward the withdrawal of all Soviet troops and involving perhaps some transitional arrangements, then the public would welcome SALT and ratification would be facilitated.

I added that the public wishes a firm policy toward the Soviet Union but also desires accommodation with the Soviet Union. It is our task to make that accommodation possible and I hoped that Dobrynin would impress the Soviet leaders with this thought.

He tried to discuss TNF and the Middle East with me but I told him that TNF had been discussed with Christopher, that on the Middle East I did not have anything new to say, and that in any case, I knew [Page 858] that he would be having a more formal and comprehensive discussion on Monday with the Secretary of State. (I did not mention the fact that there will be a letter to Gromyko.)2

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 57, Chron: 7/1–16/80. Secret. The breakfast meeting took place at Dobrynin’s residence.
  2. In a July 14 meeting with Dobrynin, Muskie gave him a letter for Gromyko dealing with Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (See Document 292.) The men also discussed issues pertaining to relations with China and how the U.S. election might affect U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations. The memorandum of conversation is in the 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, ESM/AD 7/14/80.