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

16123. Subj: Meeting With Gromyko October 14: Iran/Iraq. Ref: State 271743.2

1. (S-entire text)

2. Gromyko received me at 10:00 a.m. October 14 for an hour and twenty minutes of an icy and confrontational meeting. After hearing me out on the talking points3 in the nonpaper, and having me repeat the last paragraph (regarding inflammatory Soviet accusations), he then delivered a thirty minute rebuke on the following lines.

3. Gromyko said he had explained in clearcut terms the position of the Soviet leadership toward the Iraq/Iran conflict when he met with Secretary Muskie in New York. It has been clearly stated that the USSR had no intention to intervene and that no other party, big or small, should intervene, either. In particular, the US, for reasons known and [Page 902] understood, should keep its hands off. The US side, for its part, replied that it had no intention to interfere, subsequently, the Soviet side had been surprised that the US, after the meeting, made press statements about having warned the USSR not to intervene. Such unilateral misleading statements served to aggravate the situation, misrepresenting the facts of what had transpired in the meeting, “turning matters on their head,” all in an attempt to make public opinion believe that the Soviets were at fault and had been warned. Why did the US behave this way, making the Soviets look bad? It was a petty method. No candidate for political office could get any use out of it and it was not a good basis for conducting foreign affairs because it undermined credibility and confidence in high level statements.

4. He went on at length to say that he had not believed when he talked with the Secretary that in a few days the Soviet position would be publicly distorted and presented in a wrong way. The USSR could and should present the US “a political bill for its recourse to such misrepresentation,” and this was why, after returning from New York, the Soviet side had decided to draw US attention to matter of intervention. As the Soviets analyze the situation, the US is itself interfering, but reproaching the USSR as if it were the guilty party. The USSR had a right to reply to this; had Washington lost its sense of reality? War and bloodshed could come out of the situation as it was developing and the Soviet side was free to express this opinion, which he specifically asked me to convey to Washington. Washington was adopting the principle that offense is the best defense, but it won’t work. The responsibility could not be shifted to the USSR.

5. Gromyko said he wished to draw serious attention to the concentration of a large US fleet in the Strait of Hormuz and the adjacent area. There was no reason, “not even a formal pretext,” for this, and the naval force was even increasing with reinforcements arriving from other areas. True, the US guns were silent and didn’t shoot, but the presence was political-military pressure and tantamount to “very rude interference.”

6. Gromyko said he wanted to speak of Iran: Iraq could be generally included in his meaning, but he was now speaking about Iran. The oil riches of Iran could not be construed as belonging to the US. Iran was not a “US oil tank.” It was the Iranian people’s oil, to dispose of as they chose, and “no capital in the world is entitled to give Iran a timetable for how much oil it is to provide in any month or year.” It was in the interest of detente and a better world situation generally to withdraw the US Navy from the Persian Gulf. He could include the Indian Ocean, too. But for the purpose at hand he was referring only to the Gulf and Hormuz.

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7. He said the American press with gusto suggested and reported rumors to the effect that the Soviets are delivering weapons to Iraq or Iran. The USG makes no attempt to set matters straight, although it knows the truth. He would take this opportunity to say again that the USSR was not making any arms deliveries to Iran or Iraq. Finally, he said, the Soviets had nothing to recant, it was the US which was responsible for the military buildup in the Gulf area. Restraint and coolheadedness by great powers were in the interests of all, including the US “and the countries which are carrying out US policy.”

8. I replied that the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf area are a lifeline of the industrial world and it appeared that the Soviet Union seriously underrated the importance of this to US interests. Shipping had come under threat and insurance rates had jumped up. Gromyko’s remarks underemphasized the vital importance involved. That’s why our fleet was there, and I noted that there was also a Soviet fleet in the area, my careful reading of the record of the New York conver-sation was clearly that both sides, not just the Soviet side, had given warnings.

9. Gromyko came back at this, saying that the distorted public statements made by the US side had not been made by the Secretary. It was up to us to measure precisely the responsibility, but the President had repeatedly said that the US had warned the USSR. There would be no objection if it had been truthfully revealed who said what in what sequence, but all had been distorted.

10. I tried to bring Gromyko back to the question of vital interest, saying that we had no interest in getting involved in the Iran/Iraq conflict and that we did not consider the oil deposits of the area to belong to us. We had no idea or desire to take oil by force which now had become the thrust of his conversation. But so long as people were willing to sell us oil—the industrial world received a substantial portion of its oil from this area—then it was our vital interest to see that we got the oil out. Our fleet presence could be reduced with the reduction of tensions in the area and progress toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I could see no reason why this position would bring us into conflict with the Soviet Union.

11. At this point, saying that it was in the interest of avoiding conflict that we not have any surprises or misinterpretations, I took up orally points in paragraph 4 reftel regarding RD deployment. Gromyko listened in silence and gave no reaction.

12. Gromyko cooly and abruptly ended the exchange by saying “our approaches and reasoning are so different that it would be difficult to erect any bridges between them. The substance of all this is that [Page 904] you are trying to arrogate rights, and you are now trying to convince yourself that you are justified in this.

13. Gromyko raised a second matter which is reported septel.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 84, USSR: 10/80. Secret; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 271743 to Moscow, October 11, provided the U.S. response to the Soviet démarche on Iran and Iraq. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P910096–1797)
  3. Not found.
  4. Telegram 16121, from Moscow, October 14, addressed the CSCE meeting in Madrid. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P900077–1747)