64. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Vance in Cairo1

Tosec 120067/293775. Subject: Soviet Trends, December 1–7, 1977. For the Secretary from INR-Kirk and EUR-Vine2 through S/MS-Shulman.

1. A number of current developments suggest that US-Soviet relations are approaching a more difficult period in which the prospect of a SALT agreement will carry the main burden of maintaining a positive balance in the relationship.

2. Habib’s talks with Gromyko and others in Moscow3 revealed the bitterness of Soviet belief that the United States was responsible for Sadat’s initiatives toward the Jerusalem visit and the calling of the Cairo conference. The conversations surfaced Soviet anxieties that these developments threaten to elbow them effectively out of the action in the Middle East. Their own insensitivity and short-sightedness have contributed to their problem, but they tend to hold us responsible for [Page 237] undermining the collaborative relationship they felt they had established in the joint statement.4 They may have been influenced by Sadat’s statement that a letter from the President inspired his initiative. His closing of Soviet cultural and consular centers will deepen their suspicion that we are prodding him into anti-Soviet actions. Their reaction is likely to be virulent.

3. The Kremlin probably sees the Secretary’s visit to the area—with its implication of a new US role as mediator between Sadat and his Arab critics—as indicating US willingness, if not intent, to leave the Soviets on the sidelines. Recent US statements putting Cairo rather than Geneva at the center of the peace process at present, probably strengthens this view. Meanwhile they continue their efforts to discredit next week’s meeting, though they are keeping their options open to see what emerges.

4. In their present state of mind the Soviets also might read into our handling of the Indian Ocean and CTB talks a belief that we are dragging our feet and backing off agreed positions. So far, however, we have not encountered such a reaction. Their approach at this resumption of both talks was businesslike. The Soviets in fact initially responded positively to Paul Warnke’s presentation on CTB.

5. Of perhaps more immediate concern is academician Sakharov’s hard-hitting speech to be read to the AFL–CLO convention which opened December 8. In it he praises George Meany and the philosophy behind Jackson-Vanik, calls for a more militant VOA policy, and castigates Soviet observance of Helsinki Basket III. Were he someone else these statements would be grounds for immediate incarceration or dramatic expulsion. Embassy Moscow’s obvious role as his communication link to the AFL–CIO will undoubtedly be protested once the speech is read.

6. We have many programs going forward with the Soviets which they regard as useful, such as cooperation under our agreements on space and agriculture. But their main criterion for assessing the relationship continues to be SALT. Continued progress toward a SALT agreement should be an important stabilizing factor.

7. There are unpredictable elements however, including Brezh-nev’s own amour-propre. There is a danger that he will add up a number of these current developments and take them as a signal that the Carter Administration has demonstratively brushed aside his offer of “friendly relations” made in his November 2 speech5 and reiterated here by his colleague Solomontsev.

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8. In sum, we are experiencing some strains in certain aspects of the relationship. But major spillover of the Middle East tensions into other key aspects of our relationship such as SALT does not seem likely at this time.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0735. Secret; Cherokee; Priority; Nodis. Drafted by Paul Cook (INR/RSE) and Mark Garrison (EUR/SOV); cleared by Shulman, Luers, Roger Kirk (INR), and Anderson; approved by Shulman. Sent to the White House at 2005Z, with the notation “Eyes Only for Brzezinski.” Vance was in the Middle East December 9–15.
  2. Richard Vine, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European Affairs.
  3. Habib met with Gromyko on December 6 to discuss the Middle East. In telegram 17644 from Moscow, December 6, the Embassy transmitted a record of this meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0331)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 58.