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

2181. For the Secretary from Toon. Subject: Letter to Sakharov. Ref: Moscow 2124.2

1. Sakharov telephoned EmbOff (Combs) at Embassy afternoon of Feb 15 to ask if “we had any news”. He clearly was asking if we had received the original of the President’s letter.3 When EmbOff said we had no news as yet, Sakharov asked when we thought we would, adding [Page 26] that he intended “to make a public statement as soon as it arrived”.4 EmbOff said we might have something by Thursday, although it was impossible to say for sure. Sakharov replied he would “tentatively plan on Thursday”. EmbOff undertook to call him when “news” had arrived.

2. If, as we assume, President’s letter was pouched from Department on or about Feb 9, we should receive it in classified pouch arriving Moscow this evening (Feb 15). We could then plan to telephone Sakharov on Thursday. We presume he would immediately come to the Embassy to receive the letter. He probably would arrange a press conference Thursday evening or as soon as possible thereafter. Alternatively, we could, if the Department wishes, delay delivering the letter for three or four days in order to accomplish a scenario along the lines set forth in Moscow’s 2124.

3. In any event, as I have indicated in Moscow 2124, I consider it important that we give the Soviets advance warning of the President’s letter. If a high-level demarche on the general matter of human rights, which I have recommended, cannot be done by the time we deliver the letter to Sakharov, then I recommend a specific demarche on the letter, either in Washington to Dobrynin or in Moscow to First Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov (assuming that Gromyko is still out of action). I would suggest demarche be on following lines:

—The Soviet side is undoubtedly well aware of the position of the United States Government regarding human rights; we have carefully studied the Pravda editorial of Feb 12, which we take as an authoritative reflection of the Soviet position;

—Our interpretations of human rights and what constitutes interference in each other’s internal affairs obviously differ fundamentally;

—We approach this, as other issues that divide us, in a spirit of mutual understanding rather than public confrontation;

—We anticipate that the highest levels of the U.S. Government will soon be in touch privately with the Soviet side regarding this difficult and fundamental question;

—In the meantime, we are instructed to inform the Soviet side that on Feb 5 the President wrote a brief letter to Sakharov, setting forth the President’s general philosophy on the question of human rights. While we do not intend to publicize this letter, Sakharov may do so;

—We are making this demarche because we feel it is in our mutual interests to minimize the impact of our disparate views on human rights upon bilateral relations.

[Page 27]

4. Please let me know whether you would prefer us to deliver the letter upon receipt this week or delay several days.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 28, Human Rights: 2–4/77. Confidential; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis. In the upper right-hand corner, an unknown hand wrote, “WH Eyes Only Brzezinski.”
  2. Telegram 2124 from Moscow, February 14, addressed how Carter’s letter to Sakharov would be interpreted as an endorsement of Soviet dissidents. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–1029; N770001–0526) It is one of the first indicators that Soviets would view Carter’s human rights agenda as blatant interference in Soviet internal matters.
  3. See Document 5.
  4. Sakharov held a press conference on February 17 when the letter arrived. See Christopher S. Wren, “Sakharov Receives Carter Letter Affirming Commitment on Rights,” The New York Times, February 18, 1977, p. 3.