96. Letter From President Carter to Secretary of State Vance1

Dear Cy:

Your visit to Moscow can be an important step towards our major foreign policy objectives: a more peaceful world based on the reduction and control of arms; a deeper understanding with the Soviet Union; a resolution of regional conflicts and restraint on the part of the major powers. For this reason your visit requires that we address the entire scope of our relationship with the Soviet Union, including particularly those issues which are the source of deep concern to me and to the American public at large.

It is in the interest of both countries that SALT succeed. However, I am concerned that Soviet strategy is to focus attention on SALT as proof of progress in U.S.-Soviet relations while the Soviet Union pursues its political objectives elsewhere by military means. Therefore, you should begin the discussions with a broad review of U.S.-Soviet relations, emphasizing that the U.S. seeks a detente that is increasingly comprehensive and genuinely reciprocal. Unless this happens, some of the central factors of our relationship, including SALT, will be adversely affected by the consequent deterioration in the political environment. It is for this reason that you should stress that detente cannot be compartmentalized and that mutual restraint lies at the core of a detente relationship.

You should make clear that we regard the U.S.-Soviet relationship as central to world peace and global stability. This relationship must [Page 312] therefore be one of mutual restraint. In this connection, specific reference should be made to the Brezhnev/Nixon Communique2 in which the joint rules of restraint by the U.S. and Soviet Union were explicitly defined. The Soviet Union should understand that we would have no choice but to compete in all areas of our relationship if these rules are not observed.

In this connection, you should seek Soviet clarification as to their objectives in Africa, in particular Southern Africa. You should emphasize that this is required in order to provide a positive political framework for pursuing other issues of importance to both our countries.

You should caution the Soviets against being drawn into an effort to resolve the Eritrean issue by violence. You should make clear that continued Soviet/Cuban combat presence in the Horn of Africa will provoke a reaction from Ethiopia’s neighbors—our friends—that can only lead to further tension and possible conflict. You should explain to the Soviets that their military intervention in Africa is becoming intolerable, and ask when Soviet/Cuban forces will be withdrawn from Ethiopia.

You should indicate that, while we have no objection to Soviet cooperation with the Patriotic Front and Frontline countries in Southern Africa, Soviet/Cuban military intrusion into Southern Africa will jeopardize detente as a whole and the U.S. will react strongly. This should be stated at the highest levels directly, unambiguously, and forcefully.

You can make clear my personal view that the depth of our feeling concerning developments in Africa derives not only from our national interests but from our entire national experience. Efforts to fan the flames of a major racial war in Southern Africa can only provoke the most profound and adverse reaction on the part of the American people.

For this reason you should explain to the Soviets that we believe our relationship is now at a watershed. We are willing, anxious and ready to try to improve it, to widen the scope of cooperation to other areas, and to work together on the widest possible range of issues; but we cannot accept a selective detente. Decisions made in the near future on SALT as well as other issues such as Africa will affect our relationship for many years to come.

On SALT you will receive separate instructions. You should make clear we are willing to negotiate SALT on its own terms but that it cannot of course be pursued in isolation from the rest of our relation[Page 313]ship. Also emphasize the importance to us of a comprehensive test ban agreement.

On European security issues, you should point to our initiative on MBFR and say that we expect commensurate concessions on the part of the Warsaw Pact.

You should tell the Soviets that I have taken a politically difficult decision to defer production of the enhanced radiation weapon in the face of considerable support for going ahead here and in Europe, support which was stimulated rather than weakened by the Soviet propaganda campaign. You should add that I was personally offended by the campaign. My future consideration of the enhanced radiation weapon will be strongly influenced by signs of Soviet restraint in their military programs—particularly as they relate to Europe—and by constructive and tangible Soviet arms control initiatives.

On human rights, you should make clear to Gromyko our continuing interest in the Scharanskiy case, stating that a trial which sought to connect Scharanskiy to the U.S. Government would lead to a serious adverse reaction on the part of the American people and on my part personally.

It is my hope that you can achieve progress in SALT and a deeper understanding concerning a broader detente and a more meaningful measure of reciprocal restraint. You should underscore that the political significance of SALT lies not so much in the technical limitations on strategic arms, as important as these may be, but in the joint commitment to reduce the military dimensions of U.S. and Soviet competition. We cannot permit the agreement in this area to transform itself into Soviet efforts to pursue military advantage in other areas and regions of the world. This is the real importance of SALT and the reason why detente must be seen as an indivisible objective.

You should also emphasize to the Soviet leaders that the United States would welcome closer cooperation with the Soviet Union in dealing with the many global problems that mankind today confronts. The North-South relationship would become more constructive if the Communist countries were prepared to cooperate more closely with other developed countries in helping the developing countries overcome the many difficulties that they confront. It is our view that such cooperation would benefit not only mankind but would provide additional opportunities for closer friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, we would prefer to cooperate in this manner rather than to confront each other politically or militarily in the Third World. In making this point you could cite specific examples of ways in which our two countries could cooperate more closely (agricultural development, trade, a common fund, technology transfer, etc.).

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Finally, you may reiterate to the Soviet leaders my willingness to invite President Brezhnev to the United States at a mutually convenient time to pursue these issues further and to solidify a more cooperative relationship.3


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 50, Chron: 4/78. Top Secret. A draft copy of the letter is ibid. Vance traveled to Moscow April 19–23.
  2. Reference is presumably to the “Basic Principles of Relations Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” See footnote 3, Docu-ment 4.
  3. Below his signature Carter wrote, “Cy, good luck! This is another difficult assignment for you. You have my complete confidence and support. J.”