107. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • State

    • Secretary Cyrus Vance
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
  • CIA

    • Admiral Stansfield Turner
  • JCS

    • General David Jones
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Jody Powell
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • Gary Sick (joined at 10:50 a.m.)


The President convened the National Security Council and it was agreed that we would begin by discussing the situation in Afghanistan since it would be important to communicate today with our European Allies.

Dr. Brzezinski set forth five issues: (1) our possible response; (2) how to encourage others to speak out against the Soviet intervention; [Page 299] (3) the question of raising this issue at the United Nations. He said the United States might not wish to do so because we are pursuing the hostage issue at the Security Council, but perhaps the UK or China would raise the issue at the UN; (4) the question of our support for the Afghan resistance. Dr. Brzezinski said that we have a revised Presidential Finding which will be presented to the President shortly; and (5) the question of our cooperation with Pakistan which is directly related to the situation brought about by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

The President said that he had read the message from the German Government regarding Allied consultation and agreed that the North Atlantic Council would be a better forum for us to pursue this issue in the first instance than the United Nations.2

Secretary Vance agreed and said that George Vest would be talking to the NATO Ambassadors here in Washington emphasizing the importance of our Allies speaking out publicly and to the Soviets on this matter.

The President asked on what basis the North Atlantic Council might be convened. Harold Brown replied that it met on an emergency basis upon the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He added that it would also be important to consult on a broader basis than just with the NATO Alliance in this particular instance.

[Page 300]

The President said he had in mind making personal calls to Chancellor Schmidt, Prime Minister Thatcher, President Giscard, Premier Cossiga and President Zia.3 He would suggest to our European Allies that the North Atlantic Council meet on this issue. He was reluctant to push this into the UN when we were dealing with Iran at the Security Council, but he thought the rest of the world will be reluctant to condemn the Soviets.

Secretary Brown thought that more countries might be prepared to act than in the case of Iran, since Afghanistan had no oil. The President pointed out, however, that we have been warning the world for several weeks that there has been a buildup of an imminent threat, and there has been no reaction from anyone.

The President noted that the Germans had been told by the Soviets this morning that they intervened to stop an invasion of Afghanistan, but when asked, the Soviets would not identify which country was committing the “external aggression.”

The Secretary of State endorsed the idea of calling the four European leaders.

Mr. Aaron suggested that, if the North Atlantic Council were to be called into session, it should be done at a high political level since the Council was already planning to meet at the Permanent Representatives level. The President agreed, and the Secretary of State said we could work out the arrangements later. It was also agreed that the President would call the Italian President.

Secretary Brown suggested that we will need to be able to indicate what we want our Allies to do when we talk to them. The President said that we could not go through the night without a public response and contact with the Allies. Otherwise, the Soviets will be out persuading everyone that their action was legitimate, and there would be no response from us.

It was therefore agreed that we should send messages to give groups of countries identified by Dr. Brzezinski—our NATO Allies; the Non-Aligned Movement leaders; other key countries around the world such as China; and key United Nations members. It was agreed that messages should be prepared immediately by a working group [Page 301] of State and NSC and to arrange the telephone calls to the Allied leaders and President Zia.4

Dr. Brzezinski then recommended that we examine the question of covert assistance to Afghanistan. Stan Turner reported on the proposed Finding approved earlier in the day by the SCC.5 It would enable us to accelerate shipment of arms to the Afghan rebels via Saudi Arabia. The President inquired regarding the likely response of the Saudis and Pakistanis, and Turner replied that he expects it will be very positive.

Secretary Brown said that we were all agreed that greater support to the Afghan rebels makes sense. His only question was whether it was enough.

Mr. Powell asked if there were any possibility the rebels could take over the government. Secretary Brown said they would not have any prospect of being able to take over the government. Secretary Vance said they can hang on and make it costly for the Soviet Union. Dr. Brzezinski said the key variables in the success of the Afghan resistance is Pakistani support and our attitude.

The President noted that news analyses said the Soviets would have little hope of putting down the rebellion even if they moved in the 50,000 troops on the Soviet border. Dr. Brzezinski said he had a different view. If we do nothing to help the rebels, then the psychological impact—both on the Pakistanis and on the Afghans—of isolation could be quite adverse and dry up support for their insurgency. Moreover, the Soviets are likely to try to garrison the cities and free the [Page 302] regular Afghan armies to pursue the rebels in the field, and that might be more effective.

The President said he supported the Finding.6

The Vice President said that the new group installed by the Soviets may be as unpopular or even more so than the former one. The Secretary of Defense noted, however, that if only isolated pockets of resistance remain, they may be successful.

Dr. Brzezinski noted that the Soviet Union had been reasonably successful at counter-insurgency efforts. They had had success in Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine, with their strategy being primarily the holding of the cities.

Admiral Turner noted in this connection that the more elite Afghan army units now guarding the cities may be released to fight the insurgents. This would provide forces with better morale which are less likely to desert and turn over their weapons to the insurgents. This, in turn, makes our aid all the more important.

On the question of the Presidential Finding, the President said that he hoped that these Findings would be drawn with an eye toward the greatest possible flexibility and generality emphasizing the positive goals we hope to achieve in the most constructive terms.

Dr. Brzezinski then indicated that we should discuss the question of U.S. approaches to the Soviet Union directly. The President indicated that he wishes a very strong message, with no holds barred, sent from him to Brezhnev and an equally tough public statement made.

The President said that this issue transcends SALT. He would not acquiesce to the Soviet action just because it might give comfort and assistance to SALT opponents in the Congress. He said that the message to Brezhnev should point out that their action was a “threat to the peace” which casts “grave doubts upon our relationship” and which was “a direct violation of the principles agreed to in 1972.”7

Mr. Powell asked what our ultimate aim was in the Afghan situation. The President replied to get the Soviets to withdraw. The Secretaries of State and Defense and Dr. Brzezinski said it was to make it as costly as possible for the Soviets. Secretary Brown added that we want to use the issue as a rallying point for our policies in the area. [Page 303] The President concluded that our maximum goal, however, was to get the Soviets out. Mr. Powell noted that this, however, was not likely to be successful.

The Vice President said that the Soviets had created a traditional buffer state into a satellite. Dr. Brzezinski agreed and noted that it was a buffer state that protected a tier of three states along the Indian Ocean. Thus, their action was a very dangerous step strategically, and we must send them a message which reflects this broader concern.

As for SALT, Dr. Brzezinski said that we do not link the intervention with SALT, but we are not going to be silenced by the possible domestic reaction and its impact on SALT. The President agreed.

Mr. Powell said that a private message to Brezhnev would not be adequate from the standpoint of our public position. It was agreed that we would develop a brief public statement for the President’s use as well as a more formal statement that could be released by the White House. (Subsequently, the President decided to make only his own statement.)8

The Vice President suggested the Soviets were trying to hurt the President’s reelection chances with this move. General Jones said that Afghanistan itself is a loss and of no particular help to the Soviets strategically. In his judgment, they were obviously looking beyond it and to cause perceptions of their willingness to use power and are seeking a stepping stone. Secretary Brown said, on the other hand, the Soviets were faced with a hostile Islamic state on their border. Secretary Vance agreed with that view. He said that the Soviets were unwilling to face the political damage if Afghanistan went down the drain.

The President concluded by saying we should push this issue vigorously and be prepared to go all the way with the UN if necessary.

Returning to the question of support for the Afghan insurgents, Admiral Turner said we should be clear that the objective of getting the Soviets out is unachievable and much beyond the program of support he was recommending. That program will ultimately cost only $10 million and will barely keep the insurgency going.

Turning to Pakistan, the Secretary of State outlined the steps recommended by the SCC: first, a high-level mission to consult with the Pakistanis; second, to resume military sales; third, because we cannot sell on credit to Pakistan because of the Symington Amendment, it [Page 304] would be necessary to work with the Saudis to help finance Pakistani purchases.9 In this connection, the sale of Gerring destroyers to the Pakistanis would not particularly help them against the Soviets but would be of enormous political help in Pakistan.

Secretary Brown said that the House has said that these destroyers should be saved for our naval reserve, but he thought he could get around the problem. The President noted that Sadat was anxious for some destroyers. The Secretary of State noted that these Gerring destroyers were offered to him but, because of their condition, he didn’t want them.

On the economic side, the Secretary spelled out the other recommendation: an increase in PL 480 assistance and more relief for the Afghan refugees. On nuclear policy, the Secretary stressed we should reaffirm our present position and seek a reaffirmation of their present position; specifically, that they would not build nuclear weapons, they would not transfer sensitive technology, and there would be no nuclear tests during Zia’s regime.

The President asked who would head the mission to Pakistan. The Secretary suggested Deputy Secretary Christopher and someone from the Defense Department.

The President said our emissary should tell Zia that we are bound by law on the non-proliferation issue and can’t change it, but let’s try to get together on Afghanistan and work out the non-proliferation issue later.

In this connection, Secretary Vance said Pakistani Adviser to the President for Foreign Affairs, Agha Shahi, had asked him whether we would sell military equipment to Pakistan if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated. Secretary Vance had already assured him we would.10

Harold Brown noted that the Pakistanis are going to want to buy some equipment, such as A-7 aircraft, which we do not wish to sell [Page 305] them because of India. It was agreed, however, that this issue should not arise in the near term.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Afghanistan.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 57, NSC–025, 12/28/79, Iran/Afghanistan/Pakistan. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. The message from the West German Government was not found. The North Atlantic Council, chaired by NATO Secretary General Luns, met in a special session in Brussels on December 29 to discuss Afghanistan. During the meeting, Luns appealed for solidarity among the NATO Allies in the wake of the Soviet intervention. (Telegram 8974 from USNATO, December 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800001–1210) In a meeting in London, December 31, Christopher met with the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the FRG, France, Italy, and Canada. The participants reaffirmed Luns’s call for Allied solidarity and a global response designed to “discourage further adventurism” by the Soviet Union. The representatives agreed that each of their respective countries needed to review bilateral relations with the Soviet Union, although “most felt that institutional elements of détente such as CSCE, disarmament negotiations, etc., which are in interest of West should not be disturbed.” (Telegram 8988 from USNATO, December 31; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840150–2153) In a memorandum to Brzezinski and Aaron, January 2, Brement characterized the London consultations as “useful,” and stated: “with exception of the French, who stuck to the line that this should be a Soviet-world community issue rather than an East-West issue, all other allies are looking to us for guidance and seem to be planning to follow our lead.” Brement further noted that the NAC meeting “took a considerably tougher line” than the London consultations regarding the question of how to deal with the Soviets and how to support Pakistan following the Soviet intervention. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 1, Afghanistan: 1–2/80) See also Document 135.
  3. Carter’s calls to European leaders are summarized in Document 109. For Carter’s call to Zia, see Document 111.
  4. The Department sent two telegrams to all NATO capitals and other diplomatic and consular posts, December 28. The first, telegram 333161, described the events of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan detailing the airlift, the military occupation of Kabul, the execution of Amin, and the elevation of Karmal as the new President in order to brief host governments. The second, telegram 333359, cited “first-hand evidence of a direct Soviet role” in the execution of Amin and replacement with Karmal. The telegram also described the Soviet action as a “subject of grave concern for the entire international community and not just those in South Asia.” The telegram asked all addressees to share any available information regarding the crisis in Afghanistan and instructed the posts to encourage host governments “to make their profound concern about the Soviet role in Afghanistan clear immediately to the Soviet Union both in Moscow and in capitals and through their public statements.” In a concluding section for “Moslem and non-aligned countries,” the Department asked the Embassies to reaffirm to their host governments that the United States had long respected Afghanistan’s non-alignment; the Soviet invasion limited Afghanistan’s independence, that the action raised “grave questions” for the Non-Aligned Movement; and that “we appreciate that Moslem nations in particular would be deeply concerned about Soviet efforts to impose a regime with an alien ideology upon an unwilling Moslem populace, irrespective of the professions of such a regime to respect Islam.” Finally, anticipating host governments would cite Soviet insistence that the Afghan Government invited the Soviet intervention, the Department instructed Embassies that the United States has “no evidence” to support that claim. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840130–1453 and P840130–1447, respectively)
  5. Neither minutes nor a summary of conclusions of the SCC meeting was found.
  6. The Presidential Finding, signed by Carter on December 28, listed Afghanistan as the scope, with the description: “Provide lethal military equipment either directly or through third countries to the Afghan opponents of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Provide selective training, conducted outside of Afghanistan, in the use of such equipment either directly or via third country intermediaries.” (National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box I–047, Afghanistan: 11 Sep 1979–22 Jul 1980)
  7. See Document 113.
  8. Carter spoke to reporters at 4:30 p.m. on December 28 about the hostages in Iran and the situation in Afghanistan. For the text of his remarks, see Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, p. 2287. He also addressed the nation on the crisis in Afghanistan in a live speech from the Oval Office at 9 p.m., January 4. Text of the speech is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1980, pp. 21–24.
  9. See Documents 102 and 103. The high-level mission to Pakistan was led by Christopher and Brzezinski. See Document 193. The Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed June 1976, gave Congress authority “to deny U.S. assistance to governments involved in the sale and purchase of nuclear reprocessing material unless such transactions are subject to adequate multilateral safeguards against diversion to weapons use.” (International Security Assistance and Arms Control Act of 1976, P.L. 94–329; 90 Stat. 729 (June 30, 1976)) Carter found Pakistan in violation of the Symington Amendment and cut off economic and military aid, save food assistance, in April 1979. On the decision of how to support Pakistan in light of the Symington Amendment, see Document 151.
  10. An apparent reference to talks between Vance and Shahi October 16–17, 1979. See footnote 2, Document 79.