141. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in China1

3285. Military addressees treat as Specat Exclusive. Subject: Consultations With China on the Afghan Situation. Ref: USNATO 8988.2

1. S—Entire text.


At the personal request of the Deputy Secretary, EUR Assistant Secretary George Vest and EA Assistant Secretary Dick Holbrooke called in Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin Jan 3 afternoon for a detailed briefing on the results of our consultations with our allies on actions to be taken in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Vest outlined options for actions affecting U.S.USSR relations currently being considered by the President. Vest and Holbrooke stressed that we consider this meeting only the beginning of a process by which we will keep the Chinese closely informed of our actions, and said that SecDef Harold Brown would be prepared to go into even greater detail during his visit to Beijing.3 Chai condemned the Soviet Union’s “naked aggression” in stronger language and with more emotion than we have heard him use before. He emphasized: the urgent need to awaken Third World and non-aligned countries to the dangers of close relationships with the Soviets; stressed the essentiality of a campaign to mobilize world opinion to condemn Soviet aggression against Afghanistan; and underscored the importance of taking concrete steps to strengthen Afghanistan’s neighbors. Chai also expressed the hope that the U.S. would not do anything vis-à-vis Iran that might detract from world attention to the gravity of the Afghanistan situation. He said that the Chinese were consulting closely with Pakistan on efforts by Islamabad to persuade Iran to release the American hostages as soon as possible, so as to lower U.S.-Iran tensions and deprive the USSR of a possible target of opportunity. End summary.

2. Vest opened the meeting with an exposition of the information on the Deputy Secretary’s consultations with his British, French, Italian, German and Canadian counterparts at London contained reftel [Page 403] (repeated to Beijing Jan. 3). He also gave Chai a copy of the joint statement to the press issued at the meeting’s conclusion.4 Vest stressed that all present had agreed that the Soviet actions in Afghanistan could not be regarded as a localized incident, and that they had serious implications for the interests of each country. As such, they justified both special efforts to assist countries on the perimeter of Afghanistan and adjustments in bilateral relations with the USSR to bring home to the Soviets the penalties that must attach to such conduct and to deter further Soviet military adventurism. This sense of urgency, coupled with resolve to display displeasure in bilateral relationships with the USSR and to maintain and enhance our common defense capabilities had been even more greatly in evidence at the NATO Council meeting held in Brussels on New Year’s Day. Vest noted that eight of the Ambassadors out of fifteen had cut short vacations to return to Brussels for this important discussion, rather than leave the matter to their Chargés. At both the London and Brussels meetings there had been a sense that the long term behavior of the USSR would be decisively affected by a serious response to the immediate problem of the events in Afghanistan.

3. Vest said that at the London meeting, after an initial exchange of intelligence on the Afghan situation, the participants had moved quickly to the conclusion that none of their Missions at Kabul should maintain political contact of any kind with the new puppet regime. There was a consensus that the new regime was a puppet government, without any claim to legitimacy. The Italians had already withdrawn their Ambassador for consultations; the Germans planned to do so. Both would reduce the size of their Missions at Kabul. The UK, FRG, Canada and Italy were considering reducing or freezing all bilateral aid activities; the FRG and Canada were reevaluating aid to Afghanistan through multilateral agencies as well. At the same time, there was much discussion of the implications of the events in Afghanistan for Pakistan, and the participants considered now to coordinate their respective economic and security programs to reassure Pakistan in face of the highly destabilizing situation in its neighboring states.

4. With respect to the USSR, all participants agreed on the need for strong public condemnation. (All had in fact already issued statements of condemnation, which were exchanged.) All considered it important to encourage attention to and condemnation of the Soviet [Page 404] aggression by other countries, especially Islamic, non-aligned and Third World nations. This would be especially important in bringing the matter before the United Nations, which all agreed should be done urgently, whether before the Security Council or General Assembly. All agreed on the importance of informing China of their deliberations; and actions; and, Vest said, he was pleased to be able to do so.

5. Vest said that a wide range of actions in each country’s relations with the USSR had been thrown out for discussion. In no particular order of priority or sequence of implementation, these included:

—cancelling all high level visits of political or military significance;

—cancelling many of the extensive social and cultural activities that have become extensive in West European relations with the USSR;

—increasing the level of restrictions on trade of certain items, especially those embodying advanced technology;

—reconsidering the extension or renewal of credit arrangements (a common element of WE-USSR relations);

—considering cancelling or restricting grain sales, or limiting them to certain levels (a matter primarily concerning the U.S.).

No firm decisions had been made. Rather each country would consider what it could and should do, and continue the process of consultation. Détente activities between Western and Eastern Europe were being revised and the general feeling was to go slow on these, while not cancelling them. (Vest cited the CSCE Review Conference at Madrid as an example.) The NATO decision on modernization of theater nuclear forces of December had been confirmed, as had the firm intention of all to maintain and build-up military forces in the European area.

6. The U.S. had taken these consultations into account in developing its own actions, said Vest. He noted that Afghanistan had already been brought to the United Nations, while our Ambassador to the USSR, Mr. Watson had been recalled for consultations. The President has asked for delay in consideration of the SALT II treaty on the Senate floor in light of the Afghan situation so that he and the Congress could further assess Soviet actions and intentions. The treaty had not, however been withdrawn. As decided by the NATO Ministerial meeting in December, we would go forward with plans to modernize theater nuclear forces in Europe, while continuing to make preparations for the arms control discussions that were integral to the NATO decision. Holbrooke added that SecDef Brown would brief the Chinese in detail on this NATO decision.

7. Vest said he wished to outline a series of actions now being considered by the President on which decisions might be made as early as Jan. 4, these included (again in no particular order):

[Page 405]

[Omitted here is a list of specific actions; see Document 136.]

8. Some marginal mention had also been made of cancelling participation in the Olympic Games. Vest personally believed that for sound reasons this, which he wished to mention only because of the wide press attention the idea had received, was most unlikely to come about.

9. Chai pointed out that food imports were crucial to the USSR, which imports 20 million tons of grain per year from the U.S. He asked whether we would be able to reduce this amount or cancel existing contracts? Vest replied that this was something at which we were looking but pointed to the need for agreement of other grain exporters, such as Canada, France, Australia and Argentina. Chai agreed the matter was very complicated.

10. In summary, Vest and Holbrooke emphasized the attention that Afghanistan was receiving from the very highest officials of West European governments, and the U.S. desire to keep China informed of these deliberations and their results. SecDef Brown would wish to continue the discussion and exchange of views begun with Ambassador Chai in this meeting.

11. Chai thanked Vest and Holbrooke for the detailed briefing and expressed appreciation for the efforts Western countries were considering taking to boycott the USSR. The Soviet Union’s naked aggression in Afghanistan needed to receive the very strongest condemnation from all countries, he said. What had happened in Afghanistan was part of a pattern of repeated aggression carried out directly or indirectly by the USSR through mercenaries or subversion. If this pattern of behavior is not condemned and halted now, the USSR would continue it and do to other countries what it had done to Afghanistan. “The world will then know no peace.” Chai said that unfortunately there were still some countries who looked on the USSR as a “benefactor, their best friend” and a “natural ally” and had not yet seen the true features of the USSR, which was an aggressor nation with hegemonic ambitions. Instead of condemning the Soviets “criminal acts of suppression” in Afghanistan, they tried to whitewash them. Some countries still rested their hopes for peace and security on the signing of “peace and friendship treaties in exchange for Soviet protection.” Some still place their hopes of preventing Soviet expansionism in the maintenance of friendly relations with the USSR and the pursuit of détente. The Soviet invasion of a sovereign neighboring state shows its true features. Such behavior could never be justified. No one could possibly imagine that a small country such as Afghanistan (that had had rather close relations with the USSR after Daoud’s coup d’état) could possibly threaten Soviet security. But, not content with what was after all a rather favorable position in Afghanistan, the USSR had instigated coup after coup to bring the country fully within its control. Afghanistan [Page 406] had signed a peace and friendship treaty in hopes of securing peaceful relations with the USSR. It had been surprised when the USSR nevertheless invaded it and began carrying out its massacres of the Afghan population.

12. Chai said that he agreed completely with Vest on the need to mobilize world opinion to condemn the Soviet action as much as possible, to discredit the USSR, and to cause all to recognize that the USSR was no one’s natural ally but rather an international gangster; not peace loving but hegemonist and expansionist. It was of equal importance to drive home the point that signing peace and friendship treaties did not bring the USSR to treat the signatory state in a friendly way. Rather, to do so was similar to “going to bed with a tiger or a wolf” and to run a constant risk of being swallowed.

13. Beyond this, however, Chai said it was important to mobilize all countries to take measures to boycott the USSR. And it was vitally important to support the nations around Afghanistan and to reinforce their confidence. For its part, China was taking appropriate measures. It had issued a strong statement of condemnation and Chinese newspapers and publications were keeping up a steady barrage of criticism. China was consulting with Afghanistan’s neighbors, with the non-aligned and with the members of ASEAN on a worldwide campaign to alert the world to the Soviets southward drive to the Indian Ocean. The Soviet objective was to encircle the Middle East and eventually Europe. Chai agreed with Holbrooke that the Afghan situation and its implications would be a principal issue for discussion during SecDef Brown’s visit to Beijing. Vest commented that Chai’s analysis and comments on the meaning of the Soviet move into Afghanistan were almost identical with ours and those of the five other countries at the London meeting. All were in agreement that what we did now would decisively influence the rapidity with which the USSR would move on to its longer range goals of encirclement, and reaching the Indian Ocean.

14. Chai said that some Third World countries and members of the Non-Aligned Movement depended on the USSR for money and foreign aid and so “toed the Soviet line,” but that Afghan developments will make them see part of the truth. China believed therefore that while the invasion of Afghanistan was a bad thing, it would also have some positive effects. By this act, the USSR has “exposed itself” for all to see, and become, in Chairman Mao’s words, a “teacher by negative example.”

15. Chai said that, as he had stressed to Secretary Vance at dinner the previous evening, he hoped the U.S. would continue to adjust its policies toward Pakistan and Turkey in order to strengthen, support and assist them, boost their confidence and their capability for resistance. He said the Iranian situation warranted special attention in this [Page 407] context. The USSR sought to take advantage of the turmoil in Iran. Should that country fall into Soviet hands, the USSR’s drive to the south and push to the Indian Ocean would have succeeded. Vest commented that we hoped that Iran’s leaders would now realize who their main enemy was and that the U.S. was not their enemy. We hoped a gradual restoration of dialog might take place as a result of what the Soviets had done in Afghanistan. But, he stressed it was important that other countries remind Iran of the perils of having the USSR rather than the U.S. as a neighbor. Chai said that China was consulting closely with Pakistan in the hope that Pakistan could work on Iran to release its American hostages as soon as possible. He expressed the hope that U.S. relations with Iran would not be made “too tense” and that current tensions would, in fact, ease. It was important that nothing be done to distract world attention from the gravity of the Afghan situation. China hoped that Iran’s attention could be diverted to Afghanistan.

16. In closing, Chai stressed that what had occurred in Afghanistan was of major strategic importance. It could not be regarded as a localized incident. He hoped the U.S. and China could cooperate effectively on this issue. Vest responded that we would stay in close contact. Holbrooke added that Sec Def Brown would have additional information on what the U.S. and China should consider doing to achieve our mutual objectives in this matter, which he would be discussing in detail with China’s leaders in Beijing the following week.

17. For Tokyo: You may draw on this in briefing Japanese.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Box 2, 1/5/80. Secret; Immediate; Sensitive; Nodis. Sent for information to USNATO, Tokyo, and CINCPAC. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Telegram 8988 from USNATO, December 31, 1979, reported on Christopher’s consultations in London. See footnote 2, Document 107.
  3. See Documents 149 and 150.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 107, and footnote 2, above. According to telegram 8988 from USNATO, the joint statement was “rather bland at French insistence.” The text of the statement and Christopher’s remarks to the press was transmitted in telegram 25696 from London, December 31, 1979. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800004–0385)
  5. In telegram 594 from Tokyo, January 11, the Embassy reported on the measures being considered by the Government of Japan to protest Soviet actions in Afghanistan. These included cancellation of diplomatic visits and certain restrictions on trade and business agreements. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800019–0271)