287. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Iran, Christopher Mission to Afghanistan, SALT and Brown Trip to China


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • State
  • Secretary Vance
  • Deputy Secretary Christopher
  • Defense
  • Secretary Brown
  • Deputy Secretary Claytor
  • CIA
  • Deputy Director Carlucci
  • White House
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Hamilton Jordan
  • Lloyd Cutler
  • Jody Powell
  • David Aaron


The President began by saying that the NSC would first discuss Iran and Pakistan and then reduce the membership to the statutory members for a more private session.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to China.]

Turning to the issue of multilateral economic actions and the question of COCOM restraints, Dr. Brzezinski said that we were prepared to pursue the “Belgian formula” in COCOM and this would involve liberalizing sensitive exports to China on a case-by-case basis thereby creating a de facto differential. However, we would not announce formally that COCOM had created such a differential. The President approved this approach.

On the question of consultations with others to reinforce U.S. economic actions, the President said that we should consult particularly on credits. That we should deny Soviet Union credits and urge others to do the same. The Secretary of State pointed out that we do not provide credits to the Soviet Union. The President responded by saying we should nonetheless urge others not to provide further credit.

Returning to the COCOM issue, the Vice President suggested to the Secretary of Defense that he use the fact of the China differential in his discussions with the Chinese next week. The President asked what the allied reaction was to the concept of a China differential. Deputy Secretary Christopher said the reaction was good. The Secretary of [Page 1031] State said that on a case-by-case basis we would look at China differently. The Secretary of Defense added that he would not explain to China how we would do this but only the fact that we would do it.

Dr. Brzezinski summarized by saying that we accept the idea of a differential in practice but do not establish a public principle. Deputy Secretary Christopher thought that the allies would be prepared to go even further and Secretary Brown said that this would be fine, but that he would proceed as indicated with the Chinese.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to China.]

The meeting was then restricted to the statutory members plus Mr. Aaron. Dr. Brzezinski reviewed the alternatives to strengthen Harold Brown’s instructions in regard to his China trip. He noted in particular that we had added the idea that we would be prepared to provide China with an over-the-horizon radar.

The Secretary of State said that he had not heard of this issue until this morning. Secretary Brown said that that was true of him as well. Dr. Brzezinski noted that it was the Vice President’s idea [less than 1 line not declassified] which appeared to be an extremely interesting one.

The Secretary of Defense said that we could provide them with something to track and give them an indication of specific actions by the Soviet Union.

The Secretary of State said that if we do this without Congressional approval, we will have a very bad reaction. He said he was against it.

The Secretary of Defense said that he does not need it in his instructions. He felt he had a good package already. The fact that he is going and able to assure the Chinese of our interests in their security and that we were prepared to help the Pakistanis would be adequate.

Dr. Brzezinski said the Secretary of State was correct in that heretofore we would not do something like this either for the U.S.S.R. or for China, but that was before we had an invasion and we now have an increased sense of vulnerability in Asia and China is an important deterrent to Soviet activity.2

Dr. Brzezinski asked whether it was in our interest to stand aside. He thought there was a difference between offensive and defensive military equipment, and with Soviet tanks moving towards the Indian Ocean, our unwillingness to provide anti-tank weapons was not a contribution to regional stability.

The Secretary of State said that this is not a decision that the President had to make now and that he should first consult with the [Page 1032] Congress. The President said that he did not have to consult Bob Byrd: that we should sell weapons to China, including F–16’s.

Dr. Brzezinski thought that the public would not understand why we were unwilling to be helpful to the Chinese in this kind of a situation. Secretary Brown said that this issue did not have to be decided before he left. He could raise [less than 1 line not declassified] our willingness to give them early warning capabilities.

The President said that he did not look upon over-the-horizon radar as violating what we have said previously concerning providing arms to China. He thought it was the sort of thing that should be explored. Our policy is not to sell weapons. We approve of the ally sale of defensive arms.

The Secretary of State intervened to say that that was not precisely it. We do not take the position of approving the sale of defensive arms. We simply say that is our allies’ own concern.

The President said that the situation in Afghanistan and Iran does add a new dimension. He thought that we should be prepared to modify our position but how to modify it should be further explored. Something along the lines of the over-the-horizon radar he thought should also be explored. In addition, we ought to reexamine COCOM and our restrictions on sensitive equipment. The most important thing he concluded is that we give a strong signal of support to the Chinese and of displeasure to the Soviets.

Secretary Brown said, however, that we also need to leave some room on the ladder of escalation, otherwise there is no need for Soviet restraint. Dr. Brzezinski added that we do need to give enough of a signal so the Soviets know we are serious.

Dr. Brzezinski said we are facing as acute a dilemma as when the British came to us to say that Greece and Turkey were our problem.

The President said that he was not sure that what we had decided today will deter the Soviets from going into Pakistan and into Iran. Both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense agreed that it would not, but that it would provide a signal. Secretary Brown said that our response must make the Soviets wonder whether the next step will be worth it.

Turning back to China, the President said that the basic memo from Harold Brown on his instructions for China was good.3 The Secretary of State agreed.

The President then said that before Secretary Brown leaves, he would like to sit down and review his instructions. He suggested that [Page 1033] this be done at the Friday breakfast in order to confirm the Secretary’s instructions. The Secretary of State noted that there were two other items suggested to be added to Secretary Brown’s list and two others that he could not agree with. Dr. Brzezinski said that Secretary Brown’s instructions were generally agreed among the three of them along the lines indicated by the Secretary of State. He summarized by saying that Secretary Brown’s memo was generally acceptable, but that the final signoff would await the Friday breakfast. The President agreed. He said that we should continue to explore what further might be done for the Chinese.

He then commented that since discussing the issue of the kinds of signals that need to be sent to the Soviet Union in this crisis, he was inclined to go ahead on a grain embargo in order to give the Soviets a signal on their behavior. The President asked that there be a further discussion of the grain issue tomorrow morning. He said that we need to get broad-based support for a grain embargo which is what he was inclined to go with at this stage.

The meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Meetings File, Box 2, NSC Meeting #26, Held 1/2/80, 1/80. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began on December 27, 1979.
  3. Carter is probably referring to Brown’s December 29 memorandum, see Document 286.