125. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Indian Ocean Talks


  • Ambassador Ralph Earle II
  • Chairman, U.S. Indian Ocean Delegation
  • Colonel Joel McKean, Executive Secretary
  • Ambassador Lev Mendelevich, Chairman, Soviet Union Indian Ocean Delegation
  • Mr. Neverov, Secretary, Ambassador Mendelevich

After brief introductory remarks, Earle, pursuant to decisions reached at the meeting of the PRC on July 18, 1979,2 and in accordance with the attached talking points,3 presented the U.S. position regarding resumption of the talks on Indian Ocean Arms Control.

Mendelevich referred to the Vienna Communique4 and, after quoting it, stated that the commitment therein was not being fulfilled. Earle responded that our meeting had been prompt and not inconsistent with the Communique. He had stated the reasons for U.S. caution and cited the reasons that the immediate resumption of the talks would not be appropriate. Earle repeated that he would consider a meeting in the fall to discuss the situation further.

Mendelevich said he had come prepared to discuss dates for resumption but would not do so since the U.S. side was not prepared to address this subject; Mendelevich would discuss the situation from the Soviet perspective. Citing some progress, he listed agreement on such things as objectives, military presence, initiating of the talks regarding reduction once the first agreement is achieved, and principles, and indicated that the drafting stage could have continued if talks had resumed. He added that at the end of the fourth round the UN [Page 412] was informed of substantive progress and that this progress was ready to be translated into treaty language.

Mendelevich wanted to emphasize that there were mostly positive aspects and only one negative, the inability to establish a date for the next round. He referred to a discussion between Vance and Gromyko in September, 1978, in which Vance said that the American side was soon to fix a date for the resumption of the talks.5 However, time passed and no date was established. This was the formal side of the Soviet perception according to Mendelevich and he then proceeded to give what he called the substantive side.

Mendelevich was aware of things such as the perception by the U.S. side of the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean. He said this U.S. perception was wrong, this was not the case. There had been no increase in Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean. However, even if it were the case, there could be no U.S. argument since there had been no agreement on a freeze. Additionally, the increased level would not matter since both sides had talked about averages for the proposed freeze level. Finally, if there had been an increase in Soviet presence, Mendelevich rhetorically asked, why had that round of talks been the most fruitful?

Mendelevich suggested that the U.S. presence had increased but that this did not pose an obstacle for negotiations in the Soviet view.

Referring to the littoral and hinterland states, Mendelevich stated that our negotiations should not be a reason for their suspicions. In fact he perceived that the littoral and hinterland states’ suspicions had subsided over the period of the talks thus far. He referred to a first meeting of the littoral and hinterland states on this issue in July 1979 in which they proposed the translation of principles reached thus far into a binding agreement.6 The littoral and hinterland states also referred to the Vienna Communique as a positive indication that the talks would be resumed. Mendelevich said that littoral and hinterland states expect a response. The Soviet side is ready to give a response, the U.S. side is not. Mendelevich held that nothing should be done about this delicate situation without the sides informing each other before any action was taken. One possibility would be for the Soviet side to announce dates that would be acceptable to them, such as September or October of this year, and that the U.S. side was not prepared to renew the talks. According to Mendelevich agreement is within reach. The Soviet side supports the major elements of the approach and would agree to a step-by-step process. He concluded by [Page 413] stating that if talks do not continue in the near term, the Soviet side would not feel bound by anything.

Earle said that he understood what had been said by Mendelevich. More importantly, he was concerned about the potential for sliding backwards in what Mendelevich had called a “delicate subject” through unnecessary Soviet actions. He raised the question of whether we would want to bring to the UN and to the general public the situation regarding the delay in the talks. Mendelevich interrupted to indicate that this was not a USSR position but rather what he would recommend to his government.

Earle pointed out that a statement of Soviet rationale would, in his view, probably necessitate an answer by the U.S. as to why the U.S. was not prepared to renew the discussions at this time. He did not see how such an exchange would be helpful.

Mendelevich expressed a concern that the fall meeting Earle had suggested could be interpreted as simply a delaying tactic. Earle assured him that if we were to schedule a meeting it would be for a useful purpose. Mendelevich said that the next action was up to the U.S. and that he would await word from Earle.

After a brief informal discussion regarding channels of communications, the meeting was adjourned.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 24, Indian Ocean: 4–9/79. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Colonel Joel M. McKean. Copies were sent to Sick, Bartholomew, McGiffert, Seignious, Pustay, and Turner.
  2. See Document 124.
  3. Not attached.
  4. The Vienna Communiqué, released following the signing of the SALT II Treaty in Vienna on June 18, stated, in part, that the United States and the Soviet Union “agreed that their respective representatives will meet promptly to discuss the resumption of the talks on questions concerning arms limitation measures in the Indian Ocean.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 1085)
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 148.
  6. The meeting of the Littoral and Hinterland States of the Indian Ocean took place at the United Nations in New York July 2–13. For a summary of the Final Document of the meeting, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 49–50.