117. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Conversation with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary George Vest, EUR
  • Soviet Union
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to chemical or biological weapons.]

Dobrynin:—The mood of the country is reinforced by the pronouncements of the Administration, so much so that there seemed to be practically nothing left to maintain in our bilateral relations.

Dobrynin illustrated his point with the report of Soviet gassing of Afghanistan villages, complaining that our official press briefing accused the Soviets without evidence to back it up. The Secretary replied that for weeks we have gotten extensive and numerous reports which give detailed accounts describing two kinds of gas, smoke and another which causes bleeding and death. We have report after report from many different sources. Therefore, our Spokesman was correct when he said that, although we have no photographs, we have so many reports from refugees that we have to take account of them. Dobrynin’s reply was that these are only stories and we have no proof. Do you believe, he asked, that we have no sense of civilization? It seems that you will accept any accusation against the Soviets.

He then turned to the bacteriological warfare episode. Anthrax, he said, is a disease which from time to time occurs in the Asian world.2 The Soviets have experienced it before in Siberia and warned people to avoid infected meat. In this case it was not a secret episode, it happened a year ago. Yet when people came to the West and told stories, we listened to their stories, reacted in public and to the UN agency without waiting for or giving credence to what the Soviet Union said. The Secretary pointed out that the essential fact was that there appeared to be evidence that some material had not been destroyed which should have [Page 255] been. Dobrynin replied that the Soviet authorities would not take such chances with their own citizens. The episode took place a year ago and now was being used as propaganda against the Soviets. The State Department Spokesman had no answer as to why this subject came up a year late or why we made accusations without proof. He was forced to conclude that a US TV commentator was right when he described it as an instance of the Administration’s “aggressive psychological warfare.” Certainly that is the atmosphere, an atmosphere which is altogether negative, a search warrant atmosphere, and as a result the structure of the past ten years is left standing like a building exposed to an atomic bomb. The Secretary commented that it was not our intent to destroy the structure. He had said that before and stood by it, but he did not minimize the problems. Dobrynin repeated gloomily that the only thing left was the bare framework of the structure and nothing else. The Secretary asked if Dobrynin thought the people in Moscow understood the intensity of the US public reaction to the invasion in Afghanistan. Dobrynin replied yes, they did understand it and, if not, the US reminded them of it daily.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to chemical or biological weapons.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Memcons: April, May, June 1980. Secret. Drafted by Vest; and approved by Vance. The memorandum is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 272.
  2. See Documents 113, 114, and 116.