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303. Minutes of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Conventional Arms Transfers—Round IV


  • State

    • Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher
    • Mr. Leslie Gelb, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • Mr. David McGiffert, Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs
  • JCS

    • General David C. Jones, Chairman
    • Rear Admiral James A. Lyons, Jr., Assistant Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs, Plans and Policy Directorate
  • CIA

    • Dr. Sayre Stevens, Deputy Director, National Foreign Assessment Center
    • Mr. Neil Linsenmayer, NIO for Special Studies
  • ACDA

    • Deputy Director Spurgeon M. Keeny
    • Dr. Barry Blechman, Assistant Director, Weapons Evaluation and Control Bureau
  • White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Mr. David Aaron
  • NSC

    • Mr. Reginald Bartholomew
    • Dr. Jessica T. Mathews
    • Dr. Leslie G. Denend

Dr. Brzezinski opened the meeting by questioning a basic element in the approach to the CAT talks presented in the interagency paper.2 He stated that sensitive issues pertaining to our alliance relationships, which should not be a matter for discussion with the Soviets, were being proposed for discussion. Focusing on China and the Koreas, he asked whether the risk of damage by even listening to a presentation on this area was not too great since listening is also part of negotiations.

In response, Christopher replied that his question goes to the fundamental feeling one holds about these negotiations. If that feeling is [Page 748]positive—as State’s is—then he believes we should be prepared to listen to what the Soviets want to talk about so that we can talk to them about what we want. He therefore recommends that we hear what the Soviets have to say on Korea, ask whatever questions are necessary to clarify the proposal, and indicate that we will comment at the next round. He added that Ambassador Gleysteen had been asked his views on this. Gleysteen felt that the government of South Korea should be consulted in advance, and if they did not strongly object, we should proceed as the State Department proposed.3 Christopher quoted Gleysteen’s conclusion that: “We—and to a lesser extent the Soviets—play a crucial role in moderating the North-South Korean arms race, and we should not close our minds entirely to a rather passive exploration of the issue.”

Secretary Brown remarked that his view was more negative and he interpreted Gleysteen’s cable as more negative also. Since the US is the major arms supplier to South Korea, and the Chinese to North Korea, mutual US-Soviet restraint would greatly upset the ROKG. He didn’t know how negative we should be: whether we should walk out, or listen in silence, or try to agree to an agenda in advance. His inclination was that we should try to agree with the Soviets on restraint in just one area—Africa—and if we couldn’t agree there, he asked, how can we agree anywhere else? He noted that he recognized that the US has the most to gain from mutual restraint in Africa.

Brzezinski asked what views of the group were on Brown’s suggestion of singling out a single non-aligned region for initial agreement. He stated that he believed that the Soviets found these negotiations very attractive because they hold the promise of establishing a global USUSSR relationship above established allied or emerging political relationships—at no cost to the Soviets. We have no interest in promoting that, and on the other hand, have a great deal to lose. He sees no conceivable interest to the US in listening to Soviet presentations on China, Korea and Iran. It would make more sense to isolate a single region where there is the least amount of conflictual interest. He also wanted to know how far we can move towards agreement with the Soviets without the extensive involvement of the British and French.

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Christopher replied that we cannot reach any form of agreement, even ad referendum with the Soviets. That would be getting too far out ahead of our allies. However, he does not think that we can construct an agenda containing only the things we want to talk about. He also feels that if we did this the African countries would feel singled out.

Blechman argued that we cannot ignore the history of these negotiations. We had insisted on the regional focus, and we had proposed Latin America and Africa. We had told the Soviets that any regional area which possessed geographical coherence and reflected politico-military realities could be presented as a valid candidate for regional restraint, though that did not mean we would agree to discuss it. Therefore, how could we refuse to even hear the Soviet proposals?

Brzezinski replied that listening is a form of negotiating and that we have to be sensitive to overriding political realities. The very fact that these negotiations are taking place is sensitive. Keeny remarked that he does not know of a single case in an arms control negotiation where we have refused to let another side talk about something relevant to the substance of the talks. Aaron replied that these are not arms control negotiations—they go to the heart of our relations with other nations.

Brzezinski then proposed that we let the Soviets make their case on these regions in the context of arguing over the agenda for the meeting, while not agreeing to their inclusion on the agreed agenda itself. At least then we would not just be sitting and listening. Keeny argued that there might be some real possibilities for restraint in Korea, therefore let’s listen. Sayre Stevens remarked that advanced weapons for North Korea can only come from the USSR, not from China, and that the current relationship might change and the Soviets might resume arms shipments to North Korea. Brown said that it was not clear whether Brzezinski’s clever suggestion would work but it was worth a try.

Brzezinski asked why the delegation had not proposed discussing arms transfers to Vietnam. Failure to do so appeared to signal an attitude that was not sufficiently sensitive to wider political concerns. Gelb replied that Vietnam had been considered. He personally had nothing against raising it—in fact it might be a good idea. However, we could not talk about transfers to a single country without reference to its neighbors—that is the essence of the regional approach we are following as directed by the President. In this case the regional experts in State and the other agencies had strongly opposed having the US raise the Southeast Asian region. He wanted to make clear that the CAT delegation was not trying to prejudice US interests, but was carrying out an exercise based on Presidential directives.

Gelb stated that if you put the agenda to the test Brzezinski was suggesting the talks are doomed to failure. He asked whether the CAT [Page 750]negotiations are worth the risk that the Soviets would not agree to such an agenda. Christopher added that the real question was whether we were prepared to hear what they had to say and then to reject those areas we don’t want to talk about. Gelb noted that this was just what the delegation was proposing should be done, but that the Soviets would not agree to only address areas that are in the US interest.

Brzezinski then had to leave and wanted to summarize his position. He felt that we should first discuss the agenda, letting the Soviets make their case on Korea, if necessary, in that context. We should then make our pitch on Soviet transfers to Vietnam and then we should proceed to discuss Latin America and Africa as roughly symmetrical regional topics. If the Soviets won’t agree to proceed on this basis, then we will know that the reason they are interested in CAT is to use CAT to affect our relationships with our allies.

Gelb remarked that from the very beginning, the prospect of the US and the USSR working together for restraint has been inherent in this enterprise. There is a risk to our relationships with our friends and allies, but the question is whether we can accept that risk. Our allies like Korea are big boys. Why can’t we go to them and tell them that the Soviets are likely to raise their region and that we will listen in response. He disagreed with Brown’s earlier remark that the Gleysteen cable was negative. Our plan was to consult with the Koreans before the round and if they strongly objected, we would tell the Soviets that Korea was not an appropriate topic. Brown asked whether we also planned to consult beforehand with Iran. Gelb replied that he had personally briefed the Shah on CAT about ten months ago.4 The Shah was quite relaxed about it. Brown replied that that was a different era and the Shah would not feel the same now, whereas the Koreans may be more relaxed now than previously. He felt that we had a wider spectrum of alternatives in dealing with Korea than with the Shah, but that active discussion was not an option in either case.

Christopher asked what the negotiators felt about having a discussion at the beginning of the talks on what should be discussed. Gelb replied that such a discussion would be fruitless, and would only lead to a stalemate. In essence to do this would amount to a decision to end the talks. Blechman agreed, saying that we had thought that Mexico City5 would be a test of the Russians and now we are finding that it is a test of ourselves. Keeny said that getting other suppliers to cooperate in arms restraint is the President’s policy. If we don’t want to pursue it, we should put the issue to him and let him decide. McGiffert noted that [Page 751]our unilateral restraint policy was prefaced by the need to protect US national security interests.

Brown stated that walking out might be the appropriate response on Iran. Gelb asked Brown what his objective was in that strategy. Brown replied that progress in this round of CAT was too high a price to pay if Iran were to be further destabilized, or if we had to go through another round of reassuring the Koreans, such as he had just been through in the past year. Gelb asked why he thought that explaining to the government of Iran what might happen would lead to such destabilization. Brown replied that it was simply the fact that the talks were going on. Keeny argued that this issue is not related to the current situation in Iran. Brown agreed but argued that these discussions would make the situation very much worse. Keeny replied that if that were true then we should break off the talks, but he was challenging the basic thesis that the fact of something being brought up would have such cosmic implications. Aaron asked whether listening to the Soviets on Iran was more important than making progress on Latin America and Africa. Blechman answered that in order to make progress we must be prepared to listen. Secretary Brown then had to leave.

Aaron then said that he would try to frame the issues. First, do we try to negotiate an agenda at the beginning of the talks. Our position on Korea and on China is that we would simply not discuss it. On the region including Iran there are options. We could be prepared to discuss it. We could listen and then exclude it. Or we could treat it like China as not being an appropriate matter for discussion. Christopher said that this position was that Iran belonged in the same category as China. Blechman said that we should listen to the Soviet proposal and then deflect the discussion to a sub-region, namely the Yemens. McGiffert said that Iran should be treated like China.

Christopher asked what our experience has been. Will the Soviets persist in pursuing this region, or will they heed our warning? Gelb replied that they will persist. Keeny asked what we would do if they do persist. McGiffert said the US should walk out. Gelb disagreed with the State Department’s position on how to treat Iran. He disagreed also with Brown’s assessment of what will happen in Iran if we consult with them. These kinds of problems in our bilateral relations can be easily managed at the stage where we now are with the Soviets which is essentially ground zero. If we stonewall on this region, in his opinion we put the talks at serious risk. If we want to do that there should be explicit guidance from the President. Aaron said that we would need an official State Department position on whether or not we should consult in advance of the round with the government of Iran. He noted that the Shah may consider this the last straw and would surely wonder what our intentions are. We should keep a sense of perspective. We had de[Page 752]veloped areas of mutual interest (Latin America and Africa). Now, when the Soviets were proposing to discuss our vital interests, we are preparing to talk about them. Gelb and Blechman strongly disagreed with this analysis.

Aaron said that there were several other areas that needed discussion. If all these issues are resolved, how far can we go in CAT without our key allies? We have gotten a positive response to the President’s message from the British, but nothing from the French. Christopher replied that he did not rule out the possibility of another meeting with the Soviets if progress is made at Round IV. However, he did not feel we should reach any agreements, even ad referendum. But the delegation should be authorized to agree in principle to another CAT meeting, if the date was set far enough in advance so that there would be time for consultations with our allies. Gelb added that there was also the possibility of scheduling meetings of the Working Groups in between the formal rounds. General Jones said that there should be no more meetings until we demonstrate progress with the allies. Working Group meetings on Africa might be all right if we uncover areas of real interest. McGiffert said that any decision on further meetings should be made in Washington, not by the delegation. Aaron added that today’s meeting had revealed the great sensitivity that existed over these talks, so that coming back to Washington for a decision certainly seems warranted. Blechman asked whether that also applied to working group meetings on the criteria and on Latin America and Africa: areas where the US wants to press ahead? McGiffert said there was a serious problem with Latin America because of the MIG–23s in Cuba. Aaron emphasized that CAT was not the forum in which to discuss MIGs in Cuba, though Cuba is included in our proposals for regional restraint in Latin America. Christopher repeated that the Department of State supported the guidance as drafted in the interagency paper, giving the delegation authority to schedule additional rounds and meetings based on its view of progress made in this round. On Africa, State favored a US proposal covering only sub-Saharan Africa, not the whole continent. Later the region could be broadened to include all of Africa. He would like a question to be posed to the President on the fundamental issue of whether to go forward with CAT. He favored doing so. He then had to leave the meeting.

Blechman asked whether the decision paper for the President would be cleared among the agencies. Aaron replied that we would try to faithfully reflect the discussion. If any agency feels it necessary, it is free to contribute its own paper.

Aaron then raised the issue posed in the interagency paper of whether we should table a proposal on Latin America at this round, or simply explore possible options. McGiffert asked what State felt about [Page 753]Mexico’s views on this. Jones added that we must be particularly sensitive about Mexico’s views since the meeting will be in Mexico City. We have to be careful that the suppliers do not get out in front of the recipients. Gelb answered that the Mexicans have no objection to our tabling a proposal. What they would object to is any form of agreement on a proposal. State favored tabling a proposal. Keeny said that ACDA agreed. McGiffert favored exploring options but making no proposal. Gelb noted that there are many things about the Mexican proposal with which we disagree. Aaron asked whether we have consulted with Brazil on our proposal. Gelb said that we have talked to them about our general approach but not about the specifics. We have not told any other government about the specifics, but we have briefed Brazil and many of the other Latin American countries in some detail on our general approach. McGiffert noted that although we had weapons lists for Latin America it was not clear exactly what proposal the delegation would be tabling. Aaron directed the Interagency Group to prepare a specific proposal for approval prior to the talks.

Turning to Africa, Aaron felt that there is a political asymmetry between Latin America and Africa, and that if the Soviets did not appear serious about discussing concrete proposals on Africa, that perhaps we should not make a concrete proposal on Latin America. Since Latin America is in our backyard it would not make sense to talk in detail about Latin America, but not about Africa. Gelb responded that any proposal that the delegation was authorized to make would presumably be approved because it was in our interest. He did not therefore see the linkage between the two regions that Aaron was suggesting. Aaron replied that the linkage was there, and was important. On the scope of the Africa proposal, Gelb explained that Secretary Vance was afraid that a proposal on all of Africa might affect the current Middle East talks because of Libya, and so for this round we should stay with sub-Saharan Africa. In the long run we would hold out the possibility for expanding the region to all of Africa minus Egypt. All agreed. Gelb added that since everybody else was doing so, he would also like to make a statement for the record. The delegation is not proposing things because the Soviets will like it or not like it. The issue is not how to make the Soviets happy, but how to frame a proposal which is both negotiable and in the US interest. Aaron said that the question is what is in our interest?

Gelb said that on Africa State would like authorization for both Options 1 and 2. He would not oppose sending this issue back to Washington during the round, but there is a problem because of the short duration of the round—only seven working days. Stevens asked whether the first option didn’t mean that the US couldn’t change the existing arms balance in Africa. Blechman responded that the idea was to make [Page 754]as far reaching a proposal as possible since restraint is clearly in our interest in Africa because the Soviet Union is transferring so much more than we. McGiffert favored instructing the delegation to have a general discussion with the Soviets on Africa. If they show interest, the delegation should report back to Washington which will then decide whether a proposal should be tabled and what it would be. Gelb said that approach would not work, and that after all this time we ought to be able to approve or disapprove the options as drafted. Keeny favored approval of both options, with a preference for Option 1. Aaron agreed with McGiffert’s view that the delegation should check back with Washington for approval during the round. Gelb said that objections to the weapons lists (which had already been cleared by all agencies involved) should be raised here and worked out before the round. Blechman and Keeny added that the delegation was not asking for authority to make changes in the options, but rather for authority to table a pre-authorized option. McGiffert said that the delegation should explore the possibilities for limitations of less sophisticated weapons systems. If there is interest, report back to Washington. General Jones agreed. Aaron said that the Interagency Group should prepare precise formulations of the two options which would then be considered for approval. Gelb emphasized that State’s position was that the delegation have the power to proceed once the proposal was approved.

On the question of how to approach the control of the transfer of technology and coproduction in CAT, McGiffert argued that it be treated only as a means of assuring noncircumvention of agreed restraint regimes, and not as a separate criterion. Keeny argued that since control of coproduction and technology is an important part of our unilateral restraint policy, it makes sense to seek to apply the same limitations to the Soviets. It should therefore be treated as a separate criterion. Jones and Gelb both favored treating coproduction as a non-circumvention issue. Gelb noted however that he understood ACDA’s argument and felt that the issue should be posed in that manner for the President.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 118, SCC 118, Arms Control/Conventional Arms Transfers, 11/21/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. In telegram 9189 from Seoul, October 14, Gleysteen said “I would like to emphasize one other obvious point about the conventional arms talks. If we are ever going to talk to the Soviets about any kind of mutual restraint agreements in Korea, I assume we will have the courtesy and good sense to review what we have in mind with the Koreans before we start talking to Soviets. If we don’t, we will be in deep trouble.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780420–0344) He repeated this in telegram 10395 from Seoul, November 20. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780523–0064)
  4. Gelb met with the Shah on February 5. No record of their meeting was found.
  5. The next round of Comprehensive Arms Talks were scheduled for December 5–15 in Mexico City.