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305. Telegram From the Department of State to All American Republic Diplomatic Posts1

12960. Subject: Conventional Arms Transfers: Debrief on US-Soviet Talks. Refs: (A) State 216300,2 (B) State 319188,3 (C) State 3076294 (D) State 322255.5

1. (U) Posts may at discretion draw on following to brief host governments on fourth round of US-Soviet CAT talks, held in Mexico City December 5–15. Joint communiqué was transmitted in Ref B.

2. (S) During the third round with the Soviets in July we reached a general understanding that we would proceed in these talks to discuss political-legal criteria, military-technical criteria and the regional application of these criteria. When we met for the fourth round in Mexico City, we were not able to reach agreement on terms of reference for the regional part of the discussions, and therefore decided to drop that part of the discussion for this round.

3. (S) Accordingly, the work of this round focused on general criteria. The political-legal working group continued its discussion of criteria and made considerable progress in developing a common text, although significant differences remain.

4. (S) Regarding military-technical criteria, the Soviet side for the first time came forward with its ideas. In a number of areas the Soviet criteria bear similarities to the ideas we had put forward, in other areas we are still quite far apart. No date has been set for the next round, but it will be held in Helsinki.

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5. (S) In sum, we did not make progress on regional issues, but we did make limited progress on the general criteria. We continue to believe that discussions about the regional application of criteria are essential if arms transfer restraint is to be meaningful, and we hope that these discussions about specific regions can be resumed in the next round.

6. (S) However, regardless of how US-Soviet talks develop, there is no reason why recipient countries cannot move ahead in developing their own consensus on conventional arms restraint. They have a clear mandate to do so from UNSSOD, and supplier countries have a mandate to cooperate. FYI. Government of Mexico sought, as did US, a clear statement of support for the Latin American initiative in the CAT IV communique. The final language was as far as the USSR was prepared to go, and it would not have gone that far were it not for threat by GOM to denounce both powers publicly for their failure to respond to Mexican expression of interest. End FYI.

7. (C) Accordingly, US has responded positively (Ref D) to Mexican diplomatic requests for endorsement of its initiative and for an indication of willingness to respect restraint agreements Latin American States may reach. As secretary pro-tem of 20-nation group,6 Mexico hopes to obtain agreement to a meeting for March 1979 in Quito to set up a permanent consultative mechanism on arms restraint and begin the identification of types of restraints that might be broadly acceptable. Venezuela has told US that the Ayacucho initiative has been folded into the larger effort and that it fully supports the 20-nation group. (However, it would prefer a date other than March because of the change of government that month in Venezuela.)

8. (C) Because the restraint initiative is a Latin American effort, and must remain so if it is to succeed, the degree to which the US can become involved, even behind the scenes, is limited. However, we continue to be interested in following developments closely and would appreciate your reports of public or private comments by host governments on either the US-Soviet talks or the Latin American initiative.

Vance
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790024–0450. Secret; Immediate. Sent for information to USUN, the Mission in Geneva, and Moscow. Drafted by George Jones (ARA/RPP) and Priscilla Clapp (PM); Ralph Johnson (ARA/RPP), John Bushnell (ARA), Lorna Watson (ACDA), and Michael Eshes (AF/I); and approved by Gelb (PM).
  2. See Document 296.
  3. Telegram 319188 to XX, December 19, 1978, contained the text of a joint U.S.–USSR communiqué about the December 5–15 Conventional Arms Limitation talks in Mexico City. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780524–1038)
  4. Telegram 307629 to all diplomatic posts, December 6, 1978, informed all diplomatic posts of the December 5–15 Conventional Arms Limitation talks in Mexico City. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780502–1073)
  5. In Telegram 322255 to Mexico, December 22, 1978, the United States Government told the Government of Mexico that it “views with favor the proposal to convene, at an appropriate time, a conference to discuss the regulation of international transfers of arms into the Latin American region” and “would welcome the opportunity to participate.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780530–0906)
  6. The Latin America and Caribbean Conventional Arms Restraint Group.