17. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Priorities for 1979–80

It is quite possible that, in addition to normalization with Peking, we will achieve in the next month or two both a SALT II agreement and completion of the Tokyo Round of the MTN. An Egyptian-Israeli treaty is also possible if the next few weeks produce greater flexibility.

Success on even three of these four issues, on top of the Panama Canal Treaty, would represent historic foreign policy achievements for the first two years of your Administration. At the same time, it becomes especially important to look at some of the implications of such successes for our foreign policy priorities and activities over the next two years. I have been reviewing these priorities in some detail, and thought it would be useful to present for your consideration a summary of this review.

SALT, MTN, and the Middle East agreements, as well as China normalization, would mean that foreign policy issues will have a high visibility here in the U.S. as we head into 1980, despite the attention domestic priorities will receive in a time of fiscal austerity. The success of your first term will be greatly affected by our ability to gain Congressional approval of SALT and MTN agreements and measures related to China normalization. The difficulties of gaining such approval will be substantial, including likely erosion of the bi-partisan foreign policy [Page 57] support we have enjoyed. Efforts with the Congress on these issues should therefore have priority over all other foreign policy concerns. Their success would bring significant substantive benefits and consolidate the leadership position of the United States. Setbacks would be very damaging to our relationships abroad and the Administration’s ability to gain domestic support on other foreign policy issues.

We should plan our other foreign policy initiatives in this context. The review of specific issues that follows seeks to do so.

At the same time we should keep in mind the shape of our policies as a whole, and the impression they convey. Two years ago, we recognized that the U.S. must manage a broad foreign policy agenda, including, in addition to the core security issues, new emphasis on concerns such as nuclear non-proliferation, human rights, limiting conventional arms sales, and development in the Third World.

It will be important that we maintain these goals, however we may shape our priorities and tactics during the next two years. Our human rights policies may come under increasing attack in certain domestic circles if friendly but authoritarian governments, where human rights have been an issue, give way to more radical or less friendly rule. Our nuclear non-proliferation concerns may well come under increasing pressure abroad. Without significant progress in gaining multilateral restraint, our unilateral conventional arms sales policies will become vulnerable. But, in each case, our goals are very important. We have been making progress on each issue. And our constancy on each is critical to our general credibility, even as we make pragmatic decisions about our tactics.

In presenting our policies publicly, we should emphasize that the practical progress we have made on central issues (SALT, China, trade, the Middle East) is fundamentally strengthening both our relationships abroad and the international system. We should also continue to hold out our longer term vision of a world in which we have not only helped stabilize East-West relations and diffused regional tensions, but also have made progress on issues which will determine the quality of life for succeeding generations—e.g., development in the Third World, limiting population growth, the law of the seas, preserving the environment. These concerns have helped give a special character to this Administration’s policies. Our human rights policies, which I believe are well conceived and managed, provide the philosophical core of our approach to the world.

It will be especially important that we continue to work very closely with our allies abroad. We may find ourselves increasingly turning to them to share responsibilities in areas where we have in the past been able to exercise power almost exclusively on our own. This can be turned to our benefit by injecting increasing vitality and life into our [Page 58] alliance relationships. As the international system becomes more pluralistic and, during the next year or two, as the financial resources we can use to support our diplomacy become more constrained, we need to help our public think all the more in terms of Western interests, influence, and power rather than exclusively in terms of U.S. interests, influence and power. Our diplomacy in Africa and Europe over the past two years, for example with regard to Namibia and Zaire, CSCE and Cyprus, illustrates the advantages of such an approach.

We must also continue to project confidence in Western and American power and policies. We should emphasize our defense modernization efforts and our strong ties to NATO, Japan, ANZUS and a growing number of developing countries. While firmly responding to Soviet activities in ways that emphasize our own advantages in the Third World, we should be careful not to emphasize excessively Soviet strengths and gains in our own statements. Doing so would create fears within NATO and here at home that we cannot manage East-West relationships effectively. If we were to let our rhetoric run ahead of the practical responses realistically available to us, we would create expectations about our ability to dominate events that we could not then meet. This plays into the critics’ hands, and creates a damaging and erroneous impression of weakness. It would hurt us at home and abroad, and could be especially damaging in SALT debates.

Running through this analysis is the point that we must, during the next two years, give consolidation of gains on SALT, China, MTN and the Middle East priority over other policies and new initiatives. The following thoughts on our priorities for the next two years represent an effort to shape our tactics on the latter to fit the primacy of the former, while maintaining our goals and the special character of your foreign policies.

I have divided our priorities into three categories: 1) crucial issues on which success would have far reaching benefits; 2) important issues on which success would be valuable but less critical to our interests; and 3) some complicating contingencies on which we should keep an eye and for which we should quietly plan. On each issue, I suggest some of the opportunities and problems we will have to address.

I. Crucial Issues

A. Middle East: Success in concluding an Israeli-Egyptian Treaty, and in beginning to build further on the Camp David framework, would confer great substantive benefits and solidify perceptions of your foreign policy leadership.2 This would ease the path of SALT and other policies and negotiations listed below.

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If we are able to gain an Egyptian-Israeli treaty, the next steps in building on the Camp David framework will be still more difficult than the Treaty negotiation. We face two basic problems:

—Concrete decisions will be required of leaders in the West Bank and Gaza who have never before had to make them, and who lack a decision making mechanism. These people are at the mercy, as individuals, of the winds blowing from Amman and Beirut (PLO). We must therefore make the potential of Camp David attractive enough in their eyes that they actively participate in the peace process, and gain the acquiescence and engagement of the other Arab parties.

—We will also have to deal with the hard reality that the Israelis do not see the advantages in a West Bank and Gaza accord that they may see in a Sinai agreement. On Sinai, they can see a realistically available alternative that is preferable to the status quo and therefore worth concessions on their part. There is no realistic alternative on the West Bank and Gaza that is preferable from the Israeli viewpoint, especially if normalization of relations with Egypt has been achieved.

On each of these two counts, progress will require positions on our part that are inherently unattractive to the Israelis. The settlements issue will become still more contentious. There will be fall-out on the Hill. We will have to manage all of this with real sensitivity to Israeli longer term concerns about our constancy.

The alternative to pursuing progress on the West Bank and Gaza is letting an Egypt-Israel bilateral treaty stand alone as a separate peace. To do this would probably result in our being on friendly terms only with Israel and Egypt, with the rest of the Middle East open for a return of Soviet influence. Saudi Arabia might not hold out against an Arab consensus at odds with Egypt and the U.S. A friendless Sadat regime would become more dependent than ever on us, and render precarious the stability of the bilateral treaty. Polarization between Egypt/Israel and the rest of the Arabs might also lead our European allies into increasingly pro-Arab positions. Moreover, we could be forced to consider allying ourselves with the Saudis to a degree we have not contemplated before in order to preserve as much as possible of our bilateral relationship. This itself could cause severe political problems domestically.

Thus, I believe that we should continue to press forward for the West Bank/Gaza agreement.

B. Management of East-West Relations: Now that the historic normalization with China has occurred, we need to reinforce a position of careful balance between Moscow and Peking, while improving relations with both. A “tilt” in either direction could dramatically increase world tensions and impair our ability to control the distance that it is in our interest to maintain between Peking and Moscow. [Page 60] Furthermore, recent opinion polls show that our public overwhelmingly wants a balanced approach.

On dealing with Moscow, I think that we are following an approach that has earned the respect of the Soviets and the American people. The lowering of voices on both sides in recent months has reassured our friends and allies that the Administration is effectively managing this key international relationship.

Preparations for the Madrid CSCE Conference will require attention and allied coordination.

We must continue to press the Soviets for responsible behavior in other regions; their actions in the Third World affect our interests, and will become a major debating point for opponents of SALT. But, as I noted above, we should continue to emphasize Western strengths more than Soviet advances in our public statements.

The one change I would advocate is a more forthcoming attitude in approving U.S. sales to the USSR of non-strategic items. This will not only encourage U.S. business to pursue actively this potentially vast market, it will also allow us vigorously to promote U.S. entry into the opening Chinese market, while observing a policy of “even-handedness.”

I believe we should consider an effort to repeal Jackson-Vanik,3 after SALT ratification, if the state of detente is positive, and if events in the Middle East are not complicating.

With regard to China, gaining Congressional approval of legislation relating to normalization will be our first priority in terms of timing. I expect that we will gain approval, but there will probably be attempts to add reservations or amendments (for example directing certain types of arms sales or relations with Taiwan) that we will have to beat back.

We should plan to conclude a number of basic agreements with Peking in 1979 which will enable us to expand our trade and exchange relationships. Settlement of claims/assets issues, a consular agreement, and formal bilateral agreements on some of the science and technical areas where we have already made progress are practicable. Given Peking’s present mood of looking outward, particularly toward the West, we can also try to draw the Chinese more actively into several international issues, for example on refugees and disarmament, where they have showed reluctance in the past. Our decisions on technology transfer and on arms sales by our allies, however, are particularly [Page 61] sensitive in terms of the balance we want to maintain with the Soviets. We should move with great care in both these areas.


Beyond the extraordinary substantive stakes involved, failure to conclude and gain approval of a SALT II Agreement would be seen as a major setback here and abroad. The negative effect on Soviet thinking about our relations could be profound and long lasting, especially as it would come at a time of transition in Soviet leadership.

The SALT debate itself could be abrasive for our relations with the Soviets. It must be made clear that we cannot go back to Moscow for last minute adjustments of the text, as it was possible to do with Torrijos.4 We must also be wary, in managing the debate, not to be drawn into shifts in our policies elsewhere in the world that would damage our over-all relationship with the USSR.

We will face a number of decisions on how to relate the timing of other arms control initiatives and negotiations to the SALT II debate.

We are committed to beginning on SALT III soon after ratification of SALT II, and perhaps even before. The earlier we might gain an agreement that restrains theater systems such as the SS–20, the lower the level at which this program would be capped. But before pressing negotiations on gray area systems with the Soviets, we should be sure to develop a solid alliance consensus on how to handle this subject. Any allied concerns on SALT III and theater systems would play back directly into SALT II debates here. The priority we give to allied concerns may mean we should start SALT III discussions at a slow pace.

As suggested below, it could be very important to our non-proliferation policies that we reach agreement on a comprehensive test ban by the end of 1979; we should seek progress in the negotiations during the coming year, but not try to reach final agreement until after SALT II ratification.

The possibility that a SALT II agreement might create conditions for progress on MBFR is also considered below.

D. Trade and the Dollar: The importance of international economic issues to our own economy and to our political relationships abroad has become increasingly evident. Working to enhance the strength of the dollar, which depends primarily on the anti-inflation program, remains crucial.

1979 is likely to see a major struggle in the Congress over approval of an MTN package, as well as in response to the likely introduction [Page 62] of new protectionist measures aimed at our major trading partners (especially Japan) and at the more advanced LDC’s.

The stakes are very high, not only in terms of the economic benefits to us and the future of the international trading system, but also in avoiding the acrimony abroad that would follow Congressional rejection. Our relationships with Europe would be damaged; and trade is an even more important strand in our ties to Asian friends. This is, I believe, a major strategic issue.

Interagency planning of our Congressional strategy for MTN, led by STR, should be completed as soon as possible. It will be important, both on the merits and to help us sell an MTN package, that we press ahead with export promotion measures.

E. North-South Issues: We are considering ways in which we can move the international dialogue away from rhetorical exchanges about resource flows, to focus more on the concrete problems that must be solved. This means concentration on practical programs in health, agriculture, etc. We are developing a coherent strategy of tying some practical, modest initiatives to the major North-South conferences scheduled for the next two years. Such initiatives must be sized to our limited resources.

In any case, there will be major efforts needed—with the G–77, our Congress and the U.S. public—to gain agreement and support on commodities (including both the Common Fund and a number of individual agreements) and our AID appropriations for FY 80.

II. Important Issues

A. Western Asia: A further breakdown of stability in this vital oil producing region can gravely affect our national security and that of our allies and could dangerously engage U.S. and Soviet interests. Domestic political concern could focus on perceived setbacks in the area, affecting a wide range of other Administration concerns, including SALT and our economic policies. There is an interagency effort to develop a coherent approach to this problem. Given the area’s extraordinary diversity, this strategy will require a number of sub-strategies that can encompass local rivalries and conditions. An essential problem is that many of the instabilities flow from domestic difficulties over which we have little influence, and a resurgence of Islamic nationalism which presents challenges to our interests but also to the Soviets’.

B. African Policies: The greatly increased influence in Africa which our new policies have gained for us is likely to erode if we do not gain a Namibia settlement. In any case, a growing crisis in Rhodesia is likely. We must seek to position ourselves in a manner that can best help maintain confidence with African nations and manage East-West aspects. This means continuing efforts to consult the Front Line states; [Page 63] making it clear that we are prepared to help the Rhodesian parties reach agreement whenever they wish us to do so and they have the will to negotiate; and voicing our concerns to the Soviets while carefully managing our public statements. Our impartiality among the Rhodesian parties will be increasingly important if, as seems likely, Rhodesia again becomes a lively Congressional issue. Our relations with Pretoria will need to reflect any progress in Namibia, but not go so far as to imply a backing away on apartheid.

C. Mexico: Your February trip reinforces the fact that we are starting to give the future of our relations with Mexico the proper attention.5 Putting these relations on a solid basis of cooperation would pay handsome dividends over the next decades, both in reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and in helping us manage together problems that could otherwise create constant tensions and domestic political problems for us both. We should approach the many complex issues with Mexico—including especially natural gas and migration—in the context of a positive, long-term strategy.

D. Nicaragua and Central American Stability: The Nicaraguan crisis has links and/or parallels to the situations in neighboring countries. Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela are watching to see what we can accomplish. El Salvador and Guatemala share most of Nicaragua’s political characteristics. A settlement in Nicaragua could help us encourage moderate evolutions in these two neighbors. Deterioration in Nicaragua will have repercussions here that could affect congressional action on such issues as Panama Canal Treaty implementation and AID levels.

E. Nuclear Non-Proliferation and CTB: Our non-proliferation policies have been designed and implemented well. We have had some success on a number of discrete issues (e.g., France and Pakistan), and the INFCE is a creative measure that could point the way to resolve some thorny technical issues.

But I am concerned about the potentially difficult period of late 1979/January–June 1980. Some twenty-two countries will then be candidates for renegotiation of our bilateral nuclear agreements. Most can be deferred or managed. But India will be very difficult.

In addition, the 1980 NPT Review Conference is scheduled for that June.

Success in these renegotiations—and the context of the Review Conference—will be strongly affected by the results of the INFCE, scheduled for completion in February, 1980; by progress in arms control negotiations among the nuclear powers; by the confidence potential [Page 64] proliferators like Korea and Taiwan have in their security and our assurances; and by attitudes toward the U.S. as a reliable nuclear fuel and technology supplier.

If the INFCE results are inconclusive, and we do not have a good case to make on arms control among the nuclear powers, we could easily see a backlash against the NPT at the Review Conference. A number of the more than 100 nations which have ratified the Treaty could renounce it.

Particularly important, both for the Review Conference and the Indian renegotiation, will be agreement on a CTB. Yet a CTB treaty would have rough sledding on the Hill. I would recommend that we seek to reach a CTB agreement after SALT II ratification, toward the end of 1979 or early 1980, and then consider whether, rather than moving promptly for ratification, we should send it to the UN Committee on Disarmament for its review. This would please the Indians and others, and could defer contentious Senate debate until after our elections.

F. Other Arms Control Initiatives:

A SALT II agreement might make it possible to gain the political level decisions necessary to make progress at the MBFR talks. The primary focus will remain on the Soviet position on data; we must remain firm here.

We might wish to look at ways of bringing the French into the discussions, perhaps by adding a few new participants and thus moving part way towards their proposed European Disarmament Conference.

With regard to conventional arms sales limitations, we will want seriously to review progress on multilateral restraint when looking this spring at our unilateral policies. But even if progress is minimal, we should avoid so dramatic a change in our own policies of restraint that we imply either final failure in seeking restraint by others, or that we have concluded our goal was misguided.

G. Eastern Mediterranean:

Progress on Cyprus is needed, both for the sake of Greek-Turkish rapprochement, including Greek reintegration into NATO, and to avoid a congressional backlash that could endanger our Turkish security assistance package.

Turkey’s economic difficulties are profound, and could at some point create a political crisis that would be damaging to our interests. Our own ability to respond is limited, and we will continue to urge our European allies to think creatively about ways to form ad hoc multilateral arrangements that could complement IMF support. This is a part of a broader problem: how best to support financially troubled [Page 65] important upper tier LDC’s and weaker European nations. The IMF itself will bear an increasing load. We face an important effort next year to gain congressional authorization and perhaps appropriation of some $5 billion for our share of an agreed 50 percent IMF quota increase, unless we decide to defer this request until the following year.

H. Refugees:

We plan to introduce new legislation that will simplify existing authorities and expand the ceiling for “foreseeable” refugees, thus reducing the pressure on the Attorney General’s parole authority. I believe we should appoint a high-level Refugee Coordinator to focus interagency actions, so that the issue receives the priority concern that it deserves.

The Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, mandated by the Congress last September, should get under way early next year. Its terms of reference will be very broad. Its report, due October 1, 1980, offers an opportunity to pull together a more coherent way of managing this complex and politically charged area.

I. Normalization with Angola, Iraq, Cuba and Vietnam, etc.:

Normalization of relations with such countries should remain our goal, as part of our vision of a more stable international system. And in each case, normalization would be a useful step in expanding U.S. influence and posing a counterweight to substantial Soviet interests and influence. But the complexities of normalization are real in each case and the domestic political context must always be given full weight. I would recommend, therefore, continuing caution but forward movement.

III. Contingencies

A.Possible Conflicts: Zaire; Ogaden/Ethiopia-Somalia; Sino-Viet (Soviet); Egypt-Libya; Argentina-Chile (perhaps drawing in Peru and Bolivia).

B.Possible Instability: Turkey; Post-Tito Yugoslavia; Iran; China; Egypt; Poland; El Salvador; Saudi Arabia; Pakistan; Zambia; Romania; Sudan; the Philippines; and countries moving to democracy, e.g., Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia.

C.Post-Brezhnev USSR.

D.Repolarized Arab world.

E.The Korean Peninsula during and after U.S. withdrawals.

F.Possible Soviet moves affecting Yugoslavia, Romania, other Eastern European nations, or China.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Official Working Papers of S/P, 1977–1981, Box 1, Misc. re: Issue and Priorities, 1978. Secret; Nodis. Printed from an unsigned copy. At the top of the first page is a notation in an unknown hand, “12/28/78 orig to Secy Vance.” Also printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 107, from a copy with Carter’s handwritten comments.
  2. The Camp David Accords were signed on September 17.
  3. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act (P.L. 93–618) denied most-favored-nation trade status to nations with non-market economies that restricted emigration.
  4. Omar Torrijos Herrera, Chief of the Panamanian Government. A reference to negotiation of the Panama Canal Treaty.
  5. Carter traveled to Mexico from February 14 until February 16, 1979.