107. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

316836. Subject: U.S. Demarche to Soviets on Sakharov.

1. (Secret—Entire text).

2. At the Secretary’s request, Under Secretary Stoessel requested Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin to call on him November 27 concerning the Sakharov hunger strike. Dobrynin was indisposed so in the interest of urgency Stoessel received Minister-Counselor Bessmertnykh in his stead. EUR/SOV Director Simons accompanied the Under Secretary.

3. FYI, to be held very closely. Posts should be aware that the Secretary raised the cases of Sakharov and his family and of Anatoliy [Page 364] Shcharanskiy privately with Dobrynin November 11;2 that the President reiterated his personal interest in these cases in his November 17 letter to Brezhnev;3 and that Dobrynin sent the Secretary an instructed non-paper November 194 making the point that quote it is inappropriate for the US side to raise the question about Sakharov and Scharansky (sic) unquote because quote such a question . . . does not exist in Soviet-American relations. It belongs entirely to the domestic competence of the Soviet state. Unquote. End FYI.

4. Stoessel thanked Bessmertnykh for calling on short notice, and said he wished to talk on the Secretary’s behalf about the Sakharov case and the hunger strike Sakharov and his wife have undertaken to secure release of their daughter-in-law. Bessmertnykh knew the Secretary and the President were concerned about the case of Sakharov and Shcharanskiy, and the hunger strike redoubles this concern, Stoessel said. We had studied the Soviet message received November 19 carefully, and hoped our points would also be studied carefully on the Soviet side.

5. Sakharov’s health is not good, Stoessel went on, and the hunger strike threatens to make it worse. If he becomes gravely ill or dies, there will be a tremendous public outcry. Public interest is intense. The Secretary had asked him to talk about the case on this basis, in a low-key, private way. Such a public outcry would not be in the interest of our relationship.

6. Of course, Stoessel continued, our interest in release of the daughter-in-law does not detract from our interest in the cases of Sakharov and Shcharanskiy themselves.

7. In conclusion, Stoessel drew attention to the November 24 sense of the Senate resolution5 on the hunger strike which requested the Secretary of State to pass a copy of the resolution to the Soviet Government. On the Secretary’s behalf he wished to pass on this copy, as well as a non-paper embodying the points he had made. (Text of non-paper ends this message.)

8. Bessmertnykh responded that this was not a new subject, so he would not have much to say except that the demarche would be reported. What had been said on instructions November 19 stands. With regard to the daughter-in-law, without entering into technicalities it was true that no valid marriage had been executed. He would report [Page 365] that Congress had asked the Secretary to hand over a copy of the resolution, but since the matter was entirely a Soviet domestic one he could not accept it. However, he repeated, the substance of the demarche would be reported. (FYI Bessmertnykh accepted the text of the non-paper. End FYI.) He did not know the state of Sakharov’s health. In human terms he wished him good health. Of course the hunger strike would hurt. However, he suspected it would not end as tragically as many seemed to think.

9. Speaking off-the-record, Bessmertnykh said the tremendous publicity surrounding the hunger strike “cast a shadow” over it by arousing doubts as to its aims and seriousness. Simons pointed out that good friends of Sakharov were coming to US with pleas for intervention, but of an entirely private, non-publicized kind. Bessmertnykh concluded that may be true, but others—including the relatives who had visited the Soviet Embassy two days ago—always seemed to come with newsmen.

10. Text of U.S. non-paper, begin text. The Secretary has asked me to express to you once again the President’s personal interest and his own in seeing Sakharov and his family and Anatoliy Shcharanskiy released.

The message received November 19 has been carefully studied. There appear to US to be a number of factors we hope the Soviet side will weigh with equal care.

Sakharov’s health is poor. The hunger strike will place his life in danger.

There would be a major public outcry if Sakharov were to become extremely ill or die. Public concern in the United States is intense. The latest evidence is the resolution passed unanimously by the Senate November 24. On the Secretary’s behalf, I would like to present you with a copy.

We cannot believe such a major public outcry with regard to this case is in the interest of your government, any more than it is in our mutual interest to ignore any of the cases mentioned by the Secretary November 11 and by the President in his November 17 letter to President Brezhnev. End text.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, N810009–0428. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent Immediate for information to Bonn and Madrid. Drafted by Simons; approved by Stoessel and Scanlan.
  2. See Document 101.
  3. See Document 103.
  4. The Department transmitted the non-paper in telegram 324961 to Moscow, December 8. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  5. S. Res #246, printed in Congressional Record—Senate, 1981, pp. 28997–29000.