109. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (Nance) to President Reagan 1


  • Soviet Demarche on Afghanistan (C)

On October 31, the Soviet Ambassador responded to proposals on Afghanistan made by Al Haig to Gromyko during their conversation in New York in September2 and to Dobrynin on October 16.3 Interpreting these proposals to mean that “there exists a common point of departure,” the Soviet government proposes that conversations be opened between US and Soviet experts on the subject. (S)

Apparently what the Soviet government has in mind is the following remark of Al’s during his private talk with Gromyko on September 28, as recorded in the memorandum of conversation:

(Secretary Haig) thought that it would be very helpful if the following ingredients were included: First, the Afghanistan government should take steps now to broaden its base. Second, the Soviet government could simultaneously study a formula for a phased withdrawal. Third, outside powers could take a number of steps . . . regarding cross border activities from outside the borders of Afghanistan. He thought that implementation of all three steps in tandem could offer a solution. (p. 13). (S)

The Soviet government almost certainly interpreted this statement as an about face by the United States on Afghanistan. Instead of insisting on a Soviet withdrawal as a precondition for any international cooperation in the region, this proposal suggests that the Soviets “study a formula for a phased withdrawal” and “broaden the base” of their puppet regime in Kabul, while we and other powers concurrently would help stop the flow of weapons and soldiers to the Afghan Freedom Fighters. (S)

The proposal must have seemed sufficiently tempting for Moscow to propose the meeting of experts. It is doubtful if their response indicates a more conciliatory attitude on Afghanistan. (S)

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Tab A

Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan 4


  • Soviet Demarche on Afghanistan

Summary: On October 31, Dobrynin delivered a demarche on Afghanistan (TAB A) which contains a number of interesting points, including a Soviet expression of interest in U.S.-Soviet bilateral talks involving “specialists.” Dobrynin’s demarche may well be a tactical ploy, but we cannot exclude the possibility that it is a signal of tentative willingness to negotiate seriously. After consulting with the Pakistanis and briefing the British, French, and Germans, we will instruct Ambassador Hartman to meet with Gromyko to probe Soviet intentions.

Dobrynin’s Demarche: The most striking and potentially significant aspects of Dobrynin’s demarche are: (1) the highly unusual absence of any direct reference to the unacceptable Afghan/Soviet proposals for a settlement or to the general Soviet line that the root cause of the Afghanistan problem is “external interference” from Pakistan supported by the U.S.; and (2) the reference to Soviet willingness to include “specialists” in U.S.-Soviet exchanges of views on a “political settlement around Afghanistan.”

Potential Pitfalls: There is a strong possibility that the Soviet approach is a tactical ploy designed to engage us in bilateral negotiations which might be used by Moscow to reduce international criticism of the Soviet occupation, create tensions in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, and complicate our efforts to obtain regional cooperation with our Southwest Asia security strategy. The Soviets might also hope that such talks would advance their current “peace offensive” or that the very fact of the talks would induce us to alter other aspects of our policy and actions on Afghanistan. In the context of U.S.-Soviet relations, Moscow might try to portray its agreement to bilateral talks as a “concession” to us for which we should compensate the Soviet Union in arms control or some other aspect of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Thus, we believe that the Soviet approach should be handled with considerable care.

Possibilities: On the other hand, we cannot exclude the possibility that Dobrynin’s approach is an expression of tentative Soviet flexibility on the Afghanistan issue. In this connection, we find particularly interesting [Page 372] the non-polemical tone of the demarche and the omission of any direct reference to the unacceptable Afghan/Soviet proposals for a settlement. If the Soviet approach does reflect new flexibility on the substance of the Afghanistan problem, it could also have important positive implications for our overall approach to U.S.-Soviet relations.

Next Steps: We need now to determine whether Dobrynin’s demarche actually signalled an important shift in the substance of the Soviet position on Afghanistan. We intend to consult closely with the Pakistanis and to seek their views. We will provide more general briefings to the British, French, and Germans. Subsequently, we intend to instruct Ambassador Hartman to seek an appointment with Gromyko to probe for further evidence of Soviet flexibility on the substantive issues. After assessing the Soviet reply to this demarche, we will report to you and seek your approval for next steps.

Tab A

Soviet Demarche5

In connection with the readiness expressed by the US side to continue on the level of experts the exchange of views on questions concerning a political settlement around Afghanistan, which the Secretary of State spoke for at the meeting with A.A. Gromyko in New York as well as in his conversation with the Soviet Ambassador on October 16, we, on our part, confirm our positive attitude towards such a possibility.

It appears to us that the previous discussions revealed, besides the differences in the positions of our two countries, also certain coinciding elements. We understand what has been said on the American side to mean that the US would like to see Afghanistan remain an independent and non-aligned state maintaining good relations with its neighbors and that there is an interest in Washington in having a stable and secure situation in that region.

If it is the case—and this has been precisely the approach always followed by us—then, apparently, it can be assumed that there exists a common point of departure for a more specific discussion of the pertinent questions concerning the political settlement around Afghanistan.

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We would be prepared to hold an exchange of views on those questions through our embassies in Washington or Moscow with the participation, if need be, of additional specialists who deal with the said questions.

We are for conducting such discussions in a business-like manner, in the spirit of realism, and without unnecessary polemics. The work that would be done by our representatives could be of use for the subsequent exchange of views to be held during the meeting between the ministers of the two countries scheduled early next year.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Pipes Files, CHRON 06/28/1982–06/30/1982. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Copied to Bush, Meese, Baker, and Deaver. Reagan initialed the memorandum in the upper right-hand corner. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “The President has seen 12/3/81.” Pipes attached this memorandum, along with its two attachments, to a June 30, 1982, memorandum to Clark. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 90.
  3. See Document 95.
  4. Secret; Sensitive.
  5. No classification marking.