109. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant to the President for National
Security Affairs (Nance) to
Washington, December 2, 1981
- 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
(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.
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)
Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan4
Washington, November 17, 1981
- 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
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
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.
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
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.