113. Information Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Holmes) to Secretary of State Haig 1


  • Contingency Planning for Sakharov Death

You asked about ideas for what we might do in the event Sakharov were to die in detention.

In fact, the contingency still seems unlikely. The latest reports are very ambiguous. Media reports that he is in “critical” condition are based on a statement by Academy of Sciences President Alexandrov to the daughter-in-law that his “situation” is “very serious” but may be “resolved today or tomorrow.” Meanwhile, the girl has been called in by both KGB and emigration authorities only to find her interlocutors “ill.” It appears to us the Soviets are in a quandary which leaves room for action that could be favorable as well as unfavorable.

That said, we are working on the following possible steps in case Sakharov dies:

Presidential Statement. The NSC Staff agrees a strong statement would be advisable, and has it under consideration.2

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Memorial Service at the National Cathedral. Presidential participation is assumed. Once again, the NSC Staff is favorably inclined.3

Congressional Joint Resolution. We are consulting within the Department on the best approach to the Hill.4

CSCE . We are querying Ambassador Kampelman as to what would be most effective in Madrid. Possibilities range from a moment of silence through delegation walkouts to abrupt recess. Our recent exchanges with Genscher on the recess question pertain. You may wish to raise the issue at the Quad Dinner.5

INF. We are discussing with ACDA whether we should ask for a temporary recess in the INF negotiations to mark a death.6

Your Meeting with Gromyko . Similarly, you may wish to consider whether you would wish to postpone your meeting with Gromyko for a stated period.

Demarche to Gromyko . The action memo on instructions to Hartman which Larry will wish to discuss with you in Brussels includes an item on Sakharov: Hartman would pass over the President’s December 4 statement on your behalf. It would be useful to have this on the record in case Sakharov dies.7

Embassy Representation at the Funeral. We should in any event be ready to instruct Art Hartman to try to represent you and the President at Sakharov’s funeral, assuming he would be buried in Moscow.8

Scientific Exchanges. There is relatively little left in the barrel after Afghanistan—official exchanges are running at 25% of pre-1980 levels—and it would be even more difficult to reverse explicit Sakharov sanctions to reflect future forward movement in the relationship. Nevertheless, the following actions are under consideration:

Official Exchanges. We would wish to cancel a number of planned or projected visits to register our shock.9 White House OSTP chief Dr. Keyworth is also considering a personal statement pointing to the damage the event would wreck on prospects for renewal (as distinguished from levels) of existing agreements.

Private Exchanges. NAS President Frank Press has of course been very active, like many American scientists, and met with Dobrynin yesterday. We are encouraging the NAS to consider a warning statement now on [Page 379] the catastrophic consequences if Sakharov dies, as a prelude to the kind of retribution the Soviets must expect from the American scientific community.10

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Haig Papers, Department of State, Day File, Box 60, December 8, 1981. Confidential. Drafted by Simons on December 8; cleared by Scanlan. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “AMH.” Haig wrote in the upper right-hand corner: “will make statement tomorrow.” An unknown hand wrote “12/8/81” beneath Haig’s comment.
  2. Haig wrote: “do it!”over this point.
  3. Haig wrote: “do it” over this point.
  4. Haig wrote: “Resolution!” at the end of this point.
  5. Haig wrote: “will do” at the end of the point.
  6. Haig wrote: “do it!” beneath this point.
  7. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this point and wrote: “agree.”
  8. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this point.
  9. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this sentence.
  10. Sakharov ended his hunger strike on December 9 after Soviet authorities granted Yelizaveta Alekseyeva permission to emigrate.