164. Minutes of an Interagency Coordinating Committee for U.S.-Soviet Affairs Meeting1

Overview of US-Soviet Relations

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scanlan drew attention to Leonid Brezhnev’s reappearance at the April 22 Lenin Day ceremonies which had ended weeks of guessing about the Soviet leader’s health and whereabouts. While Brezhnev’s reemergence proved he was still alive, it will not still the speculation over who will be his eventual successor. Chernenko and Andropov are both being touted while Kiri[Page 536]lenko’s apparent illness appears to have taken him at least temporarily out of the running.

Scanlan noted that the questionable state of Brezhnev’s health may have influenced the Soviet counterproposal of an October summit to President Reagan’s offer to meet with Brezhnev if the latter attends the UN’s Special Session on Disarmament in June. The desire to one-up the President may have been uppermost in the Soviets’ calculation. Brezhnev’s offer is now under study; our response will be determined by events and the character of our dialogue in the coming period.

Preparations are now in full swing for the President’s trip to Europe which will include the Bonn and Versailles summits with our Allies. One of the US’s main goals is to limit subsidized credits and official guarantees to the Soviet Union. Under Secretary Buckley has been deeply engaged in this effort which had recently taken him to Europe again. We hope to have achieved a unified position on this issue before the President’s trip to Europe in June.

Turning to the various geopolitical problems which plague US-Soviet relations, Scanlan said that we have seen no evidence that the Soviets have softened their positions but that we will continue to probe their intentions.

Regarding Poland, we are now waiting to see how Jaruzelski carries through on a pledge to release a “significant number” of detainees by the end of April. The Poles have also stated their intention to lift some aspects of martial law, including the curfew, by that same date. We have sought to ascertain from the Poles what the future role of Solidarity and in particular Lech Walesa will be and have made clear the importance Americans attach to these questions. We have received no indication of what those plans are; perhaps the Poles themselves don’t know how to handle this problem.

In Afghanistan, the Soviets have increased their troop levels to around 95,000 and their spring offensive against the opposition is underway. We have seen no movement on the part of the Soviets to seek a negotiated settlement although we have made clear that we will not acquiesce to their continued occupation. Afghanistan Day and our recently released report on Soviet use of chemical and biological warfare2 have helped to keep public pressure on the Soviets. Diego Cordovez, the UN Secretary General’s special representative on Afghanistan, recently completed a trip to the area. It is doubtful that he made much headway. The US remains opposed to any efforts which would lend the Babrak regime legitimacy.

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Turning to bilateral issues, Scanlan reported that we had recently responded to a Soviet query on our intentions with regard to the property held for us in Kiev. While we will continue to retain several apartments in the city, the state of our relations would not allow us to sign an agreement which would preserve our rights to a major office and residential complex. Although the Soviets have suggested that we may lose our rights to the complex, we are prepared to live with that possibility.

In line with our policy of preserving cooperative programs with the Soviets with clear benefit to the US, we have notified the Soviets of our decision to extend for one year without modification the Governing International Fisheries Agreement (GIFA). We also advised them of the deletion of two ports (Seattle and Honolulu) to which they have access under the agreement. We are prepared to discuss alternative ports with them but they have not yet suggested any.

In the arms control field, we are now in the final stages of our interagency review of START. We hope talks may begin this summer. The INF talks are now in recess until May.

Scanlan concluded his remarks with a reference to the Soviet treatment of the Falkland Islands dispute which he termed unhelpful and opportunistic. Although President Reagan had clearly advised the Soviets to “butt out” we suspect they are busy figuring out how to “butt in”.

US Human Rights Policy

Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Elliott Abrams described our human rights policy under the Reagan Administration. We are more interested in actual results than in speeches which merely sound good. Tactically, we prefer quiet diplomacy in those areas where we have some diplomatic clout and are achieving a measure of success. The Administration is also concerned that publicity could result in the destabilizing of regimes whose successors could prove to have worse human rights records. El Salvador is a clear case in point; Vietnam and Iran serve as past examples. If quiet diplomacy fails, then we can employ overt tactics such as votes in the UN and international banking institutions and the denial of bilateral military and economic assistance.

Abrams posed the question of how we can be most effective in influencing the human rights behavior of the Soviet Union. Since we obviously do not have the diplomatic leverage which we possess in such countries as the Philippines or Korea, we must rely more on public discourse. Our public criticism serves two parallel purposes. One extrinsic effect is to underscore for other countries the contrast between East and West. For example, little in Europe is known of the more unsavory aspects of Castro’s regime in Cuba. We can expect to [Page 538] have an effect within the Soviet Union as well since the Soviets are sensitive to public opinion and particularly to European opinion. The Soviet decision to allow the emigration of Sakharov’s daughter-in-law, Lisa Alekseyeva, is a case in point. Although the Soviets did not respond to private approaches, public demonstrations on her behalf had the desired effect.

Abrams stressed his conviction that a moral component of US foreign policy is an inescapable fact of American politics. While we have no illusions about our ability to change Soviet or other societies, our political goal is to help those individuals, whether religious or political dissenters, who seek to establish an island outside of government control.

Abrams advised exchange visitors to make their human rights concerns known to their Soviet hosts. They could do this most effectively by arguing that exchanges with the Soviet Union cannot be insulated from political relations and that the US, and in particular the scientific community, will have to draw away from exchange programs in the face of human rights abuses. He felt that we should encourage all those involved in exchange programs to meet with dissidents in the Soviet Union although an obvious concern would be to avoid placing either American or Soviet participants in danger.


Scanlan noted that all representatives had received a copy of the review of the bilateral exchange agreements which had been undertaken after the imposition of martial law in Poland. Our conclusion was that the level and content of exchange activity are appropriate to the current state of US-Soviet relations. The review, including COMEX’s contribution indicates that the exchanges have provided significant benefit to the US. He urged that all representatives study the document and provide any comments to the Office of Soviet Affairs (Hurwitz).

Scanlan reported that the Soviets had recently reversed their longstanding position on the bilateral agriculture agreement by signalling their willingness to resume activity under the agreement which they had previously refused to do in the absence of a high-level Joint Committee Meeting (prohibited by us as a post-Afghanistan sanction). The State Department is now working with USDA on how to respond to the Soviets.

Scanlan confirmed that we will be sending a note to the Soviets informing them of our non-renewal of the Energy Agreement. The return of the US magnet provided in the context of the Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) program is a separate issue which we are discussing with the Department of Energy. Metzler (DOE) noted that the future of the MHD program was itself unclear and subject to budgetary considerations.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (4/28/82 (4)). Confidential. Bremer sent the minutes to Clark under cover of an April 28 memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Department of State Special Report No. 98, March 22, 1982. Excerpts of the report were printed in the New York Times on March 23, 1982, p. A14.