169. Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan1


  • Afghanistan “Experts’ Talks” with the Soviet Union

With Afghanistan Day2 well behind us, we must now decide what we should do to keep Afghanistan front and center as a geopolitical issue, while maintaining the support of the many other countries opposing Soviet aggression there. This is particularly important as we move to commence START negotiations, since we must leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are not retreating toward an arms control-centered relationship with the Soviets and easing up on our geopolitical concerns.

I believe that one aspect of our effort to keep Afghanistan up front should be an intensification of our ongoing dialogue with the Soviets on what would be required to achieve a political solution, especially withdrawal of Soviet forces. We are moving to increase pressure on the ground and ensure that the costs of the occupation to the Soviets remain high. To balance this in a way that makes clear both our concern for Afghanistan and our willingness to talk as well as fight, we should take a step forward in our direct exchanges with the Soviets, and let it be known that we are doing so.

In these exchanges we have made clear that we are determined to talk only if the Soviets are willing to address the issues seriously. The possibility of U.S.-Soviet “experts’ talks” has also arisen. Such talks would permit us to probe further whether there is real willingness on Moscow’s part to move toward an acceptable political settlement. I am not overly hopeful that Soviet willingness to engage in such talks reflects a decision to seek a way out of their stalemated situation in Afghanistan, but our exchanges thus far justify further probing.

I propose to go to the Soviets to start such talks. If they agree, as I expect they will, we will background the media that we are intensifying the dialogue on Afghanistan. We will do this at roughly the same time we announce a beginning to START. While we would not directly [Page 546] link the Afghanistan “experts’ talks” to START, the roughly parallel timing of the two steps would speak for itself.

A decision to begin more detailed “experts’ talks” with the Soviets would involve some risk to our relations with our partners on the Afghanistan problem. Thus, it will be important for us [to] contain these risks by making clear that these talks are an intensification of our existing contacts with the Soviets in diplomatic channels, rather than a new departure reflecting our abandonment of the UN’s and EC–10’s efforts to achieve a political settlement. At the same time, by demonstrating our own commitment to a political settlement based on Soviet withdrawal, we might also shore up Pakistani determination not to allow the current UN initiative for indirect talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan to lend legitimacy to the Afghan puppet regime.

Our intention would be to carry out the talks through our respective embassies in Washington and Moscow, rather than in a separate forum as in the INF talks. We would also make clear that the fact of our talks with the Soviets will not affect other aspects of our Afghanistan policy or our broader Southwest Asia strategy. Indeed, we would handle these talks as only one element of an ongoing strategy to sustain and intensify pressure on Moscow for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Before approaching the Soviets to suggest that more detailed, exploratory talks begin, we will conduct appropriate consultations with the Pakistanis, as well with our closest European Allies, the Chinese and the ASEAN countries, who see a close parallel between Afghanistan and the situation in Kampuchea.


That you authorize us to proceed with the steps outlined above on the question of intensified bilateral talks with the Soviets on Afghanistan.3

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Pipes Files, CHRON 05/27/1982–05/31/1982. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Reference is to the President’s proclamation that March 21, 1982, be regarded as “Afghanistan Day” to commemorate resistance to Soviet occupation. See “Proclamation 4908—Afghanistan Day,” March 10, 1982, Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, vol. I, pp. 274–275.
  3. Reagan did not approve or disapprove this recommendation. In an unsigned and undated memorandum to Haig, Clark wrote: “The President has read your memorandum of May 10 requesting authorization to proceed with ‛expert’ level talks with the Soviet Union on Afghanistan. Given the importance of such an initiative and its potential ramifications, the President requests that you convene a SIG to discuss this issue and submit to him an interagency approved position.” (Reagan Library, Pipes Files, CHRON 05/27/1982–05/31/1982)