195. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Stoessel to President Reagan 1

SUBJECT

  • Response to Brezhnev’s Letter on Lebanon

The highly unusual Soviet decision to make public the substance of Brezhnev’s July 7 letter to you on Lebanon2 reflects growing Soviet alarm that U.S. forces might successfully be deployed in Beirut in the context of a settlement orchestrated by U.S. diplomacy. The Soviets probably are apprehensive that such an outcome would confirm the ascendency of the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East and further accelerate the erosion of Soviet influence and prestige throughout the region. Thus, the public release of Brezhnev’s letter is almost certainly intended to impede the emerging, but still tenuous, Beirut settlement.

Specifically, the Soviets probably hope that the public warning contained in Brezhnev’s letter will:

—Appear responsive to PLO and other Arab pressure for more concrete Soviet support in the crisis, thereby stiffening PLO resolve to resist further concessions in the interest of a settlement.

—Complicate our efforts to obtain French participation in a multilateral peacekeeping force for Beirut by making clear that the GOF would be acting in the face of a Soviet warning, however vague.

—Erode international support for deployment of a multilateral force, by suggesting that any such deployment first receive endorsement by the UN Security Council.

The tone and substance of Brezhnev’s warning is, in itself, relatively low-key, and so was Dobrynin’s handling of it with me. The Soviets presently have few good military options for response to an actual or impending deployment of U.S. forces, given the overwhelming Israeli superiority on the ground, the weakness of the Soviet Union’s regional clients, and the presence of strong U.S. naval forces in the area.

However, the decision to make Brezhnev’s warning public will itself generate pressure on the Soviet Union to respond in some visible way, or see Soviet international credibility erode even further. Moscow might either privately or publicly insist that its forces be included in any multinational force organized for Beirut.

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The Soviets could further increase their naval presence in the Mediterranean or increase the visibility of their resupply efforts to Syria. It is conceivable that Moscow might even consider a limited deployment of Soviet ground forces to Syria, although Soviet forces would almost certainly be kept well away from areas where they might become involved in direct combat with Israeli forces. Of course, to the extent that the Syrians and other Arabs had agreed to the arrangements under discussion, the Soviets would find it difficult to elicit an invitation for such a deployment.

In order to limit the impact of the release of Brezhnev’s letter on our efforts to settle the Beirut crisis, we should adopt a firm, but measured course of action involving:

(1) A reply from you to Brezhnev which rejects the outrageous allegations in his letter and makes clear both that we are the promoters of peace in the area and that his warning will not affect our determination to take the actions necessary to bring about a settlement of the crisis. We believe that this letter should be delivered as soon as possible. A draft is attached for your consideration.3

(2) A presentation to the French Ambassador pointing out how mild and ambiguous Brezhnev’s warning actually is. We would provide the French Ambassador with a thorough briefing on my meeting with Dobrynin and, if possible, provide him with the outlines of the reply which you will make to Brezhnev.

(3) Immediate instructions to Phil Habib and Sam Lewis containing assurances for the Beirut parties and the Israelis that Brezhnev’s warning will in no way affect our determination to press forward urgently with efforts to nail down a settlement.

Recommendation

That you approve the above course of action and the attached draft letter to Brezhnev.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8290425, 8290431, 8290480). Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See Document 192.
  3. Printed as Document 196.