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

Assistant Secretary of State-Designate Richard Burt opened the meeting by stating his belief that ICCUSA should be revitalized. Burt explained that the Committee serves a very useful function not only as a mechanism for information dissemination, but for policy coordination, and in this regard, called for ICCUSA to move from a concentration on exchange-related matters to a broader policy focus. He noted that the US has never been as successful as the USSR in speaking with a single policy voice, and looked to ICCUSA as a way of overcoming this difficulty. He proposed that ICCUSA meet approximately every two months.

Turning to the first agenda item, US-Soviet relations, Burt noted that Secretary Shultz had placed Soviet affairs at the top of his foreign policy priorities. In the past, Soviet policy has often changed with changes in administrations and personalities, but that has not been the case with the Haig-Shultz transition.

Discussing the Shultz-Gromyko meetings, he described Gromyko’s argument that the downturn in relations was due to US actions. Gromyko claimed that the US had barred the Soviets from playing a political role in important regions of the world, and had unilaterally abandoned detente. Secretary Shultz, countered by stating that the downturn was directly attributable to Soviet actions—in Angola, the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan, for example. The US position is that deeds, not words, are important—and if there is no change in Soviet actions, then the relationship will remain strained.

Burt remarked that the USSR is now at a crossroads with its leadership transition. Mindful of this, Shultz took great pains to detail US objections to Soviet actions so that the upcoming leadership generation will have a clear idea of US foreign policy. Burt characterized our policy as an undramatic, sober, firm one. The US will remain strong, revitalize its economic power, and do whatever is necessary to strike a military balance.

In sum, the message we have sent to the Soviets is that relations can go either way—but the decision is now up to the USSR, and the [Page 768] US is prepared for longterm competition. We will be watching Soviet behavior closely.

The CIA representative commented that Brezhnev’s speech to the Defense Council2 raised interesting questions about Soviet policies. In his view, the speech did not offer much reassurance to the Soviet military on defense issues.

The question was raised whether US exchange participants should be briefed on US policy before traveling to the Soviet Union. Burt answered that the exchangees should be briefed on policy, so that they will understand the US stance, but not so that they will be used as a channel of communication with the Soviets. The Commerce Department representative noted that the state of US-Soviet relations makes it more difficult to maintain useful relations with Eastern European countries. In reply, Burt described our policy of differentiation and noted as well that we do not treat Yugoslavia as a Warsaw Pact state.

Discussing reciprocity in US-Soviet relations, Burt stated that it is a point of principle that relations proceed on an equitable basis, on the mundane level (e.g. protection of nationals), as well as in more substantial areas (e.g. arms control). He noted that this is a very difficult policy to administer: the closed Soviet society gives the USSR the advantage in controlling matters of reciprocity. Nonetheless, reciprocity is essential in our dealings with the Soviets. Burt cited the new Foreign Missions Act as an important tool of reciprocity and introduced a staff member of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, who described the powers accruing to the Department from the Act and offered to provide more detailed briefings on the Act to any ICCUSA representative.

The Assistant Secretary-Designate then left to meet with Secretary Shultz. Thomas W. Simons, Jr., Director of the Office of Soviet Union Affairs, took the chair. Turning to other agenda items, Simons noted that all personal non-group travel to the USSR by US government employees must be cleared in advance with the State Department. In this connection, he remarked that hostile intelligence recruitment efforts remain a concern and asked representatives to remind their agencies of this.

On exchanges, Simons commented that it may be time to take another look at our exchange policy, to identify areas where exchanges operate to the detriment of the US, and conversely, to spot fields in which the absence of exchange agreements puts the US Government [Page 769] at a disadvantage in managing relations. The OSTP representative described a case involving an NOAA-managed exchange which remained in effect for years at considerable cost and no benefit to the US. He suggested that some agencies may not be aware of the importance of reciprocity.

The meeting was opened to comments from the representatives. Interior Department representatives raised the need to designate an area coordinator, at the Assistant Secretary level, for the wildlife conservation exchange. They stated that participation at that level was necessary in order to mobilize resources effectively within the Interior Department. It was noted, however, that the ban on contacts at the Assistant Secretary level remains in force, and Simons agreed that it will be very difficult to find reasons to rescind that sanction.

Discussion then arose of the overall value to the US of exchanges, whether exchange agreements with the USSR still served US policy purposes and whether the agreements benefit the US taxpayer. Simons commented that exchanges serve a useful role as a part of the overall structure of bilateral relations, but also said that the US must benefit from the exchanges in order to keep the programs going. They should not serve merely a symbolic function. Simons also warned that we must be alert to attempts by the Soviets to “end-run” the official exchange structure and develop new exchanges with private American organizations.

The NSF representative informed the group that he had heard that the Soviets were discussing de facto reconstitution of the science and technology agreement with the American Council of Learned Societies, and that the Council wants to use unexpended S&T funds for discussions with the Soviets. In the NSF’s view, those funds should only be used for wind-up activities. Greenberg asked if Simons’ earlier comments meant that we should now consider revitalizing the S&T agreement. Simons replied that that was not necessarily the case, but that we need to identify any ways in which the absence of exchange agreements works against our interests. The FBI representative then asked if these S&T discussions could be halted through visa denials; Simons felt that we could run into problems with visa procedures.

The OSTP representative said that he would be interested to know the overall level of exchange activity. He suspects that the level is lower than during more cordial periods, regardless of Soviet end-run activities. He also stated that representatives should pay close attention to the need for decisions on exchange renewals, and cited the Agricultural Agreement as an example. He noted the seeming Soviet propensity for “December surprises” and remarked on the need for US agencies to have their options on the Agricultural and other agreements cleared well in advance of the renewal deadlines.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR—Death of President Brezhnev (November 1982) (1)–(2). Confidential. Bremer sent a copy of the minutes to Clark under cover of a December 21 memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to Brezhnev’s speech of October 27 to a conference of Soviet military leaders at the Kremlin. (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. 34, no. 43, November 24, 1982, pp. 1–3)