3. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

1004. Subject: Charge’s Courtesy Call on Korniyenko.

1. (S) Entire text.

2. Summary: During Charge’s courtesy call January 20 on First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko, latter commented “unofficially” (but entirely predictably) on Soviet attitude toward strategic arms control and complained that Secretary Muskie’s January 17 protest2 of Soviet media reports that US was planning military intervention in Iran was an example of the Carter administration efforts to inflame US public opinion by publicizing “artificial” issues. Charge made clear that he was not empowered to speak for the Reagan administration, but countered Korniyenko’s contentions. Charge stressed that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan remains a major issue in US-Soviet relations [Page 6] and that unfounded and pernicious charges against the US in the Soviet press are a real issue and raise serious questions regarding Soviet intentions. He also pointed out that the Soviet Government cannot avoid responsibility for such articles on the specious ground that Soviet press is not under its control. Despite the contentious issues discussed and frank words exchanged, the meeting took place in a calm and, indeed, cordial atmosphere. End summary.

3. First Deputy Foreign Minister received the Charge January 20 for a courtesy call. Following initial pleasantries, when Charge made it clear that he was not authorized to speak for the Reagan administration and Korniyenko suggested that entire conversation be considered unofficial, Korniyenko asked how Charge viewed prospects for US-Soviet relations. Charge replied that he believed Reagan administration would pursue a businesslike approach in dealing with the Soviet Union and would be seriously interested in effective and reciprocal measures to control strategic weapons. If agreements can be reached in the future, the strong political position of the President and the new composition of the Senate suggests that ratification should not be a serious problem. However, Charge added, we must recognize that very serious problems exist in our relationship which can only be alleviated by a change in Soviet policies and practices. Noting the frequent Soviet criticism of US policy as lacking steadiness and consistency, Charge remarked that without passing judgment on these criticisms, he was confident that the Soviets would have no basis for them under the incoming administration.

4. Korniyenko responded by saying that he took note of comment that if President Reagan signs an agreement it will be ratified, but asked does that mean that the one already signed does not exist. Can a new President ignore what has already been signed, what has been worked out between the US and the USSR? What was signed between Carter and Brezhnev was not in the personal interests of the two men, but reflected the national interests of both countries. These interests do not change on November 4, indeed they do not change every three or four years. We can not seriously consider new agreements if the past is any precedent.

5. Charge commented that the Soviets must clearly understand—since it is a principle of international law and of the laws of both our countries—that a treaty is not binding unless it is ratified. In Charge’s personal view the final funeral of SALT II was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This remains a great problem in our relations and prospects for an improvement in US-Soviet relations will be limited until this problem is resolved. There are many people who attach a great deal of importance to Afghanistan and it is difficult to exaggerate its influence not only on American policies but on the American people [Page 7] as a whole. Soviets must take into account US point of view on this issue if they want to improve our bilateral relations.

6. Korniyenko noted use of the word invasion but did not make a major issue of it. He repeated that our conversation was not official and proceeded to make the following comments:

Let us look at the situation when SALT I was signed. Over one-half million U.S. soldiers were in Vietnam, bombs were being dropped over North Vietnam. At that time we received in Moscow the President of the U.S.A. and signed the SALT I Treaty. What was that? Foolishness on our part? No, we looked into the future. The U.S. administration was also farsighted. The documents are there. We also had a problem among our own people and the question arose as to how we could receive Nixon when the events in Vietnam were in the forefront of world attention. Public opinion must be considered, but it also must be led. We speak now of Afghanistan, but what do you think? Is SALT II in the best interest of both the U.S. and the USSR? Do you really think we need it more than you? After all, Carter said he wanted the treaty ratified, but that does not seem to be the opinion of the new people and the new President’s closest advisors. Everybody that has looked at that treaty closely has recognized that it is in the interest of the U.S.

7. Charge told Korniyenko that in his opinion the situation in Vietnam in 1972 and the situation in Afghanistan are not analogous. Korniyenko interjected that he agreed fully that there was no comparison, but obviously for different reasons than ours. Charge said that the Soviets must understand the atmosphere in the U.S. as we on our part try to understand the situation in the Soviet Union. As the Soviets say, facts remain facts—namely, that the U.S. Senate will not ratify the SALT II Treaty as it stands. Furthermore, the Soviet action in Afghanistan is considered an issue relevant to the question of whether major US-Soviet agreements are desirable. That is a reality. Also, in 1972 we signed the Declaration of Principles for US-Soviet relations.3 In the years following, Soviet actions in places such as Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, and, of course, Afghanistan were inconsistent with obligations assumed in this declaration.

8. Korniyenko repeated that the Carter administration publicly stated that SALT II responded to U.S. national interests and should be ratified despite Afghanistan. In the Soviet view, the first blow to SALT II was the “Cuban brigade” story.4 It was recognized in Washington [Page 8] that this was an artificial issue. We said that it was a training center, you said it was a brigade. For 17 years there was no change in this situation. Clark Clifford5 knew this. The U.S. administration knew this, but public opinion was influenced.

9. Charge pointed out to Korniyenko that President Reagan’s public statements make clear that his view of the merits of SALT II is not identical with that of the Carter administration.6 He added that in his view this is not a rejection of the goal of arms control. It is clear, however, that ratification of this agreement is simply not possible. The Soviets must think of the future, not in terms of discarding everything in SALT II but of negotiating a better treaty. Charge then took the opportunity to ask Korniyenko for his interpretation of Foreign Minister Gromyko’s recent comments on SALT II in the latest issue of “Kommunist” (see Moscow 837).7 Korniyenko claimed that he had not read the article, not even the excerpts that appeared in “TASS.” However, he said that the Soviet leadership will not “recarve” (perekraivat’) SALT II. It is better to hold on to whatever you have in your hand. The SALT II Treaty was carefully negotiated by two U.S. administrations and after all these years we still don’t have an agreement in force. We go around in circles. It seems that every time a new group comes into power, you throw everything away. I am not optimistic that something better awaits us, he concluded.

10. Korniyenko then picked up the theme of American public opinion and complained about Secretary Muskie’s strong protest to Dobrynin on Soviet media treatment of the U.S. hostages negotiations. He commented that public opinion is not as objective a factor as the U.S. claims it is. In fact public opinion is formed. For example, Muskie told Dobrynin the other day that the USSR was trying to impede the hostage negotiations and of the serious consequences of this. American public opinion was not aware of this issue until the American leadership decided to push its “imaginary” version of events to the forefront of public attention. The American Embassy in Moscow and American journalists here seized on the opportunity to highlight items in the Soviet media and press on this subject. The Soviet side did not publicize the Dobrynin/Muskie exchange and the Soviet press was silent on this. The Soviet Embassy in Washington sent in its telegram on the subject [Page 9] and that was that. However, Brzezinski seized the opportunity to defame the USSR as playing with the fate of the American hostages. What purpose does it serve to incite hostile feelings toward the Soviet Union on the part of the American public?

11. Charge responded that the issue was not fabricated by US but created by Soviets. The allegations appearing in the Soviet press and media that the US was preparing for a military attack or intervention in Iran were completely baseless. Giving publicity to such reports when everyone knew that we were at the final stages of negotiations on the hostage issue was particularly serious. In Charge’s view, the Soviet action could only serve to elicit negative and emotional reactions from the American public, since we know that such allegations do not appear in the Soviet press by chance. It is difficult to understand the purpose of these charges, unless they were aimed at affecting our negotiations. Why did the Soviet Government go to such an extreme? The U.S., the Soviet Union and all governments have a deep interest in upholding the principle of diplomatic immunity, and this makes the Soviet action all the more incomprehensible.

12. There followed a protracted exchange on the role of the Soviet press and media with Korniyenko reiterating the Soviet line that we were making a very serious error in assuming that a Soviet journalist represents official Soviet Government views and that any commentary has the approval of the Soviet authorities on high. Charge rebutted Korniyenko’s argument in categoric terms pointing out that Pravda is the official organ of the Central Committee of the CPSU, that Izvestiya is the official organ of the Soviet Government, that the state controls the electronic media. Naturally, in following Soviet policy we pay close attention to what information the Soviet media select to highlight—as in this case concerning the hostages. Korniyenko referred to the initiative the Soviet Government had taken vis-a-vis Iran on behalf of the hostages and asked how we could reconcile the Soviet Union’s official position on this issue with recent U.S. accusations that the Soviet Government sought to hinder the negotiations for the release of the hostages. Charge repeated that we had to take seriously what the Soviets write and say in their media, and that he was distressed that, even after Secretary Muskie’s demarche to Dobrynin, the Soviet media continued to peddle absurd and potently unfounded allegations such as the charge that the U.S. somehow instigated the Iraq-Iran conflict. Such actions place a heavy burden on U.S.-Soviet relations. Korniyenko brought the subject to a close by repeating lamely that we really make a mistake in confusing Soviet journalism with official policy.

13. Comment: The conversation, which lasted 75 minutes and was conducted in Russian, took place in an amicable personal atmosphere despite the sharp content of the exchanges. We find nothing surprising [Page 10] in the positions Korniyenko took, all of which are standard fare, and all of which we are likely to hear repeated in the future.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D810033–0452. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. A record of Muskie’s conversation with Dobrynin was transmitted in telegram 13001 to Moscow, January 17. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D810076–1089)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 233.
  4. Reference is to the “discovery” of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba in the summer of 1979. The Carter administration’s démarche to the Soviets is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 217.
  5. Reference is to former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, whom Carter appointed to lead a committee of “wise men” to look into the matter of the Soviet brigade in Cuba.
  6. Reference is to Reagan’s statements during the 1980 Presidential campaign that SALT II was a “flawed treaty.” (“Reagan Urges Bar on Arms Pact Unless Soviet Withdraws Troops,” New York Times, January 26, 1980, p. 10)
  7. In telegram 837 from Moscow, January 20, the Embassy sent a summary of Gromyko’s article in Kommunist. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D810029–0647)