55. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Haig 1


  • Soviet “Special Channel” Proposal

Here are our thoughts on Soviet motivation for the “Special Channel” proposal made to our Charge in Moscow,2 and recommendations on how to proceed.

A. Soviet Motives

1. The major operational Soviet motivation is probably to get SALT talks going 3 (no other specific issue mentioned). This is obviously for broad political and security reasons—not out of love for arms control. They may still hope to bring back one-sided detente and to derail our defense programs.4

2. Thus they may be using this tactical device to bait/manipulate us into what their public pressuring has failed to accomplish for two years.

3. They may also be concerned that our initial SALT position will be “extreme” a la 1977, that they don’t want Rowny as the only SALT interlocutor and that therefore they need an informal channel to get to us before we are locked in and to influence us over time.5

4. On Dobrynin , they may feel that he is not getting through to this Administration and perhaps that they don’t understand what it is we expect of them. It’s possible that his messages do go to the entire Politburo (Suslov) and importantly to the Defense Minister and Ministry. An American interlocutor in Moscow would avoid Soviet reporting cables for all to read. He may be leaving, and they are positioning Arbatov or someone else to take over.6

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B. From U.S. View Point

1. It would be a serious mistake for us to allow SALT again to become the centerpiece of US-Soviet relations through this back door or otherwise. In any case, we won’t have anything concrete to say on SALT for months.7

2. We also want to keep our options open about channels. Even if Dobrynin is leaving, you may want to use his successor as the main channel. And we will want some role for our new Ambassador in Moscow—who might be too senior to play the “informal” role envisioned in the special channel.8

3. By the same token, we might be able to use a special channel for our own purposes in the months and years ahead. We could use it to reinforce what is said in official channels and to make clear we are serious. Such an informal channel has been useful in past crises—if one is in place we can avoid initial uncertainties. Therefore we may not want to foreclose it. And we don’t want to pass the wrong signal about our willingness to hold a dialogue to whatever senior Soviets approved this approach.

4. Finally, the Soviets could try another channel if the Department rejects this one. They could approach some private American with contacts in the White House and try to bypass us.9

C. Recommendations

I recommend that we authorize Matlock to encourage in low-key another “social” contact with his interlocutor. At such a meeting he would make the following points:10

—We don’t preclude using a special channel, as we have found it useful in the past. We want to be able to conduct serious and confidential discussions.11

—The US-Soviet dialogue should cover a number of major issues. SALT is important, but it is only one of the issues in our relationship.12

—What we really need to discuss is the central necessity of restraint in military programs and international conduct. We are deeply concerned by the13 unrestrained buildup in Soviet military forces, and by the growing tendency to use force directly and through proxies.

—We are prepared to have a dialogue now on a host of specific issues. For example we would like to know whether the Soviet Union is genuinely interested in finding a way to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan14 in return for guarantees that Afghanistan would not become a threat to Soviet security. If so, we would welcome suggestions about how this might be arranged.15

—We are preparing for talks on SALT issues. But Soviet international conduct will have a major impact16 on our ability to achieve progress in SALT. In this regard, the most pressing matter is the Lebanon situation. We also would like to discuss Soviet-supported activities by Cuba, Libya and Vietnam. In our view these issues are at the heart of the US-Soviet relationship.

—We have been making these points to Ambassador Dobrynin , and will continue to do so. We look forward to The Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Gromyko this fall.

—We want to maintain the dialogue, through whatever channel. But we are most interested in concrete actions which demonstrate Soviet awareness of the necessity for greater restraint than has been shown in recent years.17

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records, Lot 96D262, Super Sensitive—May 1981. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent through Stoessel. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates that Haig saw it.
  2. See Document 51.
  3. Haig placed a checkmark beside “get SALT talks going.”
  4. Haig placed a checkmark beside this sentence.
  5. Haig underlined “interlocutor and that therefore they need an informal channel to get to us before we are locked in and to influence us over time” and placed a checkmark beside the paragraph.
  6. Haig underlined “positioning Arbatov or someone else to take over,” and wrote a question mark to the right of it.
  7. Haig wrote to the right of this paragraph: “Amen! Why should we?”
  8. Haig wrote to the right of this paragraph: “agree!”
  9. Haig wrote over this paragraph: “Right!!” An unknown hand wrote below it: “Remember the Meese connection with Lt. Col Ty Cobb who Woody advises has an invitation recently communicated to visit the USSR this summer.”
  10. Haig underlined “‛social’ contact with his interlocutor” and “such a meeting he would make the following points:” and placed a checkmark beside it.
  11. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this sentence.
  12. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this sentence.
  13. Haig placed a checkmark beside “con[Page 143]cerned by the.”
  14. Haig placed a checkmark beside “Afghanistan.”
  15. Haig placed a checkmark at the end of this sentence.
  16. Haig placed a checkmark beside “impact.”
  17. Haig initialed his approval. In an August 11, 1983, memorandum to Shultz on the topic of separate channels in U.S.-Soviet relations from 1969 to that point, Burt wrote that Matlock “was given instructions, but the Soviet did not follow up.” (Reagan Library, Personal Papers, Shultz Papers, Box 1a (2 of 2), Folder 1a, 1983 Soviet Union August)