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

Matlock Presentation

Matlock (Charge, Embassy Moscow) led off with an assessment of the harsh Soviet polemics against the U.S. as a predictable response to clear and effective policies of the Reagan Administration. Our basic message was that improvement in our bilateral relationship was only possible if certain of their policies were rectified; heading that list was Afghanistan and the Soviet military buildup. The Soviet attitude that the U.S. should treat bygones as bygones was completely unacceptable to us. Matlock expressed his belief that the Soviet leadership understands exactly what we’re talking about, although their statements, of course, give no indication of this and instead concentrate on charges that the U.S. is seeking to create tensions in order to justify a military buildup.

The effect of the strained atmosphere has had a mixed effect on the Moscow Embassy. In terms of doing business, there was no problem getting appointments promptly and at the right level; socially it was another story. At one point, Soviets were being told not to attend U.S. functions although many came despite the instructions. This period has now largely passed.

Matlock gave a strong endorsement of reciprocity and illustrated the effectiveness of this tool by the Embassy’s retaliation against the [Page 235] USA Institute’s institution of an Embassy boycott. The Institute ended its boycott about six weeks after the Embassy began to reciprocate. The intent of reciprocity is not to punish the Soviets but to ensure that we both enjoy a fair and balanced relationship. We should remember that in the Soviet Union there is always central direction of even small matters. ICCUSA provides a mechanism through which we can all work together to establish greater reciprocity in U.S.-Soviet relations.

In response to questions, Matlock offered the following comments:

West European-Siberian Gas Pipeline. Soviet interest was high although they had scaled back original plans for two pipelines to one. Perhaps this was due to realization that Soviet reserves were not as great as originally thought or perhaps to the difficulty of financing the enormously expansive project. Soviet interest was based on economic (source of much needed hard currency) and political grounds (increased influence in Western Europe). He noted that the Soviets were hard bargainers, although perhaps too zealous for their own good; the delays caused by their haggling over a better deal led to higher costs in the end because of the effects of inflation.

Brezhnev. Always difficult to predict the longevity of others, particularly in the case of Brezhnev who has reportedly been on his last legs for years. He sticks to a limited schedule paced by long rests; the frequency of his public appearances has not changed much in recent years. The Soviets were apparently so concerned, however, about his stamina that they only televised several minutes of his long address to the last Party Congress. In private sessions, Brezhnev sticks to his written notes and must be frequently prodded. Although his mental alertness and stamina are limited, he plays a valued role in what has always been a consensus leadership. It is clear that no one has been groomed as Brezhnev’s successor although Kirilenko (possibly Chernenko) will likely serve as an interim leader.

Reciprocity and Chancery Construction. Work is now proceeding more or less on schedule. Soviet customs have been subjecting us to costly and cumbersome procedures which should be eased when we can clear incoming material at the new warehouse which should be completed in September.

Soviet Reaction to Polish Events. Soviet concerns appear to have subsided after the Polish Party Congress. Barring a wave of strikes and the outbreak of anarchy, Soviets appear to have passed the point at which they would intervene. They are well aware of the enormous consequences of military intervention. They will continue, however, to exert pressure on Poland since what they are witnessing there is theoretically unacceptable.

Soviet Surveillance of Embassy Personnel and Visitors. There has been no change in the level aside from the flurry of harassment [Page 236] following the Aeroflot/Customs incident, which had been annoying but not dangerous. Matlock stressed that he was certainly in favor of law enforcement, but that the handling of the aforementioned incident pointed up the necessity of considering in advance what signal our actions will send the Soviets. Matlock said the Soviets interpreted the incident as a clear indication that we were going out of our way to harass them.


EUR Deputy Assistant Secretary Scanlan summed up the Ottawa Summit which produced general agreement on the need to control strategic trade with the Soviet Union and would be followed shortly by a high-level COCOM Meeting. Scanlan announced that the President had just decided to allow Caterpillar to sell one hundred pipelayers to the USSR. Our decision was based on the fact that the technology involved was not new or unique and that an alternative deal from the Japanese was readily available to the Soviets.

Scanlan discussed U.S. financial assistance to Poland which exceeds that of any other Western nation this year. Our total for 1981 was raised to $715 million dollars with the recent decision to provide 350,000 tons of corn under PL480. The other major creditor nations have been informed of our decision and we are urging them to do more to assist Poland. The economic situation there is very serious and it will be difficult for them to work out a stabilization and economic reform package for which Solidarity’s support is essential.

Turning to Afghanistan, Scanlan noted that the Soviets had formally rejected the EC 10 proposal which we nonetheless will continue to support. Our pre-UNGA consultations are designed to keep international pressure on the Soviets over Afghanistan. This issue will be high on the agenda for the UNGA Haig-Gromyko bilateral for which we envision two separate sessions in late September. At the meetings, which will cover the full range of our relations, we will hammer home the point that our insistence on restraint by the Soviet Union and its proxies is not a fleeting fancy but an enduring policy. At the same time, we will demonstrate our willingness to cooperate with the Soviets should they moderate their international behavior.

Scanlan discussed the upcoming discussions with the Soviets in Vienna on August 3 on the extension or negotiation of a new grain agreement after the expiration of the current LTA on September 30. Ambassador Brock, the Special Trade Representative, will head our team and be jointly assisted by Agriculture and State. The U.S. position should be enhanced by the dwindling estimates of the 1981 Soviet grain crop (currently pegged at 190 million metric tons by the CIA) which will be the third successive dismal harvest. We suspect that the [Page 237] poor crop outlook may have prompted the Soviets’ unwillingness to receive a delegation from the House Agriculture Committee which had planned to visit in August.


Scanlan announced that Secretary Haig had recently reviewed our policy on exchanges with the Soviet Union. The Secretary had decided we should continue on our present course barring any substantial changes in the political climate. Scanlan noted parenthetically that the UNGA Haig-Gromyko bilateral would be the next benchmark in our relations. ICCUSA representatives suggested that a memo on our exchanges policy from Secretary Haig to his Cabinet counterparts would be useful. (Since the ICCUSA Chairman, Assistant Secretary Eagleburger, had already sent such a memo to all ICCUSA agencies, it was decided that an additional memo was unnecessary.)

Soviet Law on Foreigners

Combs (EUR/SOV) discussed the new Soviet law on foreigners. The law was not scheduled to go into effect until January 1982 and full evaluation would have to await its implementation. Agencies were asked to bring the law to the attention of any exchange participants or other personnel who would be visiting the USSR without diplomatic status. EUR/SOV can provide a summary and analysis of the law for use in briefing visitors.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (09/23/1981–09/29/1981). Confidential.