88. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US

    • Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig
    • D. Arensburger, Interpreter
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister Andrey A. Gromyko
    • V. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

Minister Gromyko said that he was prepared to begin a one-on-one discussion with Secretary Haig on some questions, not many questions, initially without going into detail. What were the Secretary’s preferences on that score?

The Secretary, recalling previous meetings during the early period of the Nixon Presidency, expressed the view that it would be well for us to have some frank discussions without extensive notetaking. He would expect his comments to be in support of US positions, whereas Gromyko’s comments would be in support of Soviet positions. He thought that this kind of discussion was clearly in order. In line with previous tradition, he would welcome any comment Gromyko wished to make in this setting. The Secretary intended to do the same and, if necessary, was prepared to devote much time to such a discussion. This would not disturb him because he had discussed this meeting [Page 258] extensively with President Reagan, whereas his colleagues did not have the benefit of such discussion.

Gromyko wanted to say that it would be useful to discuss Soviet-U.S. relations as such in terms of principle. He thought that to begin with it would be useful to touch on the question of where, in the Secretary’s view, the U.S. and the Soviet Union should be moving with regard to Soviet-U.S. relations, and how the Secretary envisaged this direction. Above all, of course, the Soviet side wanted to understand what the U.S. Administration’s intentions were with regard to Soviet-U.S. relations for the foreseeable future. Did the U.S. expect these relations to develop under the existing momentum? Of course, given the current state of our relations, the Secretary would recognize what retention of the current momentum would mean. Perhaps the Secretary believed, like the Soviet side, that something different was needed on a reliable foundation, consistent with the interests of the Soviet Union and of the U.S. Gromyko believed that the conversation should be pursued in these terms.

The Secretary replied that he would be very happy to deal with this matter because he believed that we were currently at an important junction. He did not expect that during the discussion of this subject he would convince Gromyko or that Gromyko would convince him. But he thought it important for us to communicate on the issues Gromyko had touched upon. For his part, the Secretary wanted to go back a bit in time so as to have the proper background and appreciation, at least from the U.S. standpoint, of what had led to the unsatisfactory state in which we found ourselves. But since Gromyko was the guest, he wanted to hear the latter’s comments on this matter of principle.

Gromyko suggested that it would be appropriate not to go too far back into history because history could provide very rich material. He thought that it would suffice to provide a few examples in order to emphasize the basis on which the relations between the two countries had developed. Gromyko intended to do so now. Over a number of years, and this would not be news to the Secretary, the two sides had exerted no mean effort—in fact, they had exerted major efforts—toward improving relations between the two countries, and toward establishing them upon firmer ground. Thus, the two sides should do everything in their power to retain what had been accomplished, in order not to lose it. Indeed, the two sides had achieved much over the years. They had arrived at numerous agreements and had concluded several treaties which, one could say, still smelled of the sweat of the participants. This was a major step toward development of Soviet-U.S. relations. Gromyko went on to say that suddenly—he wanted to emphasize, suddenly—there was a new administration which told its people and the entire world that much of what had been achieved did not suit it. [Page 259] Moreover, frequently it did not even announce or provide rationale or justification for its contention that some accord or other did not suit it. This pertained specifically to the SALT II Treaty and to some other agreements which either ground to a halt or on which the administration cast a shadow trying to undermine their adoption.

Gromyko wanted to say further with respect to the overall mood in the U.S., among U.S. leading circles and in the U.S. capital, that an atmosphere was being established on a daily basis which did not facilitate accommodation or compromise. On the contrary, this atmosphere was contributing to a very deep gulf, not only in political terms, but in psychological terms as well. It was being emphasized that these were not only two different countries, but that they constituted different worlds. The Soviet side had taken note of this from the very first days of the new administration as it was observing the new administration but, to repeat, this point had been noted from the very first days. The Soviet side had noted that statements were being made from the very first days of the new administration to the effect that Soviet-U.S. relations might not constitute the major issue, that they might not be the most important issue, that they might not even be an important issue at all, and this led to certain conclusions. Observing this the Soviet side shrugged its shoulders and asked, why? After all, whatever statements are being made in Moscow, London or elsewhere regarding the importance of relations with the Soviet Union, they do not demean the worth of a country or the respect for that country. This applied to the Soviet Union as much as it applied to the United States; the respect in which a country was held would neither increase nor diminish from this. Why was this being done? The Soviet Union existed quite irrespective of the will of the United States, and the U.S. existed irrespective of the will of the USSR. Accordingly, it was necessary to accept the real situation and to assess the status of individual states on the basis of objective reality. Their importance, their place in the world was governed by objective reality. Gromyko thought that the Secretary could not but understand all this. Thus, the Soviet side had reached the conclusion that the U.S. was aware of the above but evidently had decided that there was a need to create an atmosphere in the U.S. so the people of the country would not exaggerate the importance of Soviet-U.S. relations, in fact, would belittle them.

Gromyko went on to say that the Soviet Union considered this to be wrong because this did not reflect the desires of the people and did not meet the interests of the U.S. people or the Soviet people. Given the above, what was the purpose of confusing the American population? We represented two powers, the major powers, specifically in the military sense, especially in the military sense. Thus, it was certainly of special importance to regulate the relations between these two states, [Page 260] to improve their relations, especially in the military sense. There was no reason for the people to think otherwise. If the above was true, why should we not improve our relations on a more realistic and solid footing? Gromyko didn’t want the Secretary to think that he was asking favors of the U.S. The importance of Soviet-U.S. relations should be enhanced; this was in the interests of the U.S. people. It was necessary to plant one’s feet firmly on the ground of reality. Gromyko was proceeding from existing facts. Whatever the U.S. position, the Soviet side was proceeding from real facts. The Secretary was no doubt familiar with the materials of the 26th Congress of the CPSU and with the report presented by General Secretary of the CPSU L.I. Brezhnev regarding the policy of the Soviet Union.2 Accordingly, the Secretary would understand that the Soviet Union wanted to develop relations with the U.S. on a realistic basis, that is, good-neighborly, normal, and businesslike relations. The fact that we had different social systems was an objective reality and nothing could be done about that. But whatever differences or conflicts might arise, we should try to resolve them by peaceful means, through negotiations. That was the Soviet position.

Gromyko continued by saying that he could not agree to an approach under which whenever a difference arose, one immediately grabbed for a pistol or revolver, or even reached for the button of a missile. The Soviet Union believed that no country in the world should be able to say that it would press the button of war if something didn’t suit it. In his view, serious statesmen did not have the liberty in such cases to talk of the possibility of war, of the possibility of a nuclear war. In fact, some individuals even thought that two wars were not enough, they spoke of two and one half wars. Why was this being done? Although this was a serious question, sometimes such questions nevertheless could not but produce a smile. Why were officials in high positions doing this? Was it because they wanted to appear brave in the eyes of others? But this need for bravery should be channeled toward cooperation, toward seeking accommodations. It was not appropriate for an official representing a major power to pull a saber out of the scabbard. The Soviet side wanted not an emotional basis, but a more solid basis of relations as was appropriate for statesmen of the major powers. On behalf of the Soviet government he wanted to say that this was the standpoint to which it adhered. In this connection Gromyko recalled that during President Nixon’s first visit to Moscow, the latter had told Brezhnev that the sides had sufficient weapons to [Page 261] destroy each other seven times. Brezhnev had replied that he was aware of the figures and the two had agreed that there was no need to destroy each other seven times, that the sides should search for ways to reduce these numbers, that both sides should engage in this search.

Gromyko also wanted to say the following which was very important in terms of obtaining a complete picture. A number of U.S. officials in Washington had been saying that in certain areas, such as Asia and Africa, things were not to the liking of the U.S. Gromyko added that he was intentionally refraining from citing names. In the U.S. things seemed to be programmed in advance toward searching for the hand of Moscow by way of conspirator, inciter, or at least, instigator of everything that did not suit the U.S. Gromyko wanted to say that the Soviet Union could not be held responsible for everything that displeased the U.S. There were objective processes. They had existed in the past, they existed at present and would exist in the future, and they governed occurrences in the world. Could it be said that what had happened in Gromyko’s country in 1917 had been produced by some individual? This was a product of objective history. Things of this nature were bound to occur in the future as well, and Gromyko did not believe that this would be the fault of the Soviet Union. He suggested that perhaps there was some misunderstanding on this score. If that was the case, it might be advisable to climb a high tower and take a look at the world in more realistic terms. Of course, if the U.S. recognized that things were not so, if they were being distorted intentionally . . . (Gromyko did not complete the sentence). Perhaps the U.S. truly believed that independence would not benefit Southern Africa, for example, Angola, and that the situation in the Middle East was the fault of the Soviet Union, that the situation in Southeast Asia was the fault of the Soviet Union, and that the situation in Latin America was the fault of the Soviet Union. But that was a gross misunderstanding. On the other hand, if this was an act, the Secretary would know that the Soviet Union was not the mother of history. It was a different matter, of course, if this was the picture the U.S. administration wanted to project to the people. In conclusion, Gromyko wanted to express hope for an improvement in the relations between the two countries.

Gromyko hoped that the Secretary would understand that the Soviet Union by right occupied a worthy and legitimate place in the world, that it had its own interests, including security interests. The Soviet Union, for its part, recognized that the U.S. occupied a worthy and legitimate place in the world and that it, too, had security interests. He noted that we would yet have occasion to return to security interests and thus he did not want to continue that theme at present. The question now was how to establish a more solid foundation for our relations, how emotionalism could be replaced by a more sober assessment. [Page 262] Perhaps there was some outside influence? Perhaps not all aspects were clear? There had been a time when we had much in common, particularly during World War II when we had a high degree of cooperation, especially in the military area, when we were jointly shedding our blood. Perhaps some individuals were not clear about one thing or other. In that case, we had to remove such doubts. It was necessary to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings, and get on with the dialogue. The Secretary would recognize that Gromyko had not come here for the express purpose of disagreeing, although, of course, he could do that. He had come here in order to learn U.S. intentions, in order to learn the position of the U.S. regarding major world issues and in order to convince the Secretary that the Soviet Union was for safeguarding its legitimate interests. The U.S. side could repeat a thousand times that there allegedly was a Soviet threat. There was no treacherous plan, the Soviet Union did not need conquests. The Soviet Union wanted to live in peace and it wanted the U.S. to live in peace. Whenever the U.S. side was scaring the U.S. people and others, the Soviet Union could not but explain its own view of the situation. It had done so before and would continue in the future. Gromyko asked rhetorically whether this constituted polemics and answered in the affirmative. He went on to say that it was not the Soviet side which had initiated this process, one of action and reaction. The Soviet Union had not desired it, it had been forced into it. While both sides might be engaged in it, it was not the Soviet Union which had started the process. Accordingly, the Soviet side was very interested in knowing how the U.S. intended to conduct its affairs with the USSR in the future.

Gromyko went on to say that he had no intention of raising one thorny question after another simply to place the Secretary in an uncomfortable position. He wanted to discuss issues in a business-like atmosphere. He was looking forward to business-like discussions with the Secretary with a view to understanding each other’s positions, as befitted the representatives of major world powers. He wanted the U.S. to recognize the legitimate interests of the Soviet Union in the world and not to infringe on them, just as the Soviet Union intended to recognize and respect the legitimate interests of the U.S. The Soviet Union did not pursue a goal of infringing on the legitimate interests of the U.S. Gromyko remarked that as far as the military area was concerned, we would have occasion to discuss it specifically. Much could be said on that score, perhaps in conjunction with some political questions. If he could use the expression, his comments constituted algebra.

The Secretary responded that he was impressed by the serious tone and general expression which Gromyko and his government had attached to subjects that were of extreme importance. Gromyko had [Page 263] referred to the Reagan Administration, and the Secretary felt it was important that we understand the points of departure of the U.S. Administration. The Secretary knew that Gromyko had been a keen observer of the U.S. scene for many years. Few public figures, if any, today have the experience and the accomplishments of Gromyko. In line with Gromyko’s reference to objective reality, the Secretary felt it necessary to try and communicate to Gromyko how we had arrived at the current state of affairs, which we did not like. He was not doing so in order to score debating points or to raise controversial issues, rather his purpose was to approach the current problems we faced as a backdrop to how we would like to proceed in the future.

Gromyko would know that early in the seventies—and the Secretary had noted Gromyko’s mention of President Nixon’s comments about SALT—he sometimes telephoned from Washington to the President in Moscow following individual meetings. In a number of respects, achievements were made at that time, involving the sweat of people working together. While the term “detente” had not been coined at that time, it had come into special international prominence. At that time, the Secretary had helped in Washington with the preparation of the document on principles that both sides negotiated. It was suggested in this document that neither side was to gain an advantage, whether directly or indirectly. At that time historic events had converged on the U.S., events which were not necessarily the result of an outside hand or evil design, but which constituted historic reality, namely, Vietnam and Watergate.

It was not during the Carter Administration, but during the Ford Administration, that the American people began to witness a number of events which made a profound impression on the U.S. mood and attitude regarding U.S.-Soviet relations. The Secretary wanted to speak very frankly. First, there was the invasion in Angola. No one can objectively insist that the Soviet Union inspired this invasion, but neither can anyone deny that it was made possible by material assistance.

The next several events involved Ethiopia, Kampuchea and Southern Yemen, the first situation in Afghanistan and the second situation in Afghanistan. There was clear evidence from the U.S. standpoint of a growing and more active Cuban activity here. In the wake of the Cuban crisis, during the Kennedy Administration, some progress had been made to blunt Cuban activities for a while. But then they rose again to the point where some 40,000 Cuban combat forces currently are in Africa.

All of this left a very serious impression in the U.S. perception of U.S.-Soviet relations, and affected what had been high hopes during the early days of detente. At that time some success had been made with regard to trade and arms control. That was in 1975, before the [Page 264] Carter period. President Reagan was voted into office because he had articulated for the American people concerns which showed the absence of reciprocity in detente. Soviet policy, for whatever reason, had become a one-way street. Compared to the level of 1975, today we see a Soviet presence in areas of interest to the U.S. and the West, at levels that constitute a potential threat to the West, which is unprecedented in Africa, Afghanistan and the Western Hemisphere. This was resuming again. We have spoken of the high levels of military equipment provided to Cuba. All this pertains to the agreement worked out with the sweat of the bureaucrats and officials of both countries. But the question arises of whether it is being abided by.

We are even refused answers to questions. The Secretary pointed to Sverdlovsk and to the question last month regarding the use of mycotoxins in Afghanistan, Laos and Kampuchea for which we had hard, irrefutable evidence that we will transmit next week through our arms control representative.3 All this was continuing and thus raising questions in the minds of the American people. This did not start with the current Administration. The current Administration would not have been elected without it. The Administration reflected this growing American mood.

The Secretary expressed the view that our discussions could focus on three areas. First, there was the geopolitical area, that is, strategic crisis areas in the world. Gromyko had discussed the second area, namely the military balance and our goals thereon in the U.S. In this connection the two sides had conflicting priorities. It was not the President’s desire to return to an arms buildup, but there was a need to understand the objective situations. The third area concerned bilateral relations which, as we see it, derive from our understanding with respect to the first two areas.

During this preliminary discussion the Secretary did not want to leave Gromyko with the impression that U.S.-Soviet relations were not important to us. We had been accused of a fixation on these relations. One should have neither. It had to be understood that even reasonably historic events could affect better relations and distort them, whatever the objective criterion. It was a simple fact that the Soviet Government encouraged nations, specifically Cuba and Libya, to engage in activities [Page 265] which, perhaps not at the sufferance of Moscow, still could not be maintained without the material resources of Moscow. Therefore, the Secretary wanted to emphasize in all sincerity that President Reagan did not wish a situation of sterile confrontation and an absence of communications between our two governments and peoples. Just the opposite was true. The Secretary thought it essential to move forward toward better communications and towards dealing with matters in which, quite frankly, we Americans considered ourselves to be the aggrieved party. There was a need for a concrete and specific improvement, and consequently for a dialogue together. This would not occur overnight.

In our view our relationship had to be a superpower relationship. The Secretary was not asking the Soviet Union to be humiliated by veering from its courses, for example in Afghanistan where, for whatever reason, the Soviet side was engaged. We were seeking an honorable, not a humiliating solution. Gromyko would recall that in the late 60s and early 70s we had an experience comparable to the Kampuchea situation, though not parallel to it. We understood what had happened. We did not believe that Hanoi was able to do what it was doing without Soviet support. On the other hand, we did not believe that the Soviet Union made Hanoi’s decisions. We were all conscious of what was happening and the Secretary wanted to say that he was not pleased by it.

Turning to the reference in Gromyko’s UNGA speech to Poland,4 the Secretary said that as a witness together with the Europeans, and in his present capacity, he would note that the West was acting with extreme restraint. We had helped to relieve the economic and the commodity needs of the Polish people. The Secretary pointed to the particular danger of outside interference. This was an objective reality. It could profoundly impact on everything we were talking about. Gromyko would recognize, of course, that we were not going to exploit (though we could) or exacerbate the situation. We were scrupulously trying to avoid this. Turning to the area of arms control, the Secretary noted that this would require good will. While this was not its “raison d’etre,” our objective was to try seriously for a break-through. This would be in our mutual interest. If this was not to be, the Secretary was prepared to accept it. He hoped Gromyko understood that what he saw in Washington was a reflection of the new U.S. concern because for a number of years there has been a lack of reciprocity. Now we have to walk the cat back. It was not our objective to humiliate the Soviet [Page 266] side, but realistically, as superpowers, we had to take into account each other’s legitimate interests.

The record of the past years does not show a balanced relationship. Indeed, we wanted to move forward. This was our goal, the goal of President Reagan. The Secretary proposed, and we could do as Gromyko preferred, that in a superpower to superpower relationship we leave behind classic rhetoric and speak about some specific areas. Much time could be devoted to a more beneficial and restrained relationship.

As he understood the Soviet standpoint, Gromyko had raised concerns about what he viewed as simple American rhetoric. The Secretary wanted to note that this rhetoric was not new. As for personalities, their mention had been scrupulously avoided. He pointed out that the Soviet side had been referring to “imperialism” and “colonialism” in its organs and we could not tolerate this further without a U.S. response. There has been no reciprocity; there has been no sound basis. We would like all of this to stop. We thought it could stop. The Secretary was saying this quite frankly. He hoped that we could deal with objective reality without infringing upon vital Soviet interests or U.S. interests, and without stagnating in a confrontational, sterile mode. There must be a basis of reciprocity. If the Soviet side had legitimate problems, we would try to improve, remove or modify them.

The Secretary noted that he had said much in this short period of time, having mentioned some specifics. He thought that we could continue by region, or he could be more specific. At this time the Secretary was prepared to discuss some military considerations or some bilateral issues. Perhaps Gromyko preferred to leave these questions for the September 28 meeting. The Secretary was also prepared for the TNF discussion—that is, when and where they would be held and the name of our representative. As he understood it, our experts had exchanged drafts on this question. Perhaps Gromyko preferred to do this now, perhaps he preferred to wait until September 28, or perhaps he preferred to defer it beyond that date. The Secretary wanted Gromyko to understand that we were in favor of a more constructive approach. The Secretary noted again that this was just an initial exchange and hoped that Gromyko understood our intentions and our goals.

Gromyko wanted to respond to one or two points. First, he wanted to ask a question. Did the Secretary recognize the right of the Soviet Union to render assistance and help through the delivery of small quantities of weapons specifically intended for self-defense? After all, the U.S. was doing this with respect to a much larger number of countries than the USSR. He asked for the Secretary’s reply, after which he would have something to add. To repeat the question, did the U.S. recognize in principle the right of the Soviet Union to do so, or did it reserve that right exclusively for itself?

[Page 267]

The Secretary replied that in principle we had no objections to the support of historic friends and to assistance intended for defense against an external threat. We had a legitimate objection if this occurred in a sensitive area, or if such supplies were for use elsewhere and intended to upset the status quo in the face of legal international norms and contrary to the rule of law.

Gromyko responded that in other words the Secretary recognized that right, and could not have done otherwise, because the U.S. was providing supplies to a large number of countries, not to mention the U.S. military bases and the military equipment stored there. He was troubled by the question of sensitive areas. Was this to mean that no changes could occur, not even in a million years? The Soviet Union was rendering such assistance when requested, under agreements strictly defining their defensive nature. In contrast to the U.S., no nation receiving Soviet military assistance had Soviet military forces. And how many such forces did the U.S. have? Gromyko was tempted to cite the number, but preferred not to do so at this time. He noted that the two Germanies were a special case, resulting from the wartime situation. The Secretary would know that the Soviet Union was not doing this to encroach upon, or to make inroads on U.S. interests. Absolutely not.

The Soviet Union could not see what U.S. interests there were in Angola, or in Ethiopia. To take the Secretary’s formula, Pakistan would pose a problem. When did history record Pakistan as being within the U.S. sphere? This was a slippery path. Such Soviet assistance was not aimed at the U.S. None of these countries posed a threat to the U.S. and certainly not those countries with which the U.S. has good relations. The Soviet Union was doing nothing to threaten the U.S. Of course, someone like Sadat might do anything. His policies were a greater riddle than the most ancient Egyptian pyramids. He could improvise “hell knows what.”

Incidentally, Gromyko asked, was it true, as reported in the press, that the U.S. had reached an agreement with Sadat concerning purchase of Soviet weapons for delivery to Afghan insurgents who were being infiltrated from Pakistan?5 If this was true, Gromyko could only express amazement. Was it possible that the U.S. could do something like this? That would be unworthy of the U.S. He thought that a serious country with a serious foreign policy could not act this way.

Gromyko went on to say that no country receiving Soviet military assistance posed a threat to the U.S. or its allies. Moreover, there were not all that many such countries. The Secretary had mentioned Angola [Page 268] and Cuba. For one thing, Cuba was not the Soviet Union. Secondly, it was a sovereign country and, third, the assistance was strictly of a defensive nature. Since Gromyko had already dealt with this question in his UN speech, he did not wish to belabor the matter of Cuba at this time. The Soviet Union realized that the U.S. disliked Cuba. The reason for this was the Cuban social system.

Gromyko went on to say that if the U.S. were to get South Africa to leave Angola alone—and the U.S. could do this—this would provide a solution fully in accord with the UN Charter and the resolutions regarding liberation of colonial nations and peoples. If the U.S. were to “put South Africa in its place” and Namibia gained independence, then there would be no problem. The problem of Cuba would disappear. Everything could be regulated.

Gromyko said that he would yet have occasion to refer to the problem of Afghanistan, but the Secretary had already referred to it and had expressed an interest in the Soviet troops there. These troops will be withdrawn, but first, incursions from Pakistan into Afghanistan had to cease. If the U.S. was truly interested in seeing Afghanistan without Soviet troops, if it was genuinely interested in a neutral and non-aligned Afghanistan, this could be done by working out a relevant document with the participation of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This document could bear the U.S. signature and the Soviet signature. What was required was removal of the interventionist forces. That would be the end of that matter. The Secretary might see a paradox here, but this was a case where the paradox was equated to reality. The U.S. was engaged in actions that kept Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union wanted to withdraw its troops, but the U.S. was not giving it an opportunity to do so. Accordingly, they remained there, and if the intervention continued would remain there.

Incidentally, these bands did not constitute a military force that Soviet troops had to contend with. These were groups of terrorists supplied in Pakistan, specifically by the U.S.—and the U.S. had said so on a high level—and by China. Thus, here was a paradox: it was the U.S. which was keeping the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Since the Soviet troops have to stay in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had to take care of them and ensure their well being. Perhaps there was no political solution with regard to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.’ friend, Iran; the Secretary would understand in what sense Gromyko meant this. As for the matter of personalities, Gromyko would try not to owe a debt to the Secretary, but he preferred to stay away from polemics.

Gromyko said that regarding U.S. policy with respect to the Soviet Union, Gromyko had noted the U.S. tone in which the Soviet Union was being accused of posing various threats. One would think that the Soviet Union was devoting day and night to devising threats to the [Page 269] U.S. Gromyko wanted to propose an experiment. If the U.S., for its part, were to cease all hostile unfriendly statements and propaganda against the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union would immediately stop its statements. Thus, everything depended on the U.S. After all, the mass media reflected the position of a country. The Soviet Union could be more moderate, or it could be more active.

As for the U.S., it had developed such a pace that even if it tried to stop fast it would probably find it difficult to do so. Or did the U.S. have such knights who could accomplish this? On second thought, though, the U.S. probably would succeed. In short, what the Secretary saw in the Soviet mass media was nothing but a response to American actions. Perhaps the U.S. side saw the situation differently. But the fact was that when the two sides engaged in public polemics, the Soviet side saw the situation differently. In any event, this process did not originate on the Soviet side; this was not simply a circle.

Gromyko said that this was all he had to offer in the general discussion. As he had said, our discussion had been a kind of algebra, i.e., the fundamentals. It dealt with the guidelines toward moving foward. The Secretary had almost immediately referred to specific reasons. Gromyko thought that rather than exacerbating our relationship we should work toward preventing such exacerbations of the relationship. He noted that in dealing merely with the specifics one could lose sight of the fundamental issues by getting carried away with the details. The situation in the world was complex. This was particularly true with regard to Africa and Asia. Without an overall view, one could lose sight of the fundamental issues.

The Secretary said that he did not disagree. He knew that Gromyko had participated in, and studied history. According to the Hegelian dialectic which Marx had studied astutely, every action led to a counter action. Allowing for the importance of this discussion, we should never lose sight of what incited an action and what generated a counter action. With regard to Gromyko’s view about the level of assistance, the Secretary wanted to say that current statistics showed the Soviet Union exporting arms at a much higher level, at an unprecedented level. Thus, shipments to Cuba were double what they had been previously. That generated a counter action.

The Secretary noted that Gromyko evidently had misunderstood him. He did not believe in a rigidly-defined status quo. This would be futile. He believed that changes should occur peacefully, under the rule of law. He also noted that it would be hard to argue that Western influence in Pakistan was not an historic reality. No one in the U.S. was trying to re-establish old alliances, old security frameworks, as they had existed at the end of World War II. But he believed that much the same applied to the Soviet Union with respect to the independence [Page 270] and non-alignment of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Secretary emphasized that any overt action against Pakistan was predicated precisely on that. Gromyko had spoken about forays from Pakistan. The Secretary was surprised to hear this, he had been unaware of them. Perhaps Gromyko had other information or evidence on that score. The Secretary did know of three million Afghan refugees who had been forced out as a result of the Soviet intervention, and who were in Pakistan and Iran. He had to say that he was unaware of any cross-border activities which constituted a threat to, or justified 80,000 plus Soviet forces. The simple fact was that Afghanistan had been a neutral and non-aligned country leaning toward Moscow. No one in the U.S. or the West had tried to change that. The Soviet Union had first installed a puppet leader and had then intervened with Soviet forces.

As for Gromyko’s comments about Sadat, the Secretary did not know the answer. He was not aware of the activities mentioned by Gromyko. Sadat had been, and continued to be a staunch friend of the Middle East Peace process. As for what Sadat might have said publicly regarding arms, the Secretary would have to study the matter, but for the moment he was unaware of the U.S. Administration being engaged in it.

The Secretary had heard Gromyko’s comment regarding his Cuban statement and had noted the unusual way in which this question complemented treatment of Poland in Gromyko’s UNGA address. Perhaps he should study the matter further, but he did not understand the significance of that juxtaposition. On Angola, there was a great deal of evidence to suggest that Cuban forces in Angola were not wanted. We had spoken of objective reality. We were very interested in the resolution of the Namibian situation. We thought it was possible and desirable. If the Soviet side had no designs in this region, then it was all the more possible. If it did have designs then, of course, this would be another paradox.

Gromyko interjected that the Soviet Union had no such designs.

The Secretary continued that in that case he was confident that it would be possible to achieve Namibian independence at an early stage. If that was the case, this was one particular regional issue where we could start on the long road back, and we could speak specifically about independent Namibia very soon. This also involved the Cubans.

Gromyko retorted that this was a matter of the chicken and the egg, that is, the matter of cause and effect.

The Secretary suggested that both the chicken and the egg should be on the same plate. He thought that given good will we could resolve the matter. As for Afghanistan, the Secretary believed that this, also, should constitute no basis of concern to Moscow, because we were not seeking any influence in Afghanistan. But the reality was that even if [Page 271] the present regime were withdrawn, a new neutral Government had to have the support of the people in order to last.

Gromyko remarked that a neutral regime and a neutral country were different things. The Soviet Union was in favor of a neutral country, a non-aligned country. It was strongly in favor of that. As for emigration, he was aware of a figure of two million, perhaps a bit higher. He was not familiar with a figure of three million. The Afghan Government was ready to accept these people back. He knew of a recently-promulgated law that whoever came back would not be punished—in fact would even be given assistance.

The Secretary said that in all fairness he did not believe that under internationally acceptable circumstances with true self-determination this regime could survive five minutes. If the Soviet side accepted self-determination then there was no issue. But if the present regime were to be retained as a facade, then the man would have his throat cut.

Gromyko responded that this would make it all the easier for Pakistan to adopt effective measures and laws to seal the border effectively in order to stop incursions. Once intervention ceased, and this cessation was effectively guaranteed, Soviet troops would leave Afghanistan. In this connection he wanted to note that the Soviet Union did not throw words around lightly.

The Secretary said that he was not familiar with what was coming across the border. But there was evidence of Afghan actions against Pakistan. He was keeping an open mind and was hoping for a solution. This situation was doing considerable damage to U.S.-Soviet relations, to the Western world and to the non-aligned world. He noted that the Islamic Conference was in the forefront of those who had condemned Soviet actions in Afghanistan and this without being prompted by the U.S. or other Western countries. The U.S. was not interested in erecting obstacles. It sincerely wanted to help.

Gromyko suggested that the leaders of Pakistan be “strongly advised” to cease the intervention by gangs organized and trained on Pakistani territory. Gromyko said that following a cessation of such intervention, and given a stable border, Soviet troops would be withdrawn and emigres would be free to return—without weapons of course—without fear of punishment. If necessary, this could be recorded in an appropriate document. In this connection he noted that the Government of Afghanistan had recently made a public declaration regarding peaceful activities.6 And, if necessary, the Soviet Union was [Page 272] prepared at any time to provide friendly advice regarding possible further laws if it should prove advisable to adopt them. Of course, this was an internal affair. He asked why what had just been discussed was not acceptable. This matter was clear. Gromyko accepted what the Secretary had said on this score. Afghanistan should remain a neutral country. Hopefully the Government will be friendly to the Soviet Union, but the latter did not want anything special. The Soviet Union did not need its resources, it had enough raw materials and a large enough population of its own. He suggested that the Secretary give some thought to this. Perhaps there was an extraneous factor here, something originating with Sadat. Or with Moslem circles. They all regard the situation from their own perspectives, but we ought to view it from a higher tower.

The Secretary wanted to suggest that we discuss the problem and see it in terms of different interest groups. For our part, we support the ten nations of the European Community and their proposal for a peaceful solution, involving self-determination and withdrawal of Soviet forces.7 If that needed to be fleshed out, we could consider non-interference by third parties, with guaranteed rights for refugees and a guaranteed formula for self-determination. He thought that if this could be worked out, it would be acceptable. We did have an obligation regarding some coordination with our Western European partners. He thought that with good will we could find an acceptable solution for all interested parties.

Gromyko suggested that some further thought be given to this matter. He was pleased to see that the Secretary understood the Soviet position. He repeated that there seemed to be some extraneous matters, some narrow interests, some sort of Moslem interests in and around Afghanistan. Gromyko thought that sufficient time had been devoted to this question. Hopefully a solution could be found, but it was not that promising. As for questions involving weapons, specifically nuclear weapons in Europe, this matter was crucial. In this connection he wondered whether the two ministers should join the rest of the delegations.

The Secretary said that we could do so if Gromyko felt it necessary. If Gromyko wished, we could join the rest of the delegations at the table and discuss the matter of medium-range missiles.

It was agreed to continue the meeting in the broader forum.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Clark Files, Haig/Gromyko Meetings 9/23/81 and 9/28/81. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
  2. L.I. Brezhnev, Report of the Central Committee of the CPSU to the XXVI Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Immediate Tasks of the Party in Home and Foreign Policy. (Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1981)
  3. In April 1979, accidental release of anthrax from a military research facility in Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg) killed an undetermined number of people. On October 1, 1981, ACDA Acting Director Robert Grey presented Soviet Chargé Bessmertnykh a démarche stating, inter alia, that “The United States has strong reason to believe that the Soviet Union is not in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention.” The démarche cited the incident at Sverdlovsk, and linked the Soviet Union to “attacks with lethal agents” in Afghanistan, Laos, and Kampuchea. (Telegram 263576 to Moscow, October 1; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D810464–0793)
  4. See Bernard Nossiter, “Gromyko at U.N. Says U.S. Fosters a New Arms Race; Excerpts from Speech,” New York Times, September 23, 1981, p. A1.
  5. See, for example, “Sadat Says U.S. Buys Soviet Arms in Egypt for Afghan Rebels,” New York Times, September 23, 1981, p. A15.
  6. The precise statement to which Gromyko refers is unclear. On August 19, 1981, the New York Times reported progress between the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan toward U.N.-brokered negotiations for a broader peace settlement. (“Outlook Brighter for Pakistani-Afghan Talks,” New York Times, August 19, 1981, p. A7)
  7. The proposal is outlined in “Common Market Presses Soviet on Afghanistan,” New York Times, September 7, 1981, p. A5.