112. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Possible Further Steps on KAL Issue

The major upcoming events in our response to the KAL shootdown are the airline boycott and the ICAO Council meeting, beginning today.2 Both will be high-visibility events and should generate numerous media stories on the world community’s continuing response to the massacre. The pilots’ boycott will also be well underway by that point with appropriate disruptions in Soviet connections with the outside world. By early next week, however, pressures may begin to mount again for more U.S. and international steps.

We were aware that the first few days of this week would be difficult for our policy. Congress is back and there are pressures, particularly in the Senate, to take strong actions against the Soviets. At best, it will take a few days for your briefings, and those of others, to calm the waters and create an understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it. During this period, we will want to ensure that our rhetoric is consistent with the rest of our policy, and hence avoid giving the impression that Soviet actions are so awful that fiercer measures are essential.

Our basic message should be that the President’s policy on this extremely difficult problem has been highly successful. His approach has demonstrated statesmanship at its best and has been so judged by much of the American public. The rest of the world has drawn the same conclusion; as a result, other countries, and especially major Allies, have been willing not just to follow our lead but also to take independent action expressing outrage and calling for justice and resti[Page 389]tution. The contrast between the response to our current policy and the Olympic Boycott and pipeline episodes could not be more striking. In those earlier cases, the major press story within two or three days was the argument between the United States and its Allies. This time, the vast majority of the Allies are working together to carry out the package you developed in Madrid. The world, including the Soviets, sees us working together, not in conflict.

We have a range of options for further steps. Most of them risk sacrificing the solidarity that has been the secret of success so far.

We can dribble out a few more small steps such as removing Aeroflot from the U.S. computerized reservations system or termination of the bilateral civair agreement (although we think the latter step would be a mistake) within the current policy. The CAB proposal for additional actions against third country airline ties with Aeroflot could be instituted, but its extraterritorial aspects would inevitably get us into damaging arguments with our Allies. There are probably a few other items of a similar nature, but they are insufficiently weighty to satisfy those who want unilateral steps that really hurt the Soviets.

The same is true of an intermediate category of steps more serious than those considered so far but not serious enough to do much damage or garner much credit. Illustratively, this category could include: denying entry to Soviet shipping; invoking the Baker Amendment to deny visas to Soviet visitors on grounds that the USSR has violated the Helsinki Final Act; or not renewing White House accreditation to Soviet correspondents in Washington. Basically, these are Carter Administration-type steps, taken more out of weakness than out of strength, and they would probably be reversed before too long.

Such steps have the same basic defect as the smaller steps: they would whet appetites, but are not strong enough to satisfy those pressing for genuinely punishing measures. And, in each case, there are good substantive reasons not to take these steps. Cutting off shipping would affect grains, phosphates and vodka (for Pepsico), cause a virtual de facto grain embargo, and arouse powerful interests here. If we do not renew the White House accreditations, we would face almost certain retaliation against our already overburdened American correspondents in Moscow, and a strong reaction from their home offices. Finally, invoking the Baker Amendment would put us on uncertain legal grounds and open the way to unending political battles over every visa for a prominent Soviet visitor. (We should instead amend the McGovern Amendment to give us discretion to refuse visas on foreign policy grounds.)

Finally, truly major retaliatory steps have also been suggested. They include:

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—a grain embargo or abrogation of the long-term grain agreement;

—drastically reducing the official Soviet presence in the United States;

—closing down the INF, START, and MBFR talks;

—economic warfare actions against the USSR (including stopping or reducing imports, blocking Soviet financial assets, etc.).

The arguments against all these steps are well known: a grain embargo is politically unacceptable and has been specifically ruled out by the President; a major expulsion of Soviets in the U.S. would bring retaliation that would destroy our intelligence, DATT, and political/economic reporting operations in Moscow and the Soviets would continue to have their large establishment in New York; closing down arms talks would be the best favor we could do for the Soviets, since it would cripple European support for the INF dual decision at a critical time; and strong economic measures would require a Presidential declaration of national emergency and undoubtedly bring a more intense replay of the U.S.-against-the-Allies scenario of the Olympics and pipeline sanctions.

None of these actions would produce any useful long-term impact on the Soviets. What we have done so far has had impact—the Soviets consider “rhetoric” a political act, and see the international solidarity against them as something we have generated. Whether that impact is short- or long-term depends on whether we can sustain our current approach. An unending series of unilateral steps would be an admission by the Administration that its original measured response based on international solidarity was inadequate. Furthermore, such actions would directly contradict the Administration’s strongest argument—that we have been right about the Soviets all along, and that our policies of realism, strength, and willingness to talk are the effective long-range approach for dealing with the Soviets.

The actions we should take are those that are consistent with this policy. We should certainly reinforce our effort to extend the scope and increase the effectiveness of the world-wide response. With the ICAO Council underway, we will soon have eliminated the reasons that led to our initial reticence to publicize others’ efforts and identify ourselves with them. We might want to praise some groups and countries publicly for supportive actions and perhaps increase pressure on the reluctant ones.

There is one set of two steps we should take immediately. The Soviets have refused to accept the claims we have submitted on our own behalf and on behalf of Korea.3 We should keep up our pressure [Page 391] on the Soviets over the claims question, and I will be calling Sokolov in soon to reiterate our legal argument that they must accept our claims. Given Congressional attitudes, I have concluded that the option of taking our claim against the USSR to the International Court of Justice has particular attraction at this time. L and EUR are sending you a separate memo on how this can be done, including on how it can best be coordinated with the claims of other governments.

Other domestic steps:

—The basic thrust of our approach should be that the U.S. has an effective national security policy in place and that the best way to make the Soviets pay for their action is to implement the President’s policies. Thus, our lobbying energies should be devoted to passage of the defense budget (particularly the MX) and support for our policies in Central America and Lebanon.

We can work the KAL theme effectively into our presentations on these issues, but we should make these basic elements of our policy, not the airliner, the cutting edge of our approach.

—We should follow up on the President’s call for upgrading our radio broadcasting and other international communications efforts. This is a natural issue to promote in the face of Soviet lying and attempts at self-justification.

—The President has already promised we would do more to tighten technology transfer controls because of this incident. A renewed effort to move the COCOM process along seems to be a particularly appropriate response.

There are some steps that could be taken on regional issues in response to the KAL incident that would clearly show us as a global power willing to defend our interests. They include:

—Reviewing our covert action activities with an eye toward increasing pressures on the Soviets in Afghanistan and perhaps producing some major insurgent victories. We are seeing if the freedom fighters hold Soviet prisoners whose presence in the West refocus international interest on Afghanistan during this year’s U.N. debate. We should look once again at eliminating some tenuous Soviet footholds in the Western Hemisphere. A dramatic reversal of Soviet influence even in a vestpocket country or two would strongly suggest that the tide continues to run against the Soviets.

—Redouble our efforts at exposing KGB agents and embarrassing Soviet establishments abroad. There is relatively little reason at the moment to treat the Soviets tenderly around the world. The incident at Leningrad gives us extra cause to be a bit tougher in third countries, and if it were to be repeated, here as well.

Finally, the question of high-level meetings with the Soviets must be factored into our response. I have sent you a separate memorandum on this subject.4

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Whatever steps we take, however, we should recognize that pressures to do more will continue from those who see the airliner tragedy as a way to undercut the third element of our policy approach, and seek to use it to assure that the U.S. and the USSR neither talk to nor do any serious business with each other for years to come. It is chimerical to believe that we can sustain strength and realism over the long term without willingness to talk. The three elements of our approach will stand together, or they will not stand at all. Thus, it is essential that we continue to rely on close consultations with Congress and our media blitz to get us through the next few weeks rather than a new sanction a day. Over the longer term, statesmanship—continuation of the combination of strong condemnation and measured action the President chose—will prove a far greater bulwark of American strength vis-a-vis the Soviet Union than a series of pinpricks, or lurches on major issues, or a combination thereof.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, ES Sensitive, September 1–8 1983. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Pascoe and Simons; cleared by Niles. Simons initialed for Pascoe. Kelly initialed the memorandum for Burt. Hill’s handwritten initials appear on the memorandum, indicating he saw it on September 16. An administrative action changed the title of the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs on September 15.
  2. At its September 15–16 meeting in Montreal, the ICAO Council adopted a resolution condemning Soviet actions in the downing of KAL 007. The resolution also directed the ICAO Secretary General to investigate the incident. For the text of the resolution and the statement by the FAA Administrator at the meeting, see the Department of State Bulletin, October 1983, pp. 17–20.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 100.
  4. Not found.