89. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Your Participation in the September 2 NSC Meeting: Talking Paper on KAL Follow-Up

The following paper reflects our luncheon discussion today on the structure you will wish to give your remarks.2

I. Overall Objective

—This terrible tragedy paradoxically gives us an opportunity to reinforce the President’s overall policy of strength and purpose. We should use it.

—We should punish the Soviets for their barbaric action, but we should above all speak and act so as to point up how it shows the differences between our two systems. We should not act as though this incident has come as a big surprise. Instead, it only portrays what we have long known about the Soviet system. But we should work to ensure that others—at home and abroad—understand this point.

—This does not mean that we should shy away from talking to the Soviets. I plan to see Gromyko next week so I can tell him face-to-face what we think of the Soviet action and to insist on a real explanation.

—On that point, we must also be sure we show it is the Soviets against the world, and not just the U.S. against the Soviet Union. This afternoon’s preposterous TASS statement shows clearly that the Soviet tactic is to try to turn this into a U.S.-Soviet issue.3 We should not play their game. Our game should be international solidarity.

II. The Shootdown and the Most Serious Issues

—We should capitalize on this stark reminder of the contrast between us and the Soviets to advance on the most serious issues we face.

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—On Central America, I see this as a golden opportunity to get rid of the Boland/Zablocki Amendment.4

—On Lebanon/Syria, if we need to build our strength in the area we now have a much better political context than before to do it.

—On the defense budget and especially MX, the Soviets have just reminded the American people and our Allies how dangerous they are, how easily they throw their military strength around, and how much we need a strong defense. We should drive the message home.

III. Mobilizing International Solidarity

—We have moved quickly to mobilize the international community to express its outrage and impose costs on the Soviets, especially in the aviation field. We are meeting daily with our European and Asian Allies and friends. We should keep it up.

—The UN Security Council met this afternoon at the request of the U.S., Japan and South Korea.5 I will be asking Jeane Kirkpatrick to come back and take over our effort there.

—You have before you a list of seven measures we are proposing for immediate action (attached at Tab 1):

1. Refusing to accept Aeroflot flight plans;

2. Suspending non-safety-related discussions between the Soviets and other national civil aviation bodies;

3. Boycotts against Aeroflot;

4. Censuring the Soviets at a special meeting of the ICAO Council next week;

5. Reaffirming our existing sanction against Aeroflot flights to the U.S.;

6. Making a claim against the Soviets for the death of our citizens; and

7. Cancelling interline ticketing arrangements with Aeroflot.

—Some of these are actions for governments to take, others for private organizations like pilots’ unions.

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—On those that require government action, we met with Transportation and the FAA this morning, and are in agreement with them that we should proceed.

—On those requiring private action, Larry Eagleburger met with Lane Kirkland and we met also with the Airline Pilots’ Association and the Air Transport Association to see what they are prepared to do, and we will be following up.

—We may find that not all these proposals are feasible, but I would like your authorization to begin exploring them with private groups and foreign governments.

IV. U.S.-Soviet Bilateral Relations

—The defense budget, Central America and the Middle East are important elements in the U.S.-Soviet equation, but we need to decide how to handle others that are more directly bilateral.

—I am thinking about three categories.

—1. On the Madrid meeting with Gromyko, I intend to shorten and toughen it, drop the working luncheon we had agreed to, and focus the whole meeting on three topics:

—the shootdown;

—human rights, especially Anatoliy Shcharanskiy; and

—arms control treaty compliance.

—We have to make the Soviets at the highest levels of government understand how dangerously and irresponsibly they are acting, and tell the world we are making these points. That is why I need to meet Gromyko in Madrid.

—2. On other bilateral topics, we have already told the Soviets we are not moving to renew the Transportation Agreement that expired in June because of the shootdown.

—I also want your agreement not to proceed at this point to renew discussion of consulates in Kiev and New York and a new exchanges agreement. I have supported these steps because both things would be in our long-term interest and we should go ahead at some point. But that point is not now.

—3. On arms control, it is important not to turn an opportunity to shift weight against the Soviets into a defeat for the U.S. This is especially true concerning Europe and in the arms control field. We want to keep things focussed on what the Soviets have now done rather than on what we are not doing.

—For that reason, Mr. President, I think we should make the INF decisions that have been proposed, but not make this public, and not convey it to the Soviets in Geneva at this point. We would tell our Allies, but hold off going to the Soviets and publicizing your decision until later in the month.

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V. Presidential Action

—Mr. President, you have already taken the lead to turn the anguish we all feel into support for your policy of strength and purpose. The American people will expect you to continue.

—I have here a statement (at Tab 2)6 that I would like you to make tomorrow morning, so that it gets picked up in the Sunday papers.

—It tells the world that today’s Soviet statement on the KAL shootdown is preposterous. It says you have instructed me to go to Madrid for a short, blunt meeting with Gromyko to tell him of our extremely serious concerns about Soviet behavior in this and a number of other areas. It says you have directed me to pursue the initiative which the world aviation community itself has undertaken to make clear to the Soviets that they have created a real danger to international travel and travellers’ safety.

—By Tuesday,7 we should have the actual tapes of the Soviet conversations before the shootdown. Making excerpts public would be a very effective step, and I think we should do so.

—We are checking with other governments with citizen victims about their plans for memorial services, and keeping in touch with Congressman McDonald’s family on their plans. I think a memorial service at the National Cathedral with you and the Ambassadors of those countries in attendance would be a fitting gesture, and if you agree I will be recommending a time to you soon.

Tab 1

Options Paper Prepared in the Department of State8

Near-Term Actions on Civil Aviation

At today’s NSC meeting, we should consider concrete measures to register our condemnation of the Soviet attack on the Korean Air Lines aircraft and to impose a real cost on the Soviets.9 To maximize the cost and impose it quickly, we should concentrate on steps that can [Page 310] most efficiently exploit international outrage and generate multilateral solidarity. The world’s attention is focused on Soviet use of unprovoked force against peaceful air travellers.

Thus, we believe it important that our measures be concentrated in the civil aviation area and fully reflect the international outrage this incident has evoked. We need to spark international penalization of this egregious act without lending credibility to the inevitable Soviet claim that we are using the incident to freeze East-West relations even further. By sticking to the humanitarian and air safety aspects, in other words, we can avoid sacrificing the unity of outrage that presently exists. We think the following package of measures strikes the right balance.

1. We should seek immediate agreement by as many countries as possible to refuse to accept flight plans for Aeroflot for a minimum period of 30–60 days or until the Soviets have provided a satisfactory response to the international community. This would have the immediate advantage of registering a broad international condemnation of the Soviet action, but within a specific time frame so that it would be acceptable within the international community. Critical to the success of this effort will be securing the cooperation of the Canadians (since Montreal is the only remaining Aeroflot destination north of the Rio Grande), the Japanese, the Koreans, and several European countries. We would begin by diplomatic approaches to these critical countries and expand the effort, assuming we have a reasonable chance of success.

2. We should seek to suspend non-safety related ongoing discussions between the USSR and other national civil aviation bodies with a view to interrupting such arrangements as route awards, requests for the waiver of landing fees, etc. This measure, which would be raised with other governments in connection with step one, might have considerable impact on Soviet plans to expand their civil aviation operations worldwide, but could be acceptable to many in the international community, since it would not affect current operations once the steps taken under option #1 were terminated.

3. Boycott. The Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA) has already communicated with Andropov, Dobrynin, and ICAO, and is considering steps to implement an international boycott aimed at halting Aeroflot service outside the USSR and international airline service to Moscow as well. In addition, airlines may wish to join this effort. Other American labor leaders as well as foreign pilots’ groups may be contemplating similar steps.

We will be meeting with these groups to learn more about their intentions, which could well serve to emphasize the level of international reaction.

4. Initiate procedures to censure the USSR at a special meeting of the ICAO Council next week. The President of the ICAO Council is attempt[Page 311]ing to arrange an urgent meeting of the Council, at which we will seek an ICAO investigation of events leading to the destruction of the KAL flight. That meeting will probably occur early next week. We may wish to ask the UN Security Council to reinforce this request. Our subsequent tactics will depend on developments in both fora.

5. Strong Reaffirmation of Existing Sanction. We would make a strong public reaffirmation that our present suspension of all regularly-scheduled Aeroflot service to this country remains the policy of this Administration and we have no plans to alter it. U.S. reactions to the shootdown showed that much of the public is not aware of this sanction, which has been very keenly felt by the Soviets. There has been pressure building to lift this sanction so that the reaffirmation would further underscore our abhorrence of this particular Soviet action.

6. Claims. Under international law, the U.S. would be entitled to make a claim against the Soviet Union for the wrongful death of our citizens. Korea and other affected countries would also have this right. There is precedent for making such a claim for compensation and for demanding that they take all appropriate measures to prevent a recurrence, inform us concerning those measures and punish all persons responsible for the incident. We will prepare such a claim against the Soviets, to be conveyed through diplomatic channels, and discuss the matter with the Koreans with a view to including any claim they may wish us to present on their behalf.

7. Cancel interline ticketing arrangements with Aeroflot. At present, Aeroflot has arrangements to write tickets for travel on other airlines. If this and the attendant appearance of Aeroflot flights in other airline computers were cancelled, this would present the Soviets with serious impediments to selling tickets for travel into and outside the USSR. We will investigate the feasibility under U.S. domestic law of requiring our airlines to cancel these arrangements and the willingness of other countries to join us in similar steps.

We also considered a review of all outstanding U.S., Allied and third country equipment sales to the Soviet aviation industry. On balance, we think this would get in the way of achieving the more immediate steps above and might even jeopardize the safety of international aviation operations by cutting sales of necessary safety-related equipment to the USSR.

  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 Simons; cleared by Hartman and Palmer. Forwarded through Eagleburger. Simons initialed for Burt, Hartman, and Palmer. Hill’s handwritten initials appear on the memorandum, indicating he saw it on September 2.
  2. These talking points for Shultz were prepared for the September 2 NSPG meeting on the KAL incident. See Document 91.
  3. The TASS statement was issued on the September 2. For the full text, see “Text of Tass Statement On Downing of Airliner,” New York Times, September 3, 1983, p. 4.
  4. Representatives Boland and Zablocki proposed an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act to stop U.S. support for covert military operations in Nicaragua.
  5. For the full text of the September 2 statement of Charles M. Lichenstein, the Acting Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations, see the Department of State Bulletin, October 1983, pp. 3–5. The New York Times reported that several UNSC members denounced Soviet actions as “barbarous,” “nothing short of murder,” and “quite simply a massacre in the sky.” (Bernard D. Nossiter, “‘Murder’ and ‘Massacre’ Charged As U.N. Council starts Its Debate,” New York Times, September 3, 1983, p. 1) The Security Council held six meetings between September 2 and 12 to consider the KAL incident. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1983, pp. 218–223.
  6. Tab 2, a Draft Presidential Statement, was not found.
  7. September 6.
  8. Secret.
  9. This options paper was distributed to participants for the September 2 NSPG meeting. (National Security Council, Institutional Files, NSPG Meetings, Box SR 108, NSPG 0068, 2 Sep 83 Soviet Downing of Korean Airliner)