21. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1
- Soviet Proposal for Regional Consultations
You will recall that the Soviets have proposed a series of consultations on regional issues, including Southern Africa, the Far East and Southeast Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.2
This is clearly in response to our proposal for regular consultations on regional issues, which the President made in his speech to the UNGA last September. That background makes it important for us to respond positively, or else the President’s effort to expand the dialogue and put it on a regular basis will seem to be a sham.3
I understand, however, that there is opposition in some parts of State to agreeing to consultations on Central America. I can understand the reluctance of those who are not accustomed to dealing with Soviets to discuss these matters with them, but I believe their apprehensions are misplaced. Consultations do not mean that we tell the Soviets any secrets or give them openings they can exploit. They can be used to put down firm markers in a way which is useful, even if (as will be the case) the interlocutors disagree on virtually every point of each [Page 61] other’s presentation. Furthermore, the very existence of such consultations is bound to create some healthy concern in places like Managua and Havana, and we should put ourselves in a position to take implicit advantage of this. (No matter what the Soviets tell the Cubans and Sandinistas, the latter will be nervous that their Soviet backers might be tempted by a deal with us which sells them down the river.) Finally, I think it is clear that if we refuse to discuss Central America, the Soviets will refuse to discuss Afghanistan, and I believe we can use consultations on Afghanistan to probe Soviet intentions and to make clear the dangers of increased pressure on Pakistan.
For these reasons, I believe it important for us to accept the Soviet proposal in principle, but make a few changes in the dates and the order of the consultations. For example, I believe the meeting on the Middle East should come last (since we have already had one), and should be not less than six months after the Vienna meeting. Also, instead of consultations on “Central America,” they should be defined more broadly as “Latin America and the Caribbean” or perhaps “Western Hemisphere” (with the understanding that Canada is not included). At a minimum, we should make sure that Cuba is within the area discussed, and it would be useful to be able to place some markers in regard to places like Guyana and Surinam.
Since Secretary Shultz is still considering what his position should be on this matter, you may wish to discuss it with him.
That you encourage Secretary Shultz to accept the Soviet proposal for regional consultations, with some adjustments as noted above.4