U.S., Soviets Cooperate to Settle Regional Conflicts, Officials Say

Times Staff Writer

Improved Soviet-American relations are helping to settle a number of regional conflicts as the two superpowers collaborate to bring peace where their rivalry once fueled wars, officials of the two countries said Saturday after discussing further cooperation.

Michael H. Armacost, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said after three days of talks here with senior Soviet officials that they had discussed further steps that the two countries could take to bring peace to Afghanistan, southern Africa, Cambodia, the Middle East and other troubled areas.

“Notable successes” had come already from the intensified cooperation between Moscow and Washington, Armacost said. He cited the continuing Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the cease-fire between Iran and Iraq, a tentative timetable for Namibian independence in southern Africa and the prospective withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia.

New American and Soviet moves, made either jointly or in consultation, can be expected in these and other areas, according to U.S. officials. They pointed to the growing diplomatic collaboration as “the most active area of our relationship” aside from the extensive but slow-moving negotiations on arms reduction.


But U.S. officials cautioned that “this is slow, steady, sometimes tedious work more than it is seizing the moment or brilliantly creating an opportunity,” as one put it.

Preparation and Patience

“Breakthroughs will come if the groundwork is laid,” he added. “However, that takes preparation, patience and often just time. As we work with them on specific issues, we find the Soviets understand this, too.”

For their part, Soviet officials Saturday expressed Moscow’s readiness to expand its cooperation with Washington.


“The Soviet side underscored its interest in the earliest political settlement of regional conflicts,” the official Tass news agency said, summing up Armacost’s talks with Yuli M. Vorontsov, the first deputy Soviet foreign minister.

Moscow believes, Tass said, that the two countries can cooperate in bringing about such settlements and thus “scale down world tensions, enhance security and promote the atmosphere of confidence on the world scene.”

Tass reported that both countries agreed during the talks to develop “the practice of political consultations between the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department on the entire set of regional problems with a view to getting a better idea of each other’s stance, overcoming the remaining differences in the approaches to several specific conflict situations and launching a vigorous joint quest for ways to settle them.”

Desire for Collaboration


President Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, had declared at their summit meetings three months ago in Moscow and last year in Washington their desire to develop such diplomatic collaboration, recognizing that Soviet-American relations could not improve significantly while each continued to seek advantage in regional conflicts around the world.

“We are now engaged at a very high level, at a considerable depth and across a breadth of international problems that is unprecedented for two countries that are still in many respects adversaries,” one U.S. official commented last week, recalling that Reagan had stressed the importance of regional conflicts in his first meeting with Gorbachev in 1985.

“One hope is that as we build confidence and trust we will gradually cease to be adversaries. . . . That lies far in the future, of course, but the evidence that our relationship is changing can be found in the agreements on Afghanistan, the cooperation of a cease-fire in the (Persian) gulf, in the talks on Namibia and Cambodia. . . .”

But Armacost, while calling the talks “constructive, friendly and straightforward,” noted that substantial differences remain between the two countries on a number of regional issues, notably on Central America but also on Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.


Sharp exchanges came, as expected, over Afghanistan following charges and countercharges that the four parties involved--the Afghan government in Kabul, Pakistan, the Soviet Union and the United States--are not fully implementing its terms.

Moscow’s Accusations

The Soviet Union has repeatedly accused Pakistan, and indirectly the United States, of undermining the agreement by continuing to support the Muslim rebels, the moujahedeen, fighting the Moscow-backed government in Kabul and thus interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

Washington last week charged Moscow with violating the accord by sending warplanes to attack the moujahedeen around Kunduz in northern Afghanistan last month, contending that this amounted to the reintroduction of Soviet forces in an area they had left.


Although Washington expects Moscow to meet the Feb. 15, 1989, deadline for the complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and is pleased that half of them had been pulled out on schedule, Armacost expressed concern, as the State Department had done earlier, about continued combat involving Soviet forces.

During the talks, Soviet officials stressed “the need to fulfill scrupulously the Geneva agreements . . . by all signatory countries,” Tass said.

Despite the problems in its implementation, the Afghan agreement remains a model for Moscow of an approach to resolving other regional conflicts on the basis of what it calls “a balance of interests.”

Break in Regional Conflicts


Tass called it “the first break in a chain of regional conflicts in various parts of the world, which at times smolder and at times flare up with new force.”

And while the Kremlin is not happy with many recent developments in Afghanistan, Moscow seems determined to complete its withdrawal on schedule--and to hope that the government it has backed for more than a decade reaches a compromise with opposition forces.

For the United States, Armacost said, the heart of the Afghan problem remains “the absence of a legitimate government with broad support” in the country. But he said that the Soviet withdrawal would permit Afghan self-determination.

The death of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan last month, Armacost told Soviet officials, would have no effect on U.S. policies in the region, including military assistance and support for the moujahedeen.


Vorontsov asked for U.S. assistance in tracing 313 Soviet servicemen listed as missing in action, two-thirds of whom are believed to be prisoners of the moujahedeen, and Armacost pledged that Washington would use its influence to secure their freedom.

Armacost’s Optimism

Armacost, reflecting optimism that both countries share on progress in southern Africa and Cambodia, said he believed new steps will be possible soon on both.

Talks among South Africa, Angola and Cuba under U.S. mediation with a Soviet observer will resume this week on a timetable for the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. With agreement on that issue, the way would be cleared for the independence of Namibia, a former German colony also known as South-West Africa, that Pretoria continues to administer in defiance of U.N. calls for its independence.


The Soviet Union has close relations with both Angola and Cuba, Armacost noted, and the United States hoped it would use those ties “to encourage bold proposals” when the negotiations resume.

In Indochina, the United States saw good prospects for peace in Cambodia through negotiations among the Cambodians themselves based on a Vietnamese withdrawal from the country, Armacost said.

“As far as we are concerned, the key issue is nailing down a prompt, irrevocable and unconditional withdrawal of Vietnamese troops,” he said, while ensuring that the pro-Chinese, Communist Khmer Rouge, whose policies brought the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the 1970s, does not return to power there.