U.S. Prolonging Afghan Crisis, Soviets Charge
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, sounding the only discordant note in a remarkably amiable superpower exchange, protested to Secretary of State James A. Baker III on Saturday that U.S. military assistance to rebels in Afghanistan will only prolong a stalemated civil war, U.S. and Soviet officials said.
Vitaly Churkin, an adviser to the Soviet foreign minister, said Shevardnadze complained that Washington is “supporting extremists” fighting the Soviet-backed government in Kabul even though “efforts at a military solution are futile.”
Otherwise, the meeting, which ran more than an hour beyond its scheduled two hours, was free of the sort of rancor that once characterized superpower relations.
Baker and Shevardnadze are in Paris to attend a 20-nation Cambodian peace conference that begins today.
Officials on both sides said that Shevardnadze devoted most of his meeting with Baker to a frank assessment of strikes, ethnic unrest and other problems facing Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s program of perestroika , or restructuring of Soviet society, a senior State Department official said. Baker listened sympathetically and extended a vague offer of American help, which Shevardnadze declined.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Baker and Shevardnadze said they will meet again Sept. 19-20, probably in Jackson Hole, Wyo. They hinted that they may fix a date for President Bush’s first summit meeting with Gorbachev at that time.
In advance of the September meeting, Shevardnadze called for intensive U.S.-Soviet talks to prepare the way for a summit. Specifically, he proposed drafting a joint Washington-Moscow statement on human rights, a major shift for the Soviet Union, which only a few years ago bristled at any American mention of human rights abuses.
Concerning Afghanistan, Churkin said Shevardnadze “emphasized his dissatisfaction at the actions of the American side” in supporting the guerrillas, known as the moujahedeen .
Backs Negotiated Settlement
A senior State Department official, confirming the confrontation, said Baker replied that Washington supports a negotiated end to the fighting but that “there will not be a political settlement as long as (Afghan President) Najibullah is in power. The moujahedeen simply will not deal with him.”
Other U.S. officials said last week that the Administration is determined to continue aiding the rebels even if the war lasts for years. These officials said U.S. arms supplies are required to balance massive weapons shipments by the Soviets to the Najibullah government.
Moments before Shevardnadze raised the issue of U.S. aid to the rebels, Baker had called on Moscow to stop sending arms to the leftist government in Nicaragua. Churkin said Shevardnadze replied that the shipments have already ended. The response defused the issue, although a State Department official said later that “the jury is still out” on whether the Soviet assertion is true.
Standing outside the residence of the Soviet ambassador to France, Baker and Shevardnadze said the prospects for a Bush-Gorbachev summit will be determined at the foreign ministers’ next meeting, timed to precede the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
“Obviously, at some point they (Bush and Gorbachev) will get together,” Baker said. “We will further explore that at our ministerial meeting in September.”
Substantive, Serious Ideas
Shevardnadze seemed even more optimistic. “We shall prepare in a very substantive and serious way for our September meeting so we will be able to discuss very serious ideas for the summit. If we prepare well . . . the summit will take place rather soon.”
Baker said he suggested a Wyoming site for his next meeting with Shevardnadze to give the Soviet side a taste of the United States outside of Washington and New York. U.S. officials said Shevardnadze seemed receptive to the idea. The officials also said that the Grand Teton mountain resort at Jackson Hole is the most likely spot.
Baker and Shevardnadze, with an interpreter and one other aide on each side, met for about two hours before joining larger delegations for another 70 minutes.
A senior State Department official said that about 15 minutes into the smaller meeting, Shevardnadze said he knew there was a lot of interest in the United States in Gorbachev’s perestroika program. He then launched into an assessment of that effort that lasted most of the rest of that session.
‘A Revolutionary Process’
“He said the Soviet Union was at a crucial stage in its development,” the U.S. official said. “He said the only way to describe the process was that it was a revolutionary process.”