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Conservatives worry US will give away store in Afghanistan. They say Soviets are trying to maneuver US into stopping aid

By E.A. WayneStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 21, 1987


Some American conservatives, alarmed by apparent warming in US-Soviet ties, are warning that the administration may bargain away too much in order to get a settlement in Afghanistan. But informed United States officials say that is poppycock. These conservatives say the danger of ``selling out'' and mismanaging the situation is evident in reports of policy disagreements between the White House and the State Department. The debate concerns when the US would be willing to stop aid to the Afghan resistance as part of an overall settlement package.

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Stories about disagreement are way overblown, State Department and other officials say. The US will hold firm in its support of the Afghan mujahideen until Moscow has agreed to a short withdrawal timetable and a date certain for that to begin. With this and other assurances that the resistance will not be endangered, officials add, the US will stick with its previously confidential agreement to terminate aid to the guerrillas when the Soviet troop withdrawal begins.

Thus far this is academic, officials say, because Moscow has yet to move beyond enticing words to a firm and acceptable withdrawal plan. No substantial progress was evident during this month's US-Soviet summit, they say. Until the Soviets bite the bullet, the full range of US support (including covert military aid) for the mujahideen will continue.

The next opportunity to measure Soviet intentions will be the expected February round of United Nations indirect talks between the Soviet-supported Afghan regime and Pakistan, which provides refuge for the Afghan resistance and millions of refugees.

Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R) of New Hampshire, lashed out last week at the administration's handling of Afghanistan. Senator Humphrey, a longtime champion of the Afghan resistance, charged that the administration was not applying enough pressure on Moscow to withdraw its troops. The US is not giving enough high-level attention to the Afghan problem, he said. Calling for a ``manly'' policy in ``the face of genocide,'' Humphrey said he felt betrayed by the ``gap between the rhetoric and the practice'' of the administration on Afghanistan.

The senator's remarks - at a round table discussion sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research institute - seemed to reflect the more general souring of some conservatives on President Reagan's approach to the Soviets since the INF agreement was concluded.

Several at the discussion argued that the Soviets had not yet decided to withdraw from Afghanistan but were trying to maneuver the US into cutting off aid to the resistance. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's suggestions that he is looking for a face-saving way out is just part of a ploy to isolate the guerrillas, said Elie Krakowski, director of the Pentagon's office of regional defense.

What is needed, the conservative speakers argued, is a lot more pressure on Moscow through military aid to the Pakistan-based resistance. A number of others, including former UN ambassador Charles Lichenstein,argued that Afghanistan should be on the negotiating table simultaneously with arms control questions. It should not be treated as a separate issue.