US isn't getting very far with sanctions against Soviets

The United States is encountering difficulties on all fronts in its attempts to get reluctant friends and allies to tighten economic and financial screws on the Soviet union.

Perhaps most significant, the US seems to be getting nowhere in its attempts to persuade its European allies to curtail the financial credits and guarantees that make it easier for the Soviets to pay for their trade with West Europe.

Although the question of an Olympic boycott gets much more publicity, the question of punitive economic and financial measures is considered by some administration officials to be a more important test of allied reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

After the invasion occurred three months ago, the US moved to impose economic and financial sanctions against the Soviets through three major means: a US grain embargo, the tightening of high technology sales to the Soviets, and the curtailment of trade credits and guarantees.

Some officials say that it is in the field of high technology that the US is likely to be most successful. But billions of dollars in business are involved for the Europeans, and revising the rules for what constitutes legitimate high- technology sales is a long and cumbersome process.

At the moment, the Europeans are studying new US proposals for a tightening of the restrictions on such sales through the Allied Coordinating Committee, known as COCOM. Some American experts suspect that the Europeans want to prolong the COCOM process in the hope that the situation will change, thus easing the pressure on them to act.

Last month, a report from the Chamber of Commerce of the United States said it appeared that Japan and Western Europe, with the exception of Britain, had "shown little willingness to reduce their high-technology exports to the Soviet Union."

With the exception of Argentina, the major grain-exporting nations -- Australia, Canada, and the European Community -- did support President Carter's grain embargo by pledging not to make up any of the Soviet shortfall due to the American embargo.

Thanks largely to Argentina, however, the grain embargo has been something less than an unmitigated success. And Japanese officials now are reported as saying that because of grain exports to the Soviet Union by Argentina, Brazil, and a number of other nations, Soviet grain consumption will drop by only a small percentage during the current fiscal year.

But US Agriculture and Commerce Department officials continue to insist that the Soviets will suffer a considerable grain shortfall. In a breakfast meeting with reporters March 27, Secretary of Commerce Philip Klutznick acknowledged that there has been "some seepage" in the grain embargo. But he argued that the shortfall would be "substantially in accord" with the administration's original estimates.

Another government specialist said that even if the shortfall came to fewer than 5 million tons of grain for the current fiscal year, the US would have succeeded in "delivering a signal" to the Soviets. The embargo also might cause them to have to revise sharply their economic planning for the future, he said.

Mr. Klutznick acknowledged that in the area of European credits and guarantees to the Soviets, "we have not been too successful. . . ."

The Commerce Secretary noted with some sympathy that Europe and Japan have much more at stake in all this than the United States, since they do a vastly larger volume of trading with the Soviets.

The US, for its part, recently announced that it was unilaterally tightening its controls over American exports of high- technology products and industrial know-how to the Soviet Union. This will apparently mean, among other things, further restrictions on the sale of American computers to the Soviets.

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