Big Two talk, but sent out tough signals
Vienna — Precisely 25 years ago this city saw the first break in the East-West cold war. Today both East and West are sending out tough signals that have discouraged hopes for any similar, early solution to the current tension over Afghanistan.
The most that is expected from the meeting in Vienna planned for May 16 between US Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is a reopening of US-Soviet communication, probing by each side of the other's positions, agreement on a date for further talks, and, perhaps, a slight lessening of the tension.
Mr. Muskie, Mr. Gromyko, and the foreign ministers of Britain and France are here as representatives of the Allied states that signed the 1955 state treaty.
The treaty restored Austria's independence after seven years of German control and 10 years of Allied occupation following World War II. The celebrations are also being attended by foreign ministers from seven nations on Austria's borders.
On Afghanistan, Mr. Muskie is insisting that the key to a solution will have to be the withdrawal of the Soviet troops now fighting there. He is skeptical of an Afghan proposal that he says is not in any way responsive to this "central issue."
Secretary Muskie has come to Vienna with his position strengthened by NATO meetings in Brussels, where it was decided that the Western allies would intensify a number of defense measures.
On the Soviet side, President Leonid Brezhnev described the Warsaw Pact conference just ended in Warsaw as "a clear warning" against what he called the West's policy of "military adventurism and an intensive arms race."
Prior to publication of a conference communique, Polish party leader Edward Gierek called it "a momentous document." It compared the communist bloc's "vision of a program for peaceful development" with the West's policy of "aggravation of tension and renewal of the spirit of cold war."
"Its main goal," he said "is the elimination of present tensions. There is no laternative to the policy of detente."
The Afghan government's proposal, which was made public May 14 and clearly has the support of the Soviet Union, calls for noniterference in Afghan affairs by outside powers and for talks aimed at promoting friendly relations between Afghanistan and two of its neighbors, Iran and Pakistan. This would presumably mean an end to any support that comes from those two countries for the Muslim guerrillas who have been fighting against the Soviets and the regime they support in Kabul. The question of a Soviet troop withdrawal would depend on guarantees given by Moscow and Washington for the bilateral agreements reached with Iran and Pakistan.
West Germany's foreign minister, Hans- Dietrich Genscher, indicated that the Soviet- backed proposal could, upon further study, be seen to contain some elements that are positive. The British foreign minister, Lord Carrington, noted that the proposal contained no firm guarantee of a Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But he said that the fact that the Soviets are prepared to talk about a nonaligned Afghanistan is not discouraging.
Secretary of State Muskie was much more negative in his comments. He said the Afghan proposal seemed to be timed to influence a meeting of Islamic nations scheduled to be held in Islamabad on May 17.
Mr. Muskie said that the mention of a possible withdrawal of Soviet troops, as it appeared in the proposal, seemed to be an ambiguous "cosmetic addition" including precondintions that would have the effect of legitinizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Soviet-installed regime there before the troop withdrawal issue was resolved.
"The implication is that the troops would continue to stay there until the authorities, which at the moment are dominantly the Soviet Union, determine that the internal security requirements of the country no longer require them," said Mr. Muskie.
Another official in the Muskie party was more blunt. He said that at first glance the entire Afghan proposal appeared to be a "rehash" of earlier proposals.
American officials think that far from getting out of Afghanistan, the Soviets may be getting deeper in. American intelligence reports suggest that the Soviets have taken considerable casualties in Afghanistan. And one report from Washington says that Soviet field commanders in Afghanistan have asked for additional troops.
According to the official Polish News Agency meanwhile the May 14-15 Warsaw Pact conference called for a meeting of leaders from "all regions" of the world again to remove "hot beds of tensions" and prevent war.
This seemed to go farther than the disarmament conference originally proposed by the Poles earlier this year, and was dismissed by the Western powers as propaganda and as unnecessary because there were enough existing forums concerned with arms control issues.
Similarly, the call for an ever wider-reaching conference is also unlikely to appeal to the West. For one thing, it would divert attention from Afghanistan by reducing it to just one of many world problems.