A major new effort to negotiate the 85,000 Soviet troops out of Afghanistan is under way -- initiated this time by Western Europe -- Monitor correspondent David K. Willis reports.
The idea, first put forward by Britain, is for a two-stage conference. It is designed to test recent statements by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that the Kremlin is ready for talks on removing all external threats to Afghanistan, and on guaranteeing that there be no future threats.
Chances of success here are regarded as slim. The Soviet position is that the only external threat to Kabul comes from Afghan guerillas trained by Pakistan, the United States, China, Egypt, and others.
The new plan would include Babrak Karmal, the pro-Moscow Afghan leader, only in its second stage. But it does not formally recognize him as head of a legitimate government. Moscow has always insisted that any peace plan recognize him from the start.
The first stage of talks would include the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Iran, Pakistan, and India.
The plan was explained by the British ambassador to Moscow, Sir Curtis Keeble , to a senior Soviet Foreign Ministry official June 23. The Soviet official did not offer any definitive reaction, but at least, sources say, did not reject it out of hand.
Europeans regard the initiative as important for several reasons.
* It is seen as a way to try to include the Soviets in another round of international diplomacy on the eve of the Polish Communist Party congress. The plan is for the two-stage conference to be held later this year: If the Soviets invaded Poland, prospects of such a meeting would vanish.
* It is the firmest foreign policy decision to emerge from the summit.
* It is also seen as another step toward a goal the British government in particular holds dear: Articulating a single and effective foreign policy voice for Western Europe as a whole.
Britain, presiding over the European Council for the next six months, expects to play a large role in applying the new plan and hopes this is one way it can g ain status in Europe.