Afghanistan: Locked Horns

AFGHANISTAN will likely be the one regional issue on which Secretary of State James Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze ``agree to disagree'' when they meet today and tomorrow. US officials expect Moscow to press the United States to agree to a mutual cutoff of arms flowing into Afghanistan - and to support an international effort to find compromise between the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul and the mujahideen guerrillas.

But ``there will be a certain stage quality to the Soviet presentation,'' a US Kremlin-watcher predicts. In any case, the US will not be enticed, top Baker advisers say.

Officials admit there is some disappointment in Washington that the mujahideen have not yet captured the besieged government stronghold of Jalalabad. But ``the strategic situation in Afghanistan has not changed,'' a senior State Department official says.

Even if the pro-Soviet forces have shown they can hold a heavily fortified city for a while, the communists have not brought anybody over to their side, a second top US official adds. A new battle season is also beginning as the Islamic religious month of Ramadan ends.

While the time may come when the US would reconsider its military support for the guerrillas, that time is a long way off, officials say. The US is not interested in agreeing to an arms cutoff that would be impossible to verify and locks in an imbalance because of massive Soviet supplies already in place. Nor is it willing to help perpetuate the ``illegitimate'' regime in Kabul, they say.

``The only way to solve the civil war is with a transfer of power and allowing genuine self-determination,'' the senior official says. ``As a practical matter, none of the resistance will enter into a power-sharing relationship with President Najibullah.''

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