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Gorbachev May Bring Up Afghan Pullout at Summit

December 01, 1987|ROBERT C. TOTH | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A top Soviet official has indicated that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will have "something to say" during the summit conference next week about withdrawing Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Under Secretary of State Michael H. Armacost said Monday, although he cautioned that it may not lead to a breakthrough soon.

Expectations have been raised higher than usual by several Soviet comments in recent weeks suggesting that Moscow may make some dramatic move toward withdrawing its approximately 115,000 troops from Afghanistan, the neighboring country that it invaded in 1979. But there is no hard evidence that the step is imminent, U.S. officials said.

Asked whether Yuli M. Vorontsov, a deputy Soviet foreign minister, told him at a meeting this month that Gorbachev will give President Reagan a withdrawal date at the summit, Armacost said the Soviet official "indicated that he (Gorbachev) would have something to say about it, but I can't judge from what he told me whether or not he (Gorbachev) would provide a date."

'Waiting for Evidence'

Armacost said the Soviets have frequently indicated "that they have reached a firm political decision to withdraw, and we're waiting for more tangible evidence of that."

However, he said, the Soviets appear to have moved away from their demand that a friendly government remain in power in Kabul as a condition for fixing withdrawal dates. If the Kremlin is indeed softening its stand on this point, Armacost implied, it will have turned a major corner in extricating itself from Afghanistan.

"They are talking now about a timetable for withdrawal that's not contingent upon other arrangements, and that's a fairly important point, if true," he said. The Soviets have long been concerned about leaving behind a sympathetic government after withdrawal.

Among the more recent Soviet hints of withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a remark by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov that Moscow's troops could be out within a seven- to 12-month period. Afghanistan's Soviet-backed President Najibullah also said Monday that the withdrawal could be accomplished within a year if the United States and Pakistan cease aiding the rebels fighting his government.

Others have indicated that the withdrawal would come in 1988.

President Reagan, in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation here, chided the Soviets for their continued occupation of Afghanistan.

Reagan said the government in Kabul is "discredited and doomed," its days so numbered that even the Soviets "are writing off that regime."

"It's time for them to pack up, pull out and go home," he said. "It's time for them to bite the bullet."

The summit conference, which will involve five meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev over three days, will cover human rights and U.S.-Soviet issues as well as arms control and regional, or Third World, matters.

Ambassador Max M. Kampelman, chief U.S. negotiator at the arms talks in Geneva, said that the Soviets still have not provided all the missile information needed for completing an agreement banning ground-launched, intermediate-range nuclear missiles, despite repeated assurances that the data would be forthcoming.

Kampelman, at a State Department briefing, denied that the delay is "a serious or substantive hang-up" but said that "no treaty can be signed without the data." The treaty signing is already scheduled for next Tuesday, the first day of the summit meeting.

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