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Baker, Shevardnadze OK Cooperation in Asia; No Afghan Breakthrough : Diplomacy: 2 nations no longer adversaries in Asia, they agree at Siberian talks mixing business, pleasure.

August 02, 1990|JIM MANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was not clear whether the U.S. officials were responding to requests from Soviet officials to minimize press coverage on the sensitive subject of Afghanistan.

"They (Baker and Shevardnadze) have the right to keep working," State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler told reporters.

The search for a U.S.-Soviet agreement on Afghanistan came only two weeks after Baker and Shevardnadze served notice at a meeting in Paris of a new initiative to end the civil war in Cambodia.

After Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979, the United States surprised Kremlin leaders by helping to organize support and funding for a surprisingly resilient force of Afghan guerrillas.

Frustrated by the Soviet inability to defeat the insurgents, or moujahedeen , Gorbachev announced in 1988 that the Soviet army would withdraw from Afghanistan. The last Soviet troops left early last year.

At that point, it was the Americans who were caught by surprise. Most U.S. officials believed, and predicted publicly, that Najibullah's regime would crumble within half a year or so after the Soviet pullout and that the moujahedeen would take over the country.

But the Bush Administration underestimated Najibullah's staying power, the importance of huge Soviet arms shipments to Kabul and the effects of debilitating feuds among Afghan guerrilla groups.

Over the past few months, Congress has shown signs that it is growing tired of supporting and paying for the Afghan guerrillas. Covert U.S. funding for the Afghan civil war now reportedly amounts to about $280 million a year, but some congressional leaders in recent weeks have talked openly about the need to cut the funding.

Their own economy teetering, the Soviets also have a definite material incentive to bring about an end to the Afghan fighting. According to some Western estimates, the Kremlin now pays as much as $300 million a month to prop up Najibullah's government.

The atmosphere for the superpower talks in this cool, quiet Siberian city was markedly different from that of previous meetings this year between Baker and Shevardnadze. At one juncture, as they traveled outside Irkutsk, a cow halted their motorcade as it drank from a mud puddle.

As the foreign ministers chatted in the front of their hydrofoil about Siberia, Shevardnadze's 14-year-old granddaughter, Sophie, began playfully arm wrestling with one of Baker's assistants, Caron S. Johnson.

Sophie won, both left- and right-handed.

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