President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has appealed personally to President Bush to help bring peace to Afghanistan now that the Red Army has withdrawn, a top Kremlin diplomat said Friday.
Both the diplomat and a Soviet general acknowleged at a news conference that the Soviets are worried about continued bloodshed in Afghanistan but rejected parallels between their pullout and the 1973 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam."The Americans simply fled and abandoned everything when they left Vietnam," said Gen. Valentin I. Varennikov, deputy defense minister and chief of Soviet ground forces. "We did not abandon anything. We were not in a rush."
Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, Soviet first deputy foreign minister, said an "individual message" from Gorbachev to Bush seeks U.S. backing for Kremlin suggestions on how to achieve a political settlement in Afghanistan, including a halt in arms supplies to insurgents backed by the United States and the establishment of a broader-based government.
"We are proposing that we assist in a cease-fire," said Bessmertnykh, referring to the joint superpower action sought by Gorbachev. "We consider that the United States and the Soviet Union can always play a positive role."
In what appeared to be a wide-ranging Kremlin effort to prevent the violent overthrow of the pro-Moscow government of President Najib, the Soviets also sent messages to France, Britain, West Germany and Italy asking them to give humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan, Bessmertnykh said.
Messages also were sent to China, Iran and Pakistan, which have given weapons and other support to the guerrillas.
Western diplomats and the insurgents have predicted Najib's government will fall soon now that the Soviets are gone. The last of the Red Army's 115,000 soldiers that had been stationed there returned home Wednesday.
Bessmertnykh said the withdrawal had created an "extraordinary opportunity" to end Afghanistan's nearly 11-year-old civil war, sparked by the April 1978 coup in which the Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan seized power. The Soviets sent tanks and troops in the following year.
"We believe all countries should respond to the emerging opportunity to put an end to the drawn-out conflict by promoting the complete and fast settlement of the situation and the reinstatement of Afghanistan as a prosperous, strong, independent, neutral and non-aligned nation," Bessmertnykh said.
The message to Bush from Gorbachev was delivered to the White House on Friday by Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin, said Bush press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. Bush, who was in St. Louis at the time, did not have a chance to read the full letter, Fitzwater said.
Fitzwater said the message from Gorbachev "generally repeats their public position."
Fitzwater said he did not want to be more specific about the contents, although he noted the Soviet message did reiterate "their public positions about ending support for the rebels."
"We don't have a detailed response. We just received the letter. But our concerns remain the same," Fitzwater said.
"We'll continue to supply the (guerrillas) so long as (the Soviets) supply the Kabul government, and if you have stockpiling there that in effect amounts to continuous supply, our policy is to provide the same."
But a senior official on Secretary of State James A. Baker's plane said U.S. weapons shipments to the guerrillas will continue even if the Soviet Union ceased its support for the Kabul government.
"As long as the mujahedeen are fighting for the right of self-determination, we should assist that effort," the official said.
Bush said Thursday he hoped the pullout would ensure "no more bloodbaths" in Afghanistan, but rejected a Kremlin call for an immediate cease-fire and an arms embargo.
He said he could not endorse those measures because he was concerned that the retreating Soviets might have left behind a "tremendous amount" of weapons and ammunition for their Afghan allies.
According to U.S. State Department spokesman Charles Redman, there was a massive stockpiling of weapons in Afghanistan by the Soviets recently.