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Shevardnadze Says Soviet Pullout Near, But U.S. Aid To Rebels Must Stop

January 7, 1987

MOSCOW (AP) _ Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said today in Kabul Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan ″is not far off,″ but that first U.S. support for the guerrillas there from ″freedom-loving cowboys″ must end.

Shevardnadze and Afghan leader Najibullah said in a joint communique today, after two days of meetings in the Afghan capital, that a timetable for withdrawal of the estimated 115,000 Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan can be decided through indirect, U.N.-sponsored talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Such talks have been going on since 1982. A new session is scheduled in Geneva on Feb. 11.

Today’s communique, published by the Tass news agency, appeared to mark a softening of the Soviet position. The Kremlin had insisted a timetable for withdrawal could be discussed only between Moscow and Kabul.

Shevardnadze and Communist Party Foreign Affairs Secretary Anatoly F. Dobrynin later left Kabul for home, Tass reported.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, a Foreign Ministry official said Moscow must back up its calls for a cease-fire in Afghanistan with a swift and unconditional withdrawal of all Soviet forces.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Afghan and Soviet calls this month for national reconciliation and a cease-fire in Afghanistan would be meaningless without such a withdrawal.

Kabul says it will initiate a cease-fire Jan. 15 and has asked the guerrillas to observe the truce for at least six months to facilitate negotiations to end the war.

Pakistan aids and supports Moslem guerrillas fighting Afghanistan’s Communist government and also shelters 3 million Afghan refugees.

Guerrillas based in Pakistan last Friday rejected the cease-fire offer, demanding Soviet withdrawal first. It has always been the guerrilla position that they would talk to the Soviets about the issue.

Soviet military forces entered Afghanistan in December 1979.

Shevardnadze, in a Tass interview today that accompanied the communique, said, ″We believe that a political settlement is not a distant perspective, but a reality of today.

″In connection with this, we and the government of Afghanistan are discussing the question of withdrawing Soviet forces. We already took the first step in this direction and withdrew six regiments.″

Last fall, the Soviets withdrew about 8,000 soldiers in what the Kremlin billed as a goodwill gesture aimed at speeding a political settlement to the civil war in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Pakistani officials said the pullout was not militarily significant and some of it actually was part of a troop rotation.

″The question of withdrawing Soviet forces is completely clear. This event is not far off,″ Shevardnadze said, using a Russian idiom that translates literally as ″not behind the mountains.″

But he insisted Soviet troop presence was not the main obstacle to a settlement.

″It depends in the first place on an end to outside interference and a guarantee of its non-resumption,″ he said, referring to U.S. and Pakistani aid for Afghan rebels.

He said that as part of the world ″Western″ that he said the U.S. administration has been staging in recent years, ″Afghanistan is given the part of a character that is supposed to bring out the alleged decency and disinterestedness of these ’freedom-loving cowboys,″ he said.

″But in reality, they are far removed from decency and disinterest,″ Shevardnadze added.

He offered no predictions about how long it might take for the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan.

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