Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said yesterday the Soviet-Cuban adventure in the Horn of Africa "cannot help but move us toward taking a new look" at U.S.-Soviet cooperation in agriculture, technology and space.
While declining to fully endorse the policy of "linkages" of discreet areas of interaction between the two super-powers, Byrd said there should be some connection between American willingness to help the Soviet Union in nonmilitary areas and Soviet military policies.
Byrd cited recent State Department estimates that Soviet officers, aircraft and tanks are supporting between 10,000 and 11,000 Cuban troops in Ethiopia's war against Somali rebels.
"It's a direct challenge to detente," he said.
Asked what the United States can do to counter the Soviet excursion, Byrd replied, "I would prefer to increase our relations with the Chinese. Do we have a divisible policy with the Soviets so that they can get what they want from us in technology and agriculture, and at the same time endanger would peace and jeopardize the future security of Ethiopia?"
However, Byrd stressed that the current negotiations on a new nuclear arms limitation treaty is negotiated and is in the best interests of the United States, he said, it should be approved by the Senate regardless of the state of other U.S.-Soviet issues.
"So I don't 'link' SALT, except to say that the lack of credibility of the Soviet Union in one area cannot be put of mind when one is dealing with another area which, to a considerable extent, depends for its sucess on Soviet credibility and good intentions," Byrd said.
"So we cannot absolutely separate the one from the other."
He noted that the number of Cuban troops in Africa - between 30,000 and 33,000 - is proportional to a U.S. commitment of between 625,000 and 700,000 troops. "It's a pretty serious matter." he said.
On another topic, Byrd commended energy bill conferees for reaching a tentative agreement on natural gas price deregulation.
Although he said he knows no details of the agreement - and, in fact, did not ask for any - he said the accord "indicates movement" and creates "room to hope that the tentative agreement will become a final one" this week.