The State Department, responding to a charge that many administration officials oppose a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan "without regard to Soviet conduct on other East-West issues," said yesterday that the United States seeks "a negotiated political settlement at the earliest possible opportunity . . . to get the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan."
The department's statement was in response to questions about an article in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine by Selig S. Harrison, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment and an expert on southwest Asia.
In the article, Harrison contends that U.N.-sponsored negotiations on an Afghanistan settlement are "tantalizingly close to a successful conclusion" and that the Soviet Union is actively encouraging the effort in hopes of extricating its forces from the occupation that began in December, 1979.
However, Harrison continues, "Washington finds it useful to keep Moscow in the position of defendant at the bar and appears content to wait until a Soviet withdrawal can be extracted as part of a larger bargain between the superpowers.
"Although the United States has formally welcomed the U.N. initiative, many administration officials strongly object to the very concept of a face-saving regional settlement that has been consciously designed to facilitate a Soviet pullout without regard to Soviet conduct on other East-West issues."
In addition to the one-sentence public reply, department officials privately characterized Harrison's assertions as incorrect.