July 11, 1978 – On this day, diplomacy took center stage. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was landing in Geneva for talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko, primarily regarding the status of the proposed SALT Treaty, but which wound up being something of a thorny issue as another matter was upstaging the Vance/Gromyko summit; the trials of Soviet dissidents then-currently going on in Russia. Trials which were strongly denounced by the Carter Administration. At issue were two figures; Anatoly Scharansky and Alexander Ginzburg; dissident leaders who were accused by the Kremlin of treason, along with agitation and anti-Soviet propaganda.
An accusation of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda has been added to the charge of treason by espionage, which carried a possible death penalty.
Western journalists and diplomats, including U.S. embassy officials sent as an indication of Washington’s concern, were barred from attending Scharansky’s trial and that of another leading dissident, Alexander Ginzburg, which opened the day before in Kaluga, 100 miles south of Moscow.Trials of two other persons charged with anti-Soviet activities also began yesterday.
The significance of the trials in U.S. Soviet relations had been greatly heightened by their timing, coming as U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Soviet Foreign Minster Andrei Gromyko prepared to meet in Geneva to discuss strategic arms limitations. The United States has already canceled two lower-level missions to the Soviet Union to show its displeasure with the trials.
Scharansky’s indictment was disclosed in an unusual official press briefing for foreign journalists.
It alleges that Scharansky “betrayed his motherland” by passing defense secrets to foreign agents, by supplying “hostile materials” used by Western radio stations in anti-Soviet propaganda attacks and by attemptying to “pressure” the Kremlin to change its “internal and foreign policies.” He exerted this pressure by such activities as writing letters to Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), the indictment charged.
No foreign correspondent was allowed inside the court, hidden behind freshly painted wooden fences and steel police barricades manned by more than a hundred police and dozens of civilian guards. The only accounts of the proceedings come from either Leonid Scharansky of the government.
How this would impact the Geneva summit and future SALT talks was widely apparent in Washington. The Carter Administration, at Mr. Vance’s urging, had earlier ruled out linking the strategic arms talks, now in crucial phase, to Soviet actions on other issues. Today Mr. Vance strongly defended that policy against rising protests from Capitol Hill and from Jewish leaders.
He said that although the trials had worsened relations, the strategic arms talks were of a “special quality” and had to be continued.
Because these talks dealt with the possibility of the “mutual annihilation” on both sides, “this issue must be treated differently from others and should be addressed on a continuing basis with the highest priority,” he said, rejecting suggestions that he put off the negotiations in protest against the dissidents’ trials.
And that’s a small slice of what happened, this July 11, 1978 as reported by The CBS World News Roundup.