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Soviets pay stiff price on Afghanistan

The Kremlin steadily defies US, Islamic, and European sentiment calling for Soviet troops to leave Afghanistan -- while the diplomatic price of that defiance grows.

So far th Kremlin is more than willing to meet the price, as the overall state of detente remains at its lowest level since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

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This is the overall situation following the bear hugs and ballyhoo the Kremlin used to publicize the visit to Moscow of Babrak Karmal, the Afghan leader who was flown into Kabul on a Soviet plane late last December to take over from the late President Hafizullah-amin.

It was Mr. Karmal's first formal visit outside Afghanistan since he took office. The Soviets used it to underscore, over and over again, that Soviet troops will not leave Afghanistan unless Soviet and Afghan diplomatic conditions are met -- conditions that are unacceptable to the United States, Western Europe , and to many Islamic countries as well.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev made a speech at a Kremilin dinner during the visit, which reiterated the Soviet position that the United States, Pakistan, and other countries were still threatening the Karmal government, and that Soviet troops would remain until such a threat ceased.

The timing of the visits seemed connected to the UN General Assembly debate on Afghanistan scheduled for November in New York. the Soviets are saying, in effect, that despite the criticism likely to be voiced then, it regards Soviet control of Afghanistan as too important to give up.

At the same time, Moscow maneuvered in Madrid to limit the amount of public criticism it can expect from other countries on Afghanistan and human rights when the European security conference opens also in November

Max Kampelman, chief US delegate at the Madrid preparatory talks, has sharply criticized Soviet support for an East German proposal that would limit conference debate on Afghanistan and human rights to 2 1/2 days.

Mr. Kampelman is quoted as calling the Soviet stand "persistent, stubborn, and relentless." This kind of language echoes Western condemnation of the Afghan venture for the past 10 months. There is more to come.

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The Soviets have seen detente worsen, and economic, scientific, and cultural contacts with the United States and Western Europe suffer considerably since December. Public opinion in the US has moved to the right. One of the major candidates for president (Ronald Reagan) says he is firmly opposed to ratification of the SALT II treaty on strategic arms.

Another part of the Soviet price for Afghanistan: opposition to Soviet policies inside the Islamic world. Both Iran and Iraq, for instance, have criticized the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Other Islamic states in and out of the Middle East joined the UN General Assembly vote against the intervention last January.

The fighting between Iraq and Iran has sharpened the Soviet dilemma.

Moscow publicly tries to stay neutral. Privately, Soviet arms are said to be going to Iraq under the 1972 Moscow- Baghdad friendship treaty. Moscow signed a friendship treaty with Syria recently to cement support in the Arab world -- but Syria is an enemy of Iraq and has just denounced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as an "imperialist stooge."

The Soviets are working overtime to rescue some of the diplomatic fruit lost by going into Afghanistan.

They have modified their position on medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, agreeing to hold the current talks in Geneva with the US and dropping a precondition that the US first had to cancel or suspend last year's decision to install cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe.

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