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Russia: British Files Reveal Secrets About UK-Soviet Relations

London, 21 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Britain is to take the unusual step this week of publishing top-secret Foreign Office files on UK-Soviet relations during the Cold War, a move designed to show its commitment to more open government within the European Union (EU).

The Foreign Office (FO) will tomorrow release documents -- entitled "Britain and the Soviet Union 1968-1972" -- expected to cast fresh light on the era's most dramatic diplomatic standoffs with Moscow.

The volume of documents will focus on sensitive episodes such as the decision by British Prime Minister Alex Douglas Home to expel 105 Soviet intelligence agents in 1971.

They will focus on the UK's role as intermediary between the U.S. and Russia over the Vietnam War; intelligence assessments of the Soviet threat; and Harold Wilson's visit to Moscow in 1968.

A Foreign Office statement said today all the papers are from closed files not yet deposited at the Public Record Office where most official papers are open for scrutiny after 30 years.

For the first time, intelligence-related records will be included in the published documents. The papers will focus on conflict and intervention in Europe, the Middle East and Asia; the search for an arms limitation pact; the intelligence war; and the future of Berlin.

Liz Symons, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, said the initiative "will greatly extend public understanding of events which had a direct bearing on the end of the Cold War."

Also to be published on Thursday will be a second volume of documents giving the inside story of negotiations leading up to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the forum that gave rise to the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which many credit for beginning the process of dialogue that brought change to the east.

Today's statement said the documents cast light on Britain's "gradual abandonment of initial skepticism in regard to detente, and the development of a more positive approach to the CSCE, with the object of forcing the Soviets to discuss such ideas as human contacts and freer dissemination of ideas and information."

The documents will cast a fresh angle on issues such as promotion of human rights in the eastern countries; the diplomatic acceptance of the post-1945 territorial status quo in Europe; and confidence-building measures and European security.

The two sets of papers will be launched at a seminar that will include some of the key figures who took part in the diplomatic events described in the documents. It will be attended by politicians, officials, envoys of foreign governments and academics.

Today's statement said the papers have been prepared by independent historians working within the FO who have been given complete freedom in their selection, and "have had full access to intelligence-related material for the first time."

The statement says: "Nothing was withheld."

Liz Symons, a junior foreign office minister, said the publication is an important step forward in the Foreign Office's commitment to more open government, and will place Britain ahead of other countries in the publication of diplomatic papers.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a commitment to more transparent government one of the themes of Britain's rotating six-month presidency of the EU, that began on January 1.