147. Memorandum From Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Human Rights and The Olympics

In winning their bid to hold the Olympics in Moscow the Soviets scored a great potential coup for both their foreign exchange earnings and international prestige and propaganda interests. However it is also a big risk, for the spotlight could easily shift from the Games to the human rights issue. I believe we should be looking at ways to exploit that risk, and to exact the highest possible price in terms of advancing our own human rights interests.

—There are already rumors in the USSR that Jewish emigration will be cut off some time before the Games. Some believe that the high current rate of emigration is designed to ease the tension before the Games (though visas are being granted only to first time requesters and not to any refuseniks or to any prominent dissidents). Are there ways to exploit this situation: Can we accelerate emigration between now and 1980? Should we suggest to the Soviets that they grant visas to a particular list of individuals who are of concern to us, with the quiet implication that otherwise these individuals will be a focus of attention at the Games? Are there other ways to reach the same end?

—What about access to Russian citizens by press and athletes during the Games? Should we be pushing for maximum access in the true Olympic spirit? What are the terms of the NBC contract? After paying through the nose (a record high price) for the broadcast rights has NBC insisted on anything in the way of freedom of coverage or will they only be allowed to film designated glories of Soviet culture? If you watched any of the last several Olympics you will remember all the [Page 460] “color” stories—scenes in Munich beer halls, the quaint beauties of Innsbruck, Canadian folk dancing, etc., etc. There will be an even greater incentive to do such coverage of a country that is of such great interest to Americans about which they know so little. Should we be offering NBC any help in these negotiations and in their subsequent planning? For example, if they do a piece on Soviet ballet, should they also have film (taped in advance) on the stories of Nureyev,2 the Panovs,3 etc.? The same with music, science, etc.

—What will be our policy if RFE/RL are denied press credentials? What about other individual press? Should we quietly encourage the media to send a few of their Soviet experts—perhaps including individuals who were earlier asked to leave the USSR? What about denials of visas to individual spectators? In short, should we push the USSR to the maximum extent to live up to the spirit in which the Games are supposed to be held and to the promises they must have made to the International Olympic Committee, or should we just accept the fact that these Olympics will be different from those held in the West? I think we should push.

—What will be our policy if the Israeli team or the South African team is banned from the Games—especially if the Soviets announce the decision at the last minute?

—What will we do during the Games if an American or other participant gets into trouble of some kind that relates to human rights (e.g., press interview with a forbidden dissident) and gets deported? If we can develop an answer should we inform the Soviets in advance so that they will have no doubt as to how we would react?

—Should we do anything in the way of informing American participants about this issue—perhaps briefings made available to those who are interested? Or perhaps that is going too far.

—[1 paragraph (5½ lines) not declassified]


That you give me some guidance on this. Do you feel these issues should be pursued? What about a PRM? Other?4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Bloomfield Subject File, Box 17, Human Rights: Olympics: 9/78–4/80. Secret. Copies were sent to Reginald Bartholomew and Jerry Schecter. Brzezinski wrote in the memorandum’s left-hand margin, “Convene an inter-agency meeting to discuss—then let’s decide if a PR [Presidential Review] is needed or WG [Working Group] instead. Good idea. ZB.” David Aaron wrote in the memorandum’s upper right-hand corner, “She [Tuchman] is getting better on this issue. DA.” Immediately below Aaron’s comment, an unknown hand wrote, “mini- pre PRC?” The memorandum is excessively underlined, also by an unknown hand. Mathews raised some of these same issues again in her October 27 memorandum to Brzezinski entitled “Human Rights at the Summit.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Bloomfield Subject File, Box 17, Human Rights: USSR: 7/77–5/79)
  2. Reference is to Rudolf Nureyev, a Soviet ballet dancer, who defected in 1961 while on tour.
  3. Reference is to Valery and Galina Panov, both of the Kirov Ballet, who were dismissed and demoted, respectively, when Valery, a Soviet Jew, applied for emigration to Israel for the pair in 1972.
  4. Aaron added the following handwritten note: “I say unleash Tuchman! Play the Olympic card! DA.”