278. Editorial Note

During a September 30, 1986, White House news conference, President Ronald Reagan indicated that he would meet with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, October 11–12. Continuing, Reagan stated: “The meeting was proposed by General Secretary Gorbachev, and I’ve accepted. And it will take place in the context of preparations for the General Secretary’s visit to the United States, which was agreed to at Geneva in November of ’85. And I might say the United States and the Soviet Union appreciate the willingness of the Government of Iceland to make this meeting in Reykjavik possible. So, I know you will all be on your best manners.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book II, page 1292)

The President provided a “briefing” concerning the upcoming summit meeting in his October 4 radio address to the nation. After underscoring the importance of keeping the American public informed [Page 1219] and reviewing certain aspects of the 1985 Geneva summit meeting, the President said: “I want you to know that next week during the talks in Iceland, we will be taking the same balanced approach we took in Geneva. On one hand, we’ll make it clear we seek negotiations and serious progress with the Soviets on a wide range of issues. On the other, we’ll make it clear that we will not sacrifice our values, principles, or vital interests for the sake of merely signing agreements. And that’s just another way of making it clear to the Soviets we harbor no illusions about them or their geopolitical intentions. This last point is important. You see, in the past, when agreements were reached with the Soviets, this led to much unrealistic talk about the great thaw in Soviet-American relations and even predictions about the end of the cold war. And then when the Soviets reverted to form, such as the invasion of Afghanistan, the result was shock and policy paralysis in Washington.

“Well, this now has changed. Just last month—after a Soviet spy at the United Nations was arrested—the Soviets retaliated by taking hostage an American journalist, Nicholas Daniloff, in Moscow. It was an act of international outrage, but this time we were prepared. Because we understood that the Soviets are relentless adversaries, they could not surprise us nor could their actions derail our long-term commitments or initiatives. We knew what we had to do. We wanted Daniloff freed, with no deals. We had to make clear to them the consequences of their actions. We had to be direct, candid, and forceful. And we were. And that’s why Nicholas Daniloff is freed and back in the United States. Later, we swapped Zakharov, the spy, for two noted Russian dissidents, Yuriy and Irina Orlov. And that’s why we can now go forward to Iceland. Believe me, as we proceed along the path of negotiations, there will be other such obstacles. But let me assure you: As each obstacle arises, we will again make clear to the Soviets our lack of illusions about them and our resolve to hold them accountable for their actions.” (Ibid., pages 1323–1324)

On October 7, the President met with Yuriy and Irina Orlov in the Oval Office. Following their private meeting, the President spoke at 3:42 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. Acknowledging speculation that the Reykjavik meeting would focus on arms control issues, Reagan countered that “true peace requires respect for human rights and freedom as well as arms control.” The President indicated that the agenda for the meeting included human rights, adding: “This meeting is not to sign agreements, but to prepare the way for a productive summit. A real improvement in the Soviet Union’s human rights record is essential for such a summit. We will not sacrifice fundamental principles or vital U.S. interests to get a summit. I’ll make it amply clear to Mr. Gorbachev that unless there is real Soviet movement on human rights, we will not have the kind of political atmosphere necessary to make lasting progress on other issues. There is much room for improvement—the [Page 1220] religious persecution, long divided families, suppression of emigration, and harassment of ethnic and cultural activists. We are realistic about the Soviet Union and have no illusions about the difficulty of making progress on these key issues, but I see no alternative to our twin policy of strength and dialog.” (Ibid., pages 1338–1339)

The President departed Washington for Reykjavik on October 9. That morning, he offered remarks at 9:25 a.m. from the South Portico of the White House. After noting the agenda for the Reyjavik meeting, his October 4 radio address, and his October 7 meeting with the Orlovs, the President commented: “I’ve long believed that if we’re to be successful in pursuing peace, we must face the tough issues directly and honestly and with hope. We cannot pretend the differences aren’t there, seek to dash off a few quick agreements, and then give speeches about the spirit of Reykjavik. In fact, we have serious problems with the Soviet positions on a great many issues, and success is not guaranteed. But if Mr. Gorbachev comes to Iceland in a truly cooperative spirit, I think we can make some progress. And that’s my goal, and that’s my purpose in going to Iceland. The goals of the United States, peace and freedom throughout the world, are great goals; but like all things worth achieving, they are not easy to attain. Reykjavik can be a step, a useful step; and if we persevere, the goal of a better, safer world will someday be ours and all the world’s.” (Ibid., pages 1362–1363)

The memoranda of conversation from the October 10–12 Reykjavik meeting, which took place at Hofdi House, are printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, volume V, Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986. At the conclusion of the meeting, Secretary of State George Shultz took part in a news conference in Reykjavik on October 12. Shultz praised the President’s performance as “magnificent,” elaborating: “During the course of these 2 days, extremely important potential agreements were reached to reduce, in the first instance, strategic arms in half; to deal effectively with intermediate-range missiles; although, we didn’t finally have the opportunity to come to grips with it probably to work out something satisfactory about nuclear testing; a satisfactory manner of addressing regional issues; humanitarian concerns; a variety of bilateral matters; and a tremendous amount of headway in the issues in space and defense involving the ABM [Antiballistic Missile] Treaty.

“Throughout all of this, the President was constructive in reaching out and using his creativity and ingenuity to find these very sweeping and substantial and important agreements. It has been clear for a long time—and it was certainly clear today, and particularly this afternoon—the importance the Soviet leader attaches to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and I think it was quite apparent that at least a [Page 1221] key reason why it was possible to reach such sweeping potential agreements was the very fact of SDI’s vigorous presence.

“In seeking to deal with these issues, the President was ready to agree to a 10-year period of nonwithdrawal from the ABM Treaty, a period during which the United States would do research, development, and testing which is permitted by the ABM Treaty and, of course, after which we would be permitted to deploy if we chose. However, as the agreement that might have been said, during this 10-year period, in effect, all offensive strategic arms and ballistic missiles would be eliminated so that at the end of the period the deployment of strategic defense would be substantially altered in what was needed and would be in the nature of an insurance policy—insurance against cheating, insurance against somebody getting hold of these weapons—so it would maintain an effective shield for the United States, for our allies, for the free world.

“As we came more and more down to the final stages, it became more and more clear that the Soviet Union’s objective was effectively to kill off the SDI program and to do so by seeking a change described by them as ‘strengthening,’ but a change in the ABM Treaty that would so constrain research permitted under it that the program would not be able to proceed at all forcefully.

“The President, hard as he had worked for this extraordinary range and importance of agreements, simply would not turn away from the basic security interests of the United States, our allies, and the free world by abandoning this essential defensive program. He had to bear in mind—and did bear in mind—that not only is the existence of the strategic defense program a key reason why we were able potentially to reach these agreements, but undoubtedly its continued existence and potential would be the kind of program you need in the picture to ensure yourself that the agreements reached would be effectively carried out. And so in the end, with great reluctance, the President, having worked so hard creatively and constructively for these potentially tremendous achievements, simply had to refuse to compromise the security of the United States, of our allies, and freedom by abandoning the shield that has held in front of freedom.

“So in the end we are deeply disappointed at this outcome; although, I think it is important to recognize how effectively and constructively and hard the President worked and how much he achieved potentially, how ready he was to go absolutely the last—not just the last mile, but as you can see from what I’ve told you, quite a long distance to try to bring into being these potentially very significant agreements. But he could not allow the essential ingredient to be destroyed in the process—and would not do so.” (Department of State Bulletin, December 1986, pages 9–10; all brackets are in the original)

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After returning to Washington, the President delivered an address to the nation on October 13 regarding his meeting with Gorbachev. The address, which Reagan delivered from the Oval Office at 8 p.m., was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television. After noting the issues related to SDI that emerged during the discussions in Iceland, the President described the three other subjects of the administration’s four-point agenda for U.S.-Soviet relations covered at the meeting: human rights, regional conflicts, and bilateral relations and people-to-people contacts. He then returned to SDI, commenting: “I realize some Americans may be asking tonight: Why not accept Mr. Gorbachev’s demand? Why not give up SDI for this agreement? Well, the answer, my friends, is simple. SDI is America’s insurance policy that the Soviet Union would keep the commitments made at Reykjavik. SDI is America’s security guarantee if the Soviets should—as they have done too often in the past—fail to comply with their solemn commitments. SDI is what brought the Soviets back to arms control talks at Geneva and Iceland. SDI is the key to a world without nuclear weapons. The Soviets understand this. They have devoted far more resources, for a lot longer time than we, to their own SDI. The world’s only operational missile defense today surrounds Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union.

“What Mr. Gorbachev was demanding at Reykjavik was that the United States agree to a new version of a 14-year-old ABM treaty that the Soviet Union has already violated. I told him we don’t make those kinds of deals in the United States. And the American people should reflect on these critical questions: How does a defense of the United States threaten the Soviet Union or anyone else? Why are the Soviets so adamant that America remain forever vulnerable to Soviet rocket attack? As of today, all free nations are utterly defenseless against Soviet missiles—fired either by accident or design. Why does the Soviet Union insist that we remain so—forever?

“So, my fellow Americans, I cannot promise, nor can any President promise, that the talks in Iceland or any future discussions with Mr. Gorbachev will lead inevitably to great breakthroughs or momentous treaty signings. We will not abandon the guiding principle we took to Reykjavik. We prefer no agreement than to bring home a bad agreement to the United States. And on this point, I know you’re also interested in the question of whether there will be another summit. There was no indication by Mr. Gorbachev as to when or whether he plans to travel to the United States, as we agreed he would last year in Geneva. I repeat tonight that our invitation stands, and that we continue to believe additional meetings would be useful. But that’s a decision the Soviets must make.

“But whatever the immediate prospects, I can tell you that I’m ultimately hopeful about the prospects for progress at the summit and for [Page 1223] world peace and freedom. You see, the current summit process is very different from that of previous decades. It’s different because the world is different; and the world is different because of the hard work and sacrifice of the American people during the past 5½ years. Your energy has restored and expanded our economic might. Your support has restored our military strength. Your courage and sense of national unity in times of crisis have given pause to our adversaries, heartened our friends, and inspired the world. The Western democracies and the NATO alliance are revitalized; and all across the world, nations are turning to democratic ideas and the principles of the free market. So, because the American people stood guard at the critical hour, freedom has gathered its forces, regained its strength, and is on the march.

“So, if there’s one impression I carry away with me from these October talks, it is that, unlike the past, we’re dealing now from a position of strength. And for that reason, we have it within our grasp to move speedily with the Soviets toward even more breakthroughs. Our ideas are out there on the table. They won’t go away. We’re ready to pick up where we left off. Our negotiators are heading back to Geneva, and we’re prepared to go forward whenever and wherever the Soviets are ready. So, there’s reason, good reason for hope. I saw evidence of this is in the progress we made in the talks with Mr. Gorbachev. And I saw evidence of it when we left Iceland yesterday, I spoke to our young men and women at our naval installation at Keflavik—a critically important base far closer to Soviet naval bases than to our own coastline.

“As always, I was proud to spend a few moments with them and thank them for their sacrifices and devotion to the country. They represent America at her finest: committed to defend not only our own freedom but the freedom of others who would be living in a far more frightening world were it not for the strength and resolve of the United States. ‘Whenever the standard of freedom and independence has been . . . unfurled, there will be America’s heart, her benedictions, and her prayers,’ John Quincy Adams once said. He spoke well of our destiny as a nation. My fellow Americans, we’re honored by history, entrusted by destiny with the oldest dream of humanity—the dream of lasting peace and human freedom.

“Another President, Harry Truman, noted that our century had seen two of the most frightful wars in history and that ‘the supreme need of our time is for man to learn to live together in peace and harmony.’ It’s in pursuit of that ideal I went to Geneva a year ago and to Iceland last week. And it’s in pursuit of that ideal that I thank you now for all the support you’ve given me, and I again ask for your help and your prayers as we continue our journey toward a world where peace reigns and freedom is enshrined. Thank you, and God bless you.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book II, pages 1370–1371)