313. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • The Washington Summit


Gorbachev comes to Washington to address an agenda you have defined, against a background of American strength and consistency you have created. As such, his visit reflects a qualitative change in the nature of the U.S.-Soviet relationship you inherited in 1981.

While he is still clearly in charge, the General Secretary’s position at home is more ambiguous than at the time of your Geneva and Reykjavik meetings. The mandate for change he brought to the job has worn thin as the gap between the grandiose objectives he has declared and the sobering realities they confront has become more apparent. The Yel’tsin affair has revealed fault lines in the Soviet leadership we do not fully understand, but which probably limit Gorbachev’s freedom of action.2 Success in pushing his reform agenda will generate further domestic strains; failure will compound Moscow’s difficulties in keeping pace abroad.

In short, Gorbachev’s hands have never been fuller, and he has fewer options. The “breathing space” he has said he wants is probably more important to him than ever. He is thus probably prepared to go even further than he has so far to achieve a predictability in U.S.-Soviet relations which will enable him to focus on getting his own house in order. If sustained, the steps we are asking for as the price for that [Page 1440] predictability could bring about real change in Moscow’s approach to the world and its own citizens.


The Washington summit is an opportunity to lock in the remarkable progress we have made since the Geneva summit across your four-part agenda and to set the stage for even more significant gains before your Moscow visit.

The signing of the INF Treaty will be the visual high-point of the summit, its asymmetrical reductions and rigorous verification provisions a paradigm of your more realistic approach to arms control.
The instructions you and Gorbachev will give Geneva delegations will lay the groundwork for an all-out effort next year to complete an even more far-reaching, and equally sound, START agreement, while securing the flexibility we need to pursue a vigorous SDI program.
You can welcome Gorbachev’s acceptance of human rights as an integral part of our dialogue. But our bottom line is individuals and how they are treated, and you should press for further, sustained progress in family reunification, emigration and greater freedom of expression.
There may be real opportunities on the regional side. You can pursue recent hints of willingness to withdraw from Afghanistan—which Shevardnadze reinforced in Geneva—by urging Gorbachev to set a timetable. You will want strongly to take him to task for allowing Iran to play cat-and-mouse with the U.N. and to explore prospects for a Southern Africa settlement that would get the Cubans out.
Finally, you can take satisfaction in the expansion since your Geneva meeting of people-to-people activities involving tens of thousands of Soviet and American citizens, including unprecedented numbers of young people, and press for further progress in this area.


Gorbachev’s desire for a more predictable relationship with us does not mean we can take him for granted. We saw during my Moscow trip3 and at Reykjavik his capacity for bold—even rash—moves under pressure. With this in mind, two areas will require particular care while he is here.

First, having overreached and failed in his bid to address a joint session of Congress, Gorbachev may be highly sensitive to protocol treatment—and particularly any hint that we are patronizing or [Page 1441] lecturing him.4 By the same token, any gestures of special courtesy will have extra impact.

Second, Gorbachev has repeatedly stated that he recognizes your personal commitment to the SDI program and that he has no intention of stopping it. At the same time, he has staked his own credibility on linking 50% START reductions to greater clarity on the ABM Treaty. To get out of that box, he may be prepared to accept ABM assurances less stringent than those he has insisted upon in the past. His bottom line may be low enough to give us what we need for SDI. You will be the first to see it, since he knows this is an issue only you can decide.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Memoranda for the President (11/30/1987–12/15/1987); NLR–775–22–4–2–1. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Parris on November 27; cleared by Ridgway, Kampelman, Simons, Timbie, Stafford, and Coffey. Parris initialed for all clearing officials. The memoranda of conversation from the December 7–10 U.S.-Soviet Washington summit meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VI, Soviet Union, October 1986–January 1989, Documents 105115.
  2. During a late October Central Committee meeting, Yeltsin asserted that Gorbachev had developed “a cult of personality,” and threatened to resign from the Politburo over the slow pace of reform (a threat he later rescinded), leading several party leaders, including Yegor Ligachev, to defend Gorbachev. (Philip Taubman, “Ex-Ally Accused Him of Personality Cult, Soviet Aides Report,” New York Times, October 20, 1987, pp. A1, A6, and Celestine Bohlen, “Split in Politburo Breaks Into Open: High-Level Kremlin Quarrel May Peril Gorbachev Plans,” Washington Post, October 31, 1987, pp. A1, A16)
  3. Presumable reference to Shultz’s October 22–23 trip to Moscow; see footnote 3, Document 309.
  4. Plans for Gorbachev to address a joint session of Congress during the summit were jettisoned on November 20, following Republican congressional opposition. (Bernard Weinraub, “G.O.P. Leaders Oppose Address By Gorbachev: Some See ‘Ugly Scene’ if He Speaks to Congress,” New York Times, November 20, 1987, pp. A1, A10, and Lou Cannon, “Soviet Hill Speech Blocked: White House Denies Making Invitation,” Washington Post, November 21, 1987, pp. A1, A21) When asked during a question and answer session with reporters on November 20 if he agreed “that there won’t be a joint session with Mr. Gorbachev, that Mr. Gorbachev will not appear before a joint session of Congress,” the President replied: “They’ve never formally asked for one.” In response to a question whether Reagan would “have liked one if the Republicans had not rebelled against it,” the President said: “No, and this never originated with us, at all. There was talk of it—.” After someone interjected, “Speaker Wright announced it, sir,” Reagan responded: “But there was talk of it, yes, but no request ever did—.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1987, Book II, p. 1368)