170. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan1


  • Summits with Soviet Leaders

Soviet leaders are keen on summits with U.S. Presidents and for good reason. They feel confident they will come out ahead in such encounters because

—their government has greater continuity than ours and therefore greater store of expertise in international affairs;

—well-publicized summits arouse expectations in free societies which enable Moscow, by manipulating Western opinion, to exert pressure on their opposite numbers for unreciprocated concessions. (C)

They further favor summits because they afford them the opportunity to size up the President as a person and as a statesman. (C)

Experience indicates that U.S.-Soviet summits, from Roosevelt’s Yalta to Nixon’s Moscow, have generally turned out to the disadvantage of the United States. Still, inasmuch as every U.S. President since 1933 has personally met with his Soviet counterpart, it will be difficult for you to reject a summit altogether. A full-fledged summit, however, should take place only if the following conditions are met:

—Moscow demonstrates by deeds rather than words that it is prepared to negotiate seriously.

—The groundwork is well prepared beforehand so that you discuss concrete agenda items and do not become embroiled in longwinded ideological disputes of the kind that Khruschev lured Kennedy into in Vienna in 1961 and which invariably end in the hardening of respective positions. (C)

A good model to follow in this matter is President Eisenhower who had given it much thought. In 1953, after Stalin’s death President Eisenhower came under great pressure from our Allies (especially Britain) and the State Department to hold a summit with G. Malenkov, Stalin’s immediate successor. In his memoirs, Eisenhower tells why he resisted these pressures. He reviews the disappointing experiences of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt with summit meetings and says: “I was . . . not willing to meet with Communist leaders unless [Page 548] there was some likelihood that the confrontation would produce results acceptable to the peoples of the West”. (C)

“. . . I developed a stock answer to any question about a possible Summit. I would not go to a Summit merely because of friendly words and plausible promises by the men in the Kremlin; actual deeds giving some indication of a Communist readiness to negotiate constructively will have to be produced before I would agree to such a meeting.”

He was rewarded for his firm stand with a Soviet troop withdrawal from Austria. (C)

This is a good principle to keep in mind as the Russians increase their pressure for a summit. It would be best to have no summit this year: but if one is to be held the Russians should be required to demonstrate their good will by such actions as acceptance of our “zero option”, withdrawal from Afghanistan or lifting of the martial law in Poland. (C)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (5/14/82–5/19/82). Confidential. Sent for information. Prepared by Pipes. Reagan initialed the document beneath the date.