193. Memorandum of Conversation1




  • U.S.S.R.

    • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • United States

    • Acting Secretary Walter J. Stoessel, Jr.

In response to Dobrynin’s suggestion that we have lunch before his departure for the Soviet Union on consultations and leave on July 14, I invited him to lunch at the Department July 9. Following are the highlights of our conversation.



Dobrynin asked how I saw the future development of relations between our two countries. He could tell me quite frankly that the view of most of the Politburo members was that it was “hopeless” to expect an improvement in the relationship during the Reagan Administration. He acknowledged that the President himself had toned down somewhat the sharpness of his anti-Soviet rhetoric and this was helpful. However, the President still referred to the idea—which Dobrynin called “ridiculous”—that the Soviet Union could be toppled by economic sanctions.

Overall, Dobrynin said the view in Moscow was that the general attitude of the Reagan Administration toward the Soviet Union was so negative that it was simply not realistic to think in terms of a basic improvement of relations. It is true that we are talking about various subjects, but the talk refers only to details and no progress is made. He felt that what is needed is a break with this approach and a new initiative from the U.S. which could overcome the obstacles between us.

In response, I said that the U.S. Administration took a realistic view of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. It was true that we were critical of many aspects of Soviet performance and policies. No one hid this, least of all the President, and I thought this attitude was reflective of [Page 635] the wide majority of the U.S. people. In this regard, I noted our concern, inter alia, about the Soviet military buildup; Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; Soviet pressures against Poland; increased Soviet arms deliveries to Cuba; and continued support of Communist interference in Central America. I said that progress on such issues would be welcomed and would contribute to improving the climate between our two countries.

With regard to Afghanistan, I noted our proposal for beginning expert talks in Moscow July 22–23 and said we hope the Soviets would agree to this. Dobrynin thought that this proposal already had been approved and promised to check on it.

Referring to Poland, I said we continued to hope that steps would be taken in Poland to lift martial law, release the prisoners and reinstitute a dialogue with Solidarity. I wondered if any moves in this direction could be expected on July 22, the Polish National Day. Dobrynin made no substantive response.

I raised the question of Namibian independence and said that Secretary Haig had the impression from his talk with Gromyko that the Soviet Union might be interested in working cooperatively to create conditions to make independence possible.

Dobrynin confirmed that the Soviets would be interested in further discussions in this regard. I indicated that we might propose a continuation of expert talks with the Soviets as a follow-up to the discussions Assistant Secretary Crocker had in New York with Korniyenko.2 Dobrynin said this would be viewed favorably.


Dobrynin asked for our views regarding a U.S.-Soviet Summit. He disclaimed any intention of pressing for such a meeting, but said that Secretary Haig had agreed “in principle” to such a meeting in his discussion with Gromyko in New York.3 Dobrynin said that the Soviets consider that the ball is now in our court to come up with suggestions for a time and place for a summit. He recalled that Brezhnev had spoken of a meeting in October in either Helsinki or Geneva.

I said that, as the President had suggested, he would have been prepared to meet with Brezhnev in New York at the time of the UN Special Session on Disarmament. In general, we felt that any summit meeting should be well prepared and should hold the prospect of positive results.

[Page 636]

Dobrynin agreed and inquired whether we were now engaged in specific preparation for a summit. I said that I felt the talks already underway on INF and START could be considered in this light; we would wish to review the status of those talks as well as anything which might develop from our contacts on Afghanistan and Southern Africa in connection with our consideration of a summit meeting. Poland is important, too.

Dobrynin observed that Secretary Shultz and Gromyko presumably would be meeting in New York at the time of the General Assembly in September. It would be natural to expect that they would take up the question of a summit meeting at that time; while the period following New York and before a possible summit in October would be short, it probably still would be possible to prepare adequately for a summit.

Humanitarian Questions

I referred to the general area of humanitarian questions, including emigration, reunification of families and treatment of dissidents and said that progress on these would be very helpful in terms of our relationship. These matters, of course, were of concern to the Administration, to Congress and to the general public.

I drew particular attention to the situation of the Pentacostalists and expressed hope for a favorable resolution of this long-standing problem. I also mentioned the recent cases involving U.S.-Soviet marriages, noting that two Soviets spouses of American citizens were now on a hunger strike to protest their inability to receive visas to come to the United States to join their wives.

Dobrynin had no substantive comment to make on these questions except to say that family reunification cases are easier to handle than emigration cases (the latter presumably a reference to the Pentacostalists).

Dobrynin said that he understood that our list of reunification cases had decreased and said he attached importance to resolving reunification questions.

Secretary-Designate Shultz

Dobrynin noted that the Secretary-Designate had visited Moscow several times and was known to some of the Soviet leaders. He thought this was a positive factor. He recalled that, whatever Secretary Haig’s views may have been, the anti-Soviet rhetoric of his speeches had been particularly noted in Moscow and had not been appreciated. He hoped Secretary Shultz would avoid such statements.

Dobrynin said he had heard a rumor that Mr. Shultz would be making a trip to China in the near future and asked if this was true. [Page 637] I said I had heard nothing about such a trip and that the Secretary-Designate’s travel plans for the fall had not been worked out.

Dobrynin wondered if it would be possible for him to call on the Secretary-Designate before his (Dobrynin’s) departure the afternoon of July 14. He noted in this regard his status as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. I said that the Secretary-Designate was not seeing any Ambassadors prior to his confirmation and that I did not think an appointment would be possible.

(I confirmed this to the Soviet Embassy July 10.)


Dobrynin took a rather negative view about both negotiations. He observed that INF had been going on for many months but the two sides seemed as far apart as ever and he could not see any realistic prospect for achieving agreement. He agreed with me that the START talks had begun in a businesslike and serious manner but said this was hardly unusual. He thought the positions of the two sides seemed so different that little progress was in prospect.


Dobrynin asked if a reply had been made to the latest letter from Brezhnev concerning Lebanon.4 I said that it had not been, but that the President was considering it and would respond in due course. Dobrynin went over again the substance of his remarks concerning the situation in Lebanon which he made in his call on me July 7, with particular reference to the announced intention of the U.S. to send a Marine contingent to Beirut. He said he could not understand the rationale for an international force and that, in any event, he felt that U.S. forces should not be sent. If it were really necessary to have an international force, then it should be done preferably under UN auspices and using forces which would not include the U.S.

I explained in detail our views regarding the need for strengthening the central government of Lebanon and achieving peace. In this regard, as a first step it was necessary to resolve the question of the evacuation of the PLO from West Beirut. The idea of an international force and of the inclusion of a U.S. contingent had been suggested by the Lebanese. I noted that we would not send the Marines unless all parties agreed and I stressed that their stay in West Beirut would be temporary, not to exceed 30 days.

Referring to Brezhnev’s letter, I commented that some of the language could be interpreted as being threatening in nature. I also could [Page 638] not understand why the Soviets had seen fit to publish almost immediately the substance of the letter; this violated the traditional confidential character of correspondence at the highest level.

Dobrynin squirmed a bit at this saying that, while the Soviets generally wished to observe the principle of confidentiality, the publication of the substance of the Brezhnev letter in this instance was an indication of the Kremlin’s concern about the proposed move by the U.S. to put its soldiers into Beirut. He said so long as the conflict preserved a regional character involving Israelis, Palestinians and Syrians, it could be regarded as something regrettable but not of major concern. He remarked that “we would never go to war for the Syrians, and we told the Syrians that”. However, if the U.S. forces enter the picture, then a new element is introduced—that of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. The Soviet Union is a super power like the United States, Dobrynin said, and it should be understood that it would have to react in some way if the U.S. introduced its forces. He could not predict what the consequences would be, but there would be consequences.

Dobrynin continued that the Soviet leadership is elderly and it could be said that this has an advantage in that old men don’t want to take risks or get involved in new problems. At the same time, they cannot be seen as “chicken”. If the U.S. puts Marines into Lebanon, an area not far removed from the Soviet Union, it could be seen by some as a challenge to the Soviet Union and this is bound to produce a reaction.

I emphasized again our peaceful intent and the limited nature of our involvement if it occurs. I made clear that we would proceed with our plans if there is agreement with all parties concerned.


Dobrynin said he understood that we would be announcing our opposition to signing the Law of the Sea Treaty. He was puzzled, since he thought the U.S., like the Soviet Union, believed that the provisions in the treaty covering navigational passage through straits, etc., were advantageous.

I explained the problems we had with the portion of the treaty concerning the deep seabed mining regime and said that the treaty as it stood could never be ratified by our Senate.

Dobrynin commented that, while he could understand our objection to some of the terms of the seabed regime, he did not see why we could not go along with the treaty as a whole, particularly since, by our refusal to sign, we would be isolating ourselves from almost all other nations.


In answer to my query, Dobrynin said he was not aware of any Central Committee Plenum to be held this summer. While one could [Page 639] be called on short notice, his personal view was that this was unlikely, given the absence of Brezhnev from Moscow and the vacation plans of Gromyko this summer.

I inquired whether Andropov would be chairing meetings of the Politburo in Brezhnev’s absence. Dobrynin said he did not know for certain. He remarked that, before he died, Suslov had always taken Brezhnev’s place in chairing the Politburo. After Suslov’s death, Kirilenko assumed this role. More recently, Kirilenko has not been active because of failing health and Chernenko took over the chairmanship in Brezhnev’s absence. Dobrynin acknowledged that Andropov has become “increasingly active” recently and he thought that there might be some system whereby Andropov and Chernenko would alternate in taking the Politburo chair when Brezhnev was not there. He stressed, however, that he did not know for sure.

Dobrynin speculated that Andropov may have been made responsible for ideological affairs previously supervised by Suslov. If this is the case, it might also be that Chernenko is responsible for personnel matters in the Party. Again, Dobrynin said this was all speculation on his part.

Speaking of Andropov, Dobrynin said he had always found him easy to deal with. He is a man with long experience in government and foreign affairs and is generally well informed about the world.

Commenting on the organization of the Foreign Office, Dobrynin said that Gromyko to an increasing extent is delegating day-to-day activities to his deputies, reserving to himself only items of major importance. The two deputies are Korniyenko and Maltsev. Dobrynin said that Korniyenko is the person Gromyko relies on the most; he is a professional who is thoroughly capable and experienced. On the other hand, Dobrynin said that Maltsev, while a very good person, has primarily Party background (although he did serve as Ambassador to Sweden) and is not generally as capable of handling the details of foreign affairs as is Korniyenko.

Dobrynin recalled that when Kuznetsov had left the Foreign Office position as First Deputy several years ago for the Presidium, Gromyko had wanted him (Dobrynin) to take Kuznetsov’s place. However, Dobrynin related, Brezhnev had objected to such a move, saying that Dobrynin would be more useful in the United States in view of his long experience here. Dobrynin asserted that he was quite content with this decision and that he preferred to be in Washington rather than in the Foreign Office in Moscow.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Matlock Files, USSR Diplomatic Contacts 1/8. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Stoessel July 10–12. Stoessel forwarded the memorandum of conversation to Clark under cover of a July 12 note. (Ibid.)
  2. On June 16, Chester Crocker and Georgiy Kornienko met in New York to discuss Namibia.
  3. See Documents 186 and 187.
  4. See Document 192.