216. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Shultz 1


  • Strategy for Your Meeting with Gromyko

General Approach

I wanted you to have my thoughts on how to approach the Gromyko meeting before you discuss the subject with the President.2

I am dubious about the approach EUR has recommended. It is not enough to plan on being neither too soft nor too harsh. Nor will running down a checklist of complaints get us anywhere—indeed it will tend to reinforce Gromyko’s belief that our true aim is to force Moscow to abandon its entire foreign policy and its effort to achieve equal superpower status.

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The trick is to find a way, without altering the substance of our positions, to convince the Soviets that it is in their interest to try to do business with this Administration. With the succession struggle now well underway, it is more important than ever that the Soviet leaders see neither discontinuity nor total rigidity when they peer at us through the window your talk with Gromyko will provide. Moreover, Gromyko will be fully prepared to parry and counterpunch if you simply recite the litany of complaints and US positions; but he will be thrown off balance if you show a genuine interest in doing business. Thus, for both substantive and tactical reasons, you need to shift the terms of reference from what the Soviets are probably anticipating, without letting them think a general shift in our policies is in the offing.

One way to do this is to identify a category of issues on which, in our view, there ought to be common interests and room for movement on both sides. Even if this doesn’t produce early results—which may be impossible no matter how you skin the cat—it will at least help focus the dialogue on some constructive possibilities. It would also show that this Administration is capable of identifying common interests. And by focussing on relatively few (albeit important) issues, the Soviets would correctly infer that, while narrow progress is possible, across-the-board cooperation is not. I would place in this category: START/INF; nuclear non-proliferation; Southern Africa; Afghanistan; and—paradoxically, perhaps—Poland.

A second category consists of issues on which our purpose is essentially to warn the Soviets to avoid actions that would threaten our interests and thus further harm the relationship. In this category would be: Nicaragua; support for Cuban and Libyan subversion generally; the Persian Gulf. By casting our views on these issues as warnings (in contrast to expressing our desire for progress in category one), we would be making clear that we expect Soviet caution, not cooperation, where our vital interests are at stake but theirs are not. Moreover, by addressing category one more positively, the Soviets will take more seriously a don’t-tread-on-me line in category two.

A third category consists of issues on which we neither look for Soviet cooperation nor need—or want—to warn the Soviets: the Middle East and Sino-American relations. The Soviet frustration about their diplomatic impotence in the Middle East is symptomatic of their complex about not being treated as our equal as a world-class political player. In addition to wanting to keep them on the diplomatic sidelines in order to preserve our unique role and freedom of maneuver, we should consider letting them play only at a price. Similarly, we should let the mystique of Sino-American relations worry the Soviets, neither using our China tie threateningly nor being apologetic. Thus, you should offer nothing on these two questions, and respond—with a certain aloofness—only if Gromyko says something outrageous.

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There are, of course, other issues to be discussed that don’t fit neatly into this construct, namely: Soviet human rights performance and bilateral matters. In addition, the question of a summit will either come up directly or lurk in the background, depending on how the uncertainty about future Soviet leadership affects how Gromyko plays that issue. The idea of identifying issues on which we believe progress is possible fits well with the concept of a “carefully prepared” summit. The Soviets may be willing to pay a substantive price for a summit; but it’s up to us to steer them toward the issues on which we would consider movement helpful in laying the basis for a summit.

Conduct of the Meeting

I suggest that you be quite explicit about your belief that there are areas in which there ought to be room for progress. By discussing these first, you can show your desire to accentuate the positive:

START/INF. It’s important—but it won’t be easy—to convince Gromyko that we are quite serious about wanting agreements. The Soviets should share our interest in reducing nuclear forces, especially the most threatening systems. The Soviets appear more willing to move in START than INF. We want progress in both. Soviet moves in these negotiations would help the relationship generally.

Non-Proliferation. This is a long-standing but now-dormant area of clear common interest. We would like to set up regular technical discussions. (We obviously aren’t prepared to discuss specific concerns, e.g., Pakistan.)

Southern Africa. Our aim is to make the Soviets realize that their support for the Cuban presence in Angola is an obstacle to a Namibian settlement, and that this position will become politically untenable. Put in this predicament, the Soviets might have a common—if expedient—interest with us in arriving at a timetable for Cuban withdrawal. They will be reluctant to help if they think we’ll then trumpet it as a major Soviet retreat; so we’ve got to convince them that a constructive approach will earn them some credit.

Afghanistan. It is very doubtful that experts’ talks will lead to results in the foreseeable future. But this is a good way to keep the issue alive, and it’s useful to have a mechanism in place in the event that the Soviets some day decide to look for an exit. We should therefore propose another round.

Poland. The point is not that US-Soviet discussions per se could lead to progress; indeed, the Soviets would not welcome talks on Poland. But it is an issue on which a strong case can be made that there should be a common interest in progress. The current situation is only aggravating economic decline and political volatility. It’s not stable and not safe. A controlled renewal of the reform process would threaten [Page 718] Soviet interests less than does the attempt to suppress the movement. Conversely, you should stress that our aims are limited: we want reconciliation, not chaos.

You should be equally candid in identifying areas where our message is essentially a warning:

Nicaragua. The basic point is: we will do what is necessary to combat subversion in Central America. Such actions as transferring MiG’s would be intolerable and would leave us with no choice but to conclude that Moscow isn’t genuinely interested in a better relationship.

The Persian Gulf. We don’t claim vital interests everywhere—as Gromyko once accused Haig of doing—but let there be no mistake about the Gulf. This is already a highly unstable region, and it could become dangerous if the Soviets attempt to exploit the instability.

Libyan and Cuban Subversion. You will want to reinforce whatever concerns the Soviets have about getting drawn into a confrontation with us as a result of the recklessness of their clients. We may not have much success in weakening the Soviet-Cuban relationship, but the Soviets can be convinced to put more distance between themselves and Qadhafi. You need not recite a litany of proxy misdeeds in order to make the basic argument.

I suggest you lay out for the President your plans for the Gromyko meeting in the above manner, stressing:

—that there is no change in substance;

—that the aim is to dangle the prospect of making headway on specific issues;

—that a summit should be linked to progress on these issues (without being more specific than that).

Lawrence S. Eagleburger 3
  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records, The Executive Secretariat’s Special Caption Documents, Lot 92D630, Not for System—September 1982. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Gompert; cleared by Montgomery.
  2. Shultz, Bush, Clark, and McFarlane met with Reagan from 11:02 to 11:07 a.m. on September 23. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) Minutes for this meeting were not found. In a diary entry, Reagan wrote: “Met with Sec. Shultz re his upcoming meeting with Gromyko. Decided he should low key and with regard to a summit agree in principle but say we’d have to see some action 1st—permission for Jews to emigrate, let the Pentecostals out of our embassy in Moscow. Seven of them have been trapped there for 4 years. Then there is always Afghanistan & Poland.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, Vol. I, p. 157)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.