217. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting Between Secretary Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko


  • U.S.

    • Secretary of State George Shultz
    • Undersecretary for Political Affairs Lawrence S. Eagleburger
    • Ambassador to the USSR Arthur A. Hartman
    • Cyril Muromcew (Interpreter)
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister Andrey A. Gromyko
    • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
    • Ambassador to US Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
    • U.S.A. Department (MFA) Deputy Chief V.F. Isakov
    • Gromyko’s Senior Assistant V.G. Makarov
    • V. Sukhodrev (Interpreter)

Secretary Shultz as host asked Gromyko to speak first. Gromyko requested that his statements in Russian be translated into English but said no interpretation from English into Russian would be required. He also asked in what manner these talks should be conducted since he didn’t know the Secretary’s preference. He suggested that they could discuss matters of substance or talk in a round-about way trying to smooth out sharp corners. Gromyko would prefer to discuss matters of substance because there was no time to go into details on this occasion. The Secretary replied that substance was of importance and asked Gromyko to lead off. To give the discussion the pace of a conversation Gromyko proposed to raise a problem, hear the reaction of his partner, and then move on—taking the most important issues first. The Secretary replied that he would like to hear Gromyko’s views and then offer his own comments. Gromyko then suggested that they should address each other as Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko.

To begin, Gromyko wanted to direct the Secretary’s attention to the following: the Soviet leadership could not fail to note that the new Administration in Washington has radically changed its policy toward [Page 720] the Soviet Union, and changed it for the worse. U.S. policy is creating tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. Statements made in Washington to the effect that the Soviet Union has a different social system, that it is a socialist country, has a different philosophy, has a different view of the world and therefore no common language with the U.S. could be given a hostile interpretation to create problems between the two countries. They also could suggest that no accord could be reached and that no practical steps could be undertaken between the two powers. Moreover, the U.S. had declared that much that had been accomplished in the past in bilateral relations was invalid, and this had led to a politically tense relationship. In the past, other administrations had established relationships with the Soviet Union, and under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Carter, relations with the Soviet Union were normal despite different political and social systems. There was then a common language that could be used. Looking back, he could remember that in World War II the Soviets and Americans were even allied against fascist Germany although they had different systems.

Was all of this past record in error? Present U.S. policy seemed to indicate that this might be true. In Washington the Soviet Union is regarded as anathema. There is no respect for the different social system in the Soviet Union and statements are being made which are not worth characterizing by their proper name.

The U.S. and the Soviet Union do have different systems, but from the days of Lenin, the Soviet Union has tried to maintain business-like relations with countries with differing political and economic systems and has always regarded peaceful coexistence as one of its political principles. The Soviet Union always has wanted to live in peace and to avoid resolving conflicts by force of arms. This remains the basic policy of the Soviet Union.

In view of the above, Gromyko wanted to know whether Washington is following a line seeking to deny respect to the Soviet system and even to repudiate past U.S.-Soviet accomplishments. Must this situation continue to escalate? Does Washington believe that the catastrophe which threatens cannot be avoided? If this is the U.S. line toward the Soviet Union, then where is this going to lead? Does Washington believe that unless U.S. conditions are accepted a conflict or war are inevitable? What are your views on that subject? Gromyko said that he was eager to know because he had to convey his impressions to the Soviet leadership and to President Brezhnev. He added that he wanted to have a sincere exchange of views with the Secretary and would like to hear his answers.

The Secretary noted Gromyko’s questions and added that he also had asked himself, in preparation for this meeting, where U.S.-Soviet [Page 721] relations should be going. He said he remembered that, when he was in government some eight or nine years ago, relations between the two countries were constructive, whereas now these relations were tense. Therefore we have to ask how to improve the situation.

In his talks with the President, whom he knows well and with whom he can communicate easily, he has discussed these matters and therefore could state the following. It is fair to say that the President wants the U.S. to be a strong country with a strong economy and that he wants it to be militarily secure and also in the forefront of world affairs. If other countries show a pattern of behavior that leads to tensions and to unsatisfactory relations, the U.S. is prepared to look after its interests and the interests of the world. Also the President and the American people would prefer to have constructive relations with the Soviet Union. It was therefore necessary to examine why things got to be so bad. This in turn could give clues as to what to do about it.

The Secretary said that when he was out of office the U.S. did not engage in an arms build-up. However, the Soviet Union was engaged in a steady and impressive build-up of its armed forces. Although the Soviet Union was a signatory of the Helsinki Accord, the behavior of the Soviet Union was not in line with that Accord. Other events took place at that time that did not help constructive relations between the two powers. Here the Secretary would have to mention Afghanistan, Poland and other events where not words but deeds made matters worse.

This is a whole pattern of behavior. It makes the President ask himself what relations the Soviet Union really wanted to have with the United States.

Here, the Secretary said, he had to explain our approach to values. Values such as human freedom, human dignity, and free movement are basic to the American outlook. These principles go back some 200 hundred years; they are the principles of the American Revolution. Americans struggle to defend these ideals. When looking at the situation today, when these values and principles were being violated (especially after the signature of the Helsinki agreement), Americans begin to worry. He was saying this not to engage in rhetoric but to show how much Americans do care about these values.

Looking at such principles as the non-use of force or respect for human rights, the Soviet Union’s actions are inconsistent with these principles. It would be worthwhile to look at the final act.2 It mentions family ties, reunification of families, etc. (Here the Secretary read from the Helsinki agreement on unification of families, freedom of thought, [Page 722] belief, civil rights, and so on.) When people in the Soviet Union who monitor the observance of these provisions are persecuted, this is a violation of the Helsinki agreement. Secretary Haig had already discussed these issues with Gromyko on previous occasions. The Secretary stressed that the U.S. attaches great importance to the problem of free emigration by Soviet Jews; this issue continues to be of considerable importance in America today. He added that Ambassador Hartman would pass on a list of names to Minister Korniyenko. We believe some progress could be made in this area. We are not raising these concerns for propaganda purposes, but because the issue is important to the United States.

The Secretary said that history shows that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have been able to conclude agreements and resolve issues. As examples, there are the Austrian State Treaty, the Hotline Agreement, the Nuclear Test Ban, the Four Power Agreement on Berlin, the Incidents at Sea Agreement, and the ABM Agreement. These were all of a constructive nature, and they are still in force. They show that sometimes ways can be found to address certain problems jointly. But the pattern of behavior described—the situation in Poland and in Afghanistan, the role of Cuba in the Caribbean area, the situation in Central America, the delivery of weapons to Nicaragua—all makes it difficult to maintain the peaceful relations Gromyko has talked about. The U.S. side would like to review prospects on issues where the sides might focus and do constructive work. At the same time this has to be done against the background of a pattern of behavior that is not acceptable to the American side.

The U.S. side is trying to reduce the arms build-up, the Secretary said. Having talked to his negotiators he believed that negotiations in Geneva are being conducted in a business-like and professional manner. This suggests a serious intent to reduce arms. But the setting in which these talks are being conducted makes progress difficult for the U.S. side.

To sum up, the Secretary said that in the President’s view it is up to the Soviet Union to determine what relations it wishes to have with the United States. The U.S. side prefers a constructive and problem-solving approach. He had personally seen this kind of approach at work in his dealings with the Soviet Union in the past. The U.S. wants such an approach. We recognize that the Soviet Union is a superpower and a key country in the world, and that it can therefore do much to maintain such constructive relations. Things can go either way. However, one must not forget the pattern of behavior that provides the background for the actions we take. The President of the United States wants substantive exchanges; Gromyko had also proposed to talk substance. If relations are to assume a more constructive trend, then the [Page 723] two countries together must examine difficult issues facing them, and do so in parallel.

Gromyko thanked the Secretary for his reply and said that the matters which the Secretary mentioned could be divided into two categories. The first comprises major issues, such as strategic arms and weapons of mass destruction, which affect not only relations between the two countries but also the whole world; intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe also is included in this group. In the second category there are issues that Gromyko could not regard as truly important and which in no way should affect relations between the two countries. Is it so important, for instance, Gromyko asked, if Mr. or Mrs. or Miss so and so can or cannot leave such and such a country, whether they get permission or do not get permission to leave it? This is a tenth-rate question. And yet such issues seem to have a pronounced effect on international relations. Also, the portion of the Helsinki final act quoted by the Secretary was not the only provision of that act. There were also provisions dealing with non-interference in internal affairs of a sovereign country, especially when dealing with citizens of that country. The act also said that a sovereign country had the right to decide these issues as it saw fit.

Looking at these two categories of questions Gromyko wished to speak to those that the Secretary mentioned last because these were the important issues. The Geneva talks on INF and START were of prime importance, but before getting down to specifics he wanted to digress for a moment. The Secretary was defending the thesis that present US policy is based on the perception that the Soviet Union is threatening US interests, without ever clearly defining these interests. These interests seemed to be in almost every corner of the globe, but perhaps they do not reach as far as the suburbs of Moscow. The Soviet Union does not intend to threaten any legitimate interests of the United States or its allies or to limit American rights in any way. The Soviet Union does not want, in contrast to the United States, to be first in armaments, because the Soviet Union only wishes to defend the equality and equilibrium established over a fairly long period of time between the two powers. For practical purposes this balance also applies to NATO and to Warsaw Treaty nations. The numbers indicate that there is a balance between the US and the Soviet Union, including an approximate balance in strategic arms. In Europe one could accept this balance or even say that the US and its allies have the upper hand: when counting identical types of nuclear warheads, NATO has 50% more than the Warsaw Pact countries. Therefore, looking at these objective figures, it is difficult to see how anyone could claim that the Soviet Union is a threat to the US and to the world. In addition the US has an advantage because Europe could be used as a launch pad by the [Page 724] US; the Soviet Union has no such comparable facility. US intermediate range weapons can reach Soviet territory while similar Soviet weapons cannot reach US territory.

Turning to START and INF, Gromyko said that he was glad to hear that, in the Secretary’s view, both sides are engaged in serious discussions and that Soviet efforts are serious, which they are. However, the current US position on START and on INF could not form a basis for an agreement. As matters now stand the US wants to gain advantage over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons, but such an approach is totally unacceptable to the Soviet Union, whether you call it a zero option or something else. A reduction as proposed by the U.S. is an attempt to disarm the Soviet Union.

Another issue Gromyko wanted to raise was the fate of SALT II. The Soviet side is not only disappointed but ready to condemn this Administration’s view of SALT and its refusal to ratify the agreement. The Soviet side views this rejection as a gross miscalculation because SALT II would have been equally beneficial to both sides. Gromyko had received various answers from Secretary Haig about US attitudes toward the status of SALT II. One of them was that SALT II was dead; another was “we will continue to observe SALT II.” What were Secretary Shultz’s views on SALT II? How could Washington treat so lightly an agreement that took eight years to work out, carefully discussing and weighing the pros and cons of every provision. After all that work, the US rejection cannot but be viewed by the Soviet side as a bad omen for other treaties. Is this an example of how the new Administration views serious agreements and treaties? Gromyko was also concerned about two agreements which were signed but not ratified—namely, the treaty dealing with peaceful nuclear explosions and the threshold test ban treaty. These were apparently pigeon holed and forgotten although both sides had worked on them very seriously. Gromyko was eager to learn about their destiny. Another abandoned issue was the attempt to discuss chemical weapons. Was it simply that the US side did not want to deal with this question, without even proposing amendments or offering its own views? Such refusals to discuss these matters are worrisome because Washington seems to be moving at full speed to develop chemical weapons, and this could be interpreted as a preparation for a chemical war. The Soviet Union is determined to reach an agreement to ban chemical weapons, no less now than before. Statements that the Soviet Union is using chemical weapons are untrue. The Secretary should not believe in such tales because the Soviet Union has not and will not use chemical weapons. Such use is against Soviet morals and principles. Perhaps somebody is trying to mislead Mr. Shultz. The Soviet Union would welcome a US effort to take a fresh look at this issue.

[Page 725]

There were some other questions on Gromyko’s mind which he wanted to mention; principally the deployment of INF in Europe. There apparently is a US plan to develop various forms of cruise missiles in different areas and thereby to encircle the Soviet Union and to put it under pressure. It is possible to think that there might be an agreement covering strategic arms in Europe, but that the US nevertheless would have other weapons not covered by this agreement because they are neither strategic nor stationed in Europe. And yet such weapons could reach various parts of the Soviet Union such as Siberia, the Far East and Central Asia. The Soviet Union will draw proper conclusions from such an approach and take necessary defensive measures. Otherwise the US will some day fill the oceans and seas around the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons and will say “we have duped the Soviets”. We will never allow this to happen.

Another issue that Gromyko wished to discuss was the use of outer space for military purposes. The Soviets have noted that there are some in the US who are considering such activities. It would not be in the interest of either the US or the Soviet Union to use space for military purposes. The policy of the Soviet Union is to maintain peace in outer space and prevent it from becoming militarized. There are enough difficult issues on earth without adding to them in outer space.

Gromyko said that there are other bilateral agreements and forums which were either suspended, declared invalid or allowed to lapse by the United States. The Soviet Union cannot understand why Washington has decided to withdraw from certain contacts; this only weakens Soviet/American relations. At one time Washington became enthusiastic about placing limitations on arms deliveries to other countries. US-Soviet Conventional Arms Treaty delegations met several times but then Washington decided to slam the door shut on this endeavor. The Indian Ocean talks are another example of the door suddenly being shut. There are other negotiations which were never fully developed because the US did not want to continue. Gromyko summed up his statement by saying that there were certain questions in Soviet-American relations and international relations which deserved top priority.

Having said that, Gromyko wanted to move on to the second category of questions, i.e., those that the Secretary mentioned in the second half of his exposition. Gromyko added that these categories were of course purely arbitrary. In addition to Helsinki, there are other outstanding issues demanding attention. One of them is Poland, especially when viewed in the context of the Helsinki Final Act. The Poles would protest against any interference from any party and in any international forum. Poland is a sovereign country, and the Soviet Union is not involved in Polish internal affairs. It is for the Poles themselves to settle their internal affairs. The Soviet Union is against [Page 726] any economic sanctions, be they directed against Poland or against any other countries. Gromyko was sure that Washington would realize that sanctions could only be harmful in the long run; he referred to a statement by Brezhnev dealing with sanctions.

As for Afghanistan, Gromyko believed that, in the context of the Helsinki Final Act, one could see two aspects to this question: one internal and the other one external. Internal, domestic affairs are a matter for the Afghan regime to settle. As for the external aspect, there are invasions by armed bandits from Pakistan. It is an open book that this is happening with the assistance of the United States. As soon as these armed incursions stop, the Soviet Union will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and Afghanistan will be left alone, if effective guarantees can be obtained that no external invasions into Afghanistan will recur. Gromyko added that contacts will be established in Geneva, with the indirect help from the UN Secretary General, between representatives of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is hope that they will make some headway.

Gromyko appealed to Shultz to consider the long range interests of the United States and not to get involved in internal matters of other countries. He asked again that the issue of a non-aligned Afghanistan be considered by Washington, adding that if Pakistan could look at the issue in the same spirit, the whole Afghanistan question could be taken off of the agenda.

With regard to Kampuchea and Vietnam, the Vietnamese were invited by the Kampuchean people to help them. The genocide committed by the Pol Pot regime is well-known. Now Kampuchea has a different regime and it is up to the Kampuchean people to determine what regime they desire. Sihanouk seems to have revitalized himself and some are opening doors to him—it’s a question if these are front or back doors. At any rate, the Secretary should not play with puppets. In conclusion, Gromyko advised Washington and other western countries not to interfere in Kampuchea, Afghanistan or Poland.

Gromyko continued to say that there were other international problems to be discussed, but that he was not sure whether there was time enough to discuss them today. He wanted to hear the Secretary’s view and those of the Administration on the following issues: the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. There are, of course, other important issues deserving an exchange of views. However, there would have to be a focus on crucial matters, matters dealing with war or peace in the world, and these depend on the policy of big powers such as the Soviet Union and the United States. In this regard, the Soviet Union and the United States are both “in the same tower”.

Gromyko was very eager to learn more about the policy line, the mood, and the thoughts of the present US Administration, so that he [Page 727] could form a broad impression in his mind about the possibility of doing business with the US. But the issues of the first order are the arms race and the reduction of arms. Gromyko stressed again that he wanted to utilize this chance to exchange views on as many issues as possible because there were so few chances to discuss these issues on other levels. He would be willing to meet again if the Secretary agreed. He assured the Secretary that he was not engaging in polemics. There are thoughts that had to be expressed. One could not close one’s eyes, not wishing to look at reality, because reality would open them again. There are urgent problems to be resolved, and to a great extent the destiny of the world will depend on the policy that the US and the Soviet Union will follow. We cannot be 100% responsible for the world, but “we are all in the same boat”.

The Secretary replied that Gromyko’s last question—where we are going—was a critical one. He had listened for 1½ hours to Gromyko’s review on a wide range of topics and he had tried to ask himself what the Foreign Minister was telling him. The Foreign Minister is a serious man whom the Secretary met before and who represents a country of great importance and power. The Secretary had listened and reviewed his notes. He found that his broad reaction to many items raised by Gromyko was that of discouragement, although here and there the two appeared to be thinking along similar lines. The Secretary was frankly disappointed that Gromyko devoted so little time to human problems and called them a tenth priority. Perhaps that is one of the difficulties facing the two sides. Human problems always enjoy the highest priority in the United States and the Secretary hoped that deep down Gromyko would feel that too. The Secretary remembered his visit to Leningrad with Soviet Minister of Trade Patolichev,3 when they were taken to a cemetery. He remembered walking down the central path of the cemetery to lay a wreath to those who had died in that battle. He remembered tears in Patolichev’s eyes and how the interpreter was so overcome by emotion that she could not interpret. The Secretary was sure that all must feel that the well-spring of human values should not be placed at tenth priority but must be emphasized. He reminded Gromyko that the US view of the world depended on how people were treated. He wanted Gromyko to know how much Americans cared about human problems. This was necessary to understand present US policy.

The Secretary then turned to the chemical weapons issue, saying that he was somewhat puzzled by Gromyko’s approach. Secretary Haig had presented some evidence on the use of chemical and bacteriological [Page 728] weapons, which had created a big issue in the United States. Questions are being asked about violations of treaties as well as verification. Verification is a problem also with regard to peaceful nuclear explosions in the Soviet Union, which appear to be above the agreed limit. Such explosions are detected by certain devices which, although not without problems, indicate explosions in excess of the agreed level. The Soviet Union has made similar comments about explosions in the United States. This meant that the problem of verification needs some more work.

As for SALT II, Shultz pointed out that the treaty was presented to the US Senate before the Reagan Administration; it was the previous administration that could not get it approved in that body. In the eyes of the Senate, SALT II is not a good bargain for the United States. As for the status of SALT II, the Secretary could confirm what Haig had previously said: that in a basic sense, the US intends to observe its provisions in the broad dimensions, but that SALT II is not now a treaty; it is a piece of history. The proposals advanced by the President of the United States would be much better for the Soviet Union and for the world at large.

Turning to Poland, Afghanistan and Kampuchea, the Secretary pointed out that these were places where the US could not be credited with creating problems. The existing problems there occurred otherwise. We were encouraged to hear that, with the Secretary-General’s help, there might be some movement in Geneva this November, that as a result Soviet troops might leave Afghanistan, and that an independent regime might be established there. The US would only welcome such a development. The talks conducted by Ambassador Hartmann on Afghanistan produced no results. As for Poland, Soviet influence there is great, even decisive. It is impossible not to see that martial law is still in effect, that dependent labor unions are suppressed, that there is no dialogue between opposing parties and that the economy is unable to produce enough to prevent deprivation. The US would like to see a change in the situation and would only welcome such a development.

The Secretary also pointed out that it was the Vietnamese and not Americans who were in Kampuchea. Any constructive moves by countries in that area, including initiatives in the UN, deserve recognition. The US would certainly be glad to see some movement in this area.

The Secretary wanted Gromyko to know that he was not engaging in propaganda when he said that a change for the better in Afghanistan, Poland, Kampuchea would be welcome and that it would undoubtedly improve the atmosphere for negotiations, including arms control issues.

The Secretary remembered Gromyko’s question about how far flung US interests were. The US is concerned about events of the world [Page 729] because there is no isolated place in the world anymore. When outside the government, the Secretary had been impressed by how easy it was to get involved in disputes although one could not shoulder 100% of the world’s burden. The Falkland Islands are an example: a remote place which in no time at all assumed great international importance. This example illustrates how great powers such as the US and the Soviet Union must pay attention to such developments.

The Secretary had other comments on other matters and also on matters mentioned by Gromyko. The Secretary would welcome an additional exchange of views with Gromyko. Before moving to other topics, the Secretary wanted to mention Central America. Central America was a neighbor of the United States and the US could see a pattern of arms flow to Nicaragua—not directly from the Soviet Union—but arms which for the most part came from the Soviet Union and were spreading to other countries in that area. He assured Gromyko that the US would not stand still and watch it. To be explicit, information was available that jet planes may be delivered to Nicaragua. Such a development would be unacceptable to the US and, as Haig had mentioned to Gromyko before, the US would not stand still for it.

The Secretary assured Gromyko again that he would like to continue an exchange of views and to make such exchanges more constructive; it might be well, as previously mentioned to Ambassador Dobrynin, to identify items of concern that would be fruitful to discuss. The Secretary added that such discussions should not be limited to meetings between Gromyko and himself, but that others could be commissioned to hold useful exchanges on some occasions.

The Secretary and Gromyko then discussed the possibility of an additional meeting and agreed to meet on Monday, October 4, 1982 from 3:00–6:00 p.m. at the Soviet Mission. Gromyko added that he would then discuss and react to the Secretary’s statement on Nicaragua and also take up the Caribbean issue. He also believed that the war between Iran and Iraq deserved some attention, because although the US and USSR were not involved, this war could complicate other issues. Other items Gromyko would like to take up at the next meeting were: an exchange of views on the Law of the Sea Conference, the General Assembly—to see what aims the Soviet Union and the US are pursuing there. In addition, he called the Secretary’s attention to the UN Security Council, established by the great powers after WWII as an instrument for preserving peace, but whose potential has never fully been realized. “The Security Council does not play the role assigned to it. It is too weak in character, it does not meet the requirements of the day.”

The Secretary added that other issues to be taken up would be Namibia and Southern Africa. Gromyko agreed Namibia would have [Page 730] to be discussed. The Secretary then suggested that non-proliferation, being a matter of great importance, should be added to the list. Gromyko agreed that non-proliferation was an internationally sensitive issue. The meeting was then adjourned.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records, Memoranda of Conversations Pertaining to United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, Shultz/Gromyko UN Sept–Oct 82 BMCK 1982 Geneva. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. According to Shultz’s memoir, the meeting was held in Kirkpatrick’s office, although she was not at the meeting. (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 122)
  2. Reference is to the Helsinki Final Act of August 1975.
  3. Shultz recounted this story in greater detail in Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 117–119.