224. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Shcharanskiy Case


  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary Elliott Abrams
  • Assistant Secretary Designate Richard Burt
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Designate Mark Palmer
  • EUR/SOV Acting Director Richard Combs (Notetaker)
  • Mrs. Avital Shcharanskiy
  • Eliezer Sadan, Mrs. Shcharanskiy’s Personal Advisor
  • Dr. Baruch Gur, Minister-Counselor, Israeli Embassy

Mrs. Shcharanskiy met with the Secretary for 30 minutes at her request to discuss the situation of her husband Anatoliy.

Mrs. Shcharanskiy said that she was in the United States to assist her husband, whose situation was very dangerous. He had been on hunger strike since September 27, was in poor health and was completely isolated in Soviet prison. Last year she had met with the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State, and President Reagan had said he would help. Today Anatoliy’s life was at stake. She had heard many kind words about Secretary Shultz and hoped he could find a way to help her husband.

The Secretary assured Mrs. Shcharanskiy the United States Government was fully aware of her husband’s situation and would do all it appropriately could to assist. One of our recent efforts on Mr. Shcharanskiy’s behalf was made during the Secretary’s meetings with Gromyko in New York.2 At the President’s direction, and in accord with the Secretary’s own inclination, human rights issues were placed at the top of our agenda. This marked a departure from the pattern of past meetings with Gromyko, as did the fact that Gromyko’s response was more substantive than heretofore. Just prior to the second meeting with Gromyko at the Soviet UN Mission, a group of U.S. Congressmen gathered outside of that mission and handed the Secretary material about the Shcharanskiy case as he entered. He was thus able to tell Gromyko that he had just received information about the case, that [Page 760] Mrs. Shcharanskiy was in the U.S. to assist her husband and that many in Congress shared her concern.

The Secretary said he had conveyed to Gromyko—and through him to the entire Soviet leadership—that the United States was strong, and had strong allies. If the Soviet Union continued with a pattern of behavior that threatened our interests, we would defend those interests. But a more constructive U.S.-Soviet relationship was possible if Moscow altered its behavior. Change in Soviet human rights practices, including emigration, would be particularly significant—and it was in this context that the Secretary called Gromyko’s attention to the Shcharanskiy case.

It was very difficult to judge what impact this had on Gromyko, the Secretary continued. And we did not know what effect the meetings would have in Moscow. He had been joined in the Gromyko meetings by Ambassador Hartman as well as by Under Secretary Eagleburger and Assistant Secretary Burt. Ambassador Hartman was now back in Moscow. We have asked our CSCE Ambassador, Max Kampelman, to meet with his Soviet counterpart to discuss human rights issues, and Ambassador Hartman would be following up these issues in the Embassy’s contacts with Soviet officials in Moscow. But decision-making processes in Moscow were at best murky: we had a general impression that Brezhnev was not in good health, and the smell of political succession was in the Moscow air. Nonetheless, we had placed our concerns in front of the Soviet leadership and had made clear that we would judge the prospects for an improved relationship on the basis of Soviet deeds, not words. We had to be honest: we could not say we had found the key to tragic situations such as the plight of Anatoliy Shcharanskiy. The inhumanity of the Soviet system was sometimes difficult for us to comprehend. We must all pray that the Soviets will heed the message we have given them, and that Anatoliy Shcharanskiy will be spared.

Mrs. Shcharanskiy indicated appreciation for what had been done but felt that her husband had screamed for help by means of his hunger strike. He had become a symbol for all Soviet Jews, as well as for all human rights activists in the USSR. She thought U.S. actions on her husband’s behalf should be more intensive. Perhaps a prisoner exchange could be worked out. Perhaps something could be done with respect to the President’s October 15 grain offer3 or regarding other aspects of trade.

[Page 761]

The Secretary responded that a number of specific efforts were underway, and we would continue our search for other approaches to the problem. We did not, however, want to give Moscow the idea that it could gain major concessions from the United States by tormenting prominent Soviet Jews; that is why the Secretary had said we would do all that was appropriate. He hoped it would soon be possible to give Mrs. Shcharanskiy more positive news, but at this moment he did not want to create false hopes. We were well aware that good news regarding her husband would be welcomed not only by her but also throughout the United States and the world.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Shultz Papers, Shcharanskiy. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Combs on October 20; cleared by Palmer, Burt, Abrams, Shultz, and McManaway. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office.
  2. See Documents 217 and 221.
  3. Reference is to Reagan’s announcement on October 15 that he was directing the Secretary of Agriculture to negotiate additional grain sales to the Soviet Union. (Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, vol. II, pp. 1329–1331)