42. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Allen) to President Reagan 1


  • Analysis of Brezhnev’s Message

We have analyzed Brezhnev’s message2 and discussed an appropriate response. The meeting was deliberately small, and all written materials stayed in the Situation Room. We intend to prevent leaks on this one. The participants in the meeting were: Deputy Secretary Clark; Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Ambassador Stoessel; Robert Gates, Bill Casey’s special assistant on the Soviet Union; Mose Harvey and Sy Weiss from the campaign foreign affairs advisory group; Bud Nance, Janet Colson, Richard Pipes and Dennis Blair from the NSC staff.

There was consensus among the participants on the important points.

• The text appears to have been drafted by staffers in the Kremlin, with Brezhnev himself adding several personal themes. It is, therefore, both an institutional and a personal response to your message of April 3, 1981.3

• The tone of the letter is deliberately tough, but Brezhnev has sent tougher letters to your predecessors. The letter does not contain [Page 108] any personal attacks on your actions, such as there have been in past similar messages.

• The purpose of Brezhnev’s message seems to be two-fold: First, to make a direct appeal to you for the resumption of a US–USSR dialogue, which the Soviets badly want. Second, to establish a rationale for Soviet intervention in Poland by blaming it on the United States.

The Soviets want talks with your Administration to legitimize their status as the other, equal superpower, and because when they talk with the U.S. on important issues such as SALT, they can pursue aggressive initiatives elsewhere in the world with less chance of adverse publicity and public censure. The Soviets feel that in a few months they will be able to engage this Administration in dialogue as they have its predecessors, with the same success in improving their position in the world.

In replying, you will want to consider carefully the impression you will leave with Brezhnev and his colleagues. Indeed, as Ambassador Weiss put it, “the impression may be more important than the substantive content” of your reply. I believe that your response will, in fact, set the tone of U.S.-Soviet relations for a year or more, or at least until you agree to a face-to-face meeting with Brezhnev.

Two major elements should be included in the reply, which it was agreed, should be short and dignified. First, the tone of Brezhnev’s message was “unworthy” of a statesman; was uncalled for, in view of the measured tone of your message to Brezhnev; and hurt rather than helped prospects for constructive Soviet-American discussions. Second, the United States should reject the contention in Brezhnev’s message that the Soviet Union, with its Warsaw Pact allies, has a right to intervene in Polish affairs, whether on the basis of the “Brezhnev Doctrine” or on any other basis.

Concerning the method of response, two alternatives were discussed. Either a reply could be conveyed by Secretary Haig to Ambassador Dobrynin, including a written text (in order to ensure that the message makes it to Moscow without Dobrynin’s reinterpretation), or a letter could be signed by you, but sent through normal diplomatic channels, rather than on the “hot line.” We do not wish to get into an extended exchange of messages via this hot line channel.

We should share the gist of the messages with at least the four major allies (Britain, France, Germany and Japan). We are pledged to consultation on important matters, and it is the allies that are pressuring us for dialogue with the Soviets. It may be useful for them to experience the tough, insulting and uncompromising tone of the Soviet leader with whom we are expected to converse.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Meese Files, USSR—1981. Top Secret; Sensitive. Printed from an uninitialed copy.
  2. See Document 40.
  3. See Document 39.