46. Letter From President Reagan to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 1

My Dear Mr. President

In writing the attached letter2 I am reminded of our meeting in San Clemente a decade or so ago.3 I was Governor of California at the time and you were concluding a series of meetings with President Nixon. Those meetings had captured the imagination of all the world. Never had peace and good will among men seemed closer at hand.

When we met I asked if you were aware that the hopes and aspirations of millions and millions of people throughout the world were dependent on the decisions that would be reached in your meetings.

You took my hand in both of yours and assured me that you were aware of that and that you were dedicated with all your heart and mind to fulfilling those hopes and dreams.

The people of the world still share that hope. Indeed the peoples of the world, despite differences in racial and ethnic origin, have very much in common. They want the dignity of having some control over their individual destiny. They want to work at the craft or trade of their own choosing and to be fairly rewarded. They want to raise their families in peace without harming anyone or suffering harm themselves. Government exists for their convenience, not the other way around.

[Page 117]

If they are incapable, as some would have us believe, of self government, then where among them do we find any who are capable of governing others?

Is it possible that we have permitted ideology, political and economic philosophies, and governmental policies to keep us from considering the very real, everyday problems of our peoples? Will the average Soviet family be better off or even aware that the Soviet Union has imposed a government of its own choice on the people of Afghanistan? Is life better for the people of Cuba because the Cuban military dictate who shall govern the people of Angola?

It is often implied that such things have been made necessary because of territorial ambitions of the United States; that we have imperialistic designs and thus constitute a threat to your own security and that of the newly emerging nations. There not only is no evidence to support such a charge, there is solid evidence that the United States, when it could have dominated the world with no risk to itself, made no effort whatsoever to do so.

When World War II ended, the United States had the only undamaged industrial power in the world. Our military might was at its peak—and we alone had the ultimate weapon, the nuclear weapon, with the unquestioned ability to deliver it anywhere in the world. If we had sought world domination then, who could have opposed us?

But the United States followed a different course—one unique in all the history of mankind. We used our power and wealth to rebuild the war-ravaged economies of the world, including those nations who had been our enemies. May I say there is absolutely no substance to charges that the United States is guilty of imperialism or attempts to impose its will on other countries by use of force.

Mr. President, should we not be concerned with eliminating the obstacles which prevent our people—those we represent—from achieving their most cherished goals? And isn’t it possible some of those obstacles are born of government objectives which have little to do with the real needs and desires of our people?

It is in this spirit, in the spirit of helping the people of both our nations, that I have lifted the grain embargo.4 Perhaps this decision [Page 118] will contribute to creating the circumstances which will lead to the meaningful and constructive dialogue which will assist us in fulfilling our joint obligation to find lasting peace.


Ronald Reagan
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190202, 8190203). No classification marking. In his memoir, Reagan described the drafting of this letter on lifting the grain embargo the Carter administration imposed on Moscow after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. “The State Department took my draft of the letter and rewrote it, diluting some of my personal thoughts with stiff diplomatic language that made it more impersonal than I’d wanted,” the President recalled. “I didn’t like what they’d done to it, so I revised their revisions and sent the letter largely as I had originally written it; on April 24, 1981, two letters went out to Brezhnev from me.” (An American Life, p. 271) In his diary entry for April 23, Reagan included a version of his handwritten letter that raised the plight of Anatoly Scharansky as well as the Pentacostal Christians living in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, Vol. I, pp. 33–34) The drafts of Reagan’s handwritten letter to Brezhnev do not include reference to these matters. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190202, 8190203)) A copy of the handwritten final version that went to Brezhnev is ibid. The copy printed here is the text of Reagan’s handwritten message to Brezhnev.
  2. Printed as Document 47.
  3. A reference to Brezhnev’s visit to the United States in June 1973, during which he traveled to California. For the records of meetings between Nixon and Brezhnev at the so-called Western White House in San Clemente, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Documents 130132.
  4. In an April 24 memorandum to Baldridge, Reagan wrote: “I hereby direct that you, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and other appropriate officials, immediately terminate the current restrictions on the export of agricultural commodities and products to the Soviet Union imposed under authority of the Export Administration Act pursuant to the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Commerce of January 7, 1980. I also direct that you terminate restrictions imposed on the export of phosphate rock and related commodities by virtue of the regulations of the Department of Commerce published on February 7, 1980.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records: Files of Deputy Secretary of State William Clark, Lot 82D127, Official Chrons, Grain Embargo)