60. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Allen) to President Reagan1


  • Leonid Brezhnev’s Letter of May 25, 1981

Secretary Haig has sent you a memorandum (TAB A)2 forwarding and commenting on Brezhnev’s reply (TAB B)3 to your personal, handwritten message (TAB C).4 Secretary Haig says that Brezhnev tries to match the constructive tone of your letter and has the impression that Brezhnev’s letter conveys a sense of substantial nervousness and concern. The Secretary’s memorandum also describes his conversation with Dobrynin, who delivered the Brezhnev reply, which touched upon U.S.-Soviet relations, Lebanon and issues for U.S.-Soviet negotiations.

The following is an analysis of the Brezhnev reply prepared by the Soviet specialists on the NSC staff:

Brezhnev’s response to your personal, handwritten letter is conciliatory in tone and unbending in substance. It ignores a number of specific points made in your handwritten note, including your assertion that governments must serve the people and not the other way around. He makes no reference to your allusion to Cuban actions in Angola, nor to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (except to blame the United States for offering help to those resisting it). He does not even mention your lifting the grain embargo, which in your letter was presented as an act of good will.

Instead, he gives the standard litany of Soviet objections to “aggressive” U.S. policies since 1945, such as the founding of NATO (apparently without any cause), trying to dominate other countries through economic aid, and perpetuating the arms race. All these are arguments drawn from the classical Stalinist repertoire of anti-American accusations presented here for the ostensible reason of making you understand that Moscow has a legitimate “different” point of view.

Three items in the letter and in the remarks Dobrynin made when delivering it deserve emphasis:

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1. Once again Brezhnev calls for a summit as a vehicle for resolving outstanding differences.

2. Dobrynin firmly rejects the principle of “linkage” in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union.

3. Dobrynin seems to link the recent events in Lebanon to the need to have the Soviet Union involved in a general Middle Eastern peace settlement.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190204, 8190205). Secret; Outside the System. Copied to Bush, Meese, Baker, and Deaver. An unknown hand wrote in the upper right-hand corner: “Returned w.o. Brezhnev ltr.—P is holding it. [illegible]”
  2. Attached but not printed. See Document 59.
  3. Attached but not printed. See the attachment to Document 59.
  4. Attached but not printed. See Document 46.