65. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Luncheon with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin June 23, 1981


Dobrynin invited me to lunch at the Soviet residence June 23. He expressed great concern about the state of our relations, saying U.S. policy seemed to be completely anti-Soviet, aimed at confrontation and at encirclement of the Soviet Union. He claimed that Brezhnev genuinely desires a better relationship and wants to discuss all problems, but that we consistently rebuff him. Dobrynin was also perturbed about our decision concerning arms sales to China. I reviewed our positions about Soviet behavior and military build-up, saying we desire a more stable relationship but emphasizing that this can only be achieved if the Soviets demonstrate moderation and restraint. Details of our conversation are set forth below: (Dobrynin said he would depart for the Soviet Union on leave July 14.)


Dobrynin began our conversation on a personal and rather curious note. He said his DCM, Bessmertnykh, had been complaining about the low level of his salary, and Dobrynin was trying to check out what other countries paid officials in that position. He said that Bessmertnykh earned about $10,000 a year. I said that this was low by our standards and that we would pay a senior officer five times that much. Dobrynin claimed that his own salary as Ambassador was only $12,000 and that, even though housing and everything else was taken care of and that a certain amount of rubles was deposited in his account in Moscow, he was finding it rather hard to get along on such a salary.

Central Committee Plenum?

When Dobrynin referred to the meeting that day of the Supreme Soviet, I mentioned that there apparently has not been a meeting of the Central Committee Plenum before the Supreme Soviet and that this seemed unprecedented. Dobrynin said that this was not unprecedented and that there had been previous cases when a Plenum had not been called before a Supreme Soviet meeting. So far as his own participation [Page 183] in a Plenum meeting is concerned, he said that he does not attend all meetings on a regular basis, but only those of an important nature dealing with foreign affairs.

Outlook for Relations:

Dobrynin asked for my “professional evaluation” of the situation between the U.S. and USSR and the prospects for further development. He said he personally was very gloomy about the situation; the U.S. seemed to be on a course of seeking confrontation with the Soviet Union, of encircling the Soviet Union, and Secretary Haig’s statements seemed increasingly and persistently anti-Soviet in content. He also mentioned critical statements by the President concerning the Soviet Union.

In response, I said the situation was obviously not an easy one. The Reagan Administration is deeply concerned about the Soviet military build-up and a pattern of Soviet interventionism, noting in particular Afghanistan, Central America, support of Vietnam in Kampuchea, and threats against Poland. I said we were determined to do something about this situation, to be more active in defending our own interests and those of our allies, to reassert our leadership role and to demonstrate that the “Vietnam syndrome” was behind us. However, I stressed that we did not seek a confrontation with the Soviet Union.

I noted that the overall thrust of this policy has the strong backing of the American people as shown in the elections.

Arms Control:

Dobrynin made special reference to arms control matters, saying he was also disturbed by prospects in this regard. He said the Soviets know Mr. Rostow and General Rowny and their negative views on arms control—the fact that they will be in charge of negotiations is not promising. Dobrynin contrasted Rostow’s statement that we would not be prepared to talk SALT before nine months with Brezhnev’s appeal at the Supreme Soviet for immediate and urgent talks on disarmament without pre-conditions.

I drew attention to the preparations already under way for holding US-Soviet negotiations on TNF before the end of the year. I stressed that we were serious in our approach to these negotiations. On SALT, I referred to the statement by the President of sincere interest in negotiations aimed at significant reductions in strategic arms, but said that there was much work to be done in preparing for such negotiations and that we did not wish to rush into them prematurely.

Dobrynin then embarked on a long dissertation about the military balance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He said that he had talked with Soviet experts on this subject, including General Ogarkov, [Page 184] and they all felt that there was approximate parity between the two sides. The same situation was true in Europe, where Soviet missiles, including the SS–20s, were balanced off by a wide range of Western armament and forward based systems capable of hitting the Soviet Union. In Europe, Dobrynin claimed that the balance between East and West is 1.5 to 1 in favor of the West in terms of nuclear war heads. He mentioned that the Soviets must include weapons based in the UK and in France in their calculations.

In my comments, I stressed in particular the build-up of SS–20s by the Soviet side as representing a new element in the military situation in Europe which resulted in a serious imbalance. I also noted that Soviet S–4s and S–5s were still in place and targeted against Western Europe rather than being reduced in numbers as had been anticipated. Dobrynin contested this vigorously and said that S–4s and S–5s are in the process of being reduced. I also mentioned the Backfire as another item of concern for us; Dobrynin countered with a reference to the F–111s stationed in the UK. Entirely apart from the argument over whether or not there is now a situation of approximate parity, I said the trends were clearly against the U.S. in view of the continuing high level of Soviet investment in military programs and, in particular, the Soviet emphasis on more accurate, land based intercontinental missiles. Dobrynin again countered this line of argument, saying that the view was entirely different from Moscow, from where the U.S. still looked superior in many respects to the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin mentioned the Soviet proposal for a moratorium on TNF systems, saying that this concept had resulted from a “brain storming” session held at Brezhnev’s dacha outside Moscow last year. According to Dobrynin, the moratorium idea had been suggested to Brezhnev by working level officials and had then been accepted by him against the advice of the military and others in the Politburo. Brezhnev felt personally attached to the idea and had been disappointed at the lack of response from the U.S. regarding it. Dobrynin also alluded vaguely to the idea that the moratorium concept could be applied in the area of heavy missiles.

I explained our problems with the moratorium idea, saying it seemed clear that such a step would simply freeze Soviet advantages and would stimulate public pressures in the West on us to refrain from proceeding with our efforts to catch up with the Soviets. In my view, the moratorium concept was not a useful one and I thought it should not be pushed if the Soviets were really serious about arms control negotiations.


Dobrynin did not come on as strongly about U.S. arms sales to China as I had anticipated. He expressed concern and some puzzlement [Page 185] about our policy and said it seemed designed to be clearly provocative vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. I noted that we would proceed in a careful, measured and prudent way in connection with arms sales to China, handling every item on a case by case basis. I thought it would be advisable for the Soviets to withhold a definitive conclusion regarding our policy pending an opportunity to see how it developed in practice.

Opportunities for Movement:

Dobrynin wondered whether I saw any bright spots in a generally drab picture; were there any possibilities for movement? I said it would be wrong to be optimistic in the present situation and that much in our view depended on actions by the Soviet side. However, I pointed to the TNF negotiations as one area where there would be active contact and forward movement might be possible. Dobrynin said that, realistically, he doubted if much would come out of the TNF negotiations, although he agreed it was important to pursue them. I pointed to the current meeting of the SCC in Geneva as evidence of continued interest in the SALT process, noting that the U.S. stance at the SCC was businesslike and non-polemical. Dobrynin acknowledged that this was the case.

I also mentioned the CSCE conversations and the acceptance by the present Administration of the French proposal for CDE, including Confidence Building Measures from the Atlantic to the Urals. I thought this was an area where forward movement would be possible, although I noted that the vague Soviet demand for “appropriate” reciprocal measures on the part of the West was a complicating factor. Dobrynin said the Soviets were waiting for Western proposals on this score and he could not understand why we would have any objections. I stressed our position that the Atlantic to the Urals concept should be sufficient for a conference focused on security in Europe. When I said that we were also interested in progress on human rights issues at the CSCE, Dobrynin said this is an old story and seems to be used by the West to block progress on security issues. I denied that this was the case.

Middle East:

In a brief discussion on the Middle East, Dobrynin said he thought it would be possible for the U.S. and the USSR to work together in the area. He recalled his earlier discussion several years ago with Joe Sisco, in the course of which it had been agreed that we had a number of common points of view. He thought it would be useful if we could conduct a similar exercise since the way things were going now was dangerous and unproductive.

US-Soviet Relations:

Toward the end of our conversation, I spoke frankly of the need for restraint and moderation on the part of the Soviet Union if relations [Page 186] are to improve. As examples, I noted that it would be most helpful if the Soviets could do something to dampen Castro’s increased activism in the Caribbean in support of change through violence; I also said that an expression of real interest on the part of the Soviet Union in moves leading to Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan would be helpful.

In response, Dobrynin claimed that the Soviets in fact have been restrained. He said that nothing drastic had happened on the part of the Soviets since the inauguration of President Reagan and that there had been no “testing” of the President. He said that a lot of noise has been made about Poland but that here, too, the Soviets have been restrained.

Dobrynin reiterated Soviet unhappiness that there has been no response on a whole series of proposals from Brezhnev aimed at reducing tension. He said that, on Afghanistan, Brezhnev had made proposals but this, like all the others, had been dismissed as propaganda. Dobrynin said this was getting discouraging for the Soviets and that those in the leadership pushing for a harder line toward the U.S. were gaining strength as a result. He did not wish to overdo the “dove/hawk” analogy as it applies to the Politburo, but he said that we should understand that there is a division of opinion within the leadership and that the hard liners are deriving support for their positions as a result of U.S. policies.

With regard to the Brezhnev proposals, I said that, speaking personally, it seemed to me that they all appeared to be made in a propagandistic sense with a view to appealing to public opinion. There were also so many proposals—not one of which appeared particularly new—that skepticism about them was warranted. I suggested that, if Brezhnev really wanted to advance a serious proposal on a given subject, it would be better to do so privately without public fanfare. I repeated that we desired to have a better relationship with the Soviets and genuinely to resolve problems between us. It was necessary, however, to approach these matters seriously without the aim of making propaganda and with a realistic appreciation of the position of the other party.

As I left, Dobrynin said that he would be returning to Moscow on consultations July 14 and would be expected to consult there in detail about prospects for US-Soviet relations. Before he left, he hoped he would have the opportunity for a thorough discussion with the Secretary. He emphasized again his concern about the present situation, saying that half a year has gone by already and that, in his view, it is urgent to enter into serious talks about our relationship.

Walter J. Stoessel, Jr. 2
  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records: Walter Stoessel Files, Lot 82D307, P—Stoessel Classified Chron 1981 Jan–June. Secret. Drafted by Stoessel. Copied to Bremer, Eagleburger, German, and Burt.
  2. Stoessel signed the memorandum “WJS.”