82. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Haig 1


  • Your Meeting with Gromyko

Mr. Secretary:

My talks with Hal, Brent and Bill Hyland 2 yielded the following:

On Gromyko himself:

—In part because he’s known every American President and Secretary of State since Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, Gromyko has a certain equanimity and serenity about US-Soviet relations. Tough and business-like but not emotional, nor prone to cheap shots—at least in private.3

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—If he opts to speak in Russian instead of using his excellent English, it could be a tactical decision to show certain stiffness. You might try to preempt by referring at beginning to his English.

Gromyko has grown in importance; Politburo relies heavily on him. When combined with fact that he’s good at catching nuances and we believe reports back accurately (perhaps unlike Dobrynin), it’s critical that you present your overall approach at length and with precision. Everything before is prelude to this first act.

—Another reason for precision is that Soviets have tried to twist statements we’ve made in their conversations with our Allies and others.

—After his entirely predictable “injured party” tour d’horizon, Gromyko will probe yours. He listens carefully and asks lots of questions about any proposition. But he holds back as long as possible in presenting even what he’s authorized to do. So you may have to prompt him to say his complete lines; asking “do you have nothing else to say on X?”

—While Gromyko has a broad grasp of key issues, and can fake it on almost any subject, he’s no expert on military questions. For example, it’s a waste of time to debate nuclear doctrine with him.

—In general, debate with Gromyko is not productive. We should just state what U.S. perceptions and policies are, and that Soviets must deal with these as a fact of life—whether they agree with them or not.

Gromyko has a dry sense of humor. Takes some effort to arouse. Only marginally worth the effort. Generally better to have an air of “civilized firmness.”

On Our Approach

We’ll incorporate some of their substantive suggestions on specific issues like Cuba, military buildup, etc. in the talking points now being drafted. Here are more general observations Hal, Brent and Bill had on your approach.

Gromyko’s main objectives at this meeting are to try to test this Administration’s mettle, to see how serious we are about our more robust approach, to determine what chinks there are in our armour, and to see whether we want any sort of on-going relationship.

—The Soviets still have doubts that we will be able to sustain our new approach, but they are nervous. It’s likely they interpreted the Vietnam/Watergate era as a permanent change and are now uncertain.

—Thus your main objective should be calmly but clearly to communicate that the main lines of the Administration’s new approach are entirely fixed and clear. The Soviets should focus on the overall direction rather than specific events here (i.e., adjustments in overall increases in defense budget), in Western Europe or elsewhere.

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—We must make clear what our interests are and what specific Soviet actions over the past decade have encroached upon them. This doesn’t mean we reject the Soviet Union as a major power with interests, political prestige, etc. It does mean that military intrusions which attempt to shift the geopolitical/strategic balance in areas vital to the United States and not to the Soviet Union now have called forth a serious and sustained American response.

—We shouldn’t be in any hurry. The Soviets are patient and we should be too. We don’t want to give any indication that we are the demandeur, or that we are trying to negotiate or cut deals in New York. At the same time we should indicate that we are prepared to maintain a serious dialogue. Thus agreement on another, early meeting with Gromyko was strongly recommended as the main outcome of your UNGA sessions.4

—All three believe this meeting is of major importance but should be treated very low-key in public.5

Larry Eagleburger 6
  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records: Lawrence Eagleburger Files, Lot 84D204, Chron—September 1982. Secret. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads “AMH.” Haig initialed the top of the memorandum.
  2. Reference is to Hal Sonnenfeldt, Brent Scowcroft, and William Hyland.
  3. Haig wrote a checkmark next to this paragraph.
  4. Haig wrote a checkmark next to this paragraph.
  5. Haig underlined “very low-key in public,” and wrote beside it: “agree.”
  6. An unknown hand initialed “LSE” on Eagleburger’s behalf.