89. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Secretary Haig and Minister Gromyko with Delegations


  • US

    • Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Secretary of State
    • Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
    • Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs
    • Arthur A. Hartman, Ambassador-designate to the USSR
    • Thomas W. Simons, Jr., Director, EUR/SOV (notetaker)
    • Dimitri Arensburger, LS (interpreter)
  • USSR

    • Andrey Gromyko, Minister for Foreign Affairs
    • Georgiy Korniyenko, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs
    • Anatoliy Dobrynin, Ambassador to the U.S.
    • Vasiliy Makarov, Senior Assistant to the Foreign Minister
    • Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, Minister, Soviet Embassy, Washington
    • Viktor Sukhodrev, Counselor, MFA, Moscow (interpreter)
    • Viktor Isakov, Deputy Chief, USA Department, MFA, Moscow (notetaker)

The Secretary said he would like to say a word about Ambassador-designate Hartman.2 He was chosen because the President wants a professional in this important job.

Gromyko replied that he understood Hartman is still becoming an Ambassador. But the Ambassador knew the Soviets knew him. He had taken part in our conversations before.

The Secretary said he and Gromyko had discussed the whole broad range of principles, and some options for future approaches. They were at the point where they could begin discussions on armaments, and flesh out our views on medium-range weapons negotiations. They could do this today or the 28th. He calculated they had about one and one-half hours left.

Gromyko replied better today if possible. Let them touch on it. He asked when they were supposed to issue the press statement that the delegations will resume their work? If today, then they should discuss it.

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The Secretary said he had no particular schedule. The experts had exchanged drafts. The world was waiting for the results. If they did not have results, people would think there was some kind of disruption in the bilateral relationship. It was better to talk today.

Gromyko thought it was better to talk to the press today. The Secretary suggested that they then, on the 28th, could focus on some of the specific aspects they had touched on today.

Gromyko agreed. In principle, he went on, they could issue a statement that they had had an exchange of views, so people would be clear that the USSR and US had agreed to begin talks this year. As he understood it, the two sides had not been able to agree on a joint text. So unless they would make a revolution to assure a joint text there would not be one. But it would be a minor revolution.

The Secretary said he sensed a fertile opportunity for a revolutionary move on the first day of our meeting. Gromyko said he therefore proposed that they agree in principle, without looking at the text of the paper, to talks on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security. Later, when talks begin, they would seek an equivalent formula to reflect that principle. The Secretary replied that this was in the spirit of bloodless revolution. We could agree that there would be no preconditions.

Gromyko said there was no counterrevolution. Let us agree, he suggested, to say that negotiations will begin and will be a continuation of the talks we had before, and that the delegations will meet without preconditions. He had a little secret: during the Geneva talks no substance was discussed; the two sides still had to go the distance to substance.3 Let them limit themselves to continuation, without characterization. This would not tie them down to the previous administration, to any specifics whatsoever.

The Secretary noted Gromyko had just put his finger on the sensitive issue we want to avoid: the commitments or obligations incurred by the previous administration. Let them not mention Geneva, he suggested. This was not a substantive issue, merely procedure. Eagleburger suggested the words: “A continuation of talks held earlier between the two countries.”

Gromyko rejoined that [if] they made no mention of venue, they had to mention time. All things exist in time and space. The Secretary said if they used just the terminology we had suggested, people can interpret it as they wish. If we were to put in a time limit, there would [Page 275] be a certain problem. Let them say “which for a certain period of time have been the subject of discussion between the two sides.”

Gromyko replied that we have discussed so many things, so many various questions. If time and place were not mentioned, it would sound like a riddle and would only attract attention. The positions of the partners, after all, would not be mentioned. Positions were one thing. We were only referring to the section of the negotiation which had a certain time and place. The Secretary said he thought the Soviet September 14 counter-proposal had an acceptable characterization of previous discussion: “which have for a certain period of time been the subject of discussion between the two sides.” This made clear that there were no preconditions with respect to medium-range missiles. Some of this got into matters we hoped will be part of the negotiations, to be determined.

Gromyko rejoined that he did not understand our super-sensitivity on this point. Would the two sides at least refer to October-November of 1980, if we cannot refer to Geneva? He asked if we referred to neither, everything would be lost. His colleagues would ask whether we were to discuss the origins of the universe.

The Secretary replied that President Reagan was not wedded in any way to the Geneva discussions. Gromyko would explain to his colleagues what he had meant, and the Secretary would use the ambiguities to explain that the reference was to the discussions the Ambassador and he have had, as well as to previous discussions. These were peculiarities of the American system. He was willing to come to some other aspects of the Soviet draft. The Secretary suggested a further formula “exchange views regarding arms limitation involving (invent a new term) intermediate range nuclear systems which. . . .”

Gromyko said the Secretary seemed to be working to be more specific. If he started in this paper to be more specific, then specificity would also have to reflect the Soviet position, for instance it should say “in the context of forward-based systems.” The Soviets had wanted to avoid such specifics, and for that reason had preferred a more general formula. They were moving closer to our position than we were. They thought we should avoid positions. The Secretary said we did not want to prejudge anything.

Gromyko suggested that the two sides maybe should try to agree to drop any mention of Geneva, and just mention October and November of 1980 and the various places our representatives had discussions. After all, they had discussed these topics in London, in Paris, in Washington, and, seriously, they had discussed it better in various capitals.

The Secretary replied that unfortunately there would still be the problem, since the time would refer to the previous Administration’s discussions.

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Gromyko said, OK, let them use “problems that were discussed between representatives of the USSR and the US.” This would be unclarity on top of unclarity. One could not go further into the twilight without being in black night.

The Secretary asked what about saying “informally?” Gromyko insisted that they should not; there was no such agreement. That would generate too many questions regarding formal and informal talks. The Soviet side had not proposed “official talks;” we should just say “discussed.”

The Secretary responded that the discussion was getting so obscure that they should say “discussed earlier in Geneva.” Let them say: “arms control involving those nuclear arms which were discussed earlier in Geneva between US and USSR representatives.” They should also say “initiate formal negotiations.”

Gromyko rejoined that “formal” did not mean anything in Russian. Let them use “serious;” that was the best way to convey the thought “serious.” The Secretary asked why they should not say “formal and serious?” Gromyko replied “fine.” The U.S. would say “formal and serious,” the Soviet would say “serious.” The Secretary repeated that they agree the Soviets say we will hold “serious”—and the U.S. would say “formal”—on behalf of etc. The U.S. would also be prepared to add the name of its chief negotiator, Paul Nitze. Gromyko said the Soviets would also add theirs: Yu. A. Kvitsinskiy.

The Secretary noted that he had suggestions for a revolution. Gromyko said the Soviets always knew it would come. The Secretary replied that the process was dialectical. Gromyko rejoined that dialectics come from nature. The Secretary mentioned he was seeking the perfect synthesis. In the last paragraph, he proposed they say we seek equal, effective and verifiable outcomes at lowest levels. Gromyko said what the Soviets needed was a reference to the principle of equality and equal security. On the figures we would differ. We might need to draw up some kind of equation. For now, it was the principle that was important.

The Secretary proposed “equal, effective and verifiable outcomes at the lowest levels of forces on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security.” Gromyko rejoined that in that case everyone would inject their own meaning into these terms. On verification, the U.S. would say, for example, that NTM were not enough, the Soviets say that they were enough. The two sides should say “on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security.” “Equal” itself could be taken to mean equality of numbers, where there might be some inequalities on bombers, or on missiles, pluses and minuses which add up to equality in the long run. That was why they should go back to the principle.

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The Secretary said that in the spirit of compromise he proposed to add “verifiable” to the Soviet text. There was nothing objectionable about it. Gromyko objected that it was a subject for the negotiation. The Secretary said he found that hard to understand. The U.S. needed something on verification. It had been a consistent position for many years, and we had never differed on the principle. The U.S. could not explain failure to mention the principle of verification in a text on principles.

Gromyko replied that this certainly complicated the matter. The Soviets were familiar with statements by U.S. officials on verification. During the talks the U.S. could raise it, but why start with polemics at the outset? The Secretary said he did not see it as polemical. It was a key principle. The U.S. had not prejudged the negotiations in mentioning it. Gromyko said that it would not work. It introduced an element of polemics that was out of place in this very first document. The Secretary replied that if there was any mention of principles, he would have to insist on verification.

Gromyko rejoined that without mention of the principle of equality and equal security they would have to do without a joint statement. Principles should not be to the detriment of either side, and these were to the advantage of both, helped both. Indeed, they were the only common principles. The President and the Secretary had made many statements on equality in the situation of both sides. There had been other statements too, but on the whole this principle had been confirmed by this Administration. It was both the most acceptable and most general formula. Mention of verification would not work. The Soviets had gone far to accommodate the U.S. side.

The Secretary suggested elimination of the last paragraph, or abbreviation to mentioning the principle of “equality.” “Both sides believe in the importance of these negotiations for enhancing stability and international security and pledged to spare no effort to reach an equitable outcome at the lowest possible level.” This should not be contentious for either side.

Gromyko said that was altogether different. It would not meet the requirements. Let’s do the following: (1) They would say what the sides had agreed in the first paragraph, except that the Soviets would add “in October and November of 1980.” (2) On the second paragraph the sides had agreed. (3) On the third paragraph both sides would say what they wanted. The Soviet side would say “on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security,” the U.S. would say what it wanted.

The Secretary objected that this would start them off in the midst of controversy. Gromyko agreed it would be worse. The Secretary added that the argument would rage forever. Gromyko said he saw [Page 278] no other way out. The Secretary said we had accepted the essence of Soviet demands on the first paragraph; on the second the two sides were agreed; on the third the Soviets did not even accept mention of verifiability. He did not understand their objection to “an equal outcome at lower levels.”

Gromyko replied it was not necessary to mention lower levels in this first statement. They were basically agreeing to meet, and where. The Secretary said he agreed. For that they would remove the last paragraph entirely. Gromyko said this was not possible. They should go to separate statements. That way the Soviets would have no need for subterfuge on October and November. The sides would each do what they wanted, if the U.S. could go to a point statement for some reason he could not fathom. The salient point at least was agreed.

The Secretary said he could buy the second paragraph. By dropping the third, all controversy would be out. But if they went to separate statements, marking substantive differences, it was better to have no statement at all, since they would be laughingstocks. Gromyko said they would just have the second paragraph. That would change the whole meaning. The question would be what kind of talks. On trade?

The Secretary replied on arms. The U.S. was happy with the first paragraph as discussed—“in Geneva”—and the second had been agreed. If the third paragraph contained the Soviet principles, there was a problem of further elaboration. The U.S. was asking just one of ours. Neither was contradictory to the other. If they were not seeking a reduced level of forces, what are they talking about?

Gromyko suggested they should say that the first paragraph is as agreed, and that in the third they would say “spare no effort to reach an appropriate agreement.” Further, both sides would be free to add whatever they wanted, with one, two, or three breaths, on their own responsibility. The Secretary said that should be typed up. The U.S. did not want to create controversy.

The Secretary opined that in the spirit of revolution they sometimes flirted with it. He asked how this thing should be done physically. Gromyko said it was late in Moscow. In order to avoid inequality, if they went to the press tomorrow morning, was there danger of counterrevolution? It was too late for Soviet TV and morning newspapers. The Secretary agreed: they could say after their meeting that there would be a joint announcement tomorrow. Gromyko said they would announce that tomorrow a joint statement would be made. The Secretary asked what time. Gromyko suggested they say 8:00 a.m. in Washington, 4:00 p.m. in Moscow. It would be time for the evening news. Dobrynin said it needed to be earlier if it were to make Izvestiya. The Secretary suggested 7:00 a.m. Gromyko said no, let them stay with 8:00 a.m. Washington time.

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The Secretary asked what, beyond this question, should be their joint press line: perhaps a “far-ranging review of the international situation. . . .” Gromyko replied they should say they had an exchange of views on a series of principled questions of U.S./Soviet relations; and on several problems of the international situation; and that discussion would be continued at the next session. The Secretary agreed.

Gromyko added that whatever else they said would be on their separate consciences, their separate responsibility. The Secretary asked about characterization of the atmosphere. He would suggest “frank and businesslike.” Gromyko said he liked “frank and businesslike.” He agreed.4

Gromyko said that at their next meeting, they would certainly exchange views on broad questions of strategic arms limitations, also on medium-range nuclear weapons. He would also ask some questions of a geographic, political, and general nature. Since they had more or less discussed Soviet/American relations today, he would touch on some details in that field, to get them out of the way, and pass on to strategic and medium-range weapons. The rest was up to the Secretary.

The Secretary said he would include further details on immediate crisis areas. Afghanistan was one, in line with their earlier discussion. Recognizing the limitations, there was also the Cuban problem. There were also bilateral issues.

Gromyko said if they talked more about Afghanistan there would be nothing left but the bottom of their shoes. The Secretary rejoined he had suggested it.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Clark Files, Haig/Gromyko Meetings 9/23/81 and 9/28/81. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
  2. On August 18, Reagan nominated Arthur A. Hartman to be the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union. (Public Papers: Reagan , 1981, p. 720)
  3. A reference to U.S.-Soviet negotiations on Theatre Nuclear Weapons held in Geneva from September to October 1980. Documentation on the negotiations is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. V, European Security, 1977–1983.
  4. The final version of the joint statement read: “At their meeting on September 23, 1981, the U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and the U.S.S.R. Foreign Minister, Andrei A. Gromyko, exchanged views regarding arms control involving those nuclear arms which were earlier discussed between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. representatives in Geneva. They agreed on the need to hold formal negotiations on such arms and on behalf of their governments agreed to begin these negotiations on November 30 in Geneva, Switzerland. The U.S. side will be represented at the negotiations by a delegation headed by Ambassador Paul Nitze, and the Soviet side will be represented by a delegation headed by Ambassador U.A. Kvitsinskiy. Both sides believe in the importance of these negotiations for enhancing stability and international security and pledged to spare no effort to reach an appropriate agreement.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 1981, p. 5)