10. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ronald Reagan
  • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin of the USSR

The meeting between the President and Ambassador Dobrynin went on for about an hour and three-quarters. It was spirited throughout and the entire time was spent on content as distinct from pleasantries of one sort and another. The time can be divided into segments.

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1. The President expressed his readiness to see important problems we have with the Soviet Union addressed and resolved if reasonable solutions can be arrived at. He made it plain that he was talking about genuine content and not simply words of good feeling. It seemed to me that he was very convincing in the way he expressed himself. Dobrynin responded that while he didn’t realize that he would have this opportunity to see the President, he had been instructed by Andropov to say through the scheduled meeting with GPS that Andropov’s view was similar.

The President said that personal channels often needed to be established in order to have things happen and that as far as he was concerned, the Soviets could look upon me, Shultz, as the personal channel.

2. Dobrynin reviewed the scope of issues that confront us, running from arms control to regional issues (the only one he mentioned was the Middle East) to bilateral issues. Then the discussion moved into the INF and START Talks. For one-half to three-quarters of an hour, the President and Dobrynin engaged each other on these subjects and, without reviewing the arguments used, it must have been apparent to Dobrynin that the President was quite well informed and, while reasonable, very tough-minded. The President has a very pleasant way of stating his point of view, but he came across as clear and strong. He also made it apparent through the content of the discussion that he was ready to work for constructive solutions.

3. The President developed at considerable length the reasons why human rights issues are important to him: on the basis of the human beings involved on the one hand; on the other, the political impact in the United States of treatment that would not be tolerated here. He pointed up the difficulty of managing a relationship with the Soviet Union when practices we would not tolerate are so visible and untended. There was considerable discussion of the Pentecostalists in the Embassy. Dobrynin’s only argument was that if people who came to an Embassy found that was the way out of a country, then the Embassy would be overwhelmed. The President asked Dobrynin why it was that they were so anxious to keep people in the country who wanted to leave. The President also developed the human rights and political impact points in terms of the situation in Poland. The President expressed his view that this was a subject that he was perfectly ready to work at quietly and that results would be greeted with appreciation but not with any sense of victory. He expressed his opposition to the Jackson-Vanik approach to this subject.

4. At the end, considerable time was spent in reviewing the scope of issues before us and in saying to each other that it was important to find operational ways to implement the desire of both the President and the General Secretary to solve problems reasonably.

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5. It seemed to me that Dobrynin was clearly impressed with the fact of the meeting and, even more, with the strength and reasonableness of the President. He was surprised that the meeting happened. He said that he was honored, and it was a privilege to be received by the President. He commented that it just might possibly have been an historic occasion—that whether we were talking about two years or six years, in either case it was quite possible to get things accomplished and that he would give Andropov a full and detailed report of the entire conversation.2

In my discussion with Dobrynin after we left the President,3 Dobrynin picked up on the personal channel and suggested that a meeting of Shultz and Gromyko between the UN sessions would be a necessity if this relationship were to develop and that I ought to consider a trip to Moscow at some point so that I could have a lengthy session with Andropov. He also mentioned that when Gromyko comes for the UN session, we should consider returning to what he regarded as the traditional Gromyko call on the President. I reminded Dobrynin of the importance of Art Hartman’s access to Soviet officials.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Super Sensitive, February 1983. Top Secret; Sensitive. There is no drafting information on the memorandum. The meeting took place in the Residence at the White House. Reagan wrote in his diary that evening: “Almost forgot—Geo. Shultz sneaked Ambassador Dobrynin (Soviet) into the W.H. We talked for 2 hours. Sometimes we got pretty nose to nose. I told him I wanted George to be a channel for direct contact with Andropov—no bureaucracy involved. Geo. tells me that after they left the ambas. said, ‘this could be an historic moment.’” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 198) In a covering note to Shultz on February 17, Eagleburger reported: “As your schedule is such that your only chance for reading is this morning, I am forwarding the memo to you without having read it myself. I would appreciate a chance to give you my comments on it later today. LSE.” Shultz wrote in the margin: “I gather this is being redone in light of our discussion. G.” In a February 19 covering note to Reagan, Clark wrote: “Mr. President: I attach the memorandum of conversation between Sec. Shultz and Amb. Dobrynin.” (Reagan Library, William Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers, Working File: Contains Originals (2))
  2. Dobrynin’s memoir provides a more detailed account of this meeting than this short memorandum of conversation. He wrote: “This was not only my first private meeting with Reagan, but it was his first substantive conversation as president with any senior Soviet representative and—as far as I know—at any time in his long career as an aggressive opponent of communism and the Soviet Union. The very decision to hold our meeting was remarkable, as Reagan made it only in the third year of his presidency, which showed his personal desire finally to examine Soviet-American affairs more closely.” (Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 517–521)
  3. See Document 11.