104. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.—Secretary Shultz
  • William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR—Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter

Secretary Shultz wanted to spend a few minutes to discuss some matters with Foreign Minister Gromyko in private. They were closely related to the subject matter of the Madrid Conference and concerned commitments a representative of the Soviet Government had made to President Reagan through Ambassador Kampelman on behalf of the highest authorities of the Soviet Union, specifically that Shcharanskiy [Page 358] would be released upon completion of half his sentence.2 We believed that in the Soviet interpretation this would be in February 1984, although our own information was that Shcharanskiy first went to jail on September 15. Kondrashev had promised that he would check the appropriate date. There was also a commitment to release certain other people whose names had been furnished to Kondrashev.

Based on these commitments to Ambassador Kampelman, which he had reported at a meeting in Washington with President Reagan and the Secretary, we had moved ahead to agree on the concluding document here in Madrid. We still assumed that all the commitments made to us will be fulfilled.

We had made clear both to Mr. Kondrashev and to other authorized interlocutors that we on our side would be prepared to take a step of interest to the Soviet side if this commitment were in fact honored.

Our position remains the same, and we are interested in substance rather than in form. However, it is our impression that the Soviet side is no longer interested in moving forward to resolve the Shcharanskiy case, and is in fact departing from its commitment. This would be a major breach of the confidence in commitments which is required for any government to deal with one another.

We have other serious concerns in the human rights field. We are concerned that steps be taken to secure family reunification and to unite divided spouses. We are worried not only about the radical decline in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union but also about what appears to us to be increasing antisemitic activities in the Soviet Union.

At the same time, the Shcharanskiy case is critical. There is no better time for this compassionate step. But our relations will inevitably be damaged even further if Shcharanskiy is made to serve his full term. [Page 359] We have conflicting reports on his state of health. But if he were to die in prison, it would be another major catastrophe.

What is the official Soviet position on this matter?

Gromyko said his response would be simple.3 No commitments of any kind had been given to the US side by the Soviet side. If something had been understood in terms of the commitment that Secretary Shultz had referred to just now, it could only have been the result of a misunderstanding unless, indeed, it was a deliberate distortion. The Soviet position with regard to Shcharanskiy was as previously stated, and Gromyko would ask the Secretary not to search for any sort of loopholes in that position. He had nothing further to add and would not add anything to what he had said on this subject. He asked the Secretary to proceed on this basis. As for the Secretary’s hints to the effect that unless something was undertaken to meet the wishes of the US side in this matter, relations between our countries would be complicated even further in a negative direction, such remarks are inappropriate. He could not accept such a direction of thinking on the US side. Indeed, the US side would bear full responsibility for the consequences of such an approach.

In a word, he had nothing further to add on this matter and would ask the Secretary not to raise it again. Indeed, there were many important problems arising between our two countries, as well as problems that had arisen long ago, which required mutual efforts for their resolution. Basically they concerned matters of broad importance and were of wide international significance. So far—and when he said “so far” he had in mind the present US Administration—the US side had not displayed any willingness to work toward a solution of these problems. He was prepared to discuss them today with a view to finding common language and bringing the positions of the sides closer together. If the Secretary was equally inclined to discuss these problems, that could defuse the present tense situation and exert a beneficial influence on Soviet-American relations, as well as upon the world as a whole. This was what Gromyko wanted to talk about today, and he asked the Secretary for his views.

[Page 360]

Secretary Shultz said that he was deeply shocked and disappointed by Gromyko’s comments regarding the Shcharanskiy matter. Ambassador Kampelman was an exceedingly careful man and had held extensive discussions with Kondrashev whom we had regarded as a representative of the Soviet Government, authorized to undertake commitments. There was no possibility at all that Ambassador Kampelman could have been mistaken, because he had been trained as a lawyer and was very familiar with this particular issue.

The Secretary was surprised and shocked that Gromyko was now disowning these commitments because they had been very clear. He would go beyond that and say that his comments regarding the importance of cases like Shcharanskiy’s were a correct description of the attitude of people in the US, and elsewhere, to the relations between our two countries. As for Gromyko’s suggestion to discuss a wide range of issues dealing with the relations between us, the Secretary emphasized that no one had pushed harder than he to use this occasion for that purpose; but the current situation resulting from the Korean airliner tragedy made this meeting one which was taking place under conditions of great strain, it was, therefore, unsuited to the discussion of broader issues, although he would point out to Gromyko that arms control matters were currently the subject of discussions between the delegations in Geneva and elsewhere. He would repeat that Gromyko’s response was a great disappointment to him because when they both agreed to hold this meeting several weeks ago, they had thought that they could use it to explore and make progress in the relations between our countries. What would happen subsequently, of course, remained to be seen. Speaking for his government, he could only hope that Gromyko’s response would be such as to make further progress possible.

Gromyko interrupted the Secretary at this point and said that he had no intention of discussing the Korean airliner matter today and would not discuss it until after they had exchanged views on several more substantive and serious matters. After that he would be prepared to listen to the Secretary and provide a response. He stressed that if Secretary Shultz first spoke on that subject, he would not be in a position to respond. On the other hand, after discussion of broader issues he would be prepared to discuss the matter of the airliner incident and, indeed, would have something to say to the Secretary even if the Secretary did not raise it. He repeated that at the outset of their broader meeting, he did not intend to talk about the airliner matter.

Secretary Shultz interrupted to say that it was up to Gromyko to determine what he wanted to discuss, but on the other hand it was for the Secretary to determine the subject he wanted to raise.

Gromyko said that in that case the Secretary might find himself talking to himself, alone in this room. As he had said, he would not [Page 361] discuss the Korean airliner matter at the beginning of the broader meeting.

The Secretary said he would start his statement on the subject of the airliner; if Gromyko wanted to stay, that was up to him to determine, but that was what he had been instructed to do.

Gromyko repeated that he would be prepared to talk about the airliner matter later, after he had a chance to exchange views on truly substantive and important matters, even if only briefly. He would suggest that they agree on an agenda for the broader meeting. This was a perfectly legitimate request. This is the way in which his discussions with former Secretaries of State and, indeed, with Secretary Shultz had always been conducted. As for the Shcharanskiy matter, the Secretary had said that Ambassador Kampelman was a good man. Perhaps this was so, or perhaps he was a bad man or just an average man. It seemed to him they were not discussing the merits of Ambassador Kampelman. He had told the Secretary the Soviet position on this matter as it actually was. Of course, he believed Shultz when he had said he was disappointed but that, of course, was up to the Secretary himself.

The Secretary said that he was more than disappointed. A commitment had been made to our Government, as reported by someone in our Government who was a careful listener, and it was with respect to this commitment that the Secretary expressed surprise at Gromyko’s statement.

Gromyko noted that the Secretary was surprised and disappointed, but he had presented the Soviet position as it actually was.

Secretary Shultz referred to Gromyko’s suggestion to agree on an agenda and the readiness at each side to discuss this, that or other question that may be put on such an agenda. If Gromyko was not prepared to discuss the Korean airliner, Shultz would nevertheless express to him the US point of view on that incident. If Gromyko wished to reserve his reaction until later, that would be up to him to decide.

Gromyko said that the Secretary was mistaken in saying that Gromyko was not prepared to discuss this matter. He had only said that he would not agree to exchange views on this matter at the very start of their broader meeting. He would be prepared to exchange views after discussing the important questions he had in mind, i.e., the Geneva negotiations on nuclear arms. After that he would be prepared to listen to Shultz and reply. He would ask the Secretary not to engage in attempts to repair his statements. They found themselves in a situation where, if the Secretary would start with the Korean airliner matter he might find himself in this room alone. Gromyko believed that he had been invited here to exchange views on those questions that both sides wished to discuss. It seemed to him that Shultz was creating artificial [Page 362] difficulties. He would not object to exchanging views on the Korean airliner, but only after discussing more substantive issues.

The Secretary suggested that the principal purpose of this private meeting was to give Gromyko the background of the Shcharanskiy case as we understood it in the US Government, and to say to Gromyko that we hoped that the great tensions created by the Korean airliner shoot-down would be resolved in such a way as to make it possible to make progress at their level as well as in Geneva and elsewhere. He suggested that they go to the other room. He had some points he wished to make and then they would see.

Gromyko said again that on the first matter raised by the Secretary he could not add anything else. He would only ask not to pick some different Soviet position out of the air, as it were. As for the second matter, he would be prepared to talk about it after an exchange on substantive and important matters on which he had a great deal to say. He suggested they join the rest of their colleagues.

The Secretary said he always felt deprived at his meetings with Gromyko because he saw his hand gestures and his facial expressions, but did not hear the translation until later. He thought the interpreter should be trained in duplicating Gromyko’s gestures and expressions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Memorandum of Conversations Pertaining to the United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, Shultz/Gromyko in Madrid September 8, 1983. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Krimer; approved by Shultz. The meeting took place in the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Madrid. In his memoir, Shultz recalled: “I went over to our ambassador’s residence after lunch to prepare for Gromyko’s arrival. I planned to take him into a small room with only our interpreters and try to talk to him directly, first about human rights and then about the KAL downing. When he arrived, we went into the study for half an hour. The atmosphere was tense. He was totally unresponsive.” Shultz continued: “I then turned to the Soviets’ attack on KAL 007. Once again, Gromyko was totally intransigent. I regarded this meeting as a last effort to come to grips with this crisis with him on a human level, but it was fruitless.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 369–370)
  2. In his memoir, Shultz recalled that during the spring of 1983 “in Madrid, Max Kampelman, our negotiator at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was getting messages through his KGB contact, Sergei Kondrachev, that did not come through Foreign Minister Gromyko and that suggested some positive movement. The Soviets were not living up to the words on human rights that they had agreed to in the Helsinki Final Act. We insisted on deeds, actions. At the least, a few controversial dissidents should be allowed to emigrate as a beginning. Max seemed to be getting somewhere. Through Max’s discussions with Kondrachev in the spring of 1983, the Soviets agreed that they would release Anatoly Shcharansky unconditionally if he would write a letter to Soviet authorities requesting his release. Kampelman pointed out that any requirement of a confession of guilt or any use of a word such as ‘pardon’ would be unacceptable to Shcharansky. Kondrachev asked Max to write down what he thought Shcharansky would be willing to sign. Max wrote, ‘I hereby request that I be released from prison on the grounds of poor health.’ That was all. Kondrachev understood that this meant release from the Soviet Union as well as from prison. He checked with what he described as ‘the highest authority,’ and, after checking, he agreed.” After consultations with his wife, Shcharansky rejected the deal.” (Ibid., pp. 273–274)
  3. Of this meeting, Gromyko recalled in his memoir: “We held this meeting on the day after our speeches, in an old mansion that had no doubt once belonged to a grandee and was now the US ambassador’s residence in Madrid. It took no great perception to see that Shultz looked depressed. We had what is called a frank discussion.

    “He started off straight away about human rights in the Soviet Union.

    “I tactfully pointed out: ‘It doesn’t make sense to discuss this subject, as it only concerns our internal affairs.’

    Shultz then repeated almost word for word what he had just said, adding, ‘The President instructed me to say this.’

    “Again I told him: ‘We have no intention of discussing our internal affairs with anyone.’” (Gromyko, Memoirs, p. 298)