108. Telegram From Secretary of State Shultz to the Department of State and the White House1

Secto 9022. For the President From Secretary Shultz. Subj: My Meeting With Gromyko, September 8, 1983.

1. (S—Entire text)

2. As I reported to you earlier,2 today’s meeting was totally unsatisfactory, and the statement I made to the press after Gromyko left said just that.3 In fact, his behavior and his treatment of the KAL atrocity were nothing short of outrageous.

3. Gromyko made clear from the outset that his strategy for the meeting was to concentrate on arms control, so that he could claim afterward that we are refusing to discuss peace and war—but prefer to whip up anti-Soviet feeling with the airliner incident we engineered in order to stoke the arms race. Both in a short private meeting in which I raised Shcharanskiy and other Soviet human rights issues, [Page 381] and the longer meeting with aides that followed, I drove home that American and world outrage at the massacre made human rights the necessary focus of this meeting.

4. I told him that the number one issue for us is not arms control, but human life. It is human life that makes nuclear weapons important, and our concern for human life is at the core of our outrage over the airliner. I told him it has had a tremendous impact on our people and the world community, and that the Soviets would have to give adequate responses and restitution if they wanted to repair the damage to our relations. I went through all four categories of international demands on them: full accounting, financial responsibility, cooperation on search and rescue efforts, and concrete measures to assure that it never happens again. Gromyko had repeated that their territory is sacred, and I told him that ours is sacred to us as well, but I stressed that for us human life is also sacred, and what we are talking about is the relationship between human life and security.

5. Gromyko for his part wanted to talk about arms control, and went through the weary list of Soviet proposals without saying anything new about any of them. To short-circuit his clear intention to claim later that we will talk only about the airliner “provocation” and not about arms control, I told him that no man in the world is more dedicated to peace than you are, and mentioned your proposals for real arms control in START, INF, MBFR and CBW. I pointed out that despite the shootdown you had sent Nitze back to Geneva and would send Rowny and Abramowitz back to negotiations too precisely because of your commitment to peace and progress in arms control. But I insisted that this meeting was about human rights, and the rights of the KAL travellers in particular.

6. Forced to address the issue, Gromyko was even more outrageous in private than he was on the Madrid podium yesterday or than the Soviets were in the statement they gave us early this morning.4 He took his cue from that statement, and related the same set of rhetorical questions based on the filthy theory that the KAL flight was a U.S. intelligence operation, all put in the most insulting possible way. He told me that far from being put on the defensive the Soviets will henceforth accuse us of undertaking a “gross instigation” against them. They would pay no financial or other compensation, he said.

7. Rather than listen to more of his diatribe, I interjected that his effort to avoid answering relevant questions by asking easy-to-answer irrelevant ones was revolting and that there seemed no purpose in continuing a discussion of this subject, and perhaps any other.

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8. Gromyko was, therefore, totally unyielding on all our concerns. In our private meeting he denied that the Soviets had made any commitment whatsoever concerning Shcharanskiy,5 and his diatribe in the larger meeting went on at high pitch. The discussion was tense and often heated. We were both on the point of walking out of the smaller meeting, and Gromyko began the general session by heading for the door, so that the first quarter-hour took place standing. He sat down after it was clear to him that an early end to the meeting would suit me fine. Jack Matlock has seen lots of Gromyko theatricals, but noted for the first time in his experience that Gromyko seemed on the verge of losing control of himself. Our own interpreter has been doing high-level U.S.-Soviet meetings since 1963, and says he has never seen a tenser one. So Gromyko appears to have been genuinely agitated.

9. After his last three meetings with American Secretaries of State Gromyko has made an airport statement before returning to Moscow. Today he told the press he had nothing for them “for the time being.” The Soviets have now announced a Moscow press conference for tomorrow afternoon, but my guess is that Gromyko will also make a statement when he leaves for Paris tomorrow and will claim publicly that I refused to talk about peace and war and pounded away on an incident we are creating to blacken the Soviets, stir up war psychosis and gain military superiority. I think we should respond by stating that I pointed out to Gromyko that a host of serious arms control proposals demonstrate your commitment to peace, but that the Soviets are the only ones who apparently do not see that respect for human life is the foundation of international security.

10. I think the meeting showed that the Soviet leadership is at this point totally unwilling to accept their responsibility for taking innocent lives, that they are digging in on a hard line, and that they will be trying vigorously to blame us for the atrocity, against all the evidence and against all reason. They are agitated and worried. The short-term result is that we are engaged in a propaganda exchange where we have all the real assets but will still need to remain resolute and alert. Their strategy will be to keep trying to make this a U.S.-Soviet issue and to frighten others off by fueling fears of confrontation, particularly in the arms control field. Our answer should be to continue our effort to catalyze the world community’s demands for an honest explanation, an apology, full compensation and adoption of measures to keep this sort of thing from ever happening again. That is the best way to prove to the Soviets that they face the world, rather than just us. But an [Page 383] essential part of our strategy must also be to keep the administration’s commitment to genuine arms control absolutely clear.

11. I also think we are making progress in mobilizing international response to the massacre. In this meeting we saw something of the Soviet leadership’s state of mind as international pressure mounts. Gromyko was reacting verbally as a cornered beast would physically.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]. Secret; Flash; Nodis.
  2. See Document 106.
  3. See Department of State Bulletin, October 1983, p. 12.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 105.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 104.