127. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

13169. For the Secretary. Please Pass to Under Secretary Eagleburger and Assistant Secretary Burt. Subject: Ambassador’s Call on Gromyko October 19.

1. Confidential—Entire text.

2. Summary: I called on Gromyko today to get a reading of his views of the bilateral relationship prior to my departure tomorrow. The discussion very quickly became a philosophical one; in fact, he had nothing new to say on the one specific issue—INF—that we touched on. But he did go to great lengths in arguing that the major problem the Soviets have with the Reagan administration is that they believe we are not prepared to accept their legitimacy and therefore that we constantly intrude ideological considerations into issues of war and peace.2 Even allowing for his well-known thespian qualities, Gromyko was passionate on the subject, frequently correcting his interpreter to make sure that exact nuances were being conveyed and even keeping me fifteen minutes beyond our allotted hour to emphasize his points. While a lot of this is obviously self-serving, at least it’s a problem we should talk about in-house; I hope we can discuss the issue when I see you next week.3 End summary.

3. Gromyko received me in his MFA office. He looked none the worse for wear following his rigorous travels and conversations. Gromyko was accompanied by USA Department Chief Bessmertnykh; I brought with me my DCM, Zimmermann. While Gromyko had some [Page 435] hard things to say, his tone was more reflective than polemical—a striking contrast from the pyrotechnics at Madrid.4

4. I began by saying that I had come primarily to listen, and wanted to get his sense of the state of relations before my consultations in Washington. Beginning with INF, I wondered what the Soviet objective has been. If it has been to stop deployment, it won’t succeed. If it has been to limit our deployments, our negotiations should be more serious. I told Gromyko I was puzzled.

5. Gromyko responded by noting the low depth to which our relations have sunk and saying that this was the product of the policy of the U.S. administration. He claimed that in INF the administration’s negotiating position was not serious and that we were just killing time in order to mislead people and use the negotiations as a sort of smoke screen for deployment. He said the Soviet Union does not seek dominance, but will take measures to assure that its position is not weakened. The Soviet Government is in favor of parity and equality. It has made proposals based on parity. But parity can be on various levels; it is one thing to have parity at a lower level but another thing to have parity at a higher level leading to major nuclear arsenals.

6. An unproductive discussion ensued regarding the British and French forces. Gromyko called our assertions that they are not part of NATO systems a “fairytale”. If we wanted someone to believe such a fairytale, then we’ll have to look for someone other than the Soviet Union. I tried to pull Gromyko back to the situation he envisages following our deployments. He refused to be drawn asserting simply that our action would lead to new twists in the arms spiral. I stressed the President’s willingness to continue negotiations, but added that in doing so we had to take account of the interests of such non-nuclear powers as the FRG. Gromyko said that our latest proposal was a mockery of common sense and that neither in INF nor in START had our recent proposals moved even one small step in the direction of agreements.

7. Gromyko then moved on to his primary message. He said that U.S. policies and statements are based on deception and are unworthy of trust. Our ways of dealing with the Soviet Union showed no vestige of elementary propriety. Ideology was being mixed into policies involving world security and issues of war and peace.

8. I argued that Soviets, of all people, should not be surprised at ideological combat. I myself had heard Brezhnev, at the height of détente, say that the ideological competition would continue. And I heard Andropov less than a year ago—in a speech in the Kremlin—[Page 436]devote the first half to ideological considerations and the second half to a discussion of arms control.5 The Soviet Union has a party apparatus and newspapers that can make the ideological case while the government leaders can concentrate on state policy; the President of the United States does not have such possibilities. President Reagan has strong ideological beliefs; the fact that he holds them does not mean that he does not desire to pursue arms control or to discuss regional problems seriously with the Soviet Union.

9. Gromyko claimed that, in negotiating with three U.S. Presidents, Brezhnev had never put ideology on the negotiating table. He said it would be one thing if President Reagan went to a club and gave a lecture on the differences between socialist and capitalist ideology. He could outline the advantages of capitalist ideology; he could argue the virtues of idealist philosophy over material philosophy; and, in the field of political economy, he could note his preference for Adam Smith over Karl Marx. But it’s something else when he attacks the legitimacy of our social system, our constitution, our party and government, and our leadership. With such rhetoric being used, Gromyko continued, it is difficult to discuss political issues, indeed to discuss anything at all.

10. I countered that there was no way to define our competition purely in terms of philosophical debates. The competition goes on in many areas, in part because both of us are free to promote our competing ideologies and this is bound to bring us into conflict. We have to maintain a state-to-state relationship, exercise restraint, and talk more. I denied that our major problem with the Soviets was the existence of their system; our major problem was that our security interests and those of our friends were affected by Soviet activities. I recalled for Gromyko that our current problems with the Soviet Union took root at the time of a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress.

11. Gromyko then launched into a long plea for the separation of ideological and security problems, arguing that ideology should not be a factor when issues of war and peace are being discussed. Saying in speeches on nuclear armaments and security that socialist representatives don’t believe in God or in life after death and have different moral values is not a correct approach to security problems. Whether this is a conscious approach on your part or a careless approach, it’s equally bad in either case. Gromyko cited three examples of the “correct” approach: the overcoming of ideological differences to establish diplomatic relations 50 years ago; the collaboration in World War II; and the SALT I and II agreements.

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12. I told Gromyko that the ideological approach of which he complained had not been present on our side in the high-level exchanges we have had with the Soviet leadership. Gromyko, somewhat oddly, said he found this remark very interesting. I followed up by telling him to take these private exchanges extremely seriously because they show what the President hopes to accomplish in the relationship.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N830010–0138. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. In a memorandum to McFarlane, October 28, forwarding him a copy of the telegram, Matlock wrote: “The major thrust of Gromyko’s comment was that the Soviet leaders are convinced that the Reagan administration does not accept their legitimacy, and that therefore it is not prepared to negotiate seriously with the USSR, but is actually dedicated to bringing down the system. There is a large self-serving element in such argumentation, but I believe that it is an argument used in policy debates among the Soviet leadership. Given the present signs of uncertainty in the Soviet leadership, and the indirect evidence of debate, it probably serves our interest to do what we can (without changing our policies) to undercut the force of this argument.” (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Meetings with USSR Officials, US-Soviet-Diplomatic Contacts (6/8))
  3. Hartman was in Washington and met with Reagan on October 24. In his diary, Reagan wrote: “Ambas. Hartman (Russia) came by. He confirms what I believe: the Soviets wont really negotiate on arms reductions until we deploy the Pershing II’s & go forward with MX. He also confirms that Andropov is very much out of sight these days.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 279)
  4. See Documents 104 and 105.
  5. This is possibly a reference to Andropov’s June 15 speech to the CPSU Central Committee Plenum and Supreme Soviet. See footnote 4, Document 65.