137. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • USSR Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Mr. Isakov, Minister-Counselor, USSR Embassy
  • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
  • Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Lawrence S. Eagleburger

The Secretary began by indicating he wished to discuss several items of substance—items which would illustrate a problem which the Ambassador and the Secretary had talked about earlier, i.e. how we [Page 463] talk to each other.2 First was the question of START. All arms control efforts are important, but START remains the centerpiece. For the United States, the underlying message in our build-down proposal is that we see, as do the Soviets, that if our negotiations are to go anywhere, we will have to come to grips with the fact that our systems are not identical; they are, in fact, of very unlike characteristics. If we are to get anywhere in our START negotiations it will be on the basis of a mutual recognition that a negotiated settlement will require agreement on appropriate tradeoffs between systems.

A START agreement, said the Secretary, must be comprehensive; if both sides are striving for equality, as we are, then we must arrive at a formula which will set forth “what equals what.” If the Soviets wish to discuss this issue with us in a conceptual framework, then the U.S. is prepared to enter into direct and private discussions free of the glare of publicity.

The second area the Secretary wished to discuss was the Middle East. This topic had been the subject of earlier talks, including with Foreign Secretary Gromyko.

The Secretary said that as we survey the world situation, the most dangerous “flash point” is the Middle East. In particular, we must focus on Lebanon, plus the potential “offshoots” of the Iran-Iraq war.

With regard to Lebanon, the issues are extremely complex. The United States wishes to see Lebanon at peace internally, with all foreign forces out. Syrian interests in Lebanon are obvious; one only has to look at the map and be aware of history. The United States does not dispute that fact. If Lebanon is to be stable, it will have to find a political balance among warring groups. It is interesting to note that the recent reconciliation meeting which took place in Geneva is the first time that the various Lebanese groups have met together in many years; in fact, either the representatives who met in Geneva or their fathers (with the exception of Barri) are the people who put Lebanon together in the first place.

[Page 464]

Continuing, the Secretary said that the warring parties must, as he had indicated, find a new balance of forces; through that balance Syrian influence will find its place. The U.S. objective is to see an independent Lebanon; we have no desire for a permanent U.S. presence in that country. At the same time, we do not believe Lebanon should be a base for attack on Israel; we do believe that Israeli interests in Lebanon will also have to be recognized. With that said, however, we believe strongly that Israel cannot, amongst outside powers, exercise exclusive influence on the Government of Lebanon.

With regard to the PLO, the Secretary frankly admitted that we do not at this point know precisely what is going on, but the situation is certainly a tense and dangerous one. King Hussein has been very outspoken in his comments about the difficulty—of the PLO founders—of deciding who represents the interests of the Palestinian people. Many of our European friends are greatly concerned that Arafat will be “eliminated,” since he alone can speak for the Palestinian people.

Syria has developed substantial power, in great part thanks to the Soviets. This fact is now bringing about an Israeli counter reaction which can be dangerous. The Secretary said that he had absolutely no doubt that Israel is prepared to withdraw from Lebanon, and will do so under previously agreed conditions. But it is to be noted that there remain large numbers of Syrians and Palestinians in Lebanon, and the Israeli pendulum is now swinging back toward a more active role in the area. “Israeli passivity,” said the Secretary, “is ending.” It is important for both the Soviet Union and the United States to recognize that an aggressive Syria and an increasingly less passive Israel can create real dangers in the Middle East, an area where both the U.S. and the USSR have interests. This situation is, therefore, doubly dangerous.

The Secretary indicated that in these circumstances it is important that the reconciliation talks be encouraged, that all foreign forces withdraw from Lebanon as soon as possible, that Lebanon be rapidly removed as a potential source of conflict between East and West, and that the Soviets do what they can to influence the Syrians in the direction of caution. (The Secretary added that perhaps this was an effort the Soviets already had underway).

Item three on the Secretary’s agenda was to follow-up on the KAL 007 tragedy. We and the Soviets, said the Secretary, had a great deal to disagree about with regard to this issue. But the Secretary wished to highlight the fact that there are steps available which would make it possible to avoid a repetition of this terrible event. Most important, would be if the Soviets were prepared to engage in an information exchange covering the area that Pacific flights now have to traverse between Alaska and Japan without those facilities so common on most other international routes. Technical solutions to this problem are avail[Page 465]able, solutions which would ensure greater safety of flight for international aircraft. The Secretary said he wished to call these facts to Ambassador Dobrynin’s attention in the hope that perhaps the Soviet Union would be prepared to propose constructive solutions.

The Secretary then turned to the fourth item on his agenda, i.e., dialogue between the U.S. and the USSR. We have encountered problems in discussing a number of issues with the Soviet Union; gross misunderstandings on several questions have been extremely bothersome. The conversations in Madrid between Ambassador Kampelman and Mr. Kondrashov are an example. We thought an understanding had been reached between those two gentlemen on how to deal with a number of Soviet dissidents. Certainly it had been our opinion that we were in consultations with an authorized contact when we dealt with Mr. Kondrashov. Ambassador Dobrynin interrupted to say that the Soviets were not at fault, since Kampelman had been talking with the wrong man. The Secretary responded that, nevertheless, the Kampelman-Kondrashov conversations were representative of a problem which concerned us greatly.

The Secretary went on to say that we are now faced with a similar problem regarding INF. Ambassador Kvitzinski had told Ambassador Nitze some days ago that if the U.S. were to make a proposal calling for the reduction of 572 Soviet missiles, to be matched by a decision on the part of the U.S. not to deploy its INF missiles, it would be accepted by the Soviet Union. We have now learned that the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn has described this proposal to officials in the Bonn Government as a proposal emanating from Ambassador Nitze. We have been forced to comment publicly on this claim, emphasizing that Ambassador Nitze has made no such proposal. (At this point the Secretary gave Ambassador Dobrynin several documents, including a document handed over to the FRG by the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn).

In our view, said the Secretary, what the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn had done is a gross misuse of the so-called private channel. “How is it possible,” the Secretary asked, “for us to conduct a dialogue with the Soviet Union if it acts in this manner?”

There are many other subjects we might discuss, the Secretary said, but he emphasized that he wished to stay with this narrow agenda because the issues are critical. The Secretary concluded by saying that he wished Ambassador Dobrynin to know that, on the basis of a Presidential decision, the USG was prepared to undertake with the Soviet Union a “no holds barred” discussion. The United States wishes the Soviets to understand that we are willing to talk together both through Ambassador Dobrynin here in Washington and through a dialogue with appropriate officials in Moscow. We want to talk to Foreign Secretary Gromyko, but there are also others in Moscow that we will want [Page 466] to talk with as well. Our access to appropriate people in Moscow must be assured. Ambassador Hartman must, of course, be fully involved. We will await suggestions from the Soviet side as to how these private discussions might be arranged and carried forward.

Ambassador Dobrynin asked whether there are any specific ideas that we believed should be discussed with the Soviets. This, said the Ambassador, will be important in deciding who should be involved in the discussions, since on specific issues it is often necessary to engage particular experts with knowledge of the subject.

The Secretary said that at the moment what we are interested in is the establishment of a process for dialogue which would make it possible for both sides to try to move our relationship forward. The Secretary indicated that for our part we would have a small group of people here in Washington prepared to work on the form and content of our private dialogue with the Soviets.

Dobrynin noted the Secretary’s earlier comments on the Middle East and said “You are focusing on Lebanon, but why limit our talks exclusively to Lebanon?” Dobrynin indicated that the focus of such talks should be broadened to include the Middle East as a whole, a point to which the Secretary did not respond.

Dobrynin said that the Soviet position on the Middle East was well known, while that of the U.S. was less clear. Therefore, it would be wise to talk about the over-all Middle East picture. The Secretary indicated general agreement with this point, and then said that another issue worthy of discussion would be the Iran-Iraq war. Our views, he said, are not necessarily widely different from those of the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin agreed that Iran-Iraq was a possible subject for discussion and then said that the Soviet Union was, indeed, concerned about greater U.S. military involvement in Lebanon. “We appeal to you to use judgment and constraint on this question,” said Dobrynin.

Turning to other subjects earlier discussed by the Secretary, Dobrynin said that with regard to remarks on the KAL issue, he would pass those comments to Moscow. At this point, he said, he had no knowledge of what the reaction there would be.

With regard to the Kampelman-Kondrashov conversations, as Dobrynin had earlier indicated, he was surprised when he heard some months ago what we believed had come from those talks. He sent a cable to Moscow, returned to Moscow himself shortly thereafter, and met with Kondrashov personally. Kondrashov gave a different story from that claimed by the Americans.

The Secretary said that after his earlier conversation with Dobrynin, when the Ambassador had indicated doubt about what had come [Page 467] from the Kampelman-Kondrashov talks,3 he had talked personally with Ambassador Kampelman. Kampelman then returned to Madrid and met with Kondrashov, who reaffirmed to him that he (Kondrashov) was speaking on “instructions from the highest authority.”

Dobrynin said that Kondrashov told a different story in Moscow. According to Kondrashov, Kampelman came to him and indicated that Shcharanskiy, under Soviet law, would soon have the right to a pardon. Under these circumstances, Kampelman asked, would it be possible to expect a release of Shcharanskiy soon? According to Dobrynin, Kondrashov then checked with Moscow and told Kampelman that indeed it was correct that Shcharanskiy would soon be eligible for pardon. But, said Dobrynin, Kondrashov made no promise to Kampelman that Shcharanskiy would, in fact, be released. Dobrynin added that we must understand that someone of Kondrashov’s rank in the Madrid Delegation would not be authorized to deal on issues of this sort without the involvement of the head of the Delegation. We should have kept the Delegation chief informed of our conversations with Kondrashov.

Turning to the Nitze-Kvitzinski conversations, Dobrynin said that on November 3 Ambassador Nitze had approached Kvitzinski with a “Nitze idea.”4 Conversations had then taken place over a number of days between the two Ambassadors, with Nitze asking a number of questions of Kvitzinski. The Soviet Ambassador finally said to Nitze that were Nitze to put his proposal forward, with the authorization of the USG, the Soviet Union would be prepared in principle to accept it.

In fairness, Dobrynin said, Nitze had indicated when he initiated these conversations that he was not certain that the U.S. Government would accept his ideas. Nevertheless, the conversations continued over a number of days and Nitze asked a number of questions which led the Soviets to believe that he was acting under instructions from the U.S. Government. Dobrynin emphasized that he agreed that Nitze had never claimed that the U.S. Government endorsed his ideas, but nevertheless the Soviet Delegation believed that the U.S. Government [Page 468] must know what Nitze was doing because of the various questions he asked over a period of time. Each time, said Dobrynin, Nitze told Kvitzinski that he was reporting his conversations to Washington. Because of this, “over time we came to the impression that the exploration was going on on an official, instructed basis.” The Secretary again reminded Ambassador Dobrynin that the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn had handed over a document which represented the ideas put forward by Kvitzinski as proposals of the U.S. Government. The Secretary said you should be clear that this is not the position of the United States Government.

Ambassador Dobrynin said that might be true, but that he understood how Soviet authorities could come to the conclusion that this was a U.S. Government proposal. Nitze had told Kvitzinski on several occasions that he had no answers from Washington, but he did say “I have received questions I would like you to answer.” After a period of time Kvitzinski had finally said to Nitze, “Look, I have answered your questions; it is now time for you to put the proposal forward as an official U.S. position. Under those circumstances I can tell you it will be acceptable to us.”

The Secretary replied that Dobrynin’s statement made it clear that the Soviet Government did not believe the proposal was an official U.S. position since Kvitzinski had said that it was now time for Nitze to put it on the table as a U.S. proposal. “Our concern,” said the Secretary, “is that your Ambassador has claimed this is an official U.S. Government proposal. It is not our proposal; we do not believe it is a good proposal.”

The Secretary went on to say that his underlying message was that the United States is ready to have a dialogue with the Soviets on anything it might wish to discuss, so long as the U.S. is free to introduce anything into these discussions that it might wish. We should think about how to manage such a dialogue so that further misunderstandings do not take place.

Dobrynin asked whether Ambassador Nitze had reported to the Secretary that he was asking questions of the Soviets on the new proposal. The Secretary replied that Ambassador Nitze had reported that a new Soviet offer was emerging and finally reported that the Soviets had described their proposal and said that if it was put forward by the United States the Soviet Union would accept it. The Secretary added that it was not relevant at this point to argue about who had introduced what; rather we were not happy about the claims the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn had made about U.S. responsibility for the proposal.

Dobrynin asked whether Nitze would receive instructions soon on how to reply to Kvitzinski. The Secretary replied that he would be receiving such instructions, but that the comments made today should give the Soviets a good idea of what our response will be.

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Dobrynin then said that with regard to INF the U.S. had clearly made its choice; the Soviet Union now will have to make its decision in light of what the U.S. has decided to do.

The Secretary closed by saying that he would like to hear from Ambassador Dobrynin after his return from Moscow on whether the Soviet Union wishes to establish a channel for dialogue. We are prepared to proceed and await word from the Soviet Union. Dobrynin said he would put the proposal to his authorities in Moscow, but emphasized again that from the Soviet point of view INF was the most critical issue between our two countries.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Executive Secretariat Special Caption Documents, 1979–1989, Lot 92D630, Not for the System Documents, November 1983. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Eagleburger; approved by Shultz on December 6. Shultz’s approval is noted on another copy. (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1983 Soviet Union Nov) A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it. The surnames for Kondrashev and Kvitsinskiy are misspelled throughout the document. On the cover note from Eagleburger, Shultz wrote: “LSE, excellent summary.”
  2. In his personal note for November 18, Dam wrote: “I also had a meeting with the Secretary in preparation for his meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin. The Soviets are going around town and in fact around the world saying that we don’t want to talk to them, but we are having difficulty getting them to talk in any serious way with us. They prefer to blame us for the lack of progress in the INF talks and pretend that this is some kind of a Reagan plot to refuse to talk to them. But the fact of the matter is that they continue to adhere to the proposition that they should have SS–20s in Europe and Asia, whereas there should be no NATO deployments whatever of medium-range weapons.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records, Deputy Secretary Dam’s Official Files: Lot 85D308, Personal Notes of Deputy Secretary—Kenneth W. Dam—Oct. 1982–Sept. 1983)
  3. See Documents 130 and 131.
  4. The only record found of a conversation between Nitze and Kvitsinkskiy on November 3 was at a Soviet reception for the INF delegations in Geneva. Nitze recounted the discussion: “Was the emphasis in Kvitsinskiy’s proposal merely on the proposition that the reductions be equal or on a specific reduction on the U.S. side by 572 to zero, balanced by a reduction of 572 on the Soviet side? To give an example, supposing hypothetically that the U.S. was prepared to reduce by 472, would the Soviet side be prepared to reduce by 472? Kvitsinskiy thought about it for a minute and then said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Nitze responded that he did not mean to give Kvitsinskiy any false hopes. He did not think it would be satisfactory in Washington, either.” (Telegram 10230 from the Mission in Geneva, November 4; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830647–0676)