138. Notes of a Meeting1


Meeting of November 19, 1983

Present: The Vice President, The Secretary of State, Mr. Meese, Mr. McFarlane, and the following representatives of agencies: NSC: Matlock, Fortier; State: Dam, Eagleburger, Burt, Azrael; DOD: Thayer; CIA: Gates. (Gen. Scowcroft and Amb. Hartman were not in Washington.)

Two preliminary papers, “U.S.-Soviet Relations: The Next Twelve Months,” and “Suggested Policy Framework” were distributed before and during breakfast.2

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Secretary Shultz opened the meeting by going over the following topics:

Ground Rules: During a meeting with Shultz and McFarlane November 16, the President had directed that a small group be formed to work in complete confidentiality to review the state of our relations with the Soviet Union and to consider appropriate policy.3 Members had been chosen either because of their overall responsibility for developing U.S. policy, or their expertise and positions enabling them to request studies and information from their organizational units in the normal course of their duties. The group should not be mentioned to persons not members, although discussion among members is encouraged. Matlock would serve as executive secretary and would keep the sole copy of any papers developed by the group.

Related Study: Secretary Shultz had earlier requested Eagleburger and Bosworth to do a special study relevant to the group’s interests. It seemed in pretty good shape and would be distributed to members soon for their consideration.4

Pattern of Relations with Soviets: In the spring we initiated a pattern of meetings: Shultz with Dobrynin and Hartman with Gromyko, and the President had met with Dobrynin once for two hours.5 He stressed his interest in the Pentecostalists at that time, and their subsequent release was probably a result, although we are careful not to claim credit publicly. We went on to negotiate a grain agreement (which the Soviets are unlikely to give us credit for since they understand the domestic pressures here) and to start negotiations on bilateral matters such as consulates and an exchanges agreement. We had intended that the Shultz-Gromyko meeting in Madrid would be the first in a series, with Gromyko coming here for meetings in New York and perhaps with the President in Washington, followed perhaps by a Shultz visit to Moscow. KAL had derailed these plans, and furthermore the Soviets seemed to have welched on a deal we thought we had for Shcharanskiy’s release.

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Recent meetings with Dobrynin: Shultz resumed meeting Dobrynin a couple of weeks ago,6 but the latter seemed uninstructed on any subject except INF. Two recent meetings by Hartman and Gromyko also seemed unproductive.7 At the meeting with Dobrynin yesterday (Nov. 18), attended by Eagleburger, Dobrynin seemed totally uninstructed.8

At that meeting, Shultz had told Dobrynin that we were willing to have a totally private dialogue. He mentioned our dismay in our experience with the Shcharanskiy deal and also with the Soviet misrepresentation of our INF position to our allies. He asked if the Soviets were interested in discussing START conceptually, and stressed the explosiveness of the situation in the Middle East and the dangers of their involvement with the Syrians. Overall, his presentation was an attempt to stick to our agenda, by making it clear that arms control cannot be dealt with in isolation.

Mr. McFarlane pointed out that we can proceed on the foundation of three years of work by the Administration, during which we have been able to mend the disrepair in our defenses, get our economy moving again, and shore up the Alliance. Now we are in a position of strength in dealing with the Soviets.

Regarding the items on the agenda for the meeting, Matlock observed (1) that we probably cannot expect major adjustments in Soviet policy over the next 12 months because of the leadership situation in the Soviet Union and other factors such as INF deployments and the U.S. Presidential election; (2) that it is nevertheless important to convey, both publicly and privately, a clear message to the Soviets, since this could be a factor in the leadership struggle and could prepare for significant changes in 1985; and (3) that we must have a credible and consistent negotiating stance to ensure the sustainability of our policies with our public and with our allies. He noted the paper headed “Suggested Policy Framework” as an initial attempt to articulate our policy.

The Vice President observed that there is a public perception that we are not communicating with the Soviets, and this makes the public uneasy. There is a need to convince the public that we are in fact in communication.

Eagleburger observed that our dialogue is like ships passing in the night. We must get into more discussion of fundamental questions. We should structure the discussions so that we are conveying to them [Page 472] clearly our views on various important issues such as the Middle East and Cuba in some detail. He recalled that studies had been done sometime back of the view from Moscow and the view from Washington, in order to get a feel for the difference in perspectives, and wondered whether it might not be useful to commission updated studies on these topics at this time.

Secretary Shultz agreed on the need for discussing regional issues with the Soviets and noted that this does not mean formal negotiations or formal consultation.

McFarlane observed that the Soviets are facing an abrupt change in their expectations. Their expectation of a decline in the West has been dashed. They have not decided how to react to this and are uncertain regarding our global intentions.

Burt noted that the past year has been a difficult one for the Soviets. The INF deployments will put great strain on the relationship, but further out there may be opportunities. The Soviets have painted themselves in a corner to a degree that it may be impossible for them to do business for a while.

Secretary Shultz observed that we should turn around the Soviet charge that they cannot do business with the Reagan Administration, by pointing out that in fact we cannot do business with them.

Burt suggested that we (a) state a willingness to engage in a dialogue on the issues; (b) point out to them that START has the greatest potential if the Soviets are willing to bite; (c) consider discussions of regional issues as a form of pre-crisis management; and (d) examine the possibilities of trade-offs, since the Soviets have more interest in some issues and we in others.

Dam agreed that we should look for tradeoffs in the bilateral area.

Matlock pointed out that we need to make a basic decision whether to continue the suspension of negotiations on bilateral issues because of KAL or whether to proceed at some point, and under what conditions.

Secretary Shultz noted that he had suggested to Dobrynin yesterday that, even if the Soviets were unwilling to pay compensation, they could easily cooperate in providing navigation assistance to planes flying the route in order to avert tragedies in the future.

Gates observed that the prospects for an improvement in US-Soviet relations are dismal over the next 12 months. The Soviets must turn inward and look at their succession problem. It will be hard for them to react to new initiatives. Furthermore, any initiatives from us will be seen in the context of election-year politics. The question is really how to use the next year to put down building blocks for the second term. Indeed, the election of the President to a second term will convey an important message, that the U.S. has recovered from the vacillations [Page 473] of the recent past and is on a steady course. Thus, we need to convey our views for the role they can plan in the Soviet succession and in order to establish a basis for 1985.

Meese pointed out some of the political factors involved: many are criticizing the President for excessive rhetoric and for not being serious about negotiation, while the right feels he has not taken enough punitive action, and indeed would like a policy based on the “missing elements” in the paper suggesting a policy framework. We thus need to articulate our policy more clearly and develop a unique Reagan Administration view.

Azrael observed (1) that there were some areas where we might desire to “push” the Soviets, and that this could cause complications in relations, and (2) that at some point we must come to grips with the fact that some proposals are non-negotiable from the Soviet point of view.

Burt predicted that the Soviets would not come back to the INF talks as such. A continuation will have to take another form. We must consider what sort of forum we should seek.

Secretary Shultz noted that we need an authoritative statement, and that work had been done on a speech. It could be by the President, or he could make it. But we need a clear public statement of our policy to build on.

Eagleburger pointed out that the Soviets could be dangerous when they are in trouble and there is uncertainty in their leadership. We must keep that in mind and take steps to reduce the potential for miscalculation.

The meeting ended at approximately 9:30.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, USSR Subject File, [Saturday Group Notes] (November–December 1983). No classification marking. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s Dining Room at the Department of State. In his book, Matlock explained the origin of the small group meetings: “Despite his impatience to get relations with Moscow on a constructive track, Reagan did not seem to be focusing on the substantive issues. Decisions were stalled by squabbles among the various agencies. Shultz noticed this, of course, and tried to break the logjam within the administration by starting a series of Saturday breakfasts for senior officials. Shultz and McFarlane asked me to organize the meetings and act as executive secretary. They wanted to make sure that all the participants could be seated around a single table in a dining room on the eighth floor of the State Department. They also insisted that the fact of the meetings, as well as the content of the discussions, be kept confidential.” (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p. 75)
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 136. Reagan also met with Shultz on November 18 before that morning’s NSPG meeting. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) In his diary entry, Reagan wrote: “George Shultz & I had a talk mainly about setting up a little in house group of experts on the Soviet U. to help us in setting up some channels. I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that without being in any way soft on them we ought to tell them no one here has any intention of doing anything like that. What the h--l have they got that anyone would want.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 290)
  4. See Document 139. It is unclear when it was distributed to the group members.
  5. See Documents 10 and 11.
  6. See Documents 129, 130, and 131.
  7. See Document 127.
  8. See Document 137.