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

15284. For the Secretary, Eagleburger and Burt. Dept. Pass Urgently to Secretary and Burt. Subject: Soviet Posture Towards US Likely To Harden.

1. (Secret—Entire text.)

2. The Soviets have announced their military countermeasures to the INF decision and have walked out of the talks.2 The attitude they will assume towards other arms control negotiations and, more specifically, towards the U.S., is just beginning to develop. Our guess is that the Soviet tactics, which Dobrynin, Bessmertnykh and colleagues from the Central Committee have probably been busy devising, will be aimed at denying the U.S. either the actuality or even the appearance of being able to conduct a fruitful relationship with Moscow. Their hope is to improve their bargaining position by stepping up European pressures on us, reinforced by American public pressures as the 1984 election campaign gets into full swing.

3. A Soviet move to enforce a pause in the START and perhaps even the MBFR talks would be part of this tactical effort.3 We have already been informed of the Soviet unwillingness to hold a bilateral round of discussions in Washington on non-proliferation, and the response has been temporizing on scheduling the next round of talks on upgrading crisis communication facilities. Attendance at our official functions in Moscow is dwindling and we are being turned down for appointments with many of the foreign policy specialists we can usually see (an exception is the MFA, which still receives us).

4. We had all anticipated that this would be the winter of Soviet discontent, and that we’d have to get through some turbulence before drawing on the new assets in our military and political situation in Europe to achieve a better balance in US-Soviet relations. One way to exacerbate the difficult period we face is to rub the Soviets’ face in [Page 493] their defeat; another is to stress that they have no choice but to swallow it and come back to the table. That will just stiffen their determination to show us and the Europeans that real business is indeed impossible with the Reagan administration and that they must be taken seriously. Moreover, if we attempt to predict Soviet behavior in our public statements, we increase the incentive for them to undermine our credibility by ensuring that the predictions don’t come to pass.

5. Our general approach to the Soviets at this juncture should be focused on our own responsible and sober assessment of the issues, coupled with a willingness to engage in a dialogue with Moscow on these issues. The tone set by the President in reacting to the end of the INF talks is the one we want to maintain, even if the Soviets freeze several other areas of relations. To keep the initiative there are several things we might consider:

A. The Secretary’s attendance at Stockholm is valuable for us tactically, since Gromyko will either have to pass up attending the opening or will be at a loss to explain things if the Soviets turn down the U.S. offer of a bilateral meeting. The fact of a meeting, if it takes place, will speak loudly—and we need not claim more for it than can be sustained by subsequent events. We can take quiet satisfaction in holding the meeting without forcing the Soviets to rebut premature optimism about its outcome.

B. The uncertainties about resumption of various arms control negotiations should not deter us from developing new approaches and letting it be known that we have serious contributions to make whenever the Soviets are willing to sit down again in a genuine effort to reach agreement.

C. The Soviets may be proceeding from the assumption that they have nothing to lose by turning their backs on us for a while. Small gestures are unlikely to tempt them, but they might find it hard to resist an approach on the Middle East. Our reading of their current position is that they are worried about where their Syrian client might lead them, that they have no coherent strategy, and that they would dearly like to restore the appearance of being taken seriously somewhere in the world, and not least the Middle East. At relatively low cost, we could consult with them formally and visibly, seeking common denominators but yielding none of our vital interests. The offer of a Shultz-Gromyko meeting on the Middle East in a third country setting (e.g., Geneva) could serve these purposes.

D. The China card can help whet Moscow’s interest in reviving a balanced U.S.-Soviet relationship, but only if it is played subtly, avoiding public challenges to which Soviet leaders will have to reply out of pride or anger. We would think Beijing shares this concept of how to handle its relations with the U.S.

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6. Most of all, we have to combine patience with willingness to talk. The Soviets have fundamental interests that can best be advanced at the negotiating table with us. Our task in the next few months is not to let them place us in the position of coaxing them back, thereby weakening our position at the table; not to bypass possible opportunities to talk, thereby [garble—heightening] the nervousness of our allies; and not to gloat at their discomfort, thereby allowing them to make us, not them, the issue.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Stadis.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 141.
  3. When the current session of START talks ended on December 8, the Soviets refused to set a date to reconvene the talks. In his diary entry for December 8, Reagan wrote: “The Soviets have walked out of the START talks but not so definitely as in the I.N.F. talks. This is regular time for holiday break and they didn’t say they wouldn’t be back. They just said they were unable at this time to set a date for their return.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 296)