154. Memorandum From the Deputy White House Chief of Staff (Deaver) and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to President Reagan1


  • Your Speech on U.S.-Soviet Relations

We have considered carefully your initial reactions to the State draft of your speech on U.S.-Soviet relations: that it seemed to put too much into one speech, that it contained nothing newsworthy and covered no new ground, and that it was pedestrian.2 We agree on all points, and the speech writers have worked on the text to compress it and make the language less pedestrian. However, we believe that there are good reasons for making it comprehensive and leaving out startling new initiatives.

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We believe the principal reason you need to make the speech at this time is to articulate clearly and comprehensively your policy toward the Soviet Union.

You have of course done so in the past, but the coherent view you are following has not gotten through to all segments of our public or to Allied publics. There is unfounded fear that your policies are leading to confrontation and raising rather than lowering the risks of nuclear war. There is confusion in some quarters as to how you square a realistic view of the Soviet system and opposition to their ideology with a readiness to negotiate. There are charges that past rhetoric has impeded accommodation. And in Europe particularly there is a perception among many elite groups that your thinking is dominated by militarism and that you are too quick on the trigger.

To clear up these serious and fundamental misconceptions, we need an authoritative statement which puts your approach in a comprehensive framework. This can provide a firm basis for our public and private diplomacy for the balance of the year and beyond.


You will be, in effect, addressing four important audiences simultaneously:

—U.S. opinion makers;

—West European governments and publics;

—Soviet leaders; and

—The Soviet people.

The principal message we need to get across to each is:

U.S.: The world is not more dangerous, but safer as the result of your policies and we are strong enough to negotiate.

Europe: You have a coherent, responsible strategy for dealing with the Soviets and are serious in the desire to negotiate.

Soviet leaders: You are willing to deal with them as valid negotiating partners, on a basis of equality, whatever you think of their system, but will insist that negotiations be directed to real problems and that solutions be fair and verifiable.

Soviet people: You wish them well and are not threatening them. You recognize and reciprocate their desire for peace.

We believe that the draft works in each of these messages and puts them into a coherent overall framework. While you have said all this before, it is important to put it together to demonstrate the inner consistency of your policy.


Even if the speech covers no new ground, we believe it will attract major attention. The overall tone and approach will be considered [Page 527] news—even if it shouldn’t be. This will be particularly true in Europe, and European perceptions will play back here as well.

The speech as written is obviously too detailed and complex to be fully appreciated by the average citizen. But we do not consider this a defect, given its primary objective. To make it simpler and less detailed, and thus enhance its mass appeal, would militate against achieving its objective with influential elites. Their attitude seeps gradually to the public at large, especially in Europe.

It is possible, of course, to introduce a new initiative into the speech—such as, for example, a proposal for cooperation in space. However, this has certain dangers: (1) headline writers are likely to concentrate on the new initiative rather than the overall policy enunciated; (2) the Soviets would consider a proposal made first in a public speech as merely a propaganda ploy; and (3) some Americans and West Europeans might also consider it a sort of grandstanding unlikely to bear real fruit. We believe it is preferable to devote this speech to a sober exposition of our overall policy and save specific policy initiatives for later speeches, following some consultation with the Soviets.3

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR, President’s Soviet Speech (01/16/84) (2). Secret. Sent for information. Prepared by Matlock. A copy was sent to the Vice President. Reagan initialed the memorandum, indicating he saw it. Additionally, a stamped notation in the upper right-hand corner indicates that he saw it.
  2. Reagan wrote in his diary on January 6: “Met with speechwriters re the Soviet speech. We want it to be a level headed approach to peace to reassure the eggheads & our European friends I dont plan to blow up the world.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 305) As Matlock later recalled the evolution of the speech: “I sent my preliminary draft to Mark Palmer in the State Department for amplification, correction, and general vetting, then obtained approval from both Shultz and McFarlane before it went to the president for his review. After reading it, he asked Michael Deaver, deputy chief of staff—and close personal friend of the Reagans—and Richard Darman, Chief of Staff James Baker’s assistant, to meet with us to discuss it. Both were associated with the faction in the White House that encouraged the president to establish an active dialogue with the Soviet Union.

    Deaver began the meeting by commenting that the president thought the speech had too much material, covered no new ground, and was pedestrian. Darman asked who had drafted the text. With some trepidation, I admitted that I was the main culprit, though I had help from the State Department. Darman then relieved the tension by remarking, ‘I wondered, because it is the most coherent and reasoned speech draft I have seen in this administration.’ He went on to say that he could not understand the president’s reaction, because if the president found nothing new in it, most people who heard him would, and he was sure it would be eminently newsworthy.

    “Of course, I was disappointed that Reagan found my text pedestrian, since I had tried to make it as appealing as the subject would allow. But it was more important to me to hear that he found ‘nothing new’ in the text. This meant that I had correctly guessed what he wanted his policy to be. In Reagan’s mind, the draft contained nothing more than what he had been saying all along. What he didn’t understand was the degree to which his intentions had been misinterpreted and misunderstood by much of the public.” (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, pp. 80–81)

  3. According to Matlock’s subsequent account: “Reagan accepted the explanations in my memorandum and we proceeded to work on the text without adding anything of substance.” (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p. 82)