17. Editorial Note
On March 10, 1983, President Ronald Reagan chaired a meeting in the Cabinet Room from 2:09 to 3:11 p.m. “to discuss the State Department’s recommendations for U.S.-Soviet relations.” Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard Burt, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur Hartman, National Security Council Staff member John Lenczowski, Chief of Staff James Baker, Counselor Edwin Meese, Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs William Clark, and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Robert McFarlane attended. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) Richard Pipes, who had served on the NSC Staff as Soviet adviser but returned to teach at Harvard in December 1982, also attended the meeting. No official record of this meeting has been found.
A March 10 agenda from Clark to participants, prepared by Lenczowski, noted that the meeting would review the Department of State’s [Page 60] recommendations as laid out in Shultz’s January 19 and March 3 memoranda to Reagan. (See Documents 1 and 13.) The background portion of the agenda, drafted by Lenczowski, stated: “Both memoranda are seriously flawed. Their recommendations are based on false and questionable premises, and a misunderstanding of the nature of the Soviet system and its goals. This meeting has been called so that State can further air its views.” Reagan initialed the agenda, indicating he saw it. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (03/10/83–03/21/83)
In a March 10 memorandum to Clark, Lenczowski wrote: “One point that you might raise in today’s discussion is the pressure the U.S. is facing not only from the Soviets, the freeze movement and the unilateral disarmament movement, but from our allies to make concessions in our arms control talks. Yesterday, Italian Foreign Minister Colombo asked the President ‘to get those [INF] negotiations going again.’
“The critical premise underlying this recommendation is the same premise behind State’s call for increased dialogue: This is that the U.S. is as responsible for U.S.-Soviet tensions and the lack of progress in the negotiations as the USSR. This premise is false.”
“To follow Colombo’s recommendation, or to start intensified dialogue would be to accept that this premise is true and that it is our responsibility to do more to reduce tensions that we allegedly helped create. It would also be a clear signal to the Soviets of the American political weakness and our vulnerability to their manipulation of Western public opinion.
“If you would like me to verify this at the meeting from a Sovietologist’s point of view, you might want to ask me to do so in this way:
“‘John has recently published a major book on Soviet perceptions of U.S. foreign policy. John, how would the Soviets view a move by us to enter an intensified dialogue?’
“I would briefly respond by saying that they see it as a sign of political weakness.” (Ibid.; brackets are in the original)
In his memoir, Shultz described the meeting as follows: “When I walked into the Oval Office, President Reagan took me aside. ‘I don’t want these people to know about Dobrynin,’ the president said to me, referring to his private meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin and our subsequent effort to allow the Pentecostals, who had taken refuge in our Moscow embassy, to gain the freedom to emigrate. His remark reinforced my growing sense that the president was a prisoner of his own staff. The Oval Office was filled with people—Jim Baker, Ed Meese, Bill Clark, Bud McFarlane, as well as faces I didn’t recognize. I started off by saying that I wanted to speak candidly, ‘But I don’t even know who all these people are.’ I looked at one man I did not know.[Page 61]
“Bill Clark jumped in, ‘This is Richard Pipes. He’s an NSC member. He’s on the payroll.’
“I could see the president didn’t like the large cast of characters. The mood was intense and acrimonious. I could also see that he wanted to do what I wanted to do, but Bill Clark was standing in the way. I addressed my remarks to President Reagan, saying that he had already established the basics. The United States had improved its military strength, and our economy was moving forward. Our alliances were in good shape. Our work in China had caught the Soviets’ attention, and democracy was gaining in Central America. ‘It is time to probe and test,’ I said.
“We should push for Afghanistan and Southern Africa as regional problems where progress might emerge. ‘On bilateral issues, we can discuss the umbrella cultural-exchanges agreement, proposed consulates in Kiev and New York City, and an appraisal of the eight existing agreements with the Soviets and where they stand. If this goes well, we can start looking at a Shultz-Gromyko meeting in Moscow, and then Gromyko would come here to meet you at the time of the UN meetings in October,’ I said.
“When I had finished talking to the president, Bill Clark called on Richard Pipes. I knew his name and recognized his scholarly distinction—and his hard-line reputation regarding the Soviets. Clark then called on Leslie Lenkowski [John Lenczowski], as another ‘Soviet expert.’ After they had their say, I remarked, ‘Perhaps we should also ask our ambassador in Moscow for his opinion.’ The attitude of Clark’s cadre was that after the Soviets have changed, then maybe we can do something with them. I was irritated. Toward the end of the meeting, I said that I understood the view of all these staff people was that I should ‘stop seeing Dobrynin and leave things as they are.’ Everyone in the room protested that this was not the correct interpretation. The meeting broke up. I was annoyed by the fiasco, and it showed.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pages 267–268)
Richard Pipes provided a contrasting account in his memoir: “In early March 1983 Shultz had State produce a paper on ‘U.S.-Soviet Relations: Where Do We Want to Be and How Do We Get There?” [See Document 13.] Ignoring NSDD 75, which was less than three months old, Shultz, hoping by means of this new paper to persuade the president that the time had come to change course in our dealings with Moscow, requested to see him. The meeting was set for March 10. Departing from customary procedure, either at the president’s request or his own initiative, Clark made it into a State-NSC confrontation. He invited me to attend.
“Shultz left in his memoirs a distorted picture of this encounter to make it appear as if the president had agreed with his recommendation [Page 62] but was thwarted by Clark and the NSC staff, whose ‘prisoner’ he allegedly was. This interpretation is widely off the mark, as I can attest from my detailed notes of the meeting.
“Present were fourteen persons. Shultz opened with a warning that what he was about to say was extremely sensitive and would cause much harm if leaked. At this point Reagan, with a mischievous smile, pulled up the corner of the tablecloth and addressing an imaginary microphone planted by Andropov, said: ‘This goes for you, too, Iurii!’ The secretary was not amused.
“Before making his case, Shultz shot a look at me, saying, ‘I know everyone in this room but you.’ Clark informed him who I was, whereupon he proceeded to outline a series of initiatives we could take with Moscow, such as raising the issues of Afghanistan and Poland as well as proceeding with renegotiating various agreements that were due for renewal (transportation, atomic energy, fisheries, etc.). At a certain point he stopped and glaring at me, said, ‘Your taking notes makes me very nervous.’ Clark assured him I had been a trustworthy member of the NSC staff for two years.
“Reagan listened to Shultz’s proposals with growing impatience, yawning, and at one point almost dozing off. When Shultz finished, he spoke his mind. ‘It seems to me,’ Reagan said, ‘that in previous years of détente we always took steps and got kicked in the teeth.’ Our attempts to get the Russians to cooperate led nowhere. We should exercise caution in dealing with them and make no overt appeals. When they remove irritants in our relations, we will respond in kind. In other words, Reagan was saying, no initiatives of our own, only responses to Soviet positive initiatives.
“Clark then turned to me, requesting my opinion. Addressing Shultz, who sat directly across from me, I asked whether he proposed to take these steps one by one or all at once. Shultz stared me straight in the eye but made no response. I repeated the question and again received no answer. I suppose he was offended that having addressed the president of the United States, he was subjected to questioning by an academic.
“Reagan then stepped in once more. If the Russians allowed the Pentecostals holed up in our Moscow embassy to leave the country, we could agree to fishery negotiations. We would respond similarly if they released Anatoly Shcharansky from prison. Should such goodwill gestures be made, we would not ‘crow’ but quietly reciprocate. At this point, he articulated what for him was a rather novel idea and which, I must assume, I had planted in his mind: ‘I no longer believe they are doctrinaire Communists—they are an autocracy interested in preserving their privileges.’
“When the meeting, which lasted an hour, was about to break up, a defeated and visibly irritated Shultz muttered to himself but so that [Page 63] others could hear: ‘What I get is: eschew bilateral talks, be careful with Dobrynin, and ‘bang away’ at Cuba, Afghanistan, and the Pentecostals. Personally, I don’t think this is good.’” (Richard Pipes, VIXI, pages 206–207)
After the meeting, Shultz returned to the Department of State and met with Eagleburger. As Shultz later recalled: “Eagleburger told me that Bud McFarlane had been outraged by the meeting. Bud had not known that Clark had loaded the dice with his naysayers. ‘Bud gave me a memo before the meeting to read and destroy that was right down our alley,’ I said. ‘It was his idea of how the president should respond, positively, to my suggestions. Clark wouldn’t send it forward. The president was posturing in front of those guys. That’s why he told me he didn’t want to talk about Dobrynin.’ That was part of the problem: the president could not simply talk to me alone in the Oval Office. Key people in his administration would have to know that the president wanted a change; he would have to say it openly and publicly. ‘If the president doesn’t express himself, the bureaucracy won’t react. All I can do now is just pick up the ball and say go or no go.’
“At 7:25 that evening, Bill Clark telephoned. He talked as if nothing unusual had happened that afternoon. He told me that the president would ‘let me know tomorrow,’ whatever that meant. After the conversation, I said to Ray Seitz [Executive Assistant to Shultz], ‘How can the president understand what I was trying to present this afternoon? Yet there’s going to be some kind of communication from the president tomorrow about all this. Clark wants to keep State on a tight rein. It’s like a sergeant I had in the Marine Corps who said, ‘Don’t fall out till I say fall out! Fall out!’” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, page 268)
After his frustration at the March 10 meeting, Shultz had a private discussion with Reagan on March 11: “I told President Reagan privately that I needed to have direction from him on Soviet relations. I went through with him again what I was trying to achieve. ‘Go ahead,’ he told me. Despite this I could see that the president was concerned, and Clark even more so, that if he gave a green light to the State Department, I would run off and initiate actions that would change the atmosphere with the Soviets when they perceived no change was warranted. So I would need to be careful. There was no road map. I would need to make my own. I would have to keep going over my proposed route with the president privately, receiving his agreement and then seeking ways to have him make his own administration follow through on his decisions.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pages 268–269)