177. Message From the Embassy in Italy to the White House1

491. Fm: The Vice President. To: The White House, The President. Info: Bud McFarlane, NSC. I’m sending you this message from the plane following my meeting with Chernenko.2 We will be sending a detailed report shortly, but I want to give you my first impressions of the new Russian leader, impressions shared by Howard Baker who was great to have along.3

Despite reports that he might be ill and lacks the intellect and authority of Andropov, Chernenko seemed in command of the situation. He seemed alert, in good health, with a sparkle in his eye, and somewhat younger than his years. He did almost all of the talking on the Soviet side and what he had to say was, in my view, encouraging. He asked me to tell you that we can have better relations; that he believes it is possible to do so. He said that it is by no means certain [Page 620] we will have a fatal confrontation; that we are not inherently enemies. I told him that we, too, were ready for dialogue and progress.

Chernenko is no pushover, but he does seem open and treated us graciously. He gave the clear impression that there is somebody at home in the Kremlin with whom we can do business.

Bud might want to pass this to George Shultz. Now off to Rome to see Craxi, and the Pope in the morning, Mitterrand in Paris in the afternoon, then home.4

I’ll have the small Mexican plate if lunch is on Thursday. George.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (2/15/84–2/16/84); NLR–748–25–12–3–4. Secret; Via Privacy Channels; Niact Immediate. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Reagan initialed this cabled message, indicating he saw it. After leaving Moscow Bush traveled to Rome. He met with Foreign Minister Craxi at 8:50 p.m. on February 14. On February 15, the Vice President had a one-hour private audience with Pope John Paul II, and then departed for Paris. (Telegram 4367 from Rome, February 17, and telegram 3990 from Rome, February 13; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840107–0502 and D840096–0838, respectively.)
  2. See Document 176.
  3. Senator Howard Baker (R–Tennessee), Senate Majority Leader.
  4. Brackets were placed around this paragraph by an unknown hand.