180. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vadim Valentinovich Zagladin, First Deputy Chief, International Department, CPSU Central Committee
  • Stanislav Menshikov, assistant to Zagladin
  • Unidentified Soviet notetaker
  • Jack Matlock, NSC

Matlock opened the conversation by saying that he regretted disturbing Zagladin during the sad and busy period he was going through, but he wished to take advantage of his presence in Moscow to deliver a reply to the message conveyed by Zagladin through Dr. Horowitz of Senator Kennedy’s staff.2 Following his meeting with Zagladin on January 19, Dr. Horowitz had conveyed Zagladin’s remarks to the White House, as Zagladin had requested. That message had been considered at high levels in the White House, and he wished to provide, in this informal fashion, our reaction and comment.3

As we understood the message, it had essentially two parts: that great powers must allow each other “elbow room” in order to avoid dangerous confrontations, and that although relations between our countries were very bad, they could be improved with mutual effort, and that a Soviet analysis had indicated that a good place to start might be to work jointly on a treaty to ban chemical weapons.

Zagladin confirmed that this was the essence of the message given to Dr. Horowitz.

Matlock observed that we agree on the matter of “elbow room.” We felt that we had in fact observed that principle in practice, and said that if the Soviets viewed the matter differently, he would convey [Page 629] any specific complaints they might have to Washington for consideration. He added that, in our view, the Soviets sometimes restricted their own “elbow room” by their public statements which diminished their own flexibility.

Regarding work on a treaty banning chemical weapons, the U.S. is serious in its desire to reach agreement on a treaty. As Secretary Shultz announced in Stockholm, we would be tabling a draft treaty at the CD in Geneva in coming months. It would be global in its coverage rather than regional, for reasons Shultz had explained to Gromyko in Stockholm.4 But from our point of view, verification will be the key to a viable treaty, and it is clear from our analysis that verification procedures must go well beyond the sort of national technical means incorporated in previous arms control agreements. We know from long experience that the Soviets resist most forms of on-the-spot verification, yet they will be essential to any treaty acceptable to us. Unless the Soviet approach to verification changes substantially, therefore, we may have great difficulty coming to an agreement on this subject. For this reason, we wonder quite frankly whether CW is really the best place to start. Since we are serious in our intent to negotiate as many differences as we can, we think it might be useful to discuss the matter frankly, and to see if there are any other candidates at hand which might present fewer difficulties. Does Zagladin have any other ideas?

Zagladin (who took detailed notes himself on the above) said that it was important to allow each side elbow room. As he had told Horowitz, the Soviets recognized the dependence of the U.S. and its Allies on oil from the Persian Gulf, and would understand if circumstances should require action by the U.S. to sustain the flow.

As for a CW treaty, the Soviets have no problem with a global approach. They will study our draft and the verification provisions carefully, and maybe there will be fewer problems there than the U.S. anticipates. As for other areas, does the U.S. have any ideas?

Matlock said that we wondered if START is not an area which would benefit from our joint consideration. It is, after all, the central issue between us so far as arms control is concerned. And although the problems are large, they do not seem insurmountable to us if the Soviets are willing to show the sort of flexibility we can offer. Progress in this area would be an important achievement in its own right, and could have a beneficial effect on our cooperation in other areas.

The U.S. has made clear that it does not seek to restructure Soviet strategic forces to the detriment of the Soviet Union. We believe both sides would benefit from moving toward systems providing greater [Page 630] stability, but how we do that is subject to negotiation. We are prepared to examine possible trade-offs between those elements of our forces which cause the Soviets greatest concern, in return for Soviet willingness to constrain those systems in their arsenal which give us concern. He is no expert in this area and this is not an appropriate time to discuss our ideas in detail, but Gen. Scowcroft would be visiting Moscow in March with a group from the Dartmouth Conference, and we feel it would be useful if he could be received privately at the policy-making level for a frank, informal and unbinding discussion of possibilities. The purpose would, of course, not be to negotiate, but simply to provide an opportunity for discussion with an expert who is thoroughly familiar with views in Washington.5

Zagladin replied that two things were needed to move the relationship forward: an improvement in the atmosphere, and some concrete steps which would demonstrate that agreements are really possible. On the latter, the Soviets would take a careful look at our CW proposals. Otherwise, their agenda was covered in Andropov’s January 28 letter to the President.6 For example, U.S. ratification of the TTBT and PNE treaties, mentioned in that letter, would be considered as a clear signal that progress is possible. Regarding START, he would be glad to talk to Scowcroft when he is in Moscow.

Matlock said that we had already gone a long way to improve the atmosphere, but had yet to observe much restraint in Soviet rhetoric. As for concrete steps, we agree they are necessary, and we hope to help identify some in conversations such as this one.

So far as START is concerned, Zagladin continued, the Soviets see two problems. The first relates to the effect of the U.S. proposals on the structure of Soviet forces. Soviet forces are structured differently from U.S. forces both because of the historical development of the forces on each side, and because of geography. The U.S., for example, is much better situated to deploy submarines since it has many easily accessible ports. The Soviet Union, in contrast, has few, and they do not provide easy access to the oceans. The Soviets, however, are not against more stable systems in principle. Maybe this problem can be solved in negotiations.

The second problem for the Soviets is the fact that the U.S. deployment of medium-range missiles in Europe has introduced a new strategic factor. Since these systems can strike the Soviet Union, they must be considered strategic, and this is for them relevant to START.

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Matlock countered that, if this is the case, then the U.S. must consider the SS–20’s as strategic in the same sense, because they can strike our Allies, and we are bound by treaty to consider an attack on them as an attack on us.

Zagladin said that he took the point, but in that case the U.S. should not argue that British and French systems cannot be considered. Indeed, the idea that “Nitze floated with Kvitsinsky” just before the INF talks broke down could have been the basis for settlement if the U.S. had wanted one.7

Matlock said that our understanding is that this was Kvitsinsky’s idea and that Nitze had made it clear that it could hardly be accepted by Washington. The reasons are clear. The British and French systems are actually irrelevant to the central issue in INF. In his view, the central issue is the Soviet attempt, represented by their deployment of the SS–20’s in Europe, to decouple American and West European nuclear security. This simply cannot be accepted by NATO and the U.S. Indeed, it does not even seem in the Soviet long-term interest. For even if it should succeed, and it will not, it would produce dangerous instability in Europe, and probably a growing desire on the part of the Germans for their own national deterrent. These would be developments hardly in the Soviet interest. The British and French systems are not Alliance systems and do not provide the necessary coupling of U.S. and West European nuclear defense. They are, furthermore, in no sense a threat to the Soviet Union, given the enormous disparity in their size and that of the Soviet arsenal.

In short, we feel that the Soviets were never willing to deal with the central issue in INF, and that is why an agreement has eluded us. We regret that we must deploy, but so long as the Soviets insist on keeping some SS–20’s there must be a counterbalance, and this is totally consistent with Soviet long-range security interests. But we would like to find ways to keep deployments to a minimum, and are willing to continue negotiating.

Zagladin then referred to the danger posed by the short flight time of the Pershings.

Matlock said that their flight time was the same as that of the SS–20’s to Western Europe.

Zagladin agreed, but said that the great accuracy of the Pershing II’s made them a particular threat.

Menshikov joked that “if you feel you need a counter, why don’t you just buy SS–20’s from us and deploy them in Western Europe?”

[Page 632]

Matlock replied, “if that’s an offer, you may have a deal,” and added that he thought too much was made of short flight times. The fact is that any nuclear missile flight time is too short. Whether the flight time is 40 minutes or 4 minutes, any missile launch could be tantamount to suicide. We should therefore concentrate on making sure that neither side will ever feel it must launch a missile against the other. This is a vital interest for both of us.

Zagladin agreed with the latter thought.

Matlock then observed that, speaking entirely personally, the exchange on the capabilities of our various weapons suggested to him that it might be useful to arrange some way for our military leaders and experts to meet and talk over some of these things. It seemed clear that the Soviets, for example, were exaggerating the capabilities of some of our weapons, and drawing inferences which we would consider quite unwarranted. Maybe we do the same sometimes. Talking about it would not solve basic problems, but might clear the air a bit and give each side a chance to air its specific concerns.

Zagladin indicated that this was worth thinking about. He then stressed that what is needed now are deeds.

Matlock replied that we agree completely. He noted, however, that Zagladin seemed to imply that the deeds must come from us. From our point of view, they should come from them. We have serious and basic problems with many Soviet actions and policies. Zagladin is familiar with them and there is no need to catalog them. In our view, there is no basis for expecting us to make the first step—although we have, in fact, tempered our rhetoric without a corresponding adjustment in Soviet statements. Note, for example, the contrast in tone of the Shultz and Gromyko speeches in Stockholm. Perhaps, in our informal discussions, we should try to find ways that we can move jointly on substantive issues.

Zagladin said that this, in fact, is a good time to make a “fresh start,” and said that they would consider carefully what Matlock had said. He added that they would be very busy during the period leading up to the March 4 Supreme Soviet “elections,” but that his assistant Stanislav Menshikov planned a trip to New York March 6 for a scheduled conference, and he hoped that he might have a response to our conversation by then, when the General Secretary’s “election” would have occurred. [Note: in a technical sense, Zagladin seemed to be referring to Chernenko’s “election” to a seat in the Supreme Soviet. This, however, is an utter formality and a foregone conclusion. He may, therefore, have been hinting that Chernenko is expected to be made Chief of State by “election” as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. If this is in the works, however, it is most unlikely to occur before March 8, since the Supreme Soviet normally meets several weeks after “elections” are held, and these will not occur until March 4.]

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Matlock said that he would be pleased to arrange a meeting with Menshikov while the latter is in the U.S., and that Menshikov should let Hartman know of his precise travel plans, so that appointments could be arranged.8 He added that any messages for him could be passed through Hartman, who can communicate directly with the White House.

Matlock added that, before leaving, he would like to share with them a few purely personal observations, as an individual who knows the Soviet Union well and also has the perspective of one who has worked in the White House for several months. First, he urged Zagladin and his colleagues to study most carefully the President’s January 16 speech, noting that it reflects the President’s considered views about the direction he would like the relationship to move.9 He noted, for example, the stress throughout on cooperation and a desire to solve problems. If the Soviets are concerned over the atmosphere of the relationship, then they could find many openings in the speech which could serve as a basis for improving it.

Regarding the President personally, Matlock said that it was clear that the Soviets misunderstood him. Yes, he does not like communism and is profoundly disturbed by many Soviet policies and actions. At the same time, he is genuinely a man of peace and understands clearly the necessity of the U.S. and USSR managing their inevitable ideological rivalry peacefully. He will defend our interests vigorously, but is also prepared to address real problems and to solve them in a way which does not threaten the security of the Soviet Union.

Matlock then noted that some commentators in the press had suggested that the President’s call for dialogue and negotiation was politically motivated. This was a mistake—although we can anticipate that everything he does this year will be seen by some in this light—because the President really does not need agreements with the USSR to be re-elected. If we are able to agree on some things, this will be good. But if we aren’t, it will be very clear to the American people that it is not President Reagan’s fault, but rather Soviet intransigence. In sum, even though the issues will be debated in our campaign, the state of U.S.-Soviet relations is most unlikely to affect any votes. The real reason the President is calling for a dialogue is that he genuinely wants to make strides toward arms reduction during his stewardship. He wants it on his record.

If the Soviets wish to wait until 1985 to deal, then that will be their decision. If the President is reelected, his position will not change. He [Page 634] will be neither harder nor softer. But if we lose a year, the advance of technology may make the issues even more complicated. And the Soviets should bear another factor in mind. That is, that President Reagan can deliver on any agreements he signs. That has not always been certain with American presidents, and we can understand the frustration of other countries when they must deal with an American president who may not be able to mobilize the support of 67 senators to ratify treaties. History shows that American conservatives are better able to deliver than liberals.

Menshikov commented at this point that they knew a treaty signed by President Reagan would be ratified, but their problem was how to get him to sign one.

Matlock replied if they would make some realistic offers, they might find it easier than they think.

It was then agreed that Menshikov would get in touch with Matlock when he comes to the U.S. in March. As he departed, Matlock gave Zagladin a couple of pictures of Zagladin and his wife taken at a dinner Matlock hosted in 1981. Zagladin thanked him and reiterated, “It’s a good time now to make a fresh start.”

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron February 1984 [2 of 2]. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only Mr. McFarlane. Not for System. There is no drafting information on the memorandum of conversation. Brackets are in the original. This meeting took place in Zagladin’s office in the Central Committee Building. Matlock accompanied Bush to Moscow for Andropov’s funeral and the meeting with Chernenko. Matlock wrote of this meeting: “As I entered the forbidding gray Central Committee Building under KGB escort, I realized that I had been trying to establish some sort of contact with the Central Committee staff ever since my first tour in Moscow in 1961. Now, after twenty-three years of trying, I was entering the inner sanctum of the Communist system.” (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p. 94)
  2. See Document 163.
  3. Matlock recalled that he requested this meeting with Zagladin “with the approval of President Reagan and Secretary Shultz” to respond to the message sent through Horowitz in January. (Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p. 94)
  4. See Document 159.
  5. The Dartmouth Group went to Moscow in mid-March. See Document 193.
  6. See Document 164.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 137.
  8. See Document 195.
  9. See Document 158.