181. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Analysis of Soviet General Secretary Chernenko’s Meeting with the Vice President in Moscow

We have reviewed the record of the Vice President’s exchange with new Soviet General Secretary Chernenko immediately following the Andropov funeral.2 In particular, we have compared Chernenko’s [Page 635] remarks with those of Andropov to the Vice President in November 1982 on the similar occasion of Brezhnev’s funeral.3

—Given the immediate needs of the situation for Chernenko to stress the continuity and unity of Soviet policy during this transition, it is not surprising that a fair portion of his prepared presentation to the Vice President closely tracked familiar Soviet themes and Andropov’s own comments of fifteen months before. He reiterated the public principles of Soviet foreign policy (peaceful relations on the basis of “equal security” and “non-interference”) and expressed regret at existing strains and mistrust in U.S.-Soviet relations. Like Andropov, he affirmed at some length Soviet interest in improving relations, but noted such improvement now required “practical steps” from the U.S. side.

—What was noticeably different in Chernenko’s presentation was the relative lack of any language accusing the U.S. of being responsible for the current downturn in relations. We were, for instance, struck by the fact that the new General Secretary made no expression of Soviet anger or regret over, or even any mention of, the U.S. INF deployments. In his 1982 meeting with the Vice President, Andropov had devoted some time to “frank points,” asserting that “it was not the Soviets who took the initiative to worsen relations.” While Chernenko gave nothing away on actual substance, there was none of this accusatory lecturing tone to his remarks.

—Emphasizing that the Soviet Union sought “mutually acceptable” solutions, Chernenko specifically cited several general problem areas where U.S.-Soviet progress might be both desirable and possible: the limitation and reduction of arms, curbing the extension of the arms race to areas where it did not presently exist, the cessation of regional conflict, and the improvement of bilateral relations. (By way of contrast, Andropov did not mention regional problems in the 1982 meeting; Chernenko’s listing of important topics now parallels the agenda for U.S.-Soviet affairs you have presented to Gromyko—with the exception of human rights). As a step which the U.S. might take to relax tensions, Chernenko identified a non first use of nuclear weapons pledge similar to that already given by the Soviet Union.4 He showed some sensitivity to the need not to interject “ideological differences into U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations,” saying there should be a clear demarcation between the two.

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This exchange was, of course, constrained by the short time available and the general mood of the occasion. It did not demonstrate any substantive shift on the Soviets’ part. Nonetheless, rhetoric and atmospherics are important in the Soviet context and for that reason, it was noteworthy that Chernenko and company apparently made a deliberate effort to give an upbeat cast to the Vice President’s meeting.

In the days to come, we will be sending you our further thoughts on possible follow-up.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (02/16/1984–02/20/1984); NLR–775–11–17–2–9. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Dunkerley; cleared by Simons and Palmer. Simons initialed for Dunkerley. McKinley’s handwritten initials are at the top of the memorandum, indicating he saw it on February 16.
  2. See Document 178.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 234.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 8.