184. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

2217. For the Secretary From Hartman. Subject: Next Steps in US-Soviet Relations.

1. Confidential entire text.

2. Summary. As the dust settles from the second Soviet leadership change in 15 months, I am persuaded that we should use this opportunity to test once again whether our relations can be moved forward. I also conclude that the time for such moves is limited and we will not get something for nothing. End summary.

[Page 643]

3. Based on your meeting with Gromyko in Stockholm,2 on the short exchange here with Chernenko,3 on a tete-a-tete lunch that I had with Dobrynin the day after the funeral,4 on Senator Cohen’s meetings Monday with Acting Chief of State Kuznetsov and First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko,5 and on a long discussion with MFA USA Department Chief Bessmertnykh,6 the following points emerge:

—The Soviets’ reaction to the President’s January 16 speech has been frankly disappointing.7 You saw first-hand with Gromyko the depth of their skepticism. For the post-Andropov period as well, all of our contacts with them indicate that they remain weighted down by their distrust of our motives.

—Nevertheless, the new leadership thus far has shown a greater willingness than Andropov to match our shift toward a less strident tone. This could be expected in a post-succession “honeymoon”, but the fact is that Chernenko’s public statements as General Secretary have been far more restrained than Andropov’s first remarks. Chernenko and his colleagues have not yet repeated nor referred to Andropov’s September 28 and November 24 remarks,8 which were particularly hostile to the U.S.

Andropov’s death also coincided with a major Soviet review and reappraisal of their arms control position. At the moment they seem [Page 644] to be looking at a wide range of options. This was hinted at by Gromyko in your conversation and has been indicated to us by several recent interlocutors and confirmed to the French by General Chervov during the week of Andropov’s death. This reappraisal provides the context for the fact that Soviet leaders post-Andropov have been exceedingly coy about any reference to the condition that we must be ready to return to the status quo ante in INF.

—Finally, despite Chernenko’s familiar, aging image, the structure of the Soviet leadership is different from the Brezhnev or Andropov periods. Chernenko is surrounded, not only by Ustinov, Gromyko and Tikhonov, but also by a younger array of leaders, one of whom—Gorbachev—already seems to be number two. A new generation is inexorably coming to the fore.9

4. While there is not yet much hard evidence, it appears that the new leadership—for all its apparent stand-pattism—is not just a continuation of Andropov or a throw-back to Brezhnev, that it has at least decided to convey a different and slightly more positive public signal to us on East-West relations, and that it is engaged in a review of arms control policy and possibly East-West policy in general. Because of this possible approach to a fork in the road, I think that it is a particularly good moment to put something specific and positive into the equation from our side.

5. While the Soviets could answer the President’s letter with something positive,10 I think that they are unlikely to go much beyond Andropov’s last letter.11 As long as what we suggest is based on our own clear interests, I see no harm and much political gain from trying to mold their response and in the process attempting to overcome some of their suspicion. We should understand, however, that keeping bilateral channels open or even developing new ones will not be enough. Unless our next moves are significant and substantive, we are not going to convince people here that there is a real possibility of doing business on a mutually satisfactory basis.

6. Here are some suggestions which I know that you are looking at but which I would put high on the priority list:

—First, we should make an effort to reactivate discussion of the major strategic issues before the Soviets’ arms control review has [Page 645] reached any final conclusions. Brent Scowcroft’s early March trip would be an ideal time to conduct a thorough airing of strategic issues.12 He should be prepared to discuss in detail the implications of our framework proposal—something I sense the Soviets have not adequately explored as yet. We should make clear that Brent has been authorized by the President and expects to talk to policy-makers, not simply to Academy of Science people. (Dobrynin, for self-serving but also I think for valid reasons was negative on people floating around without a clear Presidential mantle.) The Soviets can be counted on to provide the proper interlocutors. If we can let them know soon enough of Brent’s mission and its status, they will probably be prepared to keep their positions open in this area until they have had a chance to hear him out.

—Second, we should generate some positive momentum on bilateral issues. Proposing early dates for negotiations on an exchanges agreement and on consulates would meet this objective. Both agreements are squarely in our interest and thus should not be linked to Soviet performance in other areas, e.g., air safety. Moreover, while the Soviets have tended to denigrate such bilateral issues as non-central, they could not fail to respond affirmatively since they already did when we first raised them last summer before the KAL debacle. I have reviewed our recent drafts of the exchanges agreement and am convinced we can button up our negotiating position within two-three weeks of hard work.

—Finally, we should also move quickly to give an unmistakable signal of our seriousness on arms control. I know that it is difficult to get clear decisions in Washington at this time. Therefore, I would look for something doable with a minimum of fuss and talk. If our objective is to avoid serious consideration of a CTB, I would propose ratification of the PNE and TTB treaties.13 It would respond to a concern the Soviets themselves have raised about our willingness to confirm negotiated agreements. It would also allow us to turn the “deeds not words” appeals back toward Moscow. The treaties do not carry the political baggage of SALT II, and we would be able to utilize their existing verification provisions to gain practical experience with the compliance problem on testing. If those provisions proved inadequate, we would have stronger grounds both for seeking renegotiation of the two agreements and for countering criticism of our CTB position. Of course we should move on TTBT/PNE only if we are reasonably sure of a positive reception in the Congress.

[Page 646]

7. I am deliberately soft-pedaling a summit. There is no reason to believe the Soviets would be interested now, given the state of the relationship. Nor at this stage do I see any significant advantages from our point in raising this issue. If we can take the kind of steps I’ve suggested above, and the Soviets respond, the summit option would fall naturally into place—and the Soviets would be much more likely to respond positively if we proposed it.

8. What I have sketched out seems to me a minimal agenda for getting the kind of movement in the relationship that we want. In places we will have to compromise—the Soviets are not going to give us something for nothing. But each area I have identified is one in which progress is in our own interest. As always, timing is key. If many more weeks drag on with no tangible progress, the opportunity presented by the Chernenko succession will be lost and the hard-line arguments in the Kremlin—that not enough time is left for significant progress before the American election and that what progress is possible will simply assist President Reagan’s re-election—will assert themselves more and more strongly. If we are to move, it should be now. I hope that some decisions will be taken in the next week or two and I look forward to a discussion of follow-through when I am in Washington beginning March 17.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Box 17, 1984 March 2, Meetings with the President. Confidential; Immediate; Nodis/Alpha; Stadis.
  2. See Document 159.
  3. See Documents 176, 177, and 178.
  4. In telegram 2142 from Moscow, February 22, the Embassy reported that Dobrynin and Hartman had lunch on February 15. No formal report on this lunch meeting has been found. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840115–0672)
  5. Senators Cohen and Biden went to Moscow on a visit sponsored by the USSR Academy of Sciences from February 16 to 20. In telegram 2222 from Moscow, February 24, the Embassy reported that the primary purpose of the visit was to explain the “concept of a strategic force build-down with a range of Soviet Academy and Institute officials.” The Embassy continued: “The highlights of the visit were Senator Cohen’s meetings with the First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Kuznetsov and First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko. Both admitted to gaining in understanding of the build-down concept from the Senator’s briefing, but neither gave any hint that the official Soviet rejection of it as enunciated in Geneva and in public might be under review. Kuznetsov maintained that it was up to the U.S. to take the first step to repair the bilateral relationship, and he suggested that ratification of the TTBT and the PNET would be a good place to start.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840121–0901)
  6. In telegram 2142 from Moscow, February 22, the Embassy reported that the DCM had a discussion with Bessmertnykh during a reception for the Cohen-Biden delegation at Spaso House on February 17 regarding the Special Flights Agreement. Other than this brief summary, no formal report of this conversation has been found. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840115–0672)
  7. See Document 158.
  8. See Document 120 and footnote 4, Document 141.
  9. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, a full Politburo member and the Central Committee Secretary for Agriculture, had been a protégé of Andropov during his short tenure. Under Chernenko, Gorbachev rose to “Second Secretary” on the Politburo. (Telegram 2185 from Moscow, February 23; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840119–0871)
  10. See Document 175.
  11. See Document 164.
  12. Scowcroft and the Dartmouth Group visited Moscow in March. See Document 193.
  13. See footnote 6, Document 31.