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


  • Chernenko’s Election Speech

Chernenko has just completed his election speech.2 Overall the speech is consistent with the line Chernenko took with the Vice President.3 He toughened up the rhetoric for the public audience, sticking for the most part to standard Soviet formulations on individual issues, but the main thrust was a willingness to move forward if the U.S. takes the appropriate steps.

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According to our early readouts of the speech, Chernenko said that detente had struck deep roots and that curbing the arms race is the main task before our countries. While critical of U.S. international policies (but not as tough as Gromyko), he takes note of U.S. statements in favor of dialogue. He does not put down our statements, merely commenting that good intentions can be taken seriously only if supported by real actions. He affirms Soviet interest in concrete solutions to problems and calls for U.S. action on TTBT/PNET, CTB, Demilitarization of Outer Space, Freeze on Nuclear Weapons, and a Chemical Weapons treaty. Agreement on these issues could, in Chernenko’s words, signal a real watershed in U.S.-Soviet relations. He claimed this was what the Soviet Union wants, but it is now up to the United States.

On nuclear arms negotiations, Chernenko said that the U.S. had turned the talks into a propaganda forum, a game which the Soviet Union would not play. He said the Americans had created “obstacles” to talks on both European and strategic nuclear weapons by the INF deployments in Europe. He did not use the earlier Andropov formula for a Soviet return to the talks (U.S. “readiness” to return to the status quo ante), but conditioned it to “removal of these obstacles (which would also remove the need for our measures in response).” This formulation is sufficiently vague—as with other recent variations—to allow for a tougher or looser interpretation in practice.

Chernenko criticized, in standard terms, U.S. “aggressive policies”, our supposed militarism, policies in Lebanon, Grenada, and Nicaragua, and our placing of missiles in Europe. He put in a special note of support for Cuba and reaffirmed Soviet interest in developing normalization of relations with China. His closing listed standard Soviet declaratory “principles” on “preventing nuclear conflagration.”

A large part of his speech, as usual, was given over to internal politics. Chernenko praised Andropov generously, but reaffirmed his own strong emphasis on promoting the well-being of the Soviet people. He said, in fact, that security expenditures over the past five years had not been financed by curtailing social programs. He gave a harvest figure for last year of over 190 million metric tons, below what we had predicted but reasonably good from their point of view. Chernenko’s delivery was again not particularly good and he missed reading part of his text in the critically important U.S. section.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (03/02/1984–03/04/1984); NLR–775–11–22–2–3. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Pascoe; cleared by Simons and Palmer. Hill’s handwritten initials appear on the memorandum, indicating he saw it on March 2.
  2. For the full text of this March 2 speech, see the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XXXVI, No. 9 (March 28, 1984), pp. 1–7. Excerpts of the speech were printed in the New York Times, March 3, 1984, p. 5. An extensive analysis of Chernenko’s speech is in telegram 2616 from Moscow, March 2. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840140–0467)
  3. See Documents 176, 177, and 178.