188. Memorandum of Conversation1



  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Shultz
  • Secretary of Defense Weinberger
  • DCI Casey
  • Mr. McFarlane
  • Mr. Baker
  • Mr. Deaver
  • General Vessey
  • Ambassador Hartman
  • Mr. Matlock

The President opened the meeting by observing that he felt the time had come to think of something between a get-acquainted meeting and a full summit with the Soviet leader. Such a meeting would allow them to talk about the situation and to lay plans for the future. Protocol indicates that Chernenko should come here if there is another meeting. Perhaps the Olympic Games in Los Angeles would provide an opportunity. There does seem to be a change in the Soviet attitude recently. While he is not going soft, it seems to him that there may be things that he could do by direct communication that others cannot.

Secretary Shultz observed that we need to keep the question of a meeting up front in our minds, but that we must concentrate on how we get there.

The President said that Chernenko’s letter seemed to open a door in that he said things that had not been said before.2

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Secretary Shultz remarked that we are getting mixed signals. Chernenko’s speech today had some positive elements,3 but Gromyko’s recent speech had been quite negative, and the Soviet speech had blasted us in the UN and there was the UNIFIL veto.4 If they take us up on our overtures, that will be fine, but if not . . .

The President noted that they had moved last year on the Pentecostalists, which seemed to be a signal, but that KAL had intervened to turn everything around.

Secretary Shultz then outlined the state of play: We are making preparations for a wide-ranging discussion. We must do it in a managed framework. We should make sure all communications are official. We need to put meat on the bones and to decide both on substance and a schedule. We have many issues under discussion and there are tough questions in each.

The President said he has the feeling that he is the villain so far as the Soviets are concerned. Either Chernenko meant that they are prepared for a serious discussion in his letter, or else this is just propaganda. In either case, we must answer the letter. We should level with him and make clear that our negotiations have to be a two-way street.

Ambassador Hartman remarked that on the question of a summit, the Soviets will want to have some real substance. They would consider a summit just to talk a political act, and therefore unacceptable. Preparations, therefore, are an important part of getting into a discussion at a summit.

The President observed that he was not against talking substance now. But we should keep in mind that we want a meeting. September had been suggested, but that would be too late; July would be better. Perhaps he could invite Chernenko to the Olympics.

Secretary Shultz said that we still have time to work on the issues. We can do hard work in March and April. Although we would get more mileage out of the President going to Moscow, and he would have a crack at communicating with the Soviet people, it is their turn to come here. But once they get the idea that we want a meeting, they will try to use it.

Secretary Weinberger said that he agreed that we should aim for something between a get-acquainted meeting and a full-fledged summit.

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The President pointed out that he was thinking of a meeting to break the ground. We have a lot of things to deal with. Why not get together and talk them over.

Secretary Shultz mentioned that the Soviets would have their own agenda to push.

The President added that we should seek some safeguards against regional wars.

Secretary Weinberger observed that so far as the location is concerned, he would consider the Olympics best. It has good associations of peace, friendly competition and the like. It would be a mistake to go to Moscow, since that would seem too eager. We should take some topics out of the agenda and work on them. But it is important to approach them with caution. They want us to stop many things we are doing, and it is to their advantage to get us to stop. We should bear that in mind. A meeting to set an agenda would be preferable.

Mr. McFarlane suggested that we think about what we can achieve this year. We agree on the value of a meeting, and must address how we get from here to there. There seems three dimensions to the question: What to say, When to say it, and Who says it.

He then handed out a suggested action plan,5 pointing out that each step had to be gauged by how much good faith the Soviets exhibit and what sort of results are obtained. The purpose of the plan was not to set a concrete agenda, but to set goals.

Regarding channels, he observed that an unofficial channel may be good or bad. It was noted in the game plan because the Soviets may not fully understand our position. They do not seem to understand the “trade-off” concept in a concrete sense, and a private, unofficial explanation might be helpful. We of course should not put on someone else the job of negotiating arms control.

The President observed that the action plan contained some of the things they could hear from him. We have been talking about each other rather than to each other.

General Vessey said that the time schedule presented problems. There will be problems on the Hill in defending the defense budget this spring. Support for our strategic modernization program is wavering. The Russians will not want to help the President get reelected. With the defense budget, the deficit and the election year combined, we could have trouble in the spring. Support for the MX in particular seems to be wavering.

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Secretary Weinberger agreed that pressures are building. But we should aim for a meeting and the President could make our points there.

Matlock said that it was important to let the Soviets know our thinking in advance. Otherwise they might not agree to a meeting, and in addition might be inclined to reject proposals made without advance preparation and discussion.

The President said that he understood, but that he would like to have a chance to see if he could sell something. He thought he should show them that he is not the sort to eat his own young.

Ambassador Hartman observed that Chernenko had brought a tonal change to the Soviet stance. It will be valuable to test whether this represents any movement on substance.

McFarlane observed that two or three things are emerging: First, a meeting would be useful; Second, for us to propose it now would give the Soviets leverage; Third, that we have a problem on the Hill, since there is skepticism regarding the dialogue. All of these things seem to be served by an intensified agenda for the dialogue. We should decide the agenda to start on now, and perhaps we should think of monthly meetings like this to monitor the process. Then we can see when we have enough at hand to proceed and plan the meeting.

Secretary Shultz observed that a meeting in mid July during the Olympics is probably desirable, but we cannot reach a final conclusion on that now. If we say we want a meeting to set the agenda rather than establishing the content in advance, the Soviets are likely to play around with it. Since their signals are mixed, the right way to proceed would be to keep in mind the probable desirability of a meeting in July, but to test it in discussions. Their agenda is known. Our answer on the desirability of a meeting is likely to be “yes” if one fruitful topic emerges in the arms control area.

The President suggested, in regard to the action plan, that we first answer the letter. It should sound forthcoming, and should have some proposals in it. This would be our defense against their using the letter for propaganda. But there must not be a hint that we are talking about a summit. Then, we should proceed with the other things, and if matters progress, we can invite Chernenko to the Olympics.

Casey observed that there were some issues on which the Soviets had not said no. These would be fruitful to pursue. But he was dubious about getting into START, because it is such a contentious issue within the U.S. Government.

Shultz remarked that he seemed to be saying that we cannot discuss anything important because we don’t have the capacity to determine our position. He could not agree with that.

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The President said that his reply to Chernenko’s letter should mention Chernenko’s line about the danger of the present situation. And it could refer to things like the hot line.

Casey pointed out that it might be useful to discuss the situation in the Persian Gulf, since we want to minimize the chances of confrontation.

Weinberger said the question of nuclear terrorism might also be an appropriate topic.

Shultz remarked that we have not managed to come up with a proposal in this area yet.

Casey offered the judgment that there is no way START can be completed this year.

Weinberger said that a few other things might be possible.

Hartman pointed out that, for the Soviets, START represents the central question. There seems no harm in testing whether progress is possible. At the very least, it would avoid Soviet use of the issue for propaganda purposes.

Vessey observed that we must go at it in a way to produce something. Otherwise our problems on the Hill may be insuperable.

The President noted that he could say in his letter that he recognizes the problems our negotiators have had in getting across what we have in mind, and then provide further explanation.

The Vice President mentioned that Bill Verity, U.S. Chairman of the U.S.-USSR Trade and Economic Council was just back from a trip to Moscow and had seen Prime Minister Tikhonov. He was received by Tikhonov because he was perceived as being close to the President. Tikhonov had talked about both trade and political relations.6 On trade, he had spoken of the need to break the impasse: the Soviet Union has forty billion in trade with Europe, but almost none with the U.S. Grain is merely a “thin thread.” He complained about the Aeroflot closure in the U.S. and said that the Soviets feel that the U.S. wants the death of their system. He also mentioned the ban on nickel from Cuba. Then he also talked about the Soviet “no first use” proposal, the proposal for an ASAT moratorium, and INF. On the latter he asked rhetorically how there could be zero if the British and French had systems. The Soviets, he said, had experienced false reports of U.S. attacks and [Page 673] worried about the dangers of accidental missile launches. In sum, he said U.S.-Soviet relations were the worst ever and that the Soviets felt they were getting no proposals from the U.S. side.

Having mentioned all this, however, Tikhonov said that Chernenko “yearns for peaceful relations.” And Giffen, Verity’s aide, who has visited the Soviet Union some forty times, felt that there is great respect for the President because of his strong leadership and his ability to get the INF deployments through. Therefore, the Vice President wondered whether we might not go forward and have a meeting on ways to lower fears, and explore something to guarantee against accidents.

Weinberger observed that there is no doubt that confidence building measures provided the area where there is most likely to be some agreement. Nevertheless, the Soviets have so far refused to break these issues out of START and INF.

Hartman noted that the Soviets do not want them to become a substitute for START and INF.

Weinberger reiterated that the CBM’s could move rapidly if the Soviets would allow it.

McFarlane observed that Hartman is right. The Soviets view arms control as central. A dialogue will not be credible if it does not include this dimension. Regarding START, an interim agreement may be possible.

Shultz suggested that it might be well to go through the list of issues on the agenda. The Soviet position may be that nuclear arms are a sine qua non, but many bilateral questions are available. He then listed the following:

Hot line upgrade: We are now down to technical questions, and this should be completed in April.

Technical measures for air safety: The question is under discussion in the ICAO in Montreal. There is a high probability that the Soviets will agree to something.

Renewal of Long-Term Economic Agreement: Relatively simple to do if we decide to go ahead.

Search and Rescue: Talks with the Coast Guard. Something can probably be worked out.

Consulates: The main interagency difference on exchanging consulates in Kiev and New York is that the FBI wants to keep the total number of Soviets in the U.S. constant, and therefore to require them to take personnel from elsewhere to staff their consulate in New York, while State wishes to establish a reciprocal quota in each city, which would be an add-on to present numbers. [Matlock noted that the exchange of New York for Kiev is inherently advantageous to the U.S., since the Soviets already have hundreds of officials at the U.N. and we have no one in Kiev.]

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Exchanges Agreement: The interagency work on a draft agreement is not complete, but much work has been done. The central issue with the Soviets is likely to be a demand by them that we return defectors, which of course we cannot agree to. [Hartman noted that exchanges in general work in our favor.]

Consular Review Talks: These are hung up on the issue of entry/exit points allowed diplomats. State wants to add San Francisco and Baltimore to our list in exchange for Brest and Nakhodka from the Soviets, but the FBI does not agree to the inclusion of Baltimore.

Cooperative Agreements: We could increase activity under those cooperative agreements which are still in force, in the agricultural, housing, environmental protection and health areas. Since Afghanistan we have prohibited high-level contacts under them (although we approved Agriculture Secretary Block’s visit to Moscow last year), and we could lift this to stimulate greater activity.

Shultz continued his presentation by saying that, as we work these bilateral issues, it is assumed that we will also continue to make representations on human rights.

He pointed out, however, that for the Soviets, START is the central issue and he wondered whether the Soviets would move much in other areas unless we can achieve some progress here. Perhaps there are ways to break through and find a different framework. The Soviet agenda, he added, includes the following:


Non-Use-of-Force Treaty

No First Use of Nuclear Weapons

Comprehensive Test Ban: Here we do not agree because of verification problems.

TTBT and PNET: They are pressing for ratification. Perhaps we could agree to do so if we could get agreement on an on-site observation of calibration tests.

ASAT: Soviets want a moratorium and negotiations. We don’t want a moratorium, but we might agree to discuss the issues.

MBFR: We are working on a position with the Allies to present at the next round of negotiations.

Regional Issues: Several might be subjects of discussion with the Soviets.

Shultz concluded by saying that we could select some issues from this list and try to get some worked out. He had the feeling that the Soviet willingness to go along will depend on whether we are willing to talk about START.

Weinberger observed that TTBT and PNET might provide grounds for discussion, but it is dangerous to get into the subject too much. He felt that the interagency process was much maligned. It is, however, [Page 675] the one process which insures that the President has clear all the options available for his consideration. We must not give up the interagency process; it need not be slow. There are a lot of subjects potentially available to discuss with the Soviets, and if we get into them our positions should be the result of the interagency process. As for START, there is a disadvantage to taking the discussions out of Rowny’s hands. All of these things can and should go forward, but the IG process is necessary.

Shultz remarked that there is much to be said for the interagency process, but that two things are wrong with it:

First, it includes many people and a third of them don’t mind going to the press. We can’t run the process without leaks. Second, it takes forever. They follow a consensus approach and have trouble moving rapidly.

McFarlane observed that it used to work that way, but it is not inevitable.

Weinberger said that if the President directs that something be decided by x date, it will be. If we can’t solve the leaks, we can’t solve anything.

The Vice President noted that the interagency process can be used to clarify the issues without referring to a specific meeting or the overall framework of negotiations.

Baker pointed out that this meeting was in fact an interagency process since all the agencies directly involved were represented. He noted that there is a 120-day deadline for arranging a meeting, and if everything is farmed out, nothing will be accomplished.

McFarlane said that there was nothing in the scenario which could not be done, utilizing the interagency process. He noted that if people outside the group see things being done without consulting them, they are likely to argue against the policies in public. This is less likely if they feel part of the process.

Baker felt that the policies would be opposed in the IG’s in any event.

McFarlane said that if all are given a chance to participate, the President will have the high ground and this will diminish opposition.

Shultz summed up the preceding discussion by saying that there is agreement on some of the issues; in some of the others we know the arguments of the various agencies. Some of the issues, such as START, have the potential for a “blow-up.” But we must include some of the Soviet agenda in the dialogue in some way.

Vessey suggested that we pick out at least two items from the Soviet agenda—maybe TTBT, ASAT discussions and START.

Weinberger stated that it is vital that there be agreement on these matters. The interagency process need not be slow or leaky, and the President can make decisions as he wishes, but the process should be used.

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Shultz pointed out that we have March and the first part of April, but it will be difficult to consult during the trip to China,7 and we will have to focus on the European Summit in May.8 When we get back there will be the Republican Convention. This just emphasizes the point Jim Baker was making—we don’t have much time for delay.

Dobrynin had asked to come in to see him. He was sick, so sent the Chernenko letter over by messenger. But Shultz had given him an appointment for Wednesday, March 7. He felt that if we are going to move, it is time to start talking turkey.

Casey said the immediate task is to answer the letter.

The President directed that the letter go right away.

McFarlane suggested that we prepare to reopen the talks on consulates and a cultural agreement, and to continue negotiations on the maritime boundary issue.

Vessey noted that we need some sign to Congress that we are making progress or we won’t get the strategic modernization program through this spring.

Shultz observed that if there is something going on, people will sense it. It is most important for everything to go on privately.

Weinberger wondered what we should be conveying to Congress.

Shultz said that when people like Cohen and Biden come in, we could just say something like “more is going on than you think.” They will get the idea.

Hartman noted that if nothing is going on, however, the Soviets will blow it by passing the word that there is no substance in our positions.

McFarlane observed that we won on MX last year. This year it may take more. We can reassure Congress that we are working on it.

The President then directed that we start with a reply to the Chernenko letter, get going on some of the things discussed, and aim for a meeting in July.

Shultz mentioned the agenda he wished to take up with Dobrynin.

Hartman noted that many people knew he was in town, and wondered if it was all right for him to say that he had met with the President. The President agreed.

The meeting ended shortly before 4:00 P.M.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, USSR Subject File, 1981–1986, US-USSR Relations (March 1984) 1/2. Top Secret; Sensitive. Not for the System. There is no drafting information on the memorandum of conversation. Brackets are in the original. This private meeting took place in the Treaty Room in the Residence of the White House. In his diary entry for March 2, Reagan wrote: “into the Treaty Room for a top level & secret meeting with Ambas. Hartman (Moscow), Bill Casey, Bud McF., Geo. B., Mike & Jim & Gen. Vessey. Subject was a plan to move into communications with the Soviets. I’m convinced the time has come for me to meet with Chernenko along about July. We’re going to start with some ministerial level meetings on a number of substantive matters that have been on ice since the KAL 700 [007] shoot down.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 324) Shultz, Weinberger, and Matlock attended the meeting, although not noted by Reagan in his diary.
  2. See Document 183.
  3. See Document 187.
  4. The Soviets vetoed General Assembly Resolutions 38/38A and 38/38B regarding funding for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon on December 5, 1983.
  5. See Document 186.
  6. Verity was in Moscow from February 27 to March 1 and met with Zimmermann on March 1, giving a full account of his meetings. Zimmermann reported in telegram 2589 from Moscow, March 2, that while there was “strong support for U.S. trade from several ministers” there was “consistent Soviet skepticism about the sincerity of the President’s January 16 speech on U.S. readiness to establish a better working relationship with the USSR.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840139–0724) For the President’s speech, see Document 158.
  7. From April 26 to May 1 Shultz accompanied President Reagan on a State visit to China.
  8. Shultz accompanied President Reagan to Ireland and the United Kingdom June 2–9. The primary purpose of the trip was to attend the G–7 Economic Summit in London June 7–9.