192. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • My Meeting with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, March 7, 1984

I met with Dobrynin for almost an hour and a half Wednesday afternoon, with notetakers present except for a brief private exchange at the end. I used the meeting (1) to present and explain your letter to Chernenko;2 (2) to show we had studied Chernenko’s agenda and elicit some comments; and (3) to suggest some follow-up steps. Dobrynin appeared to be in a constructive mood, called our exchange a good effort and the most detailed discussion in three or four years, and promised to be back to me quickly.

I opened by saying that you and your key advisors had carefully considered Chernenko’s letter of February 23, that you had taken decisions and that I had a reply to deliver.3 After he had read it, I said I wanted to go over the specifics of your proposals and to hear his comments. You had reports that Moscow does not believe you are sincere in calling for dialogue and is worried about being threatened. These doubts and fears are without foundation, I said: you sincerely [Page 688] want dialogue, and our military programs do not threaten the security of the Soviet Union or its allies.

On the specifics, I made the following points:

—We consider nuclear arms control central to our relationship (Dobrynin said the Soviets agree), and we think the Soviets should respond to the idea of trade-offs that deal with the asymmetries in the strategic balance. So far they had not done so, and we are willing to pursue it in our private dialogue. On INF, I said we have good proposals on the table, but are willing to listen privately to any ideas they may have.

—On MBFR, I said we recognized they had made some moves on verification, and in the upcoming round we will have some ideas which could lead to flexibility on data if they are willing to pursue verification seriously.

—On chemical weapons, I said we will be ready to table a draft treaty, perhaps in a month or two, though in this as in so many other areas verification poses real problems.

—On strategic defense, I said our position is that we continue to regard the START negotiations as the appropriate forum to discuss these issues, and if the Soviets are prepared to resume there we will be prepared for such discussions.

—On military-to-military conversations, Dobrynin responded to my general suggestion that they might be useful by asking whether we had anything specific, such as regular consultations, in mind. I said we had not developed our ideas, but might envisage one meeting to see what came of it.

—On hotline upgrade, I noted that our meetings had gone well, said we would be getting back to them soon with the technical information required, and concluded we hoped the next meeting would take place soon and produce an agreement.

—Turning to bilateral issues, I told him that we were willing to move ahead if the Soviets were. This included beginning talks on new consulates in Kiev and New York, talking about a new exchanges agreement, and resuming consular review talks. Similarly, we wished to energize cooperation in the fields of housing, agriculture, the environment and health by getting more senior people involved. The sooner we could reach agreement on air safety measures in Montreal the better, I said. I briefly reiterated that our proposal on a simulated space rescue mission is on the table.4 I concluded by recalling that Dobrynin had [Page 689] been asking for concrete and specific proposals, and that we had made some, and hoped to move ahead. Dobrynin said he had noticed, but asked only if our ideas included doing something about the ban on Aeroflot operations here; I said they did not, but if the Soviets had a proposal we were prepared to look at it.

—Finally, turning to human rights, I urged permission for Sakharov’s wife to go abroad for medical treatment. Dobrynin said he did not know where this stood, but she had gone abroad before, and he would look into it.

Turning to Chernenko’s February 23 letter and the agenda the Soviets had identified, I reminded Dobrynin of our earlier agreement when we initiated our confidential talks: both sides were free to discuss any issue they wanted to bring to the discussions. Thus, I told him that while we had disagreements with various items on their agenda, we would be prepared to listen to their views in our confidential channel. I then touched on the following points:

—I noted we had already dealt with START, INF, MBFR and CW.

—On a non-use-of-force agreement, I said we do not support declaratory proposals because they do not change the actual military situation but we remained ready to listen to their arguments. I also noted that when our ambassadors at the Stockholm CDE conference got together, theirs declined to discuss the confidence- and security-building measures we have proposed.

—On the comprehensive and threshold test bans (CTB and TTBT), I took the position that the major verification uncertainties made it unprofitable to move on CTB. We had earlier made some proposals on TTBT verification, but the Soviets had shown no willingness to explore them. I reiterated our interest in exploring ways of improving TTBT verification. Dobrynin asked me if we were prepared to negotiate on CTB; I said we were not, but we were prepared to listen to Soviet ideas in the private channel.

—On anti-satellite weapons, I noted that the Soviets have a system deployed while we do not, and that verification problems were once again extremely difficult. However, I reiterated once again our general formulation that we could use the private channel to explore Soviet ideas.

—On the nuclear freeze, I pointed out that it would be excessively difficult to negotiate and that we believe we should concentrate on negotiating reductions, and therefore on START.

Turning to regional issues, I touched on Arab-Israel issues and on the Iran-Iraq war.

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On Lebanon, I told Dobrynin that we are disappointed with the abrogation of the May 17 agreement,5 which will make it harder to get Israeli withdrawal, but that we will stay engaged, and that we have no desire for a permanent military presence in the area. We are concerned with Syrian ambitions and by what they mean for the Palestinians as well as other parties in the area. I told him that the most threatening situation in the Middle East was not the Lebanon situation per se, but the possibility of conflict between Syria and Israel. I said that in the current situation the Soviets should be cautious. Dobrynin suggested that we work together on the Palestinian problem as a way of making real progress.

On Iran-Iraq, I said Soviet comments showed a misunderstanding of the situation, and proceeded to recount what we had been doing to help end the war by diplomatic means. The important thing is freedom of navigation, I said, and we would act to protect it if it were threatened, and we would be helpful if oil production were threatened with disruption. U.S. objectives were thus limited and proper. The United States was not seeking to exploit the current situation in the Gulf to expand its influence. Dobrynin replied that the freedom of international waters is enshrined in international law, but the Soviets question whether U.S. intervention in a crisis would not widen the crisis. I stressed in reply that the forces we have in the area are there to deter a crisis, and that the chances of a crisis are fairly low; but disruption would be very serious.

Summarizing my overall presentation, I told him that your letter showed that the United States was willing to take some steps, and we would be waiting for the Soviet reply, to see whether the Soviets were ready.

I then went briefly through the follow-up steps we envisage, depending on their reactions to our proposals: resumption of MBFR March 16; tabling a draft chemical weapons treaty in a month or two; agreement on hotline upgrade this spring; proposing another meeting on the Pacific maritime boundary soon; contact in Washington on consulates next week; tabling a draft exchanges agreement in Moscow in the next few weeks; proposals to activate various bilateral agreements in the same timeframe; and readiness to explore START and INF [Page 691] if the Soviets are. On TTBT we had various possibilities for improving verification in mind, and I urged Dobrynin to look at this issue.

Dobrynin said this had been a good effort. On START and INF, he had to say that the Soviet position was that we should begin at the beginning, looking to the situation before the U.S. began its INF deployments, and that this was a strong position. But in general he called this the most detailed U.S.-Soviet exchange in three or four years, and added that he thought Chernenko would reply to your letter promptly.

In the private meeting, after again praising your letter as constructive, Dobrynin returned to CTB, pressing on the question of renewing negotiations. I reiterated that we saw little future in such efforts, but were prepared to listen to what the Soviets had to say. At the same time, I again pushed the idea of improving verification for the TTBT, and Dobrynin indicated that they might look at this issue again.

Dobrynin then made some comments on the Soviet leadership situation. He referred to Gorbachev as a man of promise who was on the way up, but I sensed he felt he had some way yet to go. Concerning Chernenko, he did not run him down (as Henry Kissinger claims he did in private recently), but he did stress that being in charge is different from simply being aware of issues, and that Chernenko has begun to feel the weight of his responsibilities.6

In the Soviet Union, Dobrynin said, one must persuade to lead—Khrushchev had been removed for not bringing people along—and now that we have a dialogue underway, it will be important to keep it in “recognized channels.” He did not elaborate, but the message seemed to me to be that Chernenko must build consensus as he moves along, and that it would be a mistake to try to avoid Gromyko, since this might turn him into a wrecker.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Box 2c, 1984 Soviet Union Mar. Secret; Sensitive. This memorandum is unsigned. A handwritten note in the margin, however, reads: “Hand carried to the President by Secy 3/8.” According to the President’s Daily Diary, Shultz and Reagan met in the Oval Office on March 8 and March 9. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) The brief March 8 meeting was to discuss Scowcroft’s trip to Moscow. It seems more likely Shultz presented this memorandum to Reagan on March 9 during their weekly private meeting. Reagan wrote in his diary: “George & I talked Soviets. He had a good meeting with Dobrynin who is very interested in getting some talks going on Cultural exchange, consulates in N.Y. & Kiev etc.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 327)
  2. See Document 190.
  3. See Document 188. Chernenko’s February 23 letter is Document 183.
  4. The Soviets rejected the proposal on March 13. See footnote 10, Document 372.
  5. In his memoir, Shultz explained: “On May 17, 1983, Israel and Lebanon signed, at Qiryat Shemona Israel and Khaldah in Lebanon, ‘The Agreement on Withdrawal of Troops from Lebanon.’ Under the terms of the agreement, each country would respect the sovereignty and territorial rights of the other; the state of war between them was terminated.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 220) Documentation on this is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XVIII, Part 2, Lebanon, September 1982–March 1984.
  6. In his memoir, Dobrynin wrote of Chernenko’s election to the post of General Secretary: “The election of Chernenko at the age of seventy-two, when he was already weakened by emphysema, did not bring about any serious changes in Soviet foreign policy.” He continued: “Chosen by the Politburo as a deliberately transitional figure, he usually joined the majority of the Politburo’s members and guided himself by their mood. He was the most feeble and unimaginative Soviet leader of the last two decades.” (Dobrynin, In Confidence, p. 551)