195. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Stanislav Menshikov, International Department, CC CPSU Secretariat
  • Jack F. Matlock, NSC Staff

Menshikov began the conversation by asking what was behind the New York Times story that Hartman may have discussed a summit with Gromyko Sunday. He said that he had no report on the Gromyko meeting, since he was in New York at the time.

[Page 697]

I told him that Vogel, the German SPD leader who originated the report, must be imagining things.2 To the best of my knowledge, the subject did not come up. I added that it seemed to me that our respective positions on a summit were the same: one could be useful if it were properly prepared so that it would lead to progress in our relations, but that this point had not yet been reached.

Menshikov agreed that this was, indeed, their position. He then said that a month had passed since our conversation in Moscow,3 and they had had time to consider the situation. Chernenko’s speech of March 4 had been intended to stress both substantive continuity in the Soviet positions and a willingness to work for improvement.4 Additionally, they had taken note of our conversation regarding a chemical weapons treaty and had attempted to signal their cooperativeness by the statement in Geneva. I interjected that it was a small step indeed, and Menshikov agreed, but said it was intended as a response to my comments on the difficulty of verification in our conversation in Moscow, and that they had found our public reaction encouraging.

Menshikov continued, saying that he had word that the “consultations with Scowcroft had begun,” but nothing more, so he did not know how they were going. Maybe they will clarify some possibilities.5

He then said that he left Moscow before the text of the President’s letter arrived.6 I told him that the President had proposed a number of steps to improve the bilateral working relationship, and had made a number of fairly general comments on arms control issues, but that we hoped that Scowcroft could convey more specific ideas on some of them during his visit.

Menshikov said that they had noted our interest in START and are still considering the possibilities. They are not ready to resume [Page 698] negotiations. But they are interested in exploring ideas privately and unofficially. I told him that is precisely what we hoped to do, but that they should understand that we wish to consult on START possibilities because we feel it is in both countries’ interest to do so. We do not feel we have more pressing needs in this area than the Soviets have.

He then observed that they understood that we were not interested in INF. They assumed we intended to continue deployments as scheduled. As for their side, they would have to consider further countermeasures (he used the Russian word otvetnye mery, which means literally “measures in response”), in accord with what actually happens. I said that this was not an accurate understanding of our position: while it is true that Soviet policy had given us no alternative but to continue deployments as scheduled, we still hoped that negotiations could be resumed so as to arrive at lower levels, and in fact to move toward zero. As for Soviet counter deployments, we saw no justification at all for them, since we believe the NATO deployments scheduled do no more than redress the imbalance caused by the introduction of the SS–20’s.

Menshikov then asked about the other arms control issues: did the President deal with the Soviet proposals in his letter? I said that he offered to discuss them, but did not comment on each in detail.

Menshikov then reviewed their list, asking first why we resist the “non-use-of-force” proposal. I told him that our problem with it is that it does not address a real problem. It involves only reiteration of obligations we have already undertaken in signing the U.N. Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. The fact that force and the threat of force continue to be used by parties to general obligations of this sort suggests to us that this is not a very useful way to proceed. It seems far more useful to deal with the actual problems and see if we cannot solve some of them. The Western package of CBM’s in Stockholm, for example, deals with some of the real problems in developing confidence that force will not be used.

He then asked about the status of our consideration of a draft treaty on chemical weapons. I told him we hoped to table one in Geneva in April, but that our work was not yet complete on the text. He observed that they were operating on the assumption that one would be tabled soon, and it was important not to drag out the process too long without producing something concrete to discuss. I reiterated that we hoped to have something on the table before the current CD session in Geneva ends.

Regarding MBFR, he said that they understood that we would be making a proposal when the negotiations resumed in Vienna, and that this would be important. I told him that we would indeed have a proposal which we hoped would move negotiations forward, but that [Page 699] it might be introduced a week or so after the session began, since we were still coordinating it with our Allies. If the Soviets respond favorably, we will be prepared to go further. To this, Menshikov warned that we should not expect speedy replies, observing “You know how we do things; the Politburo will have to consider it and discuss it, and we just cannot answer important questions quickly.”

Menshikov then asked why ratification of the TTBT and PNET is such a difficult question for us. “That should be an easy one for you,” he observed. I explained that the problem is in the verification provisions. Since the treaty was negotiated, we had found that we could not verify with confidence the level of testing. We had called their attention officially to our doubts, and they also have claimed that some of our tests have gone over the threshold, which suggests that they are having the same problem. We wonder, therefore, why they resist discussing measures we might take to improve the verification provisions. We both have experience in verification accumulated since the treaties were signed, which should be reflected in our discussions before the treaties are put into legal force.

Regarding discussion of space systems, Menshikov said that they understood our position to be that we were not willing to discuss the issues unofficially, but would do so only in the context of official negotiations. I told him that there seemed to be a misunderstanding on this score: I was unaware that we had taken a position against unofficial discussions. As for negotiations, we do have problems, since our studies have demonstrated the difficulty both in defining the systems to be covered and in verifying compliance. And, of course, the Soviet proposal for a moratorium on testing ASAT systems is bound to be unacceptable to us, since they have a tested system deployed and we do not. But I undertook to obtain clarification on the point regarding our attitude toward unofficial discussions of the issue.

I then observed that the continued Soviet insistence that we must continue to take steps to “prove” our good faith was troublesome and unjustified. This approach was quite noticeable in Gromyko’s comments to Hartman Sunday.7 Yet, they should recognize that we have already taken a number of steps to improve the relationship, and they can hardly expect us to continue on this course if they are unwilling to show the same readiness. I cited our lowering of the polemics—not yet fully reciprocated on the Soviet side—as well as the President’s proposals in his recent letter for bilateral steps to improve the working relationship.

[Page 700]

In this connection, I said that though I was aware that it was a delicate issue for them, I would be remiss if I failed to point out the importance to our relationship which Soviet treatment of persons like Shcharansky, Bonner, Sakharov and Orlov has, and the importance of allowing Jewish emigration to get back to a normal level. We recognized that the Soviets had difficulty negotiating in this area, and we would not press them to do so officially (though we have to keep mentioning the problems), but that if they wished to send a signal of their good faith, moves in this area would be noted by the President.

Menshikov let this pass without comment, and turned the conversation back to INF. He observed that our present course seemed destined to result in a spiraling arms race, and wondered if we did not realize that deployments in Western Europe could continue to encounter opposition. He referred to my comments in Moscow about the problem of decoupling (implying that they understood and accepted them) and asked whether our INF position was based primarily on military or political considerations. I told him that one cannot separate the two, since political acceptability is based importantly on military balance and feasibility. Nevertheless, that said, I felt personally that the political question was the dominant one; we could not be flexible on that, while we could consider possible variations in the military arrangements necessary to preserve it.

Menshikov then raised the problem of British and French systems. He said that they understood that the positions taken by Britain and France gave us little choice, but could we really expect Soviet military planners not to take these systems into account? I asked if Soviet military planners contemplated a contingency whereby they might attack Britain or France. Menshikov said of course not. I replied that, in that case, I saw no reason at all for Soviet military planners to worry about these systems. They are simply too small to be relevant to the strategic balance. Furthermore, anyone who understands anything about the political process in our countries and the nature of the Western alliance should know that using these systems in any hypothetical first-strike scenario is simply out of the question. So even if they don’t believe us when we say we would never launch a first strike (and they should believe this, because it is true), there is no reason for them to fear that British and French systems are relevant to that question.

I added that, entirely aside from the positions taken by the British and French governments, we do not view their nuclear systems as relevant to the basic issue in INF. The fact is, they provide no umbrella of nuclear deterrence for the other NATO Allies. This is potentially a very sensitive issue, particularly in Germany, and if it is perceived that the U.S. nuclear umbrella is in doubt, the consequences could be profound and, indeed, contrary to Soviet national interests. For these [Page 701] reasons, we feel that maintenance of an adequate and stable American nuclear umbrella for NATO is no threat to the Soviets, but actually in their interest, if they take a long-term view and are genuinely interested in peace and stability in Europe.

Menshikov observed that, if we did not exclude the possibility of reaching some agreement in INF, would not the proposal discussed by Nitze and Kvitsinsky last November have some possibilities? If we think of it as a “build-down” from 572 weapons, then we could arrive at a figure without mentioning British and French systems. Of course, he added, the idea came up too late in the negotiations to be explored fully, particularly when there was the “unfortunate leak” to the Germans, but could we think about it now?

I told him that I was far from an expert in these matters, but in my personal view we would have great difficulty arriving at an acceptable solution by this route. The problem is that, by Soviet count, this would still leave them with a substantial SS–20 force, and NATO with nothing. So we have the basic problem with the umbrella and decoupling. Perhaps, instead, the Soviets could look again at the proposals the President made at the UN in September; these opened several important doors.8 For example, the idea of a global ceiling with the U.S. taking only part of it in Europe left a lot of room to discuss specific numbers. And our offer to discuss the mix of cruise and Pershing II’s reflected a willingness to be flexible on this score as well. I recalled that, when we talked in Moscow, he and Zagladin seemed particularly concerned with the Pershings; if this is the case, they should note that we have offered to negotiate the mix.

Menshikov then said, “I’m just thinking out loud now, but if you do want to get back on a negotiating track, we’ll have to find some way that takes account of our current position. Now, if you came to us and said something like, ‘You say we must withdraw our LRINF missiles if negotiations are to resume. Let’s talk about the conditions under which that might be possible’ . . . , and then outlined how you thought negotiations might develop. Well, if you took that approach, we would listen—and maybe this could give us a basis.”

I told him I would relay this thought, and Menshikov concluded our discussion of START and INF by saying that we should now wait to see what the reaction in Moscow will be to what Scowcroft says.

Before we parted, Menshikov remarked that they are now receiving a “flood” of American visitors in Moscow, many claiming ties to the White House, and asked how they should regard them. I told him that we receive many prospective visitors and brief them in general on our [Page 702] policies, but that unless we specifically indicate to the Soviets otherwise (as we did with Scowcroft), the visitors should be considered only private citizens, whose ideas are their own.

Menshikov also remarked, regarding concrete proposals, that while these were necessary in formal negotiations, they are not necessary in conversations such as the one we were having. He made clear that the Soviets had found our exchanges useful, and asked how we should proceed. I told him that we too found them useful, and would continue to communicate our ideas in whatever way both of us find most acceptable. I pointed out that we both are most likely to find a way to make progress on some of the issues before us if we can get an informal understanding of each other’s positions in advance, and that this required a means of communication not subject to leaks. For this reason, we had held knowledge of our conversations to a very small number of individuals—six or so.

Menshikov said they would make every effort to avoid leaks, but that knowledge of our conversations had been conveyed to more people in Moscow: the Politburo, including of course Chernenko, had been informed of our previous discussion, and had approved continuation of the contact. (He then qualified this by saying, “not all of them, but the core members”—presumably meaning either those involved in foreign policy and security or, possibly, those that are Moscow based.) He added that Gromyko had approved our conversations, and that Troyanovsky was aware of the meeting today. He presumed, but was not certain, that Dobrynin had been informed.

I told him that it was not our intent to cut anyone out, but only to preserve the privacy of the contact. On our side, Shultz and Eagleburger had been briefed, but others in the State Department had not. Art Hartman is of course in the loop, and any message they may have can be passed through him, or in his absence, through Warren Zimmermann.

Regarding contacts with the Embassy in Moscow, Menshikov said that this would be possible provided Hartman makes it clear that it is a message from me. He said that, for bureaucratic reasons, they could not grant appointments to members of the Embassy in general, and this was the reason, for example, that neither Zagladin nor Alexandrov was able to receive Art last year. (This was a reference to Art’s efforts to get letters directly to Andropov’s staff.) However, if Hartman says he wants an appointment to deliver a message from me, they will receive him, and Gromyko has approved this procedure.

So far as our meeting today was concerned, Menshikov noted that he may have made a mistake when he inadvertently mentioned to David Rockefeller that he would be seeing me. He said that during a call on Rockefeller, the latter had asked him if he would be talking to [Page 703] anyone in the Administration. Menshikov told him he had an appointment with me, and he realized later that he probably shouldn’t have, but thought that Rockefeller would not spread it around or draw the conclusion that the appointment was anything more than casual.9

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Robert McFarlane Files, Subject File, Soviet Union—Sensitive File—1984 (03/09/1984–06/20/1984). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only for Mr. McFarlane. Not for System. This meeting took place in Harry’s New York Bar in the Harley Hotel. Reagan initialed the memorandum of conversation, indicating he saw it. In a handwritten note to McFarlane dated March 15, Matlock reported: “As you can see from the attached, the meeting with Menshikov went very well—no new specifics, but clearly a decision to examine some modalities in ways that are not apparent in the formal dialogue. I was struck, once again, by the total lack of polemics. His desire to discuss INF concepts at some length seems to indicate that this is still the key issue for them—and they may be groping around for a way out. We should discuss the implication at your earliest convenience. I have heard nothing on Scowcroft’s conversation yet, but assume you’ll include me in any debrief.” (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological Files, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron March 1984) Regarding Scowcroft’s mission, see Document 193.
  2. Hans-Jochen Vogel and Chernenko met in Moscow on March 12. On March 17, in telegram 79152 to the Mission in Geneva, the Department reported: “In a United Press International dispatch, the New York Times reported from Moscow (quote) the visiting West German opposition leader said . . . that the United States and Soviet Union had discussed the possibility of a meeting between President Reagan and Konstantin U. Chernenko, the Soviet leader.” The telegram continued: “A spokesman for the United States Embassy, Frank Tonini, denied that the possibility of a summit meeting had been discussed. ‘We understand that there has been some speculation in Moscow that a U.S.-Soviet summit was discussed during Ambassador Hartman’s call on Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko on Sunday,’ Mr. Tonini said. ‘I am authorized to state that the question of a summit did not come up at that meeting. The Ambassador was there to review a range of bilateral and arms control issues.’ (unquote)” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840177–0601) For an account of the Hartman-Gromyko discussion on March 11, see Document 196.
  3. See Document 180.
  4. This is likely a reference to Chernenko’s March 2 speech. See Document 187.
  5. See Document 193.
  6. See Document 190.
  7. Sunday, March 11. See Document 196.
  8. See footnote 3, Document 120.
  9. David Rockefeller was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.