197. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Chernenko to President Reagan1
I have carefully read your letter of March 6.2 And I am responding to it also taking into account the additional comments made by your Ambassador in the conversation with A.A. Gromyko and by Secretary George Shultz to our Ambassador in Washington.3
In doing so, I intend to address the main issues of a principled nature, as some clarifications in greater detail will be given to the Secretary of State by our Ambassador who is receiving appropriate instructions to this effect.4 I also assume that you are already familiar with the views which were expressed on our side by A.A. Gromyko in the said conversation with Ambassador Hartman.
First of all, I would like to emphasize that, like yourself, I value the importance of our correspondence which makes possible a direct exchange of views on the cardinal problems of relations between our countries and the international situation.
In this regard I would like to note two points in your letter: the stated desire to improve relations between the USSR and US and your concurrence that specific measures are required to that end.
It is precisely from this perspective that I wish to express our considerations on the questions you raised and explain the way we see the possibility for a constructive turn in Soviet-American relations, considering the special role and responsibility of our countries in international affairs.
I, too, am not in favor of engaging in our correspondence in mutual recriminations, and this is not my purpose. At the same time it is obviously difficult to hope to move forward while not remaining on the ground of reality. In other words, we assess and will continue to [Page 706] assess the intentions of the United States first of all by the practical policy it pursued and currently pursues, by concrete positions the U.S. side maintains on the security issues. And, frankly speaking, so far we have seen no encouraging signs in this regard.
Having initiated the deployment of its missiles in Western Europe, the United States is, thereby, creating an additional strategic threat to the Soviet Union. It is impossible for us to ignore it. This step has become the main obstacle on the path of negotiations, it has undermined in general the process of limiting and reducing nuclear arms.
From your letter it does not transpire at all that the United States is prepared to remove that obstacle and deal on the only possible basis of equality and equal security. From the explanations provided by the Secretary of State it follows all too clear that there are no changes in the U.S. position either on the strategic or “European” nuclear arms. The essence, and details, too, of this position are sufficiently known to us; any additional “clarifications”, in whatever form they are offered official or unofficial—will not of themselves help in this matter and will not be able to change our view of this unconstructive position.
I would like you, Mr. President, to have a correct understanding of this. Attempts to somehow sidestep the deadlock will not be productive. But, we are convinced, there is a way out of the obtaining situation. Our view of what that way should be is known to you. I believe there is no need to state again in specific terms our position in this regard.
I would like to hope that your government will be able to take a broad and long-term view of this matter and will draw conclusions which would make it possible to give an impetus to the solution of the problem of nuclear arms—a central problem, as you recognize, in our relations.
We are for solving this problem in a most radical manner, with no detriment, of course, to the security of either side, while maintaining the existing balance of forces and strengthening the strategic stability.
I would like to point out in this connection that the development of large-scale ABM systems would be in direct contradiction with the objectives of strengthening stability—and you in your letter speak in favor of strengthening stability. It is not that the Soviet Union has some sort of a special concern in this regard. The United States must be concerned about it to an equal degree. After all, the inescapable consequence of the implementation of such plans can be only one thing—an arms race in all directions whose magnitude it is difficult even to imagine today. What is needed is not the negotiations on what such systems might be, but a resolute and unequivocal renunciation of the very idea of creating such systems. A clear and unambiguous stand in this regard would prove to be also a weighty reaffirmation of the commitment of our two countries to the Treaty on the limitation of [Page 707] ABM systems which is of unlimited duration and which is an important element in the package of the existing limitations in the area of strategic arms.
The policy of the Soviet Union—which with all due force was emphasized in my speech of March 2 that you mention5—has been and will continue to be oriented in a practical way toward a cessation of the arms race and not toward transferring that race into new areas, toward specific agreements leading to a real reduction of the war danger and strengthening the security for all peoples.
In furtherance of the views set forth in the said speech and with account taken of the interest that, as I understand, you expressed in your letter, we propose that the USSR and U.S. undertake on a priority basis the following:
1. Initiate without delay—making a public announcement to this effect—a concrete discussion aimed at reaching an agreement on the prevention of the militarization of space and the prohibition of the use of force in outer space and from outer space against the Earth. We are prepared to conduct such negotiations at the level of specially appointed delegations and at the beginning stage through diplomatic channels if the U.S. side finds it more convenient.
Without prejudging the outcome of this issue at the present time, one might, as a practical matter, proceed on the understanding that initially such an agreement would include the relevant obligations of the USSR and U.S., laying at the same time a basis for working out a broad international agreement, a draft of which could, by our mutual consent, be submitted, for instance, for consideration at the Geneva disarmament conference.
The question of anti-satellite weapons would then be solved either in the framework of such bilateral discussions on the general problem of the prevention of space militarization or as a major separate step leading in this direction.
2. Make, jointly or in parallel, a statement on the intention of the USSR and U.S. to implement the idea of nuclear weapons freeze and on their readiness to begin in this regard a meaningful exchange of views on the matter. The subject of such a discussion could be possible forms of freeze accord (a bilateral agreement, unilaterally taken obligations), the scope thereof, etc.
3. Resume, in agreement with the British government, the trilateral negotiations on the complete and general ban of nuclear weapon tests. We believe that, given the goodwill, it would be possible to count here [Page 708] on rapid progress, considering a substantial amount of positive work done at the previous stage of the negotiations.
4. You know, Mr. President, that in my speech of March 2 I spoke in favor of having the nuclear powers adhere in their mutual relations to certain norms. This would meet the urgent requirements of the present day and help create such a climate that would raise the level of trust in international affairs, thereby facilitating the prevention of nuclear war and curbing of the arms race.
There is no doubt that the incorporation of such norms into the practice of Soviet-American relations would bring about a qualitative change in these relations and place them on a secure and stable basis.
We expect the United States to give a most serious consideration to this initiative and respond to it in a positive way.
Mr. President, we have taken note of what you said with regard to the questions of chemical weapons and the Vienna negotiations. In this regard, too, we maintain positions that are constructive and far-reaching. We will, of course, give a careful study to the promised U.S. proposals when they appear at the negotiating table. It is important, though, not to repeat the past unproductive experience, if there is a genuine desire to solve those issues that have been long outstanding.
We hope that positive results will be achieved at the Stockholm conference. We regard confidence-building measures as a large-scale political problem requiring, also, appropriate major decisions. In Stockholm it is not only proper, but necessary, too, to negotiate agreements on the no-first use of nuclear weapons and on the non-use of force in general. Equally, we are for implementing other measures which should be directed precisely at building confidence and which should not pursue some different objectives.
I would like to see the U.S. side being prepared to act in such a manner. It would undoubtedly contribute to a success in the work of the Stockholm conference.
You mention regional problems. I think the developments of the past years have shown graphically that the absence of interaction between our countries has a negative impact also on the settlement of regional problems and, accordingly, on the general situation in the world.
The main thing in such interaction is that each side be guided by broad interests of peace and not seek benefits for itself at the expense of the interests of others. I am sure that an exchange of views between the USSR and U.S. on relevant regional problems in such a context would undoubtedly be useful.
You will recall that in the course of the previous correspondence readiness was expressed on our part to jointly intensify the search for [Page 709] ways leading to an overall political settlement in the Middle East. Today, too, we continue to be ready for it. In this regard there definitely exists a subject matter for an exchange of views. I am confident that, acting in such a manner, our two countries would in a practical way contribute to the relaxation of the continuing dangerous military and political tension in that region, which would also have broader positive results.
As to the question of the Iran-Iraq war, that you touched upon, you will recall that the Soviet Union from the very outbreak of that war has been consistently coming out—also in the contacts with the leadership of Iran and Iraq—in favor of putting an end to the senseless bloodshed. We have supported the activities of the mediating missions and the political efforts of the UN. The USSR intends to continue to act in the same spirit. In this regard we ourselves have done nothing—and we believe that other countries should act likewise—that can additionally exacerbate the situation and induce the parties to the conflict to take even more dangerous actions the consequences of which would go beyond the immediate area of the conflict. This first of all concerns any demonstrations of military nature, no matter what pretexts are being used for carrying them out.
In conclusion I would like to touch briefly on the area of bilateral relations between our countries. We have always been and remain to be advocates of active and really meaningful ties in a variety of fields, mutually beneficial and equal ties. The experience of a relatively recent past shows that this is possible.
If the U.S. side is truly ready at the present time to correct the abnormal situation that has developed in our bilateral relations as a result of its actions, it could be a welcome thing. We will judge if such a readiness is there by the practical steps the U.S. side will be taking in furtherance of the general concepts contained in your letter. We are instructing our Ambassador in Washington to discuss in greater detail these questions with the Secretary of State.
- Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat: NSC, Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Chernenko (8401238). No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. The text of the letter, translated from Russian, was provided by the Soviet Embassy. In a covering letter to Shultz, March 20, Dobrynin requested that this letter be passed to President Reagan. (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, US-USSR Summits, E.3, President/Chernenko Correspondence (1/2)) Reagan initialed the March 19 letter and wrote in the margin: “I think this calls for a very well thought out reply & not just a routine acknowledgement that leaves the status quo as is. RR.”↩
- See Document 190.↩
- See Documents 192 and 196.↩
- Reference is to the attached oral remarks.↩
- See Document 187.↩
- No classification marking. Reagan initialed the first page of the oral remarks.↩