198. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • U.S.-Soviet Relations: Thoughts on Where We Stand

We have gotten some very mixed signals from the Soviets recently. On the one hand, Dobrynin seemed very upbeat after seeing the President’s letter,2 and Menshikov was relatively positive in his conversation with me last week.3 But we also have the curious treatment of Brent,4 Gromyko’s hard-line approach in his meeting with Hartman,5 and the very rigid Soviet position taken in talks with the Dartmouth group last weekend.6 Is there any sense in this pattern?

First, we should not be surprised that the Soviets continue to maintain a fairly rigid line on matters of substance at this point. They obviously want to test how far they can push us before they begin moving in our direction. Therefore, we should not be surprised either by Gromyko’s stance with Hartman, or the line taken by Soviet interlocutors with the Dartmouth group.

Brent’s treatment is more problematical. I believe that either a decision was made over last weekend to harden the Soviet position, or else his treatment was a reaction to our effort to have him see Chernenko, without advance warning. Menshikov was clearly under the impression last Wednesday that he was meeting with Zagladin, so this meeting must have been planned and expected when Menshikov left Moscow March 8. The letter and the effort to secure an appointment with Chernenko may, however, have caused problems. Gromyko could have seen it as an effort to bypass him, or as an effort to obtain a publicized meeting which we could present as constituting negotiations on START. In any event, his treatment could well have reflected such [Page 716] protocollary and bureaucratic factors rather than a refusal to listen to what we have to say on this subject.

If this is the case, it would suggest that we should not jump to conclusions about the Soviet position at this time. Chernenko’s reply to the President’s letter will provide the most authoritative indicator, as will Soviet willingness to move ahead expeditiously on some of the bilateral measures mentioned in the President’s letter and by Shultz to Dobrynin.

At this point, I believe our stance should be to wait for the next Soviet move and avoid showing too much eagerness. Nevertheless, we must recognize that time is slipping by, and that a meeting can probably not be arranged on the spur of the moment. Therefore, we should continue to prepare our positions as rapidly as we can so that if there is Soviet movement, we will be able to move rapidly.

We also need to give some thought to how the timing of a meeting affects our tactics. If July is the optimum time, then we would need to have the question under discussion by early May at the latest. If the possible agenda is not shaping up by then, the President will need to decide whether he wants us to pursue some of the topics more aggressively (at the risk of losing some negotiating leverage), or of reconsidering the possibility of shooting for a meeting in September in connection with the UNGA. In either case, however, we must recognize that if we want the meeting more than they do, they will have an advantage, since by stalling they tend to increase our incentives to give them something. It might be useful to discuss this factor with the President privately, in order to obtain his thoughts and guidance.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, USSR Subject File, US-USSR Relations (March 1984) 3/3. Top Secret; Sensitive. Not for System. Sent for information. The memorandum is unsigned.
  2. During their March 7 meeting, Shultz gave Dobrynin a letter to Chernenko from the President. See Document 190.
  3. See Document 195.
  4. See Document 193.
  5. See Document 196.
  6. See Document 193.