219. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • Next Steps on Sakharov

Dr. Andrei Sakharov’s hunger strike is now in its fifteenth day.2 In view of his fragile health, time is already running out for U.S. and Western efforts to persuade the Soviet authorities to allow Mrs. Bonner to go abroad for medical treatment, and thereby allow Dr. Sakharov to terminate his hunger strike. According to relatives, Mrs. Bonner was scheduled to join Dr. Sakharov in his hunger strike on May 12. Soviet efforts to prevent news about the Sakharovs from reaching the West have thus far been successful, and we do not know what is happening to the Sakharovs or what their condition is.

The U.S. Government has already undertaken several steps to encourage the Soviet authorities to relax their pressure on the Sakharovs:

—We have brought up the Sakharov situation with the Soviets at a number of levels (including my May 10 meeting with Dobrynin).3

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—The Department has released two public statements condemning Soviet behavior toward the Sakharovs.4

—We have instructed our Embassies in 21 Western and Third World capitals to request the help of host governments and international political organizations in convincing the Soviets to cease their pressure on the Sakharovs. Some governments have already responded, and there is a possibility that Mitterrand may precondition his June trip to Moscow on resolution of Sakharov’s case.

—We have initiated special discussions of the Sakharov case with visiting foreign leaders or during the travels of our own leadership overseas. For example, during his visit to New Delhi, Vice President Bush raised Sakharov with Indian officials.

—We have consulted with National Academy of Sciences President Frank Press, who has in turn informed sister Academies of other nations of his concern about the Sakharov situation and caused the Soviets to worry that his mid-June trip to Moscow will not take place as planned.

USIA is putting together a public affairs strategy for dealing with the Sakharov situation, and has already advised posts to give their support to Sakharov Day observances (May 21) and to distribute as widely as practicable key public documents on the situation.

—We are continuing our close contact with Sakharov family members in this country, and are advising posts where they can be of assistance to Sakharov relatives during their travels to other countries.

—Finally, we are consulting with prominent Americans not in government who might have some influence with the Soviets to use on the Sakharovs’ behalf. George Kennan has already undertaken to discuss Sakharov with Dobrynin in the context of an upcoming trip to the USSR.

Action Plan for Additional Efforts

In the coming days we will be taking steps designed to place increasing pressure on the Soviet authorities. Our objective is to provide [Page 793] them additional avenues for resolving the situation favorably should they so choose and make clear that this is an issue of worldwide humanitarian concern, rather than a U.S.-Soviet political confrontation.

—At this time we do not recommend that you make either a private or a public statement on behalf of the Sakharovs, since this could have the effect of further polarizing the issue. As you know, we made a private approach to the Soviets on your behalf to try to avert the present crisis. The Soviet response, both in private and then in public, was to accuse us of having conspired with the Sakharovs to create the present situation. The same response is likely to any new Presidential statement on Sakharov.

—We will, however, encourage other U.S. officials to raise the issue when appropriate, stressing the international nature of concern about the Sakharovs.

—We are making a discreet approach to East German lawyer Vogel, who has brokered some past spy and dissident trades,5 to determine whether there is any Soviet interest in principle in trading for the Sakharovs. There is little chance that the Soviets will trade for Sakharov. But despite the limited prospects for success, this avenue should be tried to provide the Soviets with another option to resolve the present situation short of tragedy.

—We will also be going privately to other governments who have persons the Soviets want (such as the West Germans and the Norwegians) to determine if there is any willingness on their part to trade for Sakharov.

—We will be following up our 21-country demarche of last week with additional demarches, at the Ambassadorial level where appropriate, to encourage wider international private and public efforts on behalf of the Sakharovs.

—I am asking Foreign Minister Genscher to raise the Sakharov matter during his May 20–22 trip to Moscow.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (05/18/84–05/21/84). Secret. In a covering memorandum to Reagan, McFarlane reported: “George agrees that it would be unwise for you to make a public statement on the issue, to avoid further polarization, but is moving—in full consultation with us—to activate other statesmen and prominent private individuals to convey their interest to the Soviet leaders.” Reagan initialed the covering memorandum, indicating he saw it.
  2. Sakharov began his hunger strike on May 2 because his wife, Elena Bonner, was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union for medical treatment. The Politburo extensively discussed Sakharov’s hunger strike and Bonner’s medical situation from April to July 1984. For documentation on these Soviet deliberations, see Rubenstein and Gribanov, eds., The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov, Documents 169175, pp. 284–298.
  3. See Document 218. On May 2, Burt called Sokolov regarding the Sakharov case. (Telegram 129312 to Moscow, May 3; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840286–0384)
  4. On May 8, the Department of State spokesman issued the following statement regarding the Sakharovs: “The Department of State is strongly concerned about press reports that Andrei Sakharov has been on a hunger strike since May 2 and that his wife, Elena Bonner, has been charged with slandering the Soviet state, which could lead to as much as three years’ confinement. The refusal of the Soviet authorities to reveal any information about the present welfare and whereabouts of the Sakharovs lends credence to these reports. Dr. Sakharov has been trying for many months to obtain permission from the Soviet authorities for his wife to travel abroad for medical treatment, something she has been allowed to do three times before. He has apparently been driven to this extreme action by the continued refusal of the authorities to even respond to his requests. The Soviet handling of this matter has been inhuman and incomprehensible.” (Telegram 135441 to various Western European posts, May 9; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840300–0373)
  5. Wolfgang Vogel was an East Berlin lawyer with contacts in the East and West who engaged in “spy trading” during the Cold War. See Craig R. Whitney, “Spy Trader,” New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1993.