220. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to President Reagan1


  • Phone Call to Dobrynin on Sakharov

As you know, Andrei Sakharov is beyond the two-week point in his hunger strike. I had an idea, which I have discussed with George Shultz, who agrees, which might make a difference in Soviet thinking. Basically, we propose that you call Dobrynin (as opposed to a meeting which would attract attention) and make a plea for the Soviet leadership to reconsider. I have worked up talking points (attached). If you agree with this, the sooner you have an opportunity to do it, the better. No one, and I stress no one, knows about this except George and me. It seems to me best that it stay that way.2


Talking Points for President Reagan3


Anatoly, I would have asked you to come and see me, but I know what I have to say touches on a delicate subject, and I thought it best to give you a call so we don’t risk any press attention.4

[Page 795]

—Would you let Chairman Chernenko know that I’m very concerned over the situation that has developed with Mrs. Bonner and Sakharov.

—I’ve been careful not to make any public statements, because I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I am bringing public pressure on your government.

—But, you know, if a tragedy occurs, it could have the most serious implications for our relationship. I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t point this out while the situation can be resolved.

—The fact is that the American people will never be able to understand why a sick woman shouldn’t be allowed to travel abroad to get an operation. And if either of the Sakharovs dies under present circumstances, that will make a lot of things more difficult than they are already. I think you will agree that relations are bad enough as it is.

—So I hope you’ll pass these thoughts on to Chairman Chernenko. Let him know also that I consider this a purely private conversation. If he makes a humanitarian decision, he can be sure that I won’t mention this conversation in public and I certainly won’t try to claim any credit or use it politically.

—You know, I had really hoped that our relations could be improved. We have some real problems, but I’ve made a number of decisions which I hoped could start us on a better road.

—Right now I’m puzzled by your government’s actions. I just don’t understand why we can’t get down to business and settle some of the problems between us.

—Let your people know that I’m still willing to try to settle our problems if they are. I keep being asked to make some new gesture, but every time I make one, they slap me in the face. And, you know, I could ask the same. But we’ll never get anywhere if we keep up this “Alphonse and Gaston” act.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (05/24/84–06/01/84). Secret.
  2. Acc ording to the President’s Daily Diary, Reagan spoke to Dobrynin on Saturday, May 19, from 9:53 to 10:03 a.m. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) No substantive record of the conversation was found.
  3. Secret.
  4. In his memoir, Dobrynin wrote: “On May 19, a Saturday morning while I was at home, I got a call from the president himself from Camp David. He said he wanted to make a personal and confidential request to Chernenko to permit Bonner to leave for medical treatment. Some reports said that she was in very poor health, and God forbid that she should die now. If so, Reagan thought, angry American public opinion would drive our very difficult relations to the lowest conceivable level. Reagan remarked that he did not question the high level of Soviet medical science, but, ‘What if she dies in the Soviet Union? There will be no end of trouble. If she is to die, let her die here. At the very least, nobody, hopefully will blame me for that.’ Reagan added in a conciliatory tone that, of course, he was not in a position to judge just how critical Bonner’s condition was but he was acting only on unofficial information he had. I promised to relay his request to Moscow promptly. I considered Reagan’s intervention as something of a goodwill gesture.” (Dobrynin, In Confidence, p. 552)