25. Memorandum From John Lenczowski of the National Security Council Staff to President Reagan1


  • Next Steps in U.S.-Soviet Relations

The attached memorandum (Tab A)2 outlines Secretary Shultz’s proposals for relations with the Soviets according to his understanding of your guidance at last week’s meeting.3 His basic thrust is that both he and Ambassador Hartman should continue talks with the Soviets to press them on issues of special concern to us including human rights issues, arms control, regional issues and bilateral relations.

This memo represents a continuation of State’s insistence on intensified U.S.-Soviet dialogue. However it appears to recognize a bit more explicitly than previous communications on this subject the dangers of being perceived as returning to “business as usual” with the Soviets. State thus reassures you that our public statements should continue to emphasize our concerns about Soviet misbehavior.

With a couple of exceptions, State’s proposals, if carried out discreetly and judiciously, may serve our interests in small but concrete ways. They may yield some very limited positive results. But we must be under no illusions: the Soviets will neither change their communist system to please us nor pull out of places like Afghanistan until they are forced to by exceedingly high costs. They may let the Pentecostalists or Shcharansky go, but their only real motivation for doing so would be to encourage the illusion in Western minds that bigger and better things can be accomplished (when the fact is that the kinds of things we really want cannot be accomplished without major political change in the Soviet system). Thus, certain concessions they might make to us are part of the general Soviet strategy of deception.

It is for this reason that the way we go about a dialogue with the Soviets, the way we handle it publicly, is the most critical question [Page 90] here. It is a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, we want to appear reasonable, peaceful, and ready to deal with the Soviets in ways that minimize the possibility of war. On the other hand, this entails the enormous risk of raising false public expectations—i.e., deceiving our own people about the possibility of achieving a true accommodation with communism.

Since the number one theme of Soviet disinformation strategy is to make the West believe that true peace is possible with the USSR, we must be extremely wary about serving as accomplices to this Soviet deception. That is why it is encouraging to see State’s acknowledgement that our public statements will continue to be tough. Nevertheless, I have my reservations about how State will handle all this. Its heart is in dialogue and detente and not in the kinds of public statements that are necessary to sustain public vigilance and support for our defense buildup. Unfortunately, whenever you tell the blunt truth about the nature of communism, too many people at State cringe in embarrassment. The issue here is that the truth is the only real weapon we have in our political competition with the Soviets, whose principal weapons are falsehood and deception.

The other great danger in the way we handle any limited dialogue is the kind of signal we may be sending to the Soviets. If we appear too eager to make concessions, or to pursue a greatly expanded agenda for talks, they will get the immediate impression that their manipulation of Western public opinion forced us into talks with them, and that we are weakening and they are getting stronger. We may not see things this way. But this is the way the Soviets look at it. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they believed that their greater political and military strength had actually forced us into talks and negotiations with them. It was on the basis of these kinds of perceptions of U.S. weakness that they made many of their calculations to advance geopolitically worldwide.

I have strong reservations about State’s two proposals for bilateral relations.4 The first, a new cultural agreement, seems innocuous enough. But the issue is part of a whole complex of questions that relate to reciprocity and controlling the KGB presence in our country, I will be sending you a more detailed explanation on this. But for now, we should not yet authorize any negotiations until the issue has been thoroughly aired at an NSC meeting. The second proposal is equally problematical: opening a U.S. consulate in Kiev and a Soviet consulate in New York. This also needs much further study.

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Otherwise, so long as State’s proposed talks are held very discreetly, with no public fanfare, no bragging about great accomplishments, I believe we can achieve the two political results we want: projecting our peaceful intentions and maintaining realism and vigilance with regard to the Soviet threat.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, William Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers Working File: Contains Originals (5). Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. The memorandum is unsigned. Prepared by Lenczowski. Clark wrote in a covering memorandum: “Mr. President: Preparatory to your 2:30 meeting with George Shultz, it might be well you review the attached two papers. Bill.” A stamped notation indicates the President saw both memoranda.
  2. See Document 19.
  3. Reference is presumably to the March 10 meeting on U.S.-Soviet relations. See Document 17.
  4. See the “Bilateral Relations” section of Shultz’s March 16 memorandum, Document 19.