253. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1

Mr. Secretary:

The Soviet reaction to our draft announcement for Vienna was fairly predictable.2 Their own draft statement was obviously unacceptable, particularly its pre-condition of a moratorium, but our response went so far to the other extreme of emptiness that it did not begin a process.

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I know you think that the process of discussing a joint statement has made it more difficult for the Soviets to extricate themselves from talks in Vienna, but I do not share this view. I do not think the Soviets have decided whether to come to Vienna. They have been quite candid in noting that their coming would help the President politically, which they have no interest in doing. If they come, their part of the bargain would be a negotiation on an area where the US has considerable technological potential.

So far we say that we accept their proposal, but for their suspicious mind (and they are more suspicious of us than we are of them) we have not really done so. We have not said we are prepared for negotiations (this despite the fact that even the most minimal position, on “incidents in space”, is a negotiating position). Nor have we clearly said that one of the subjects of Vienna talks would be outer space.

I recognize that the Soviets are engaging in a bit of brinksmanship, and we should not be overly alarmed. Nevertheless, we must be aware that unless there is something in it for them, they won’t go. I do not believe that agreeing to negotiate on outer space would be a major concession. We should not accept the Soviet demand for a moratorium, nor should we prejudge the outcome of talks by agreeing to negotiate on the “demilitarization of outer space” on Soviet terms. But, as we have discussed many times, I believe it is possible to devise a negotiating approach covering ASAT that is in our interest and is politically defensible.

The three formulations we looked at the other day would all provide an acceptable basis for negotiations: they provided for “talks” (I prefer “negotiations”) “on: (a) the militarization of outer space; or (b) antisatellite weapons and related subjects of mutual interest; or (c) weapons related to space, including antisatellite weapons.”

What is necessary now is to tell the Soviets that we are prepared to “negotiate”; that we are prepared to address “outer space” arms control; and that their requirement for a moratorium is prejudging the outcome of the negotiations.

We could make this point to Chernenko in a succinct letter from the President. Alternatively, you or someone else in the Department could make the point to Sokolov. I do not believe that Art Hartman should make this point to Dobrynin, since neither of them have been close enough to this process to date. On balance, I do not think a Presidential letter is the best vehicle to convey our response; perhaps not even you. Because of the empty nature of our first draft, we are now in the situation of having to “clarify” our position. The President should not be directly engaged. But whoever conveys our new formulation, it should be clear that he is not free-wheeling and that he is providing officially-authorized language.

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It may well be that because the Soviets are trying to prejudge the outcome and are trying to stop ASAT and SDI altogether, they may still be unwilling to come to Vienna. So be it. At least in the public debate over who was responsible for the lack of talks, we and not the Soviets would be seen to be the reasonable party; the ones who agreed both to a meaningful public statement/agenda and to show up in Vienna without preconditions.

I hope to discuss this with you at the 7:00 meeting.3

Richard Burt4
  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Sensitive and Super Sensitive Documents, Lot 92D52, July 1–July 31, 1984 Super Sensitive Documents. Secret; Sensitive. Copies were sent to Dam, Armacost, and Chain. McKinley’s handwritten initials are on the top of the memorandum, indicating he saw it on July 26.
  2. By this time, several rounds of U.S. and Soviet proposals had been rejected. According to a chronology of Vienna related statements and events, on July 26: “Sokolov gives Deputy Secretary Dam Soviet message responding to U.S. message delivered in Moscow on July 19.” This message was a letter from Chernenko to Reagan. See Document 252. “Message states that U.S. response to their proposed joint announcement does not square with U.S. acceptance of Soviet proposal for talks, and leaves no doubt that the U.S. is not prepared to conduct negotiations aimed at preventing the militarization of outer space. Message expresses regret that the U.S. position makes it impossible to conduct negotiations, but says USSR is prepared to reconsider if the U.S. alters its position.” (Attachment to Information Memorandum from Kelly to Shultz, July 30; Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Executive Secretariat Special Caption Documents, 1979–1989, Lot 92D630, Not for the System Documents, July 1984)
  3. In his personal notes for July 26, Dam wrote: “The Soviet Charge Sokolov came in today to deliver a letter from Chernenko to President Reagan [see Document 252]. The subject was the proposed Vienna space negotiations. The Soviets took a pretty hard line. It is clear that they are trying to back away from negotiations. Tonight at 7:00 we met in the Secretary’s office to consider our reply. We came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to prepare a letter or other document in response that could be released to the public if the Soviets chose to release their letter. The Soviets in the letter seem to be making a record for justifying their refusal to go to the Vienna talks. We settled on an approach which would allow us to go back and show that we really were accepting their proposal without preconditions, although we would not accept all of their exact language and we would make clear that from our standpoint, their phrase ‘militarization of outer space’ included the use of offensive nuclear arms that passed through space, such as ICBMs.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–I Records, Deputy Secretary Dam’s Official Files: Lot 85D308, Personal Notes of Deputy Secretary—Kenneth W. Dam—Oct. 1983–Sept. 1984)
  4. Burt signed “Rick” above his typed signature.