287. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko at White House Lunch


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
  • Secretary of the Treasury Donald T. Regan
  • Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger
  • Edwin Meese III, Counselor to the President
  • James A. Baker, III, Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President
  • Michael K. Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President
  • Robert C. McFarlane, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • John M. Poindexter, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman, U.S. Ambassador to the USSR
  • Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Burt
  • Jack F. Matlock, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director European and Soviet Affairs, NSC
  • Dimitry Zarechnak, State Department Interpreter
  • Foreign Minister Andrey A. Gromyko
  • Georgiy M. Korniyenko, First Deputy Foreign Minister
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Aleksey Obukhov, Notetaker
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • Ambassador Vasiliy Makarov, Chief Aide to Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • Minister-Counselor Oleg Sokolov, USSR Embassy
  • Minister-Counselor Viktor Isakov, USSR Embassy
  • Ambassador Albert S. Chernyshov, Member of the Foreign Minister’s Staff
  • Vladimir B. Lomeyko, Press Spokesman for the Foreign Minister
[Page 1035]

After a fair amount of preliminary informal conversation at the table, Vice President Bush asked Minister Gromyko whether he thought there was any hope for a solution to the Iraq-Iran war.

Gromyko replied that he did not see any hope. He indicated that the Soviet Union had spoken several times with the participants, but they were not listening. It seemed as if the Iranians were planning a major offensive, but the Iraqis were confident that they would once again withstand it.

Vice President Bush commented on the tragic loss of life in the war and Gromyko agreed.

Secretary Shultz indicated that one of the difficult problems of the war was the attempt to disrupt shipping in the Gulf. Such attempts had not been very successful so far. Gromyko agreed with this.

Shultz compared the present situation with the one in 1973, indicating that the situation was much easier now since the U.S. had one hundred days worth of oil reserves in case anything should happen, and the oil market was much softer now than it was then.

Gromyko asked if Israel would withdraw from Lebanon.

Shultz pointed out that a senior U.S. diplomat, Dick Murphy, was in the area working on the situation. Shultz indicated that he thought it was clear that Israel wished to withdraw. Israel is concerned with southern Lebanon since it is the base from which guerillas attacked northern Israel. In Shultz’ conversations with Assad and others it was clear that there was a recognition of the legitimacy of these security interests. The question was how to solve the problem. Shultz felt that it was quite clear that the present government of Lebanon could not assert enough authority to do this, and that Syria would have to be involved. UNIFIL would also have to play a role. As Gromyko was aware, Israel had dropped its requirement that Syria withdraw simultaneously. Israel would be ready to withdraw if appropriate security arrangements could be made.

Shultz continued that, however, just as when Israel wanted to withdraw from other parts of Lebanon, it was asked not to for fear that this would bring about communal violence, there was a similar fear about Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. He felt that the role of UNIFIL was a very important one, and that Israel would withdraw if it felt that northern Israel was secure. What did Gromyko think of strengthening UNIFIL’s role?

Gromyko replied that the UN Security Council would meet on this question.

Shultz noted that the Security Council would not be able to make a decision without seeing the options available. As the parties tried to work out a solution, they would ask whether a possibility exists to [Page 1036] augment the UNIFIL role. If such a possibility exists, this would be one course of action. If it does not, then different options would have to be considered. But the general attitude is that the role of UNIFIL would be important.

Gromyko indicated that he had met with the Israeli Foreign Minister three days before, and that the latter was optimistic about southern Lebanon.2 However, the Security Council would have to decide the issue. Without UN Forces there would be no possibility of resolving the situation.

Shultz indicated his agreement.

Gromyko stated that if there is agreement on the part of Syria and Lebanon, and if other countries agree to send forces, then there would be good reason to take this course of action. But such a solution could not be a permanent one. It could not be in effect “until the second coming of Christ.”

Shultz joked that the latter could happen soon. He added in a more serious vein that he was pleased to hear this comment of Gromyko’s, and noted that he and Gromyko had spoken of the importance of comparing notes on the Middle East. The U.S. would like to broaden its discussion with the Soviet Union with regard to the role of UNIFIL in the Mideast.

Gromyko stated that he wished to say something in the presence of the President. The Soviet Union had proposed to convene a conference on the Middle East, and all the Arab countries had agreed to this. Gromyko had spoken about this to the Israeli Foreign Minister, who had indicated that he thought it would be better to convene such a conference after normalization of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel. Shamir did not flatly say that such a conference was a bad idea.

Gromyko continued that no one at such a conference could force his views on anyone else, and that at such a conference, perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union would also learn how to talk to one another. Perhaps the President would consider to agreeing to such a conference.

Shultz stated that on the basis of his conversations with the Israeli Foreign Minister, he learned that Israel felt that such a conference would not be constructive, but would be used as propaganda by the participants. For this reason, the Israelis prefer direct negotiations with other countries, or negotiations through intermediaries.

[Page 1037]

Gromyko confirmed that the Israelis told him that they were concerned that the Arabs would use such a conference for propaganda. However, he felt that if the United States and the Soviet Union were to approach such a conference seriously, the Arab States would also take it seriously. He felt that Israel would have nothing to lose by participating in it. Israel did not wish to be in a state of war forever with the Arabs.

Shultz agreed that it was very important for Israel to find a solution which would bring peace to the region. Since the Soviet Union had contacts with the PLO, and the U.S. did not, and since the question of the PLO was at the center of much of the Mideast difficulties, PLO views would need to be reflected. What did Gromyko think of the coherence of the PLO (e.g., Arafat’s “war” with Syria)?

Gromyko stressed that before such a conference could begin, the parties would have to agree that the Palestinians needed to have a territory to create their small independent state. Without such an agreement, the conference could not begin. A great deal of the terrorism in the Mideast is nourished by the fact that the Palestinians have no home. Gromyko described the terrible conditions that he observed in the camps in Syria.

The President noted that one of the problems was that the Arab States did not want the Palestinians to have their own state. Hundreds of thousands of the Palestinians live in other areas. If the Arab States could give these Palestinians citizenship, then one would only have to deal with those Palestinians that had left the area. These could settle in the West Bank. However, there would not be enough room for all the Palestinians to live there.

Gromyko noted that there were about two million Palestinians.

The President observed that if all of Israel were given to them, they would not be able to live there.

Gromyko said that it would not be practical to try to assimilate them in the Arab countries.

Shultz observed that the U.S. felt that the West Bank would not be appropriate as an area for a national entity since there would be no possibility of having an adequate economic basis there, and there were other limitations. Such an area would need to be associated with another State, and be a part of it, as California is a part of the United States. Such an area could be identified with Jordan. But the Palestinians living in other Arab countries should be encouraged to assimilate themselves in those countries, and those countries should be encouraged to take them in. For this reason, the President made a proposal a few years ago on creating a Palestinian unit affiliated with Jordan but with enough of an identity to satisfy the Palestinians’ need to have a “passport,” so to speak.

[Page 1038]

The President repeated the comparison to the status of California, which has its own government, within the United States.

Gromyko indicated that he had told Shamir that the Soviet Union considered that Israel had a right to exist as a State. The Soviet Union stuck by the 1947 UN Resolution to create two independent states in Palestine—one Israeli, one Palestinian. The Soviet Union did not agree with Arab extremists who felt that Israel ought to be eliminated and pushed into the sea. The Soviet Union would stick by this position even if Israel would not ask it to. But Israel must free the territories it has occupied. This occupation is a source of permanent hostility and war. At the moment the Arab States are weak and disunited. But who knows what will happen in the future? Israel should normalize its relations with the Arab States. It could serve as a good example to them in the area of economic development and science. It does not need to rely on aggression in order to have a firm basis for existence.

The President stressed that the nub of the problem was that the Arabs say that Israel does not have a right to exist, and that they will not recognize it.

Gromyko replied that Syria would be ready to recognize Israel’s existence.

The President stated that perhaps a solution could be found, in that case.

Gromyko noted that Libya might not want to go along, but added that it would if all the others agreed.

The President noted that time was running short, but said that he would like to return to the idea of an umbrella arrangement for continuing discussions of issues between the two countries.

Gromyko replied that the Soviet Union was not against having consultations, discussions and meetings, including along the lines proposed in the President’s UN speech.3 But this is not what is needed if we approach the subject seriously. Consultations are needed which lead to practical results. If it is the Middle East that we are discussing, we need to arrive at agreed solutions; if it is nuclear arms, then we need to work out a plan. It is not enough to talk and have exchanges of opinions. The same applies to space weapons. The sides have not even begun to discuss the latter. If they do begin to discuss the issue, one will pull one way and the other will pull the other way, and the result could be a negative one. The U.S. has a rigid position which is a mistaken one, aimed at militarizing space. The Soviet Union would like to ask the U.S. not to take that route, but rather to change its policies [Page 1039] in order to arrive at peaceful relations between the two countries as well as to create an overall peaceful atmosphere. The sides should not talk of eliminating each other, but rather of finding ways to peacefully coexist.

The President stated that he has long believed that difficulties arise when countries talk about each other rather than to each other. He wished to comment about Gromyko’s reference to “rigid positions.” On this issue there were two positions, one on each side. The Soviet Union wished to talk about space weapons, and the U.S. wished to talk about nuclear arms, which, as Gromyko had said, it would be better to rid the world of. The United States also wished to talk about space weapons, but the Soviet Union said that if we do not first talk about space weapons, there can be no negotiations on other subjects. However, a formula could be found covering all of the issues and the sides could thus rid themselves of the suspicions which each has of the other. The best way of allaying such suspicions is to have such talks as well as corresponding actions. The two countries should find a way to discuss both space weapons and nuclear weapons.

Gromyko stressed that there needed to be precise agreement on what prevention of militarization of space means. The other issues the President had mentioned were equally important, and ways needed to be found to have serious negotiations on them. But the Soviet Union was afraid that the intent of the U.S. was to make a sort of “layered pie” where space weapons would only occupy an incidental place, and strategic and medium range nuclear forces would be the most important thing. The Soviet Union could not agree to this. It could not agree to negotiate along the lines laid down in Geneva, and the Soviet Union had explained why, namely, because the U.S. had already deployed the first part of its new group of nuclear weapons in Europe, thus creating an artificial obstacle to negotiations.

Gromyko continued that the sides should think about how to deal with strategic and medium range nuclear weapons, but if the U.S. had not changed its position on them, there would be no use in talking. Therefore, these issues should be separated from the question of space weapons.

The President emphasized that the U.S. felt that all of these questions were equally important, and that space weapons would not be treated as a sideline. He imagined that there could be separate concurrent negotiations on these issues. He was proposing to establish a framework where serious senior officials could talk about the militarization of space in one set of talks, and equally important people could discuss other questions at other talks, to work on them simultaneously. Gromyko had said in his UN speech that the Soviet Union wished to rid [Page 1040] the world of all of these weapons, including space weapons.4 The U.S. says the same. If the sides agree about the desired results, they should be able to find a method of discussion which would lead to such results. Each side would send its representatives and would “ride herd” on them.

Gromyko stated that it should not be a case of all these people sitting down at one table to discuss all of the issues.

The President stressed that it would not have to be discussed all together at one table. He also believed that those who were expert in questions of strategic arms need not necessarily be the best qualified to discuss space weapons. He envisioned these as separate negotiations. But the Soviet Union should not ask the U.S. to discuss only the one issue without the other two. Both countries should have their way by discussing all three issues.

Gromyko stated that all three issues were important, but the two sides had no common ground on the other two issues, and therefore, could not move forward on them. Because of this, the third issue would suffer, especially if the first two were tied to it. The sides would find themselves in a thick forest from which they would not be able to get out. The Soviet side had proposed a more practical path. The U.S. was saying that the sides should resume the Geneva negotiations, but this would not be possible unless the U.S. changed its position at those negotiations. The crux of the matter was the deployment of U.S. missiles. The President should ask his technical and political experts to reexamine their views and change the U.S. position, and to tell the Soviet Union once this had been done. Moreover, development of a broad scale ABM system would kill all such negotiations, and would waste hundreds of billions or maybe even trillions of dollars. If such developments went forward, even a hundred wise men might not be able to reverse the process.

The President noted that it was late, but stressed that the U.S. could not agree to talk only on one of these issues without attempting to find solutions to the others—issues which Gromyko himself had emphasized at the UN. The U.S. felt all three of these issues were important. Perhaps there could be agreement not to implement solutions on any of the issues until all three had been agreed. But the main thing would be to continue contacts at levels where such results could be achieved.

[Page 1041]

Gromyko noted that the Soviet Union was not against contacts and meetings, but meetings were not a substitute for negotiations. He had already indicated that each of these subjects should be treated separately.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Meetings with USSR Officials President-Gromyko—Working Papers (7). Secret; Sensitive. Prepared by Zarechnak. This lunch took place in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his memoir, Dobrynin recalled of the reception and lunch: “Nancy Reagan appeared during the cocktail party before lunch. Gromyko, after the introductions, proposed a toast to her. He had cranberry juice, her glass was filled with soda water. ‘We both are certainly fond of drinking,’ he remarked with characteristic dry humor. Gromyko had a short chat with the president’s wife. ‘Is your husband for peace or for war?’ he asked. She said that he of course was all for peace. ‘Are you sure?’ Gromyko wondered. She was one hundred percent sure. ‘Why, then, does not he agree to our proposals?’ Gromyko insisted. What proposals? she asked. Someone interrupted the conversation, but right before lunch Gromyko reminded Mrs. Reagan, ‘So, don’t forget to whisper the word “peace” in the president’s ear every night.’ She said, ‘Of course I will, and I’ll also whisper it in yours, too.’ I must report that Gromyko got a kick out of this exchange and recounted it to the Politburo with great animation.” (Dobrynin, In Confidence, p. 555)
  2. See footnote 7, Document 285.
  3. See footnote 7, Document 267
  4. Gromyko addressed the UNGA on September 27. Telegram 2345 from USUN, September 17, provided an analysis of the speech. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840617–0023) For the full text of Gromyko’s speech, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XXXVI, No. 39 (October 24, 1984), pp. 1–6. Key sections of the speech were printed in the New York Times, September 28, 1984, p. A12.