29. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

3597. USSTART/USINF/USSCC. Subject: Soviet Reaction to President’s Speech.

1. (C) Summary: After initially charging that U.S. deployments of anti-missile systems would violate the ABM treaty, TASS backed off later in the day yesterday with a more detailed reaction to the President’s speech which did not repeat this charge.2 In a private conversa[Page 103]tion, an MFA official with apparent advance warning of the speech commented: “Americans have such confidence in their technology,” but “we will do what we need to.” We can expect a more authoritative and detailed Soviet public reaction in the next few days. End summary.

TASS Comments

2. (U) The first Soviet reaction to the President’s speech was a short TASS dispatch March 24 which asserted flatly that deployment of “systems of anti-missile defense” would violate the ABM treaty and protocol. The item was carried on the Russian language wire, but not on the English language wire meant for foreign audiences or in the March 25 central Soviet press.

3. (U) Later in the day March 24 TASS English carried a longer Washington dispatch asserting that the President’s speech was meant to facilitate passage of his “mammoth” arms programs. TASS noted that “observers” had focused on the President’s remarks concerning U.S. development of new anti-missile systems, but made no mention whatever of the ABM treaty. Pravda March 25 carried a short excerpt of this TASS item, but without mentioning the strategic defense aspects of the President’s speech. (Izvestiya March 24 comments reported in septel.)

Foreign Ministry Official

4. (C) In a March 23 conversation with French EmbOffs, MFA USA Department Deputy Director Tarasenko dwelled on the theme that “Americans have such confidence in their technology.” (French EmbOffs inferred subsequently that Tarasenko had advance knowledge of the President’s speech.)3 The Soviet diplomat cautioned, however, that “we’ll do what we need, at whatever price, so this military competition makes no sense.” Tarasenko added that the U.S. approach in START also would force the Soviet Union to compete technologically. “The U.S. tells us ‘you are at a dead end, we’ll make your systems obsolete, so destroy them and follow us in the development of new systems.’” Tarasenko drew an analogy between what the U.S. and what the USSR had to do to restructure their strategic forces under U.S. START proposals: “The U.S. wants to negotiate on how to decorate its attic, but wants us to move the foundations of our house.”

Embassy Comment

5. (C) We can expect a more authoritative and detailed Soviet public reaction in the next few days. The Soviet media’s ambiguous treatment of the question of whether U.S. development of a modern strategic [Page 104] defense would violate the ABM treaty implies that the Soviets have yet to develop a definitive line on this point. Nevertheless, Soviet spokesmen are certain to attack the President’s strategic defense plan, emphasizing that it is a new effort to achieve strategic superiority. Soviet military leaders have appeared to be deeply concerned about U.S. programs to modernize strategic offensive forces. The reawakening of American interest in strategic defenses will compound this concern.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830166–0101. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information Immediate to Secretary of Defense, USNATO, and the Mission in Geneva; sent for information to Ankara, Athens, Beijing, Bonn, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Oslo, Ottawa, Paris, Reykjavik, Rome, The Hague, Tokyo, US MBFR Delegation Vienna, USNMR SHAPE Belgium, CINCSAC Offutt AFB in Nebraska, USCINCEUR Germany, and the Consulate in Leningrad.
  2. For Reagan’s March 23 speech on “Defense and National Security,” see Document 23.
  3. See Document 22.