292. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Menshikov Message on Meetings with Gromyko and Future Steps

Jim Giffen, President of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council took me aside at a conference in Vermont Saturday evening2 to pass on some comments he had received from Stanislav Menshikov, Zagladin’s assistant on the Soviet Central Committee staff. (You will recall my conversation with Menshikov in New York last March.)3 Giffen was in Moscow last week and saw Menshikov during the latter part of the week. Menshikov asked him if he knew me and when Giffen confirmed that he did, asked Giffen to pass on the following (which Giffen read from his notes):

“Tell Matlock,” he said, “to review the transcript of the meetings with Gromyko and pay particular attention to Gromyko’s references to the need for ‘adjustments’ in U.S. policy.” Menshikov went on to say that they considered the conversations very useful and had noted the “eight-minute private session with the President.”4 On the latter, he commented that the “words were fine,” but that we should not expect an “experienced diplomat” like Gromyko to take them at face value unless he saw corroborating evidence.

Menshikov then said that we should also pay attention to what Chernenko had said about a “Code of Conduct of Nuclear Powers,”5 and implied that this could be an avenue for face saving on their part to get back into broader negotiations. He them commented that the [Page 1062] basic Soviet requirement is that we “show some respect,” and went to great lengths to describe a scene from Puzo’s novel The Godfather, when a person went out of his way to accommodate the Godfather on a small matter once he learned who the Godfather was.

Though not part of Menshikov’s “message,” several other topics of interest arose in his conversation, according to Giffen.

—Giffen received the impression that the Soviets were frustrated by the absence of any means of discussing problems privately and confidentially. Menshikov, for example, observed that they cannot talk to anyone in the State Department without it appearing in a Gwertzman or Gelb story in a few days.

—When Giffen asked about the possibility of reviving Jewish emigration, Menshikov said that this could be a matter for negotiation “at the proper time.” (Arbatov, who was asked the same question, simply said that “This is not the right time.”)

—Menshikov told Giffen, in response to his direct question, that Gorbachev is now in fact the “number two” official in the Party. He refused to confirm that Gorbachev would be Chernenko’s successor, however, stating that “even we at the Central Committee don’t know what is going on in that sphere.”

—Regarding Scowcroft’s trip last spring,6 Giffen said that he had asked Alkhimov, Chairman of the USSR State Bank, why the Soviets had refused to see him. (Alkhimov’s position is a “cabinet level” one and he is usually well informed regarding US-Soviet relations, in which he has a personal interest.) Alkhimov told Giffen that he himself had been dismayed to learn that Scowcroft was not received and had “checked it out.” The explanation he had received was that they had been willing to talk to Scowcroft, but were surprised by the attempt to see Chernenko, and that if Scowcroft had taken the appointment with Komplektov, Chernenko might have seen him subsequently. Alkhimov then observed that an outsider cannot just go to Chernenko directly, but must have a sponsor in the Soviet system and that the “worst way” to arrange the meeting was through the Foreign Ministry. “Next time,” he advised, “do it through the Central Committee, or—if you wish—I could probably arrange it if you let me know in advance.” [Note: There, as here, everybody wants to get into the act!]


1. While I would not consider Giffen an appropriate or reliable “messenger” from our point of view (he has a record of taking Soviet statements too much at face value, and even of defending their positions [Page 1063] in trade matters), I have no reason to doubt that he has reported accurately what he was told.

2. I have examined the memcons of the meetings with Gromyko and find that Gromyko’s references to “adjustments” or “corrections” in U.S. policy arose in at least two contexts. In regard to resuming negotiations on offensive nuclear weapons, he stated that this could happen “as soon as the U.S. corrects its position,” then made his claims regarding the alleged relevance of carrier-based aircraft. He repeated this statement toward the close of the lunch, when he said that the President should ask his experts to reexamine their views and change the U.S. position, and when this was done, to let the Soviets know. The second context was that of the Soviet proposal for negotiations on space weapons, when he also said that the U.S. should review the situation calmly and change its position. At no time, did he define precisely what he meant by a changed position, however.

3. By mentioning Chernenko’s proposal for a “Code of Conduct,” Menshikov may have been implying that agreement to address this seriously could represent a “changed position” from the Soviet point of view. (In speaking to Giffen, he was doubtless being deliberately cryptic to avoid revealing details about the meetings with Gromyko.) The allusion to the Godfather was probably intended to convey that the Soviet leaders must be made to feel that we take their proposals seriously. What is most interesting about it is the obvious implication that they have the mentality of mobsters—which, in my view, is right on the button.

4. Though we cannot be sure what sort of “adjustments” of U.S. policy the Soviets are looking for, I believe that this rather laconic message clearly indicates two things: First, that Soviet policy makers are still frustrated by what they perceive as the absence of a means of communicating privately and informally with us,7 and second, that they are not at this point looking for the sort of concrete moves on specific issues that State habitually pushes. What I infer from this is that they are searching for a conceptual framework for interaction with the U.S. during the second term, which would provide the basis for resuming negotiations without seeming to be backing down to US demands. Since they do not want to discuss their real aim on the record (or have it bandied about in the press), they are resorting to indirect “messages” to see if we are willing to respond and engage them in an informal, non-binding and totally private dialogue.8

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5. This also reinforces my previous conviction that further proposals (except for procedural ones) are premature until we have the benefit of some informal discussion. The fact is that in devising various responses, we are really shooting in the dark until we have a firmer grasp of what exactly the Soviets are looking for at this point. Their formal diplomacy often focuses on issues which are not really central to their real concerns. And although they will never bear their souls totally even in a private conversation, they are more likely to provide valuable indications privately than in formal interchanges. For example, it may well be that talking about a “Code of Conduct” is more important to them than agreement on an ASAT moratorium. And if this is the case, then the former step could be less damaging to U.S. interests than the latter.

6. Regarding the “Code of Conduct” idea, it occurs to me that it could be a key element in getting our “umbrella” concept off the ground. While I am dubious about the value of such declaratory statements in and of themselves, they can provide a rationale and framework for a change in Soviet policy. It seems to me that a carefully worded “Code” could be a cheap price to pay for successful negotiations on reducing offensive weapons. Even a statement which does not go beyond past commitments could be important to the Soviet leaders since it would “show respect” (it is their proposal, after all), and could be used publicly to argue that the U.S. position has changed in a way that permits the resumption of negotiations.

7. These, however, are only possibilities. We really cannot know without talking it over with them privately—and under conditions that they are confident provide assurance against leaks. Unless and until we establish a private dialogue, anything we (or they) propose will really be a form of blind man’s bluff, but in this case, with both sides blindfolded.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (10/15/84–10/23/84). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Brackets are in the original. McFarlane wrote at the top of the page: “Mr. President, I thought you would find this interesting. It reinforces the value of bringing Paul Nitze into the White House. Bud.” In an attached handwritten note on Air Force One stationery, Reagan wrote: “Very interesting and if I’ve read it correctly affirms something I’ve felt for some time; namely that part of their problem is their inferiority complex. They want to feel we see them as a superpower. I’m willing to look at a pvt channel but believe this would have to have Georges approval. If he, you & I were the only team in on it at this end with someone like Nitze the channel—talking only to us—why not? To bypass George would be a personal humiliation I wouldn’t want to inflict. RR.”
  2. October 13.
  3. See Document 195.
  4. See footnote 12, Document 286.
  5. See Document 187.
  6. See Document 193.
  7. This sentence had two vertical lines drawn in the margin, likely by McFarlane.
  8. This sentence had two vertical lines drawn in the margin, likely by McFarlane.