303. Telegram from the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

14297. For the President and the Secretary. Subject: National Day in Moscow—Your Message. Ref: State 330956.2

1. (S—Entire text).

2. I used the occasion of the National Day reception to present to General Secretary Chernenko and First Deputy Prime Minister Gromyko your oral message sent after the election results were known. I explained that you wished them to know immediately the seriousness with which you approached the difficult problems of our relationship and the great importance you personally attach to reaching an agreement to reduce substantially the stocks of nuclear weapons. I stressed our understanding that this would not be an easy task but that both sides must devote the utmost to the effort.

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3. Both leaders asked that their best wishes be passed to you. And this was echoed by many others at the reception. The news of your massive win and the statements you had made during the course of the election evening were well known and greeted as hopeful signs.3 I told Gromyko that his speech last night had been much too negative and that serious, non-polemical talks were necessary.4

4. The downside of today’s events from the Soviet point of view was obviously the absence of one of their stalwarts—Marshal Ustinov. He has been absent from public view since September and to have missed this event he must be very ill indeed.5 Chernenko was treated almost like an invalid. For the first time it was visible that he and 79-year-old Prime Minister Tikhonov sat through the parade. When Chernenko made his one short speech of the day to the assembled throng at the reception, it was even more labored and halting than usual. The embarrassment was palpable as he sometimes waited to catch his breath a full 30 seconds between phrases. Eyes among the loyal crowd lowered and feet shuffled as they waited for the painful episode to end.

5. In talking with foreign policy advisor Aleksandrov and First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko I had the impression that, while there is expectancy and modest hope, they still put things in terms of waiting for us to change. I tried to disabuse them of this and explain that they will find you and your administration calm, confident and generous in the propositions we will consider but we must find a balance that leads to real stability and not a false sense of euphoria that will quickly be dispelled by ugly facts.

6. The head of the U.S. Department of the Foreign Ministry, Bessmertnykh, had one positive note—although it was said in a slightly ambiguous way. He said apropos our demarche last night on the possible delivery of jet aircraft to Nicaragua that quote our fears were [Page 1096] groundless unquote.6 Since he did not specify what he thought our fears were and I had no time to clarify, I am still not wholly reassured. I did say to all who would hear me that this is no time to do something stupid or thoughtless that would interfere with the chances of our approaching the vital issues of our relationship with the utmost seriousness.

7. Needless to say, I join all here in congratulating you and sending you and Mrs. Reagan our very best regards and hopes for turning this sow’s ear of a relationship into something a little more safe and stable if not aesthetically more beautiful.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (11/01/84–11/07/84); NLR–748–25A–38–7–1. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. In telegram 330956 to Moscow, November 7, the Department instructed Hartman to pass along this oral message from Reagan to the Soviet leadership during a reception at the Kremlin: “With my reelection as President, I want to reaffirm my conviction that there is no more important task before us than for the United States and the Soviet Union to redouble efforts to ensure the peace and security of all mankind. This will require a serious commitment by both of us, but I am convinced we can and must establish a more stable and constructive relationship for the long term. We need to begin moving forward to diminish the burden of armaments, to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, and to build a new measure of trust and confidence. I, and my administration, will be working to this end in the weeks and months ahead.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N840013–0125)
  3. Speaking in Los Angeles after his re-election on November 6, Reagan stated: “By rebuilding our strength, we can bring ourselves closer to the day when all nations can begin to reduce nuclear weapons and ultimately banish them from the Earth entirely.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1984, Book II, pp. 1801–1802)
  4. For the full text of Gromyko’s speech, given on November 6 during the celebration of the 67th anniversary of the October Revolution, see the Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XXXVI, No. 45 (December 5, 1984), pp. 5–8. For extracts of the address, see Documents on Disarmament, 1984, pp. 784–785.
  5. In telegram 14291 from Moscow, November 7, the Embassy reported: “While we have no solid information on Ustinov’s condition, the fact that he missed this most obligatory of leadership appearances—after an absence from public view for more than a month—would seem to indicate that he is seriously ill.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840712–0951)
  6. In his memoir, Shultz wrote that on November 6: “a report came in that a freighter bearing twelve crates thought to contain MIG–21s was off the northwest coast of South America headed for Nicaragua. If they were MIG–21s, we would take them out. The Soviets knew I had laid that marker down. The next morning, the ship was said to be 225 miles out of port and to have slowed to eight knots. By midday, the ship was off the Pacific Coast port of Corinto. Our ambassador in Nicaragua, Harry Bergold, dispatched some embassy people to snoop around the port town. They reported no unusual activity. ‘Look,’ I told Motley, ‘I’m making you responsible for determining whether those crates contain lawnmowers or MIGs.’ We made our concerns known to the Soviets: they said our worries were groundless. Ortega declared, ‘It is not the policy of the revolutionary government to announce the type of weapons we receive.’ He continued, ‘All of the weapons that we receive are for the defense of the revolution.’”

    Shultz continued: “When the ship docked and the crates were opened, they contained high-performance helicopters, not MIGs. ‘Voila,’ said Motley.

    “‘Voila?’ I asked. ‘Motley, you’ve been in the State Department too long.’ I told deputy CIA director Bob Gates that the whole episode, from the standpoint of the intelligence community, had not only been a failure but had been very costly: it revealed to the Soviets how much we don’t know and how much we do know.

    “The Soviets and Nicaraguans had outmaneuvered us: they had lured us into visible protests in opposition to MIG–21s and then supplied the kind of aircraft that, ironically, would do far greater damage to the Contras in the field than would jet fighters. Then, in the United Nations, they had pointed to our statement that we would not tolerate MIGs as evidence of aggressive intent. The trouble with drawing red lines, as with the MIG–21, is that everything not over the line is taken to be okay.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 424–425)