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

14653. Subject: November 19 Hartman-Gromyko Meeting. Ref: A. State 339906 B. State 342494 C. State 342498.2

1. Secret—Entire text.

2. Summary: I spent forty-five minutes with Gromyko today going over the President’s letter to Chernenko and Chernenko’s weekend messages to the President.3 In hopes of eliciting some reaction, I had the President’s letter read in Russian to Gromyko. Gromyko made several points in reply which amounted to an interim response. While his mood throughout was cordial, I sensed in what he said a strong lingering concern that we are more interested in creating the appearance of talks than in what he called “serious negotiations in good faith”. This caution at one point manifested itself in a denial that our two approaches coincided on the desirability of a meeting of Foreign Ministers to start a broader arms control discussion. I did not press Gromyko on this for fear he would get even more negative, but suggested Korniyenko and I follow up our talk once the Soviets have had time to digest the President’s letter.

3. Gromyko’s suspiciousness suggests that we may want to be more specific in future diplomatic exchanges leading up to a Shultz-Gromyko meeting. As the process unfolds, it will be more important to exercise close discipline over leaks to avoid being whip-sawed. End summary.

4. Gromyko was accompanied by his top deputy, Korniyenko; the head of his USA Division, Bessmertnykh; and an interpreter. I brought my DCM and Political Counselor to the meeting.4 As in our last exchange, Gromyko welcomed me warmly, joking about my punctuality, and emphasizing that he was “all ears” to hear what I had to say.

5. I opened by referring briefly to Chernenko’s letters to the President on Nicaragua and arms control over the weekend, noting that the [Page 1124] pace of bilateral communications appeared to be picking up. After explaining that we had initially sought to deliver the President’s letter before receipt of Chernenko’s latest correspondence, I noted that we had concluded after reading the General Secretary’s letter that we should deliver our text as planned, especially as there appeared to be certain parallels. I then asked my DCM to read an informal Russian translation of the President’s letter in hopes of prompting some reaction from Gromyko. When the text had been read, I went through the talking points provided Ref B5 (deleting the reference to our willingness to meet in a third country per Ref C). Gromyko listened impassively to the President’s letter, but more attentively to the talking points. At one point he interrupted to seek clarification as to the level at which we envisioned follow-on exchanges to an initial meeting of Foreign Ministers.

6. After hearing me out, Gromyko indicated he would not be able to respond to the substance of the President’s letter to Chernenko, but assured me it would be carefully studied and that a reply would be forthcoming. He was nonetheless prepared to make some “general observations”.

Gromyko first found “positive” and welcomed the fact that the President’s letter and the proposals contained therein showed a willingness to remove the threat of war. He reminded me, however, that the Soviets had often affirmed (as, he said, Chernenko had personally and as he had in Washington “in the name of the leadership as a whole”) that the main task was translating such propositions into practical deeds. The Soviets were for serious negotiations on nuclear arms and other important questions of international security and the security of each country. The proposals made by Chernenko in his most recent letter were designed precisely to lead to such negotiations. It was natural that there should be “stages” to such a process. But the Soviets saw no need to use special terms such as “umbrella”. They did not want to be tied to such “romantic formulae”. When the President talked about negotiations, Gromyko hoped he had in mind “serious negotiations in good faith”.

—As to the specifics of how to set in motion a negotiating process, Gromyko noted, the Soviet position was as outlined in Chernenko’s letter to President Reagan. That remained the Soviet position and he hoped the US would give Moscow’s proposals serious attention. While this was not the time or place to get into a discussion of substance, he concluded, “it appears from the President’s letter and your comments that our views do not coincide”. (sic)

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7. A bit puzzled by Gromyko’s final remark, I commented that while there were clearly areas where the approaches outlined in the President’s and Chernenko’s letters did not coincide, it appeared to us that there was agreement at least on the notion that whatever process was ultimately set in motion should be inaugurated by a meeting of Foreign Ministers. Thinking that there may have been an error of translation, my DCM asked for clarification as to whether it was Gromyko’s view that our approaches did or did not coincide on this point.

8. Amid some confusion on the Soviet side of the table, Gromyko stated clearly that they did not coincide. He then went on to complain that the President’s letter contained ideas which the Soviets had already rejected, noting specifically the President’s proposal for exchanging observers to verify nuclear test thresholds. The proposal was unacceptable to the Soviets, Gromyko emphasized, and he could not understand why it continued to pop up in various US proposals. The problem was not one of exchanging observers but of ending testing. Warming to the subject, but not willing to prolong the exchange, Gromyko prefaced additional gripes about US use of the term “arms control” instead of “disarmament” with the injunction that they should be considered to have been lodged “after getting up from the table”. The points were semantic ones, he acknowledged, but were of significance nonetheless.

9. I told Gromyko that, at the risk of saying something he did not want to hear, I thought he sounded much like President Reagan. One of the President’s major concerns was precisely that previous arms control agreements had allowed major increases in armaments. That was why he was in favor of reducing stockpiles to the lowest possible level.

10. Sensing that it would be unfruitful to press Gromyko further, and unwilling to risk eliciting further negativism on the substance of the President’s proposals, I decided to end the meeting on that note. As we got up, however, I suggested it might be useful for Korniyenko and me to meet at some point after the Soviets have had a chance to digest the President’s letter. Gromyko readily agreed.


11. Gromyko’s off the cuff reaction to the President’s proposals suggests he remains suspicious that we are more interested in getting arms control talks started for their own sake than for whatever may come out of them. He clearly views his next meeting with the Secretary as the start of a negotiating process, and he will be out to pin down in as much detail as possible the substance—and even the outcome—of possible follow-up talks. I sensed he was not comfortable with the concept of a special negotiator or the notion that the initial meeting of Foreign Ministers will be a preliminary step essentially dedicated to [Page 1126] setting an agenda. We may be able to allay these concerns a bit in subsequent exchanges by being more specific about what we have in mind for the Foreign Ministers’ meetings.

12. One parting thought. It is clear from the exchanges of the last few days that the relationship is entering a more active and volatile phase. This will make it even more important than it has been in the past to prevent leaks on matters relating to our dialogue. Giving the Soviets a peak at our thinking is simply asking to be whip-sawed as we try to put together an agenda. Specifically, it enables the Soviets to turn down proposals which are only newspaper speculation and not even up to the point of having become official government proposals.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (11/16/84–11/25/84); NLR–748–25A–41–6–8. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 339906 to Moscow, November 16, transmitted Reagan’s November 16 letter to Chernenko. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Chernenko (8491139) (1 of 2)) See Document 308. Telegrams 342494 and 342498 were not found.
  3. See attachments to Documents 307 and 310.
  4. Warren Zimmermann, DCM, and Curtis Kamman, Political Counselor.
  5. The talking points were not found.