314. Minutes of a Senior Arms Control Group Meeting1


  • Minutes of SACG Meeting, November 19

John Poindexter chaired the meeting with the following attendees: Fred Ikle, Richard Perle, Art Moreau, Jack Matlock, Doug George, Ron Lehman, Paul Nitze, Rick Burt, Jack Chain, and Ken Adelman.2

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John Poindexter began by passing around a letter dated November 17 from Chernenko to the President.3 Everyone read the letter and, at the end of the meeting, JP took back all copies. JP asked Richard Burt to set the stage on events.

Richard Burt indicated that Chernenko had sent a congratulatory letter to the President after the election and that Art Hartman had tried to deliver the President’s response last week, but that the Soviets obviously deliberately delayed Hartman until this week so that Chernenko’s letter could be delivered first. In previous meetings between Gromyko and Hartman, Gromyko had indicated that the Soviets did not like the phrase “Umbrella Talks” and Burt expressed the view that “this is in contrast with real negotiations.” Gromyko told Hartman that “our thinking did not coincide on how to begin.”4 Hartman responded that perhaps our position is closer than people think. Burt then characterized the November 17 letter as a significant movement by the Russians and a significant victory for the President’s strategy. The Soviets have dropped their INF preconditions and have even agreed to negotiating on INF. Burt believes that they have accepted our linkage on offense and defense, and that the magnet that drew them into the talks was the strategic defense initiative. In short, they have accepted the Umbrella Talks without the phrase. Burt expressed the view that the Soviets are sobering up in the post election period and have agreed to pursue other open issues as well, such as exchanges. Jack Matlock added that Chernenko’s oral congratulations to the President were very positive.5

Fred Ikle noted that the focus of the letter was on militarization of space and that this was comparable to the period in 1970 when the Soviets got the US to agree that we would conclude an ABM Treaty first while we sought a freeze on offensive arms.

Jack Chain argued that this was a very positive development. Ron Lehman cautioned that while the new Soviet formulation can be read by us to accommodate our position, it remains completely compatible with the Soviet position of July requiring preconditions including an ASAT moratorium. Lehman expressed the view that it is in our interest to get negotiations going but it is not in our interest to agree to preconditions. Ron Lehman argued that we had made a mistake in July by attempting to negotiate a detailed agenda. This only encouraged the Russians to demand preconditions and made us more vulnerable for pressures from Congress and our Allies. Ron Lehman expressed the [Page 1128] view that our objective should be to get talks underway with a minimum amount of prenegotiations. Burt expressed agreement. With respect to the text, Burt noted that the words “what” and “between” were missing from Page 1 and that this was an unofficial translation. A formal translation is being prepared. JP indicated that Secretary Shultz, Secretary Weinberger, and Director Casey had read the letter and Art Moreau was permitted to take a copy to the Chairman of JCS. JP indicated that Shultz and Bud McFarlane have talked to the President that our focus should be on a joint announcement which could be made on Wednesday.

Burt indicated that the message had been brought in by Mr. Isokob. Isokob had been very brief and very buoyant, stating that he was “very pleased” and that “for the first time in four years, we may be in business.” Perle commented that the most significant part of the letter was the sixth paragraph where the linkage was not clear and where preconditions were implied. Art Moreau added that INF was included, but Paul Nitze noted that the Soviets used their term of art, namely, medium range systems. Jack Chain indicated that they had dropped their insistance on preconditions.

Nitze argued that we would want to talk about arms control in the context of world issues and the overall state of relations but Burt and Adelman disagree. Lehman commented that it was not clear that the Soviets had backed off preconditions and that one should expect in a meeting between Shultz and Gromyko the Soviets would press to urge as much of their July package as they could.

JP passed out a draft joint statement to be worked and cleared for a SACPG meeting, again early on Wednesday.6 Burt noted that an AP story originating out of Yugoslavia suggested that Shultz has been invited to go to Moscow. In response to a JP question, there was agreement that we might expect a Soviet answer on our joint statement on Tuesday so we should plan on the announcement being made Wednesday. NSC was tasked to prepare guidance for a backgrounder probably to be given by Bud McFarlane, and Qs and As. Burt would prepare draft messages for the Allies. From a Public Diplomacy point of view, the emphasis should be “no comment” and we should develop a “short call” list for Congress.

Conversation turned to the specifics of the joint statement. Ken Adelman suggested that the Soviets want to go to talks with a clear agenda and Paul Nitze emphasized the importance of getting agreements and ground rules that are to our advantage. Lehman responded that it is our advantage to get the negotiations going without too much [Page 1129] negotiation on specifics so as to avoid preconditions. Nitze agreed but added that we needed to put down a marker to make it clear that we are not accepting as an agenda the Soviets interpretation of their letter. Perle stressed again that the Soviets would try to get a handle on SDI/ABM and then focus on a nuclear freeze as they did in 1970. Burt agreed. Lehman commented that, more specifically, they would focus on an ASAT moratorium immediately in January. Perle asked if a Presidential letter could be proposed. JP suggested they should work the statement first and only after that should we prepare a Presidential letter.

Ikle noted that the Soviet Union offered us an option of Moscow or a third country. JP stressed Geneva in consideration of the symbolism of returning to the talks and consideration of the bad symbolism of going to Moscow. Burt emphasized that the Soviet Union wanted to go to Moscow and the fact that they are making this gesture would help Shultz to meet with Chernenko himself. Lehman suggested that it is important that we get the talks established with a minimal amount of preconditions and argued in favor of a third country, especially Geneva. Lehman offered a compromise that we suggest to the Soviets that the foreign ministers meet in Moscow in January to begin talks which would end up in Geneva. Burt, Adelman, and others countered that this was too complex. Chain argued that we should alter the statement to indicate that Shultz and Gromyko would meet to agree to arrangements or to facilitate the beginning of talks. This was rejected on the grounds that we would want to make clear .7 Perle proposed the phrase “to that end” so that it was made clear that the Soviets had no negotiating mandate in January. Burt countered that we might want to leave that implication in order to attract the Soviets. It was agreed that we would leave the phrase in, but that a second option would be that we would drop the phrase altogether. It was agreed that Burt would present the agreed statement to Shultz this afternoon, once a decision had been made as to location and date.8

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, Geneva Talks—Reference 11/18/1984–11/20/1984. Secret; Sensitive. An unknown hand wrote: “Bob [Linhard]—Close Hold,” “Draft,” and “Ron—Bob L has cy” at the top of the page. The unknown hand put brackets around Linhard’s last name. No final version of the minutes has been found. Handwritten notes, likely Lehman’s, correspond to this typed draft. (Ibid.)
  2. In a PROFs note to Poindexter on November 18, McFarlane wrote: “On the announcement I would like for you to convene a very restricted SACG (I’ve dropped the word “Policy” to change the acronym) consisting of you, Chain and Burt from State, probably Ikle and Perle from OSD (I will have informed you after talking to Cap as to who he wants to work the issue, Doug George or Bob Gates (your call), Art Moreau and Ken Adelman plus Paul Nitze, Ron and Jack. On specifics, Cap will have a problem with cloaking all of the issues—START, INF and Space—as ‘negotiations’. I think we ought to be able to finesse this by simply using George’s alternative formulation in his memo to the President which states that the foreign ministers will meet to address all the arms control issues. It would be good if that meeting could be convened early your time so that we have something out here for approval and release by noon. Many thanks.” (Reagan Library, Robert McFarlane Files, Subject File, Geneva Arms Control Talks I (01/05/1985–01/07/1985)) For the Shultz memorandum, see Document 312.
  3. See attachment to Document 310.
  4. See Document 313.
  5. See attachment to Document 304.
  6. November 21. The draft is in Document 312.
  7. Blank is in the original.
  8. On November 22, McFarlane made the official announcement: “The United States and the Soviet Union have agreed to enter into new negotiations with the objective of reaching mutually acceptable agreements on the whole range of questions concerning nuclear and outer space arms. In order to reach a common understanding as to the subject and objectives of such negotiations, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko will meet in Geneva on January 7 to 8.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1984, Book II, p. 1834)