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

15040. Subject: Looking Toward Geneva.

1. Secret—Entire text.

2. As we make our preparations for Geneva, I wanted to make a few points which may be more apparent here than in the Washington fray.

3. The jury is still out on why the Soviets have come back to arms control as quickly as they have. I doubt they expect early or dramatic progress, and they can hardly believe that a second Reagan administration will be more susceptible to pressure than the first. On the other hand, the Soviets presumably know that they will need some degree of credibility if they are to reap the public affairs benefits of having returned to the negotiating table in the first place. This suggests they may ultimately be more willing to bargain seriously than the last time around. Time will tell.

4. As welcome as their willingness to talk is, however, it brings to an end the free ride we have had for the past year on arms control policy. From now on, much more public scrutiny will be focused on our positions, and the Soviets will regain great latitude to manipulate [Page 1136] public opinion at our expense.2 Unless we are careful, in short, the Geneva meeting could result in our loss of the tactical high ground on arms control which we have held since they broke off negotiations last November.

5. The best way to prevent this is to ensure we have a credible substantive brief when we sit down across from Gromyko January 7. The language of last week’s joint announcement was broad enough to allow for a wide range of outcomes.3 The best from our standpoint would be an agreed framework and set of objectives for follow-up talks. I believe this is an achievable goal, but it will not come easily. Having turned a fresh page, we stand at a crucial point not unlike Glassboro or Vladivostok.4

6. The problem—as has been made clear to me in my discussions here with Gromyko and in Soviet media commentary on the Geneva meeting5—is that the Soviets remain highly skeptical that we will be prepared to negotiate agreements they can live with. Gromyko will therefore be determined in Geneva to commit us in advance to principles governing future negotiations, and even the outcomes of such negotiations, which will guarantee Soviet desiderata. Unless we can find some means of reconciling such an approach with our own preference for defining agenda and procedural questions, the Geneva meeting could well end in stalemate amid Soviet charges that we are seeking simply to “talk about talks”.

7. To avoid this,—and to maximize chances that whatever negotiations flow from Geneva will achieve results—we will need to be prepared to give Gromyko a fairly clear, cogent idea of where the process we have in mind may lead in specific areas. This doesn’t mean we should telegraph our negotiations strategy or positions. It does mean that, as regards strategic arms, for example, we should be able to sketch convincingly our views of the parameters of an equitable agreement. Giving Gromyko something concrete to focus on could well make it easier for him to give ground on such “procedural” issues as the shape of future agenda, which might otherwise become bogged down in semantic arguments (a la “militarization” vs. “demilitarization” of [Page 1137] space). More important, it would preempt charges that our approach was not a serious one.

8. I realize that a decision to be more concrete on the substance of our positions will not be an easy one to make in Washington, and that whatever course we choose will be the subject of spirited bureaucratic debate. I only hope we can do a better job of keeping that debate in house than we have thus far. When the Soviets are able to read in detail who is doing what to whom in our internal struggles over policy, they are able to fine tune their negotiating positions and propaganda for maximum effect. As the saying goes in bridge, “one peek is worth a dozen finesses”. Gromyko will be a tough enough adversary in Geneva without our playing from an open hand.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Robert McFarlane Files, Subject File, Geneva Arms Control Talks I (01/05/1985–01/07/1985); NLR–362–1–35–14–5. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room. A stamp indicates McFarlane saw the telegram. Poindexter wrote in the margin: “Bud, I think Art is way off base in this cable. See my note next page. JP.” See footnote 2, below. In a covering memorandum to Shultz on the Department of State copy of this telegram, Burt wrote: “Mr. Secretary: I wanted to be sure you had seen the cable Art sent in on the Geneva talks. He gave it relatively wide distribution in an effort to be helpful around town. Art asked today if it would be useful for him to come back at this point for consultations. He could be here as long as you thought necessary up to December 17. His conversations around town have been quite useful in the past, and his being here would probably have value now. I will get back to Art in a few days after we have had time to discuss this.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Executive Secretariat Special Caption Documents, 1979–1989, Lot 92D630, Not for the System Documents, November 1984, #39)
  2. Poindexter wrote in the margin: “Why does it have to be public. The whole point of Pres. talks proposal was that they be private. If the Soviets won’t agree to that, there is little chance of success—unless we can get some intelligence ahead of time on what they are after thru a private channel. JP.”
  3. See footnote 8, Document 314 for the official announcement.
  4. Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin met at Glassboro State College in Glassboro, New Jersey from June 23 to 25, 1967. Ford and Brezhnev met in Vladivostok November 23–24, 1974, to discuss arms control.
  5. See Document 313.