376. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to President Reagan1


  • Politburo Member Shcherbitsky’s Visit to the U.S.

You will be meeting Thursday with Soviet Politburo Member Vladimir Shcherbitsky, who is in the U.S. this week as head of a Soviet “parliamentary” delegation.2 I will be forwarding suggested talking points shortly,3 but thought that you might want to have some information in advance regarding how this visit fits into the current state of U.S.-Soviet relations.


The Soviets responded a few weeks ago to an invitation issued in Tip O’Neill’s name by Tom Foley and Dick Cheney when they visited Moscow the summer of 1983. (You will recall that they briefed you on their trip following their return to Washington.)4 Therefore, the Soviets [Page 1396] picked the time for the visit, and also decided that it would be, in Soviet terms, a high-level one by selecting a full Politburo member to head it.

The Soviet decision to send the delegation to the U.S. at this time was an important one. Several factors probably entered into this decision:

(1) A desire to symbolize the intensification of contacts with the U.S., following the “freeze” of much of last year;

(2) A desire to influence American public opinion, and especially Congress, as negotiations at Geneva are about to begin and as Congress debates our defense modernization program;

(3) The felt need for a political “reconnaissance mission” at a high level and outside formal Foreign Ministry channels; and

(4) Perhaps—on the part of some Soviet officials—a desire to expose one of their more provincial and reputedly hard-line Politburo members to realities in the United States.

The fact that this decision was made despite ongoing leadership uncertainty in Moscow is interesting in itself. Given Chernenko’s parlous health, full Politburo members, aside from Gromyko who must continue to function as Foreign Minister, might be expected to limit their foreign travel unless the question of succession has been decided in principle. I would consider the decision to send Shcherbitsky here for ten days as tending to corroborate reports that a decision has been made on the succession—or that medical advice is that Chernenko is likely to hang on for at least a month or so.


Although one of the Soviet objectives is doubtless to influence Congress and our public opinion, I do not believe that this group will be notably effective on that score. Shcherbitsky has none of the charm and PR skill that Gorbachev used to such good advantage in the UK last December.5

I believe that we can make best use of this visit by seeing to it that Shcherbitsky receives an accurate impression of our strength and resolve, and at the same time, of our desire to move decisively to reduce offensive nuclear weapons and to forge a better working relationship with the Soviets. The visits the Congressional hosts have planned for the delegation to California and Texas should do a lot to impress the provincial Shcherbitsky with our basic economic, social and political health. No Soviet official comes back from such exposure to the U.S. without being shaken by the palpable evidence of U.S. strength and well being.

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This being the case, I believe that you should devote the thirty minutes you have available for your meeting with Shcherbitsky to driving home some of the points you made to Gromyko last September.6 Specifically, I believe you should concentrate on the following themes:

—Your desire to move toward a radical reduction in offensive nuclear weapons;

—Your determination to keep U.S. defenses adequate and specifically to continue present programs until there is a fair agreement to limit them;

—The fallacy of the Soviet attack on SDI research, making plain that the current Soviet ploy will fail;

—The reasons we are concerned with the Soviet military build-up and in particular with the problem posed by their prompt hard-target kill capability, which suggests a first-strike strategy; and

—The necessity for improvements in the human rights situation if relations in general are to improve.

I will soon be sending you suggested talking points along these lines, but in the meantime you may wish to scan the CIA study “What to Expect from Shcherbitsky” at Tab A,7 and the biography of Shcherbitsky at Tab B.8

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Meetings with USSR Officials, Reagan-Shcherbitsky Meeting 03/07/1985 (3). Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Prepared by Matlock. Reagan initialed the memorandum, indicating he saw it. A copy was sent to Bush.
  2. March 7. See Document 378.
  3. The talking points were not found.
  4. On July 25 1983, Reagan met with Foley, Cheney, Bush, Shultz, Baker, Clark, Duberstein, and Matlock to discuss Foley and Cheney’s trip to the Soviet Union. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) In a July 23 memorandum to Clark, Hill noted that the delegation was in the Soviet Union from July 4 to 9, traveling to Moscow, Leningrad, and Yerevan. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (7/23/83–7/29/83))
  5. See Documents 337 and 341.
  6. See Documents 284 and 288.
  7. Not attached. A copy is attached to an unsigned draft of this memorandum. (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Meetings with USSR Officials, Reagan-Shcherbitsky Meeting 03/07/1985 (2))
  8. Not found.