4. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • U.S.-Soviet Relations in 1983

The President has asked me to respond to your thoughtful and suggestive memorandum of January 19 on the means of improving U.S.-Soviet relations in the coming year.2 (S)

I believe you are correct in assuming that the recent changes in Soviet leadership portend a more intense and more sophisticated Soviet challenge to U.S. interests. I have no problem at all with your excellent suggestions concerning such topics as our stand in arms reduction talks, regional issues, and human rights issues. Some questions, however, arise in connection with your proposal for significantly increased U.S.-Soviet dialogues. (S)

The Soviet leadership has always favored continuing multi-level dialogues with the United States because they offer Moscow opportunities for identifying and exploiting differences of opinion that exist in every democratic society and government. (Such differences probably also exist on the Soviet side but, given the closed nature of Communist society and government, we are unable to exploit them.) It is with this in mind that during the past two years we have sought to confine U.S.-Soviet political contacts largely to the ministerial and ambassadorial [Page 14] levels. We have staunchly rejected all Soviet efforts to establish an independent link to the White House which would enable it, as in the past, to play NSC against State, and State against NSC. Our assumption has been that if and when Moscow is prepared to make meaningful concessions on outstanding differences between us, these will be communicated to you through Gromyko or Dobrynin. It is then and then only that a dialogue on lower levels (departmental desks and “experts”) should get underway. If and when a variety of outstanding issues can be brought near a point of resolution through such meetings then a summit between heads of state may be profitably arranged. (S)

In the light of these considerations your proposal for a possible summit and for more intense dialogues between specialists of the State Department and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs strikes me as somewhat premature. The record of meetings which Al Haig and you have had with Gromyko indicates no readiness on the Soviet part whatever to contemplate concessions on outstanding political and regional differences between us. The same holds true of such “expert” level meetings as were held on Afghanistan and Namibia last year. Would it, therefore, not make more sense for you to schedule another meeting with Gromyko (and Andropov, if possible) to determine whether Moscow’s position on any outstanding issue has altered to the point where meaningful expert level talks could be usefully contemplated? (S)

If it appears that there is genuine possibility for progress, then we can respond accordingly. However, if, as is probable, the Soviet positions will continue to offer no room for genuine breakthroughs, it is essential that we be able to maintain firm policy positions and intensify our effort to portray the USSR as an obstacle to peace. Creating false expectations of progress in U.S.-Soviet relations through intensified dialogues might buy us some time and temper domestic and Allied pressure in the short term, but in the long term, public expectations would pressure us for more and more concessions making it exceedingly difficult to sustain a firm and resolute course. (S)

William P. Clark3
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (01/28/83–02/02/83); NLR–748–23–40–7–1. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See Document 1.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Clark signed the original.