48. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Acting Secretary
  • Under Secretary for Political Affairs Lawrence S. Eagleburger
  • ACDA Director Kenneth Adelman
  • INF Negotiator Paul Nitze
  • Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Richard Burt
  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, Soviet Embassy
  • Minister-Counselor Oleg Sokolov, Soviet Embassy

Ambassador Dobrynin noted he had received a reply to the Secretary’s earlier questions on INF.2 It was, however, now the Soviet Union’s turn to ask questions.

The Ambassador then read from a non-paper, translating into English from the original Russian:

“During our conversation of April 21 the Secretary of State touched upon the key elements of the problem under discussion; the sides’ position on precisely these key elements will determine whether there is progress at the negotiations.

However, the very nature of the questions he raised in this connection by no means demonstrates a desire on the part of the U.S. side to reach a mutually acceptable outcome and to break the deadlock which still exists at the negotiations as a result of the unconstructive U.S. position.

1. Let us begin with the question of whether the U.S.S.R. would agree to the deployment of ‘some specific number’ of new U.S. missiles in Europe.

This way of putting the question is in itself incompatible with the objective of the current negotiations, which is to achieve maximum reduction in the level of nuclear confrontation in Europe, to the extent of completely ridding the continent of both medium-range and tactical arms, and which is certainly not to agree on a buildup of such arms.

But since the Secretary of State did nonetheless raise this question, in order to clarify his train of thought we, in turn, would like to ask the following: how would the U.S. react to the appearance of a certain [Page 163] number of Soviet medium-range nuclear systems in areas from which they could reach U.S. territory?

Incidentally, this would be fully consistent with the principle of ‘equal rights and limits’ with respect to medium-range arms, regardless of their location, which has recently been proclaimed by the U.S. side.

2. Let us take the other U.S. question: will the U.S.S.R. agree not to take into account the nuclear systems of England and France in the agreement?

We have already provided repeated and detailed explanations as to why the Soviet Union cannot consent to an agreement on limiting nuclear arms in Europe without taking into account the English and French systems.

If the Secretary is still somehow unclear on this point, then one would think the following question might help to clear things up: if some Soviet Warsaw Pact allies had at their disposal medium-range nuclear weapons delivery vehicles, would the U.S. agree not to take them into account in the agreement?

3. Turning to our medium-range missiles in the eastern parts of the U.S.S.R., we will state plainly that questions whose point it is to somehow justify reductions of our arms in the eastern part of our country cannot be regarded as pursuing a constructive goal or even as serious questions at all. These arms are totally unrelated to the subject of the negotiations in Geneva.

Or should we take the Secretary’s statements to mean that the U.S. agrees to consider the question of all the relevant nuclear systems in Asia which are countered by our arms?

4. As for nuclear weapon delivery aircraft, we believe it is necessary and essential that they be included in the agreement. After all, no matter which delivery vehicles—whether missiles or aircraft,—deliver the nuclear warheads the consequences of their use remain the same. The reductions must cover all medium-range systems in Europe—aircraft as well as missiles. Otherwise, a nuclear arms limitation agreement would be inequitable for the Soviet Union.

In this context we would like to ask the following question: what numerical parameters for possible reductions and limitations on aircraft would be acceptable to the U.S. side?

5. We would like particularly to emphasize that the best option for solving the question of limiting and reducing nuclear arms in Europe would, of course, be to rid Europe completely of nuclear arms—both medium-range and tactical—as proposed by the Soviet Union. With such a radical solution many problems currently creating difficulties at the negotiations would disappear by themselves.

The Soviet Union is prepared to do everything in its power to carry out precisely such a far-reaching solution.

[Page 164]

Does the U.S., for its part, agree to act in a similar fashion, with a view toward completely ridding Western Europe of nuclear arms?” (This ended the non-paper).

Ambassador Nitze asked whether this Soviet proposal covered all nuclear weapons, including Soviet strategic weaponry.

Ambassador Dobrynin responded in negative, stating it covered only those weapons under discussion in INF.

The Acting Secretary stated we would look at these Soviet responses, but he was not terribly encouraged by them. In regard to the Ambassador’s first question, he asked for clarification of the phrasing—Would in fact the Soviet Union accept any U.S. deployments?

The Ambassador repeated the response—to what extent the U.S. would accept any comparable Soviet deployments.

The Acting Secretary stated he was not sure the Soviet ideas had brought the two sides very far in narrowing various differences.

The Ambassador noted the Soviet side had not been particularly encouraged either. In their earlier meeting the Secretary had only asked questions and had not introduced any new elements.

The Acting Secretary replied that the purpose of this particular channel was not to negotiate, but rather to explore possible new avenues.

The Ambassador noted that this applied to both sides. We should explore, but not simply pose questions. He had been involved in such efforts for many years, and stressed that they do not get anywhere without the introduction of new ideas.

The Acting Secretary then changed the subject to the Middle East (Ambassador Nitze and ACDA Director Adelman left the room at this point).

The Acting Secretary noted that the Secretary was currently in the Middle East, engaged in difficult and personally dangerous negotiations to achieve a settlement in Lebanon, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces.3 We believe, however, we have the possibility of achieving an agreement. We trust that despite the many differences between the U.S. and Soviet Union on issues in the region, the Soviet Union does not want to stimulate conflict in the area. In that regard, we are worried that many recent Soviet statements and media reports may have the effect of increasing the possibility of conflict.

The Acting Secretary stated he was particularly concerned about Soviet statements regarding Israeli intentions to attack Syria as in the Soviet statement of March 30. We have noted these alarmist and emo[Page 165]tional reports have been picked up by the Syrian press and seem to reinforce Syrian intransigency. At a time when diplomatic efforts hold real promise for peace in Lebanon, these statements are unhelpful. In that regard, we hope you will hold down the rhetoric and attempt to temper, not excite, tensions in the region.

The Acting Secretary went on to note that if we are able to achieve an early agreement, we expect Syria also to keep its commitments to withdraw its forces as well. We ask you to use your influence to that end.

Ambassador Dobrynin then asked what commitments the Syrians had made in regards withdrawal.

The Acting Secretary noted the Syrians had made such commitments in the Fez Communique, the Non-Aligned Declaration and in a variety of public and private statements since.

The Ambassador stated that to his knowledge, there had been no Arab decision to remove Syria’s peace-keeping mandate in this regard.

The Acting Secretary noted that this was primarily a matter for the sovereign government of Lebanon to decide. While we would of course speak to the Syrians about this, this was not a matter for negotiation.

The Ambassador noted that this was an Arab matter, but that he was nevertheless unaware of these Syrian commitments.

The Acting Secretary stated we would bring these to his attention with a paper. He again cited the Fez Communique.

The Ambassador persisted in asking just what obligations of the Syrian government was the Acting Secretary referring to. If these were in fact clear, then why was the Secretary going to Damascus? He added this was not his business, but he needed to clarify this for his government.

The Acting Secretary stated that in any event, our two nations had a common interest to facilitate peace in the area. There was a need for both calm and restraint.

The Ambassador noted that press comments were a problem in both countries, but that as for official statements—no Soviet official had attacked the U.S. As for Lebanon, he went on, an arrangement which would partition Lebanon, which would give the Israelis a right to intervene—where is Lebanese sovereignty in that? This is what we mention in our statements and press commentary. The Soviet Union is not involved in this; the Syrians have ideas of their own. They are worried about an Israeli attack on which they have some information—as do the Soviets. U.S. leniency with Begin allows him to do anything he wants.

The Acting Secretary replied that the Ambassador’s description of the emerging agreement was incorrect and that when it became public, [Page 166] he would see where he had been wrong. The U.S. objective is a fully sovereign Lebanon, including its borders.

The Ambassador interjected that if that were the case, the Soviet Union would welcome it.

The Under Secretary noted that when the Soviet press, whether inspired or unintentionally, charges that Israel is about to attack, these reports are picked up by the Syrians, which is very dangerous situation. It is not our impression the Israelis are going to attack Syria. Soviet reporting is creating a difficult atmosphere.

The Ambassador responded that it was a Soviet right to be concerned that Israel could do this—a sincere concern given recent history. Could the U.S. guarantee that Israel will not do this? If so, then the situation would be clear.

The Acting Secretary replied that the U.S. was not asking the Soviet Union for guarantees but rather to exercise helpful influence.

The Ambassador stated there were no grounds to question the sincerity of Soviet concerns. He expressed the hope that the U.S. really knew the intentions of the Israelis, as he recalled several previous senior U.S. officials had spoken to him one way and the situation had turned out otherwise in the past.

The Acting Secretary stated the U.S. had no information on an Israeli attack. If the Soviet Union had such information, we would like to see it.

The Ambassador noted that if the Israelis in fact left Lebanon, then the situation would be improved.

On that note, the meeting ended.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Super Sensitive, May 1–15. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Palmer. Cleared by Eagleburger, Dam, and McManaway. The meeting took place in the Acting Secretary’s office.
  2. See Document 45.
  3. Shultz traveled to various capitals in the Middle East from April 25 to May 8.