49. Memorandum From the Acting Secretary of State (Dam) to President Reagan1


  • My Meeting with Dobrynin—May 5, 1983

Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin came in on May 5 to deliver the response from Moscow to the various INF-related questions the Secretary had posed in their April 21 meeting.2 Paul Nitze was present. I also used this meeting to convey to Dobrynin our serious concerns about rising Israeli/Syrian tensions and the unhelpful Soviet role in stimulating them. In this connection, I reminded Dobrynin of our own commitment to help bring about withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and of our hope and expectation that all parties will act with restraint during this critical period.

INF: The general tenor of his presentation was tough and rhetorical, offering nothing in the way of substance that might be construed as movement in the Soviet position. Dobrynin began his presentation by noting that the very phrasing of the Secretary’s questions had indicated an “unconstructive” U.S. attitude and continued unwillingness to make progress in INF. Essentially turning aside our April 21 queries, he posed counter-questions of his own.

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In response to the Secretary’s question whether there was any finite number of deployed U.S. LRINF missiles acceptable to the Soviet Union, Dobrynin asked what number of comparable Soviet missiles able to reach the U.S. would we find acceptable. In regard to British and French systems, he questioned how the U.S. would propose to count similar missiles if they were at the disposal of other Warsaw Pact nations. As for the Asian theater, which he asserted had nothing to do with the current negotiations, he raised the issue of nuclear weapons systems other than the Soviet SS–20’s in that region. Stating the inclusion of aircraft was “indispensable” in any INF agreement, he asked what new military parameters for the possible reduction and limitations of aircraft would be acceptable to us.

Concluding with a claim of Soviet interest in a “radical solution” to the problem, he urged U.S. consideration of the Soviet proposal to remove all nuclear weapons from Europe (though his subsequent comment made clear that as before, this offer would not affect Soviet strategic weapons within the U.S.S.R.).

In sum, Dobrynin broke no new ground, essentially reiterating Soviet assertions we have already heard at length in Geneva. His rhetorical question to us about numbers of Soviet LRINF missiles able to reach the U.S. was an explicit repetition of the Soviet threat to put the U.S. in an “analogous position.” It is interesting to note, however, that although Andropov’s latest negotiating offer to accept equality in warheads with the British and French is barely three days old,3 Dobrynin’s message from Moscow and his personal comments made no mention of this at all. This absence suggests that the Soviets themselves see Andropov’s proposal as primarily a public diplomacy ploy rather than a serious negotiating position.

Israeli/Syrian Tensions: On the Middle East, I reminded Dobrynin that the Secretary is currently engaged in difficult and personally hazardous negotiations which could lead to real progress toward peace in the region. At the same time, Soviet statements had not been helpful and had indeed contributed to rising Israeli/Syrian tensions. I told Dobrynin that this is a particularly sensitive period in which all parties should exercise restraint in the interest of peace. Finally, I expressed the hope that, if we were able to obtain Israeli and Syrian agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, the Syrians would keep their own commitments to withdraw.

In the ensuing discussion, Dobrynin asserted that Syrian forces are in Lebanon under Arab League mandate and questioned whether the [Page 169] Government of Syria had undertaken any commitment to withdraw them. I reminded Dobrynin that we considered the Lebanese Government sovereign in this matter. Shifting his ground, Dobrynin said that Israel might attack Syria and asked whether we could give any guarantee concerning Israeli behavior. I replied that guarantees were not the issue; we would continue to work for peace and were urging the Soviets to exercise their influence in a constructive manner. Finally, I told Dobrynin that we had no evidence of Israeli preparations for an attack on Syria and asked if the Soviets had any such evidence. Dobrynin did not reply directly, but said that, if the U.S. could achieve an agreement for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, this would improve the situation.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (05/02/83–05/06/83). Secret; Sensitive. In a May 5 action memorandum to Dam, Burt wrote: “In accordance with usual practice, we have prepared appropriate reports on today’s meeting with Dobrynin for your approval.” Attached to Burt’s memorandum were: “1) a memorandum to the President on today’s meeting with Dobrynin; 2) a cable to the Secretary and Ambassador Hartman on the INF discussion; and 3) a separate cable to the Secretary and interested posts on the Middle East discussion.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Memorandum of Conversations Pertaining to the United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, Reagan/Shultz/Dobrynin plus Shultz or Dam/Dobrynin in Washington, D.C. February–May 1983) In a May 10 memorandum to Clark, Lenczowski wrote: “Acting Secretary Kenneth Dam has sent the President a memcon of his meeting with Dobrynin. (Tab A) Your cover memorandum to the President (Tab I) briefly summarizes Dam’s memo but adds no further comment. The only comment the memo might deserve is that it demonstrates yet again how fruitless most of our dialogue with the Soviets really is. This is not to say that the dialogue is politically worthless to the United States: the mere fact that we can say we are talking to the Soviets is beneficial. But it is to say that the President’s policy of general caution in dealing with the Soviets and avoiding putting too large an investment in this dialogue in hopes of achieving a true peace with the Soviets is a wise and far-sighted policy.” (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (05/02/83–05/06/83)) Clark wrote “I agree,” and he initialed his approval that the memorandum be forwarded to the President. Reagan initialed Clark’s May 16 covering memorandum, which forwarded Dam’s May 5 memorandum.
  2. See Document 48. For the Secretary’s questions, see Document 45.
  3. Andropov made this proposal in a May 3 speech in Moscow. For extracts of his speech, see Documents on Disarmament, 1983, pp. 389–391.