53. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • My Meeting with Dobrynin—May 19, 1983

I wanted to give you a more complete account than was possible last night of my first meeting with Dobrynin since my return from the Middle East.2 The meeting lasted about eighty minutes. During the first part of it we were joined by our senior staffs for a discussion of a wide range of issues—the Sakharov case, the grains LTA, the Israeli-Lebanese agreement, the MBFR negotiations, and a number of pending [Page 174] bilateral problems. We also met alone for a discussion focusing on the Soviet-Syrian relationship, the dangers of the current situation in Lebanon, and the overall substance and tenor of our bilateral relations.

I led off with our serious concern over the health of Andrey Sakharov and his wife Yelena Bonner and urged that the Soviets permit them to return to Moscow for medical treatment. I referred to Congressional interest and your Sakharov Day proclamation, and noted to Dobrynin that we had treated this matter with considerable discretion.3

On MBFR, I told Dobrynin that we would be back to him soon with some ideas for introducing new momentum into the negotiations. On the grains LTA, I told Dobrynin that although I was not yet in a position to give him an official response, his suggestion that the grains consultations previously scheduled for June 1–2 be devoted to preparations for the negotiations seemed a generally good idea, and I saw no reason why we should not treat the parameters of a new agreement at the meeting.

Turning to the Middle East, I gave Dobrynin a fairly full briefing on the negotiations leading to the Israeli-Lebanese agreement. I recalled that all parties to the negotiations had bargained hard and in good faith. For the Lebanese, the bottom line had been to retain the exclusive right to guarantee the security of their borders, and we were satisfied that this had been achieved. I concluded that Lebanon now deserves a chance to address its internal problems, and can do this best if all foreign forces would withdraw. Israel had now committed itself to withdraw, and it was up to others to follow suit.

At this point, I invited Dobrynin to take the floor, and he began with the familiar line that the Sakharov case was an internal Soviet matter. To my comments about the LTA, Dobrynin responded positively, and assured me we could work with the Soviet in charge of the June 1–2 talks, but added that a new agreement should contain assurances against future embargoes. Responding to my comment on MBFR, Dobrynin said that he would wait to see what we had to say. He noted that the Soviets were themselves waiting for our response to their proposal for confidential consultations between U.S. and Soviet scientists on the implications of your ballistic missile defense initiative.

Turning to bilateral relations, Dobrynin noted that in our meetings earlier this year, we had reviewed a number of issues which were of particular concern to the Soviet side. Among these he listed the bilateral agreements on cooperation in Transportation and Atomic Energy up [Page 175] for renewal this year, the Soviet proposal for more activity under other bilateral agreements still in force, and the Soviet request that we take another look at seven bilateral arms control negotiations which are now suspended. He also noted that, at one point, I had mentioned the possibility of taking another look at negotiations for a new cultural agreement and consulates in Kiev and New York, but had had nothing more to say to him on these issues, so that he wondered what we propose to do. Finally, he said that the Soviet side looked forward to my meeting with Gromyko at the UNGA this fall and hoped that other meetings preliminary to it would take place.

At this point, Dobrynin and I adjourned for a private meeting. I told him of our concern that the tensions in Lebanon were becoming more dangerous. There are Soviets in the Bekaa, I noted, and the Soviets are associated with the Syrians in Lebanon, with the PLO, with other groups. Who controls such groups is an open question; one had bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and we had one report that there was Soviet involvement in this. I had told the official who said it that we had no evidence of that. But the fact is that the Soviets are involved with various irresponsible groups in Lebanon, I said, and that they are playing with fire. And their increased military deployments in Syria meant that they would inevitably be involved in any new war from the outset. The situation is extremely dangerous.

Dobrynin replied that he had understood my message and did not think the Syrians were seeking a conflict nor doing anything to bring one about. In this connection, he said the Soviets had counselled Damascus to be careful. (I said we had done the same with the Israelis.) On the question of the broader Middle East peace process, Dobrynin said it was not up to the U.S. to determine whether the Soviets have a role. He asserted that the Soviet Union needed no U.S. “ticket” to play in the Middle East game, perhaps signalling Soviet sensitivity over their current position on the diplomatic sidelines.

Dobrynin and I then privately reviewed our personal dialogue over the past few months, agreeing that it would rate a grade of C-plus at best. Noting the possibility of a trip by me to Moscow this summer for meetings with the Soviet leadership, I told Dobrynin frankly that not enough progress had been made to justify the trip at this point.

Dobrynin replied that, from Moscow’s perspective, the results of our dialogue had not been impressive. The only real accomplishment had been our LTA offer, and this had been accompanied by our statements that this step had no broader political significance. Dobrynin continued that, when asked by Moscow for a list of steps the U.S. had taken in the interest of improved relations, he had little or nothing to report. In these circumstances, Moscow is of the opinion that the U.S. Administration has a hostile attitude toward the USSR.

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The meeting concluded on this note. Dobrynin and I agreed, however, that it is important for us to stay in touch, and that we should meet after the Williamsburg Summit and before the NATO Ministerial, in the first week of June.4 While there was a certain amount of characteristic posturing in Dobrynin’s remarks, his attitude was businesslike, and I believe the overall thrust of his presentation should be taken seriously. I look forward to our discussion together with Bill Clark Monday morning on next steps in our relations with the Soviets.5

  1. Source: Reagan Library, William Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers Working File: Contains Originals (6). Secret; Sensitive. Reagan initialed the memorandum, indicating he saw it.
  2. Shultz returned from the Middle East and Paris on May 11.
  3. On May 18, Reagan signed Proclamation 5063, declaring May 21, 1983, to be National Andrei Sakharov Day. Sakharov, a noted Russian physicist, human rights activist, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was exiled to the city of Gorky in the Soviet Union. See Public Papers: Reagan, 1983, Book I, pp. 731–732.
  4. The G–7 Economic Summit took place in Williamsburg, Virginia, May 28–30. The NATO Ministerial meeting took place in Paris June 9–10.
  5. See Document 56.