9. Editorial Note
According to the President’s Daily Diary, on February 12, 1983, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan hosted Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife, Helena (“O’Bie”), at the White House for dinner and a movie from 6:50 p.m. to 10:35 p.m. (Reagan [Page 29] Library, President’s Daily Diary) During the evening, the two men discussed the state of Soviet-American relations, including the Secretary’s channel with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. No formal record of this meeting has been found. However, Shultz described the evening in his memoir as follows: “I returned to Washington on February 10, after a long trip to Japan, China, and South Korea. Snow was falling when my plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base. The blizzard continued for days. By Saturday afternoon, February 12, Washington was covered by one of the heaviest snowfalls of the century. Traffic had virtually come to a halt. People were skiing in the streets. My telephone rang. It was Nancy Reagan inviting O’Bie and me to the White House for dinner. The snow had prevented the Reagans from going to Camp David. When we arrived that evening, the president and first lady were relaxed and talkative. The family dining room on the second floor of the White House imparts a sense of history, especially when the group is small and the atmosphere informal. The Reagans were gracious hosts. They like good conversation, a good story. If the president heard a story he liked, he never forgot it. And I would hear it again and again, further embellished and perfected with each telling.
“President Reagan was fascinated by China and expressed openly his ideas about the Soviet Union. He recognized how difficult it was for him to move forward in dealing with either of these countries. He realized, I thought, that he was in a sense blocked by his own White House staff, by the Defense Department, by Bill Casey in the CIA, and by his own past rhetoric. Now that we were talking in this family setting, I could see that Ronald Reagan was much more willing to move forward in relations with these two Communist nations—even travel to them—than I had earlier believed. Reagan saw himself as an experienced negotiator going back to his days as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was self-confident about his views and positions. He had never had a lengthy session with an important leader of a Communist country, and I could sense he would relish such an opportunity.
“‘I will be meeting with Dobrynin again late Tuesday afternoon [February 15],’ I told him. ‘What would you think about my bringing Dobrynin over to the White House for a private chat?’
“‘Great,’ he responded. ‘We have to keep this secret,’ he said. ‘I don’t intend to engage in a detailed exchange with Dobrynin, but I do intend to tell him that if Andropov is willing to do business, so am I.’
“Monday morning at 7:40, a call came to me from Bill Clark. His nose was out of joint. He was very negative about a meeting between Reagan and Dobrynin. ‘I argued against the meeting to the president,’ he told me. President Reagan, however, had his own ideas and wanted to get more involved. The efforts of the staff at the NSC to keep him [Page 30] out, I thought, were beginning to break down. Mike Deaver made arrangements to send a White House car over to the State Department’s basement garage to bring Dobrynin and me over to the relatively unwatched East Gate of the White House without the press’s knowledge.
“When Ambassador Dobrynin walked into my office at 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, I greeted him with the question ‘Anatoly, how would you like to go see the president? Why don’t we just go back down in my elevator, get in the car, and go over there?’ Dobrynin immediately agreed, surprised but elated. Off we went.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pages 163–164)