136. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.

    • Secretary Shultz
    • Mr. McFarlane
    • Ambassador Hartman
    • D. Zarechnak (Interpreter)
  • U.S.S.R.

    • Foreign Minister Shevardnadze
    • Deputy FM Korniyenko
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • N. Uspenskiy (Interpreter)2

Secretary Shultz thanked Shevardnadze for the additional time allotted and indicated that he would like to express some thoughts on human rights which reflect a different way of looking at the question, which he had set down on paper. Shultz essentially proceeded to read the paper which he had prepared:

There is one problem area where our differences are deep that I would like to discuss in a new way. I’d like to try to take a fresh look at the human rights issue.

Let me tell you how I have been thinking about it.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, not like yours. This means that every American administration—past, present, and future—has to be responsive to two fundamental concerns of the American people: the conviction that people everywhere should have the right to emigrate; and the intense concern of American ethnic groups with the well-being of people in the lands of their family origin.

These concerns are absolutely fundamental to us. There is no way that the American government can avoid raising these issues. President Reagan has instructed us to work reasonably and quietly and cooperatively to address these issues. But if quiet diplomacy does not produce results, then loud, public campaigns and publicity cannot be prevented.

I do not say this as a threat of any kind but rather as a description of political dynamics. It is a reality that is rooted in the fundamental nature of the American nation. It is just a “given” that needs to be [Page 579] understood and managed if this issue is not to become a permanent impediment to improved Soviet-American relations.

I know that there are “givens” on your side as well. I understand that you regard human rights to be economic in nature, in contrast to our view that they are political and moral. We don’t accept your view. We think you are wrong; economic well-being is no substitute for the political liberties that western civilization brought into being through centuries of struggle. So our debate over that will continue. But this does not mean we can’t try to find a way to lessen the sources of specific aggravation between us.

There are two parts to the problem: how to resolve these immediate cases, and how to find a long-term solution.

In my letter to Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, I cited some cases that seemed to fall clearly in the categories where you had indicated early action was possible; for example, people who have established claims to American citizenship and divided spouses—all of whom have waited long periods of time.3

And there are the cases that have become prominent all around the world as examples of harsh Soviet behavior toward individuals in distress. It is frankly hard for me to figure out why the Soviet Union does not take the relatively simple decisions needed to relieve itself of all the very unfavorable publicity which these cases constantly generate.

I spoke to Ambassador Dobrynin last week about Anatoliy Shcharanskiy and Ida Nudel. I know Mrs. Shcharanskiy and Ida Nudel’s sister. These are humanitarian cases, cases of divided families. It would be very good to make the decision now to allow them to go. As I hope you are aware, President Reagan is deeply concerned about these two people.

But the long-term situation needs our attention as well. I am sure that you do not want to see just an endless series of cases like these. I can understand very well that you would see little value in permitting increased emigration in the short-term if it only results in more demands and greater pressure on you over the long-run.

Let me briefly give you my point of view. I hope that in future meetings we could talk about this at greater length.

I know that you want to increase the economic progress of your country. So do we. Both our nations are still developing.

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One truth we have learned is that freedom is one of the major contributions to economic development. An economy can only go so far if it does not offer the individual wide opportunity for advancing his own well-being and that of his family.

That’s what we believe. Our experience proves it. You probably disagree.

But as we look to the future of our economies it is all the more true. The industrial age is coming to an end. In some places it is over. The economy of the future is going to be based upon information technologies. And information flows require freedom—freedom of thought and communication.

It’s just a reality that the more open societies are going to be the successes in this coming “information age.” Closed societies are going to fall behind. Ideology has nothing to do with this; it’s just a fact of life.

So if you believe that human rights consist mainly of jobs, housing, health care, and other economic benefits, it seems to me that your society is going to be best able to fulfill those rights if your people are permitted a greater degree of what we regard as human rights: freedom of speech, of religion, of movement, of personal choices in their everyday lives. Our kind of human rights can be a contribution to your kind of human rights.

Practically speaking, it seems to me that if you took a more open approach, for example, to Jewish emigration, a great many Soviet Jews would want to leave. But if your open approach also involved greater measures of freedom of thought, religion, expression, and personal choice, then over time fewer and fewer Soviet citizens would want to leave. Your policy of greater freedom would contribute to your economic growth. Your people would see more hope and opportunity in your society. More and more would wish to remain and build their futures willingly in their own country. And this in turn would even further contribute to your economic success.

So those choosing to leave the Soviet Union would ultimately dwindle in proportion to the economic, social, and political progress which you preside over in the coming years.

I want to stress that I am not suggesting that you adopt policies that could drive a wedge between the Soviet government and the Soviet people. On the contrary, your people are known to be among the most patriotic in the world. The approach I have described would in my opinion only deepen the Soviet people’s allegiance to their governmental system and to their Motherland.

That’s my version of how your human rights goals and ours, although different, might both be realized through a basically agreed course of action. And a range of problems that has severely aggravated [Page 581] our relationship could over time become eased and perhaps eventually solved.

Those are just my general thoughts. I can’t expect you to agree with me, but I hope you will reflect on them and that we can continue to talk about this subject in a responsible and productive spirit.

Shultz concluded by indicating that he hoped that the approach which he had outlined could offer hope for avoiding the prospects of endless wrangling over such issues in the future. We think that this offers a strategy to permit change over a period of time—to your advantage and to help you solve your problem. He said that he would turn into a non-paper if the Minister wished. Shultz ended by thanking the Minister for hearing him out.

Shevardnadze replied that he first wanted to speak about the list which was transmitted to them by the U.S. side, not because it was transmitted by the U.S. side, but because these were cases involving Soviet citizens. If it was found legal to resolve their cases, they would be resolved. The appropriate Soviet agencies were giving them very serious attention.

Shevardnadze then began to talk in a more general vein. He indicated that the Soviets have a great regard for Soviet law. He knew the U.S. opinion of Soviet society, but wished to say that Soviet society was the most democratic in the world, a society where people voted on laws within a framework of bodies such as the local Soviets and the Supreme Soviet. These laws were considered to be sacred.

Shevardnadze said that Shultz was aware that the Soviet side had indicated that deviations had been permitted from Soviet law in the past. But the Soviet government had promised its people that it would no longer permit such deviations.

Shevardnadze said that Shultz had mentioned Jewish emigration. He indicated that in Georgia, over 20,000 Jews had been granted exit visas for Israel, the U.S., and Austria. Similar things had occurred in the Ukraine, in Moscow, and in Leningrad. All of this was done within the law. But if something is against the law, there can be no compromise, because if laws are violated in one area, this could lead to violations in others.

Shevardnadze indicated that he respected Shultz, but he had to say that when one spoke of “freedom” in the Soviet Union, one needed to be careful to see how one understood the meaning of the word. It is a sacred word. In the U.S., people have a poor misunderstanding of Soviet society. This includes the U.S. Administration. It is sometimes almost laughable. He said he had spoken of some of these things in his conversation with the President. Perhaps it was even inconvenient to speak of this, but there were those who had said that the Russian [Page 582] language does not even contain the word for “freedom.” He would not say who had said that. Shultz could imagine what an insult that was for the Russian people and all the Soviet people. Forces probably existed which were interested in disinforming the President and representatives of the Administration.

Shevardnadze said that Shultz had indicated that in Helsinki Shevardnadze had said that human rights and freedoms were only economic ones. What he really had said was that people should have not only the right to things like work, but also the possibility of realizing this right, and not only with regard to employment, but other things such as medical services, social amenities, etc. Such rights also included state support of cultural and physical development of individuals. They also included the self-determination of national ethnic groups.

Shevardnadze said that if he were to begin to criticize U.S. society, the sides would need to put off their meeting with the General Secretary. How would it be if he were to give Shultz a list of the millions of unemployed in the U.S. or the list of the homeless or those who sleep in the streets or the difficult situation of the migrant workers. He would not even mention the issue of national ethnic groups in America.

Shevardnadze said that he had noted the President’s words that the U.S. people have the blood of all the peoples of the world. On the one hand, this is an attractive phrase. On the other hand, a complete assimilation of these different peoples takes place in the U.S. Shultz might be offended by Shevardnadze’s stressing of this fact. How many millions of Poles were there in the U.S.? Five or six? Why not give them autonomy? There were also more Jews in New York than in Israel. Why not give them their own state?

Shevardnadze said that it cost the Soviet government a great deal of money to give Georgians a real right and possibility to get an education in their own language—not only on a secondary level, but on the level of higher education as well. And this was true not only in Georgia, but in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. There were more than 100 nationalities in the Soviet Union with their own national identity who were given assistance by the state. He would not have spoken of this matter, but as Shultz had taken the initiative, he wished to draw attention to the situation of the original Americans in the U.S.

Shevardnadze continued that the Soviet Union annually spent dozens of billions of rubles for assistance in the development of the culture of national ethnic groups, even very small ones living in the far North.

Shevardnadze indicated that he was not trying to convince Shultz of the correctness of Soviet ideology with regard to freedom and relations among people. This was up to Shultz, but the U.S. side should leave the Soviet Union alone. To those who pester the U.S. government about [Page 583] this, it should say that the Soviet Union is a sovereign state and that the U.S. has no right to interfere in its internal affairs.

Shevardnadze stated that to have the improvement of U.S.-USSR relations depend on human rights is not correct. The Soviet side is no more interested in the improvement of these relations than the U.S. The U.S. had been one of 12 countries which did not recognize the Soviet Union early on, and did so only in 1933. The Soviets had built their socialist society without the U.S. If the U.S. wishes to cooperate, that’s fine, otherwise the Soviet Union would build its Communist society without the U.S. The U.S. should have no illusions that only one of the two parties was interested in cooperation.

Shevardnadze mentioned that there were people who left the country, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. This was all illegal. There were people who had not found themselves. There were also thousands who wished to return, and the Soviet government was looking at these cases. And how many people left the United States every year (sic)? So, counting the number of people who leave a country does not give the whole picture. He wished to repeat that the U.S. should not make success at the Geneva meeting contingent on these issues.

Shevardnadze indicated that he had not yet described in the course of the day the Soviet proposed communique, but he wished to say at this point that the Soviet side was not interested in reaching agreement at any price. Agreement should be on the basis of equality. It was good that Shultz had raised this issue, since it gave Shevardnadze the chance to say what he had wished to say. He repeated that the Soviet side would carefully study the list which the U.S. side had transmitted, but since Shultz had raised a broader philosophical issue, he had replied in the same vein.

Shevardnadze said that he realized that Americans were proud of their country, and this was rightly so, but one must realize that the Soviet citizen is also justifiably proud of his country, and he has his own understanding of what freedom means, and this needs to be respected.

Korniyenko said that Shultz had indicated that the U.S. was a country of immigrants, and therefore, was interested in the fate of other peoples. But in that case, the U.S. people and its government should be interested in the freedom of immigration, and not have limitations and quotas on such immigration. Such quotas do not exist in the Soviet Union. The attitude of the U.S. to Mexican immigrants was one of the cases in point. One could talk all night about this issue.

Korniyenko continued that Shultz had said that pressure to resolve such issues comes from the people, and the Administration had to pay attention to this. But, on the Soviet side, there were people, such as Ambassador Dobrynin, who had been in the U.S. for 25 years, and [Page 584] Korniyenko himself, who had spent five years in the U.S. 20 years ago.4 At that time, there had been no such pressure with regard to emigration from the USSR. Therefore it was clear that this issue was something artificially imposed from the top.

Shevardnadze indicated that there was one other thing which Shultz had said that was offensive, i.e. that if these issues were not resolved quietly, a great deal of noise and demonstrations would occur. He asked Shultz to indicate what, exactly, would happen. At any rate, it didn’t matter. The President had launched a crusade against communism, and what had happened? If people are aroused with regard to human rights in the Soviet Union, what would happen? There would only be an increase in tension, which some people in the U.S. would like, nothing more.

Shultz said that at least he had heard more from the Soviet side about this issue than in the past. He said that he found much misinformation about the U.S. in what Shevardnadze had said. At any rate, he had offered his thoughts in a constructive spirit. At various times the sides have flirted with the idea of letting one or two representatives explore this subject confidentially and quietly. Before he had met Shevardnadze, when he had been at Chernenko’s funeral, he had met with General Secretary Gorbachev, together with Vice President Bush and Ambassador Hartman. Gorbachev had proposed that the two sides should establish a commission to quietly examine these issues, and the Vice President had agreed. But the sides had not followed through and the U.S. would like to do so, not to create a hullabaloo but to improve the level of understanding of these issues in order to resolve them to the extent that was possible to do so. The U.S. would be ready to do this at any time. He also indicated that the Soviet side should not underestimate the political pressure behind these issues in the United States.

Shultz continued that this pressure came not only from American Jews, but all ethnic groups. These issues have been around for a long time. He indicated that he had done research and had found what others had already known, namely that in 1911 there was a serious incident between the U.S. and Russia with regard to emigration.

Dobrynin interjected that this involved Jewish emigration.

Shultz continued that such pressure was a real force in the U.S., and it involved not only the Soviet Union, since there were people from every country in the world in the U.S.

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Korniyenko indicated that the Secretary had not properly understood or had not properly conveyed what the General Secretary had said. He had not proposed that a commission be created to quietly look at human rights issues. He had said, “Let’s get a group together—two people from your side, two people from our side, and they could talk day and night about this. We would give you our ideas about you and your society, and you would give us yours.” This was not what Shultz was proposing today.

Shultz replied that the U.S. was not interested in argument, but in achieving results.

Shevardnadze said that when the U.S. side gave its list, the Soviet side did not object and did not return it, but indicated that if the cases could be resolved in a legal way, they would be, provided that the cases concerned U.S.-Soviet relations. If, however, the cases concerned emigration to Israel, such lists would be returned. But since Shultz had raised the discussion to a philosophical level, the Soviet side had replied as it had, and would always do so.

Shevardnadze continued that the Soviet side looked at this issue realistically. As contacts between people increased between the two countries, it was natural for questions of family reunification to arise, but such questions could be more readily resolved if relations between the countries were better. He repeated that the list of names would be examined, and if something could be done legally, it would be, and if not, an explanation would be given as to why not.

Shevardnadze said that the state was a living organism and the relationship of the state to a man was a relationship between people, and there was mutual respect.

Shultz asked if the Soviet side would like to have his remarks in the form of a non-paper, as Dobrynin had indicated before Shultz had read it.

Shevardnadze replied that it would be up to Shultz, and that the Soviet side would take it if he wished (Korniyenko and Dobrynin seemed to be indicating at this point that a non-paper might not be necessary, since they had been taking notes.)

In conclusion, Shultz brought up the meeting with the General Secretary, scheduled for the following morning, indicating that the proposed attendance was to be quite small, i.e. only Ambassador Hartman, Mr. McFarlane, and himself on the U.S. side. This would be acceptable, although in Washington a larger group of Soviets had met with President Reagan. But perhaps the Soviet side had a special reason to keep the group small. Shultz indicated that he had thought of adding two people to the U.S. side—one would be Ambassador Nitze, a very distinguished American with a long background in the area, and the [Page 586] other would be present as a notetaker, since he knows Russian—Mr. Matlock. But if the Soviet side wished to keep the group small to have a better exchange of views, Shultz did not wish to disrupt this. He was making a suggestion, but not pushing it hard.

Shevardnadze replied that in Washington the President had indicated the number of those who would be present on the U.S. side, and the Soviets had an equal number. He indicated that he thought Gorbachev would want a smaller group in order to speak more frankly.

Shultz indicated that this was acceptable.

Shevardnadze said that he would let the U.S. side know if there were any changes. Dobrynin, however, was indicating to Shevardnadze that Shultz had agreed to the smaller group.

  1. Source: Department of State, EUR/RUS Special Collections—Russia, Political Subject and Chronological Files, Lot 00D471, Shultz-Shevardnadze 11/4–5/1985. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Soviet Foreign Ministry Mansion. Another copy of the memorandum of conversation indicates it was drafted by Zarechnak on November 5. (Reagan Library, George Shultz Files, Memoranda of Conversations (09/1985–11/1985) (11/05/1985); NLR–775–23–9–2–5)
  2. Nikolai Uspensky is the correct name for the Soviet interpreter. In several meetings, the notetaker used a variation in the name or mistakenly recorded the Soviet interpreter as Yuri Uspensky.
  3. In telegram 14807 from Moscow, October 18, Hartman explained that he met with Shevardnadze and delivered the letter from Shultz on divided families. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N850011–0181)
  4. Korniyenko served as Minister-Counselor at the Soviet Embassy for part of the Johnson administration.