14. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • State Paper on U.S.-Soviet Relations

I have looked over the paper Rick Burt gave you.2 It seems to be very thin, almost totally devoid of substance, mistaken in some particulars, and in sum totally inadequate for a fruitful meeting with the President.3

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Although the paper does identify some of the principal problems we face in our public diplomacy and alliance management, and lists some occasions which can be useful in dealing with them, it does not even identify, much less discuss, the hard substantive decisions facing us.

On the tactical side, the implication is that our immediate task is to arrange for a summit. This is an important issue, and it is desirable to have one this year, but the way the paper would have us go about it is not the best way. We must avoid strengthening the impression (which we have unfortunately already given), that the President is desperate for a summit meeting. The focus of the tactical suggestions unfortunately has just this effect. The likely Soviet reaction is to try to wait us out in order to find out how much we will pay for one. This can only delay arrangements for a productive summit, since I assume that the President is not willing to pay a price for one.

For this reason, I think it important that, from now on, we play it cool in our diplomatic contacts with the Soviets. Gorbachev kept the ball in his court in his letter, and we should calmly leave it there until he decides to come to grips with the issue. Meanwhile, we should talk substance, in accord with our own agenda—not with the avowed aim of preparing for a summit, but on the merits of the issues themselves.

The second tactical flaw in the scenario is its handling of the question of a Presidential channel. I believe it would be a mistake to “take the initiative to use Dobrynin.” Have we not learned the dangers of that particular one-way street?

This is not to say that we do not need some sort of “Presidential channel.” We do. But to be of real use, several conditions must be met. First, we must be clear in our own minds what we want to say, and the channel will be of no utility if what we say is simply a replay of what we say elsewhere. Second, it should be reciprocal, providing us with approximately the same level and quality of access to Soviet decision makers as we grant them. Third, if we really want to explore innovative ideas without worrying about premature leaks, it should be so structured as to be publicly deniable, in case the Soviets are tempted at some point to spread a distorted version of the communications to our allies. What the President, Shultz or Bud tell Dobrynin does not meet that criterion, and this would inevitably hamper real candor, particularly in the early stages.

The other points in the “game plan” are so self-evident that I wonder why discussion with the President is considered useful. If we are to lay out a “schedule for progress” with Dobrynin, then what should be discussed is the content of that schedule. The mode of doing so is a secondary question, and I would think that letting Hartman do it with Gromyko (in advance of the Vienna meeting in May) should [Page 47] be seriously considered. If we are going to deal with Gromyko, then it is better to do so directly to the extent we can.

In sum, I believe that we should all go back to the drawing board before we take the President’s time.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron April 1985 (1/6). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Not for the System. Sent for information. Sent through Poindexter, who did not initial the memorandum.
  2. Attached but not printed is a portion of a larger State Department “game plan” paper, entitled “Priorities/Opportunities for 1985.” Under a March 22 covering note, Rodman forwarded the paper to Shultz and explained: “Attached is a ‘game plan’ paper covering the four main issues: US-Soviet, Central America, Middle East, and Southern Africa.” (Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 3/1–31/85) On March 28, Burt forwarded the Soviet portion of the paper to McFarlane and wrote: “Bud: Here is the memo we discussed on US-Soviet relations for the rest of 1985. It’s part of a larger package for the Secretary to use with the President. He particularly asked for your views. Please let me know when you are ready to discuss.” (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron April 1985 (1/6) For the game plan paper, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 237.
  3. In a handwritten note on a routing slip, Poindexter wrote: “Bud, I totally agree with Jack. He is working on a paper listing the issues we should be considering. I hope George hasn’t discussed this with President yet. JP.” McFarlane circled “we should be considering” and responded: “I look fwd to getting it.” For Matlock’s paper, see Document 17.