175. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan 1


  • Gorbachev Response to Your Human Rights Letter

Dobrynin came by Monday evening to deliver Gorbachev’s response to the letter on human rights which Mac Baldrige delivered when he was in Moscow.2 It smacked of having been drafted by bureaucrats.

The letter is non-polemical in tone, and reiterates the assurance Gorbachev gave you directly that individual cases of divided spouses can be resolved “on the basis of humanism and taking into account the interests of the people concerned.” But it holds out little hope of broad-based progress on human rights issues.

As in Geneva, Gorbachev affirms that Soviet law is not a barrier to the emigration of Soviet citizens who meet its criteria, and rejects bending the rules to resolve specific cases. He reiterates that Moscow will not be swayed in this respect by U.S. pressure, and suggests that human rights cases continue to be “blown out of proportion” in the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Finally, he warns “in passing” against attempts to link trade and economic issues to “questions of a different nature.”

The letter did not address the three specific cases raised in your letter (Sakharov, Shcharanskiy and Orlov) or those I mentioned in my earlier letter to Shevardnadze.3 Dobrynin indicated, however, that we could take up specific cases tomorrow with the Soviet Embassy here. We will, of course, do so.

It is not surprising that Gorbachev has formally stayed with the party line on an issue as touchy as this one is for the Soviets. As we have understood from the beginning, the important thing is not what they say, but what they do. The resolution late last week of the case of Irina McClellan’s daughter is a sign that the positive steps which began before the Geneva meeting are continuing for the moment.4 [Page 766] So is the fact that Gorbachev is prepared to continue the dialogue. Disappointing as the substance of Gorbachev’s response is, it only underscores the need to consider how we can best encourage and broaden the fragile process underway.

I’ve attached the Soviets’ unofficial translation of Gorbachev’s letter.


Letter From Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to President Reagan 5

Dear Mr. President,

Your letter of December 7, transmitted through Secretary Baldrige, addressed the questions on which we had a rather thorough discussion in Geneva. At that time I outlined in detail our approach to these questions, and, it seemed to me, you took in what was said with certain understanding.

It is hardly necessary to repeat, that the questions involved pertain to the internal competence of our state and that they are resolved in strict conformity with the laws. I would like only to point out, that the Soviet laws do not create impediments when decisions are taken on the questions regarding departure from the USSR by Soviet citizens who have legal grounds for that. This is attested to also by the fact that as a practical matter the overwhelming majority of such questions is resolved positively.

The existing laws are obligatory to everybody—both to those who apply to leave and those who consider exit applications. Such is the essence of our law and order and nobody is entitled to violate it—whether under any pressure or without it. I would think this should be understood in the the U.S.

We, of course, take into account, that due to various circumstances, divided families appear, which live partially in the USSR and partially—in the USA. Only in the past 5 years there have been over 400 marriages between Soviet and American citizens. And the overwhelming majority of those marriages—to be precise, more than 95 percent—encountered no problems with regard to the reunification of the spouses [Page 767] and to living together. Yes, there are exceptions, and we have frankly and repeatedly told you what they are about. But generally, and I want to stress it once again, questions of this kind are resolved by us on the basis of humanism and taking into account the interests of the people concerned.

I share your desire to channel the relationship between our countries to a more constructive course. And the breaks are being put on this process in no way due to the existence of the cases of such sort—though I do not tend to belittle their importance from the point of view of the lives of individual persons—but because of the attempts to blow them out of proportion in the general balance of Soviet-American relations. The key issues in this area are awaiting their resolution.

I would like to note in passing: as it can be seen, the continued attempts by the American side to tie up trade and economic relations with questions of a different nature will bring no benefit. It is high time to take a realistic look at this whole issue from the position of today, rather than yesterday.

It would seem that much will now depend on how accurately we are going to follow jointly the real priorities in our relations, if we wish to bring about their tangible normalization already in the near future. I think, the chances are not bad here.


M. Gorbachev
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Head of State File, U.S.S.R.: General Secretary Gorbachev (8690024, 8690124). Secret; Sensitive. Reagan initialed at the top right-hand corner of the memorandum, indicating he saw it.
  2. See Document 168.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 136.
  4. According to telegram 1935 from Moscow, February 5, reporting on divided spouses, McClellan and her daughter, Elena Kochetkova, received visas on January 6. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860091–0861) Immigration visas to the United States were then granted on January 16. (Telegram 886 from Moscow, January 17; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860044–0020)
  5. No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. The text of the letter, translated from Russian, was provided by the Embassy.