216. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • Soviet Reaction to U.S. Actions in Libya2

Art Hartman was called to the Soviet Foreign Ministry on Tuesday afternoon by the head of their U.S.A. Department.3 The Soviets told Art that because of U.S. actions in Libya the meeting between Shevardnadze and me, scheduled for May 14–16, was “not possible at this time,” and that the U.S. was responsible for this turn of events. The Soviets will be making an announcement this evening and they suggested that they may undertake further measures. Art was also told that Soviet planes and ships have been operating, and will continue to operate in the Mediterranean. The Soviets said the U.S. should not seek to interfere with their air and naval activities.

Art Hartman believes that since the Soviets are engaging us publicly on this question, we should be prepared to respond. Art found the White House background materials very useful and believes in particular that when the Soviets raise the question of loss of life resulting from our operations that we respond with chapter and verse on our casualties from acknowledged Libyan terrorist activities. I agree. [Page 920] We will be working with the NSC to ensure that our response is coordinated and effective.

It is not clear at this point whether the Soviets are actually cancelling, postponing, or calling into question the scheduled meeting. At this point, however, we have to assume the meeting will not occur as scheduled. This will of course make it more difficult to organize a July summit. For the Soviets, who appeared in any case to be planning on December, cancelling the meeting is a low cost means of responding not only to the Libya situation, but to such previous slights as our move against their UN mission.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron April 1986 (5/6). Secret; Sensitive. Reagan initialed at the top of the memorandum. Acting Assistant Secretary Woessner sent Shultz the memorandum under an April 15 action memorandum, requesting he sign it.
  2. Shultz wrote in his memoir that during his April 7 meeting with Dobrynin (see footnote 4, Document 212), he informed the Ambassador “about Qaddafi’s direct involvement with the La Belle disco bombing (without disclosing why we were so sure) and about Qaddafi’s other terrorist operations against us and others. Dobrynin made no comment. As we came down from breakfast in the elevator, the deputy of our Near East bureau, Arnie Raphel, said, “So we can check off the box marked “consult with the Soviets.” I wasn’t just getting my ticket punched. It was important to have informed the Soviets, an uneasy supporter of Libya, of our strong objections to Libya’s actions.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 684). In retaliation for Libyan involvement in the April 5 terrorist bombing of the La Belle disco in West Berlin, on April 14 Reagan announced that “air and naval forces of the United States launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities, and military assets that support Mu’ammar Qadhafi’s subversive activities. The attacks were concentrated and carefully targeted to minimize casualties among the Libyan people with whom we have no quarrel.” For the full statement, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I pp. 468–469. Documentation on the La Belle disco bombing and the U.S. reaction is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XLVII, Part 2, Terrorism, June 1985–January 1989.
  3. April 15.