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


  • Conversation with Dobrynin and Sokolov

At the Soviet reception today both Dobrynin and Sokolov took me aside for lengthy private chats.2 (We were in a room with other guests, but since we spoke Russian, the American guests who were standing nearby would not have understood what was said.) The following were the more interesting comments made:

Summit Meeting: Dobrynin volunteered that Gromyko would have a proposal regarding time and place when he meets Secretary Shultz in Vienna. He added that Gorbachev hoped to have a meeting before the end of the year. When I asked about the Afanasyev statement regarding the possibility of Gorbachev coming to the UNGA,3 Dobrynin said that the statement was not only not authorized, but was incorrect. In fact, Gorbachev did not wish to visit the UN in New York, Dobrynin stated. Dobrynin asked whether the President would be interested in visiting the Soviet Union. I replied that I couldn’t speak for the President, but I believed that he might well be interested in a reciprocal visit following a meeting here, provided it went well. As for the situation now, I pointed out that there had been two summits in the Soviet Union since there was one here, and the President felt that it was our [Page 74] turn to host. It was for this reason that he had invited Gorbachev to the U.S.

Comment: Dobrynin was careful not to telegraph the particulars of the Soviet proposal, but I would infer from what he said that it is unlikely to involve a meeting on the fringes of some other event, and also that the Soviets may well propose a meeting in some country other than the U.S. I hope my comments will discourage such a proposal, but we will probably have to wait until the May 14 meeting to know. It would obviously be desirable for Secretary Shultz to be prepared to give the Soviet proposal an appropriate response. My recommendation would be that if it is for a visit to the U.S. that it be accepted in principle (subject to fitting it into the President’s calendar), but that if it is for a meeting anywhere else, that the Secretary indicate his willingness to discuss it with the President, but point out that protocol seems to require the next meeting to be in the United States.

VE-Day Messages: Dobrynin told me when I entered that he had just given Armacost a message from Gorbachev to the President. Subsequently, Sokolov said to me that the President’s letter had been “very well received” in Moscow. He then said that the reason Moscow had decided against an exchange of messages was that they were dismayed to note that, in the President’s speeches in Europe, not one word was said about the wartime alliance. This, he said, was simply not understood, given the very deep emotions connected with the wartime alliance and VE-Day.4 Therefore, the President’s message was most useful in redressing, at least in part, the feeling that the President was trying to ignore the common effort during the war. (I pointed out to Sokolov that, while the President may not have said much specifically about the wartime alliance, he had also refrained from calling attention to the Nazi-Soviet pact and other historical facts which immediately come to mind when the Soviet media distort the U.S. role and U.S. intentions.)

The President’s Letter: Sokolov observed that he had the feeling that both sides really wanted an improvement of relations, but were finding it difficult because of poor communication. Several recent problems, [Page 75] he suggested, might have been handled more smoothly if there had been better communication. I told him that I thought the President had attempted in his long letter to Gorbachev to open some doors to practical steps.5 Sokolov responded that the letter evoked mixed feelings in Moscow; on the one hand the candor was appreciated, but on the other there is a feeling that the top people should concentrate on the big issues and a page and a half on Nicholson seemed excessive in that context. I responded that the Nicholson tragedy involves important matters of principle and that these are anything but trifles. I also pointed out that the deep emotions which the Soviet mishandling of this issue had stirred here could affect a lot of things, therefore it was essential that the President explain this if we are to find a way to avoid gratuitous damage to the relationship. Sokolov, interestingly, did not challenge my statement about the Soviet mishandling of the issue, but nodded grimly in agreement when I used the word. His only rejoinder was that, as he was sure I understood personally, there was no way the Soviet leadership could be persuaded to apologize and offer compensation.

Confidential Communications: Dobrynin took up this theme at some length during his conversation with me. Like Sokolov, he claimed that many of the problems have been exacerbated by the lack of a genuine dialogue, and then sang his usual refrain about how helpful he could be if we would use him. He then went into a long spiel about how very few people in the Soviet leadership are really authoritative on the whole range of U.S.-Soviet relations, and claimed that this circle was limited to Gorbachev, Gromyko and a few others in the “inner core” of the Politburo, plus himself, Korniyenko and Komplektov in the Foreign Ministry. I asked if Marshal Sokolov didn’t have a voice, and he said that Sokolov would be consulted only in regard to arms control and military questions and not on broader political ones.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron May 1985 (4/5). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Sent through Poindexter, who did not initial the memorandum. In telegram Tosec 90363 to Shultz in Bonn, the delegation to GRID, and Moscow, May 9, Kelly noted: “Dobrynin and other senior Soviet Embassy people have given us new and specific details on the Soviet approach to the Vienna meeting, the summit and regional talks over the past two days. This material runs counter to the relatively tough line Gorbachev took in today’s speech, but is also authoritative. We understand Jack Matlock will be reporting some of this, based on his conversation with Dobrynin, through his own channels.” Kelly indicated that Mark Palmer and Thomas Simons met with Sokolov several times and also summarized these conversations. (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, 1985 NODIS and EXDIS Secretariat Memorandums, Lot 94D92, NODIS May 1985)
  2. A V-E Day reception took place at the Soviet Embassy on May 8.
  3. In telegram 2885 from Belgrade, April 9, the Embassy noted: “Pravda editor Viktor Afanasyev last week told a prominent Yugoslav weekly that in his personal opinion a summit meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev is possible at the UNGA in September, despite the fact that there has been no change in Reagan’s basic beliefs and policies.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850242–0132)
  4. In a May 6 information memorandum to Shultz, Kelly reported that while on the phone with Simons on May 6, Sokolov passed a message intended for Palmer: “due to a number of circumstances that do not contribute to a favorable environment, it had been decided in Moscow not to pursue the exchange of messages.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, 1985 NODIS and EXDIS Secretariat Memorandums, Lot 94D92, NODIS May 1985) However, in telegram 139471 to Moscow, London, Bonn, and Paris, May 8, the Department noted: “Although Soviets have informed us they do not intend to send a VE Day message to the President, the President has decided to send the following letter to General Secretary Gorbachev. Embassy should deliver letter at earliest opportunity on May 8.” The remainder of the telegram consists of the May 8 letter, which is printed in Public Papers: Reagan, 1985, Book I, p. 589. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850319–0814)
  5. See Document 23.