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


  • Soviet Backchannel Message to Sen. Kennedy: President Playing Politics, but Summit is On

I met Larry Horowitz at noon today, and he briefed me on his meetings with his Soviet interlocutor, Pavlov, earlier this week.2 He asked that I inform only you, Secretary Shultz—and, of course, the President.


The Soviets proposed and indeed insisted on the meeting. They invited Horowitz to come to Moscow, and when he said he couldn’t (he is moving to California this weekend), they proposed another site and settled for Paris, since Horowitz was planning to be in London over the weekend. The meetings with Pavlov took place in Paris between Monday evening and Wednesday morning this week.

At first, Pavlov read from a prepared text, which he stressed comprised his “official instructions.” His “instructions” were typed in Russian, and Pavlov translated as he went along. Horowitz took notes and read them to me from his notes. The following is a close to verbatim version of Horowitz’s account.

The “Message” to Kennedy:

The situation in U.S.-Soviet relations has deteriorated, but its essence is clear to the Soviet leadership. It has become more complicated. What appears in public is like the tip of an iceberg. One sees only propaganda, but much is invisible below the surface.

President Reagan has shown a greatly increased interest in a Summit meeting this year. This is part of his political strategy for 1986 and 1988. He wants to keep the Republicans in control of the Senate and of the White House. It is rare that we can see through American political [Page 1002] manipulations so clearly, and we can only be amazed that the Administration is so obvious in its tactics. Reagan has no interest in arms control questions as such and is thinking only of politics. We realize that whatever we do has a bearing on politics in the United States. We regret this, but cannot avoid it, for it is a fact of life.

In official communications and in private messages, the Administration has been planning for the development of U.S.-Soviet relations to include a visit by Reagan to the USSR late in 1987 or even in 1988. In preparing to schedule the summit meetings in the United States and the USSR, he seems prepared to reach more practical agreements than any previous American President. We believe he in fact wants agreements.

On nuclear testing, the President is ready to ratify the 1974 and 1976 treaties—if there is improved verification of testing. Not a treaty, but an understanding on the process. Communications from the Administration have offered a statement on testing at the Summit, along these lines. Then our experts would meet to discuss their proposals for “rules of the road,” but they would listen to our views. Note: these proposals are for discussions, promises for progress in the future, but not a concrete agreement.

On medium-range missiles, Shultz told Dobrynin that it was the “best prospect” for an understanding at the Summit. The President took Dobrynin aside at the end of their conversation in April and said it could be done, but it must be on a global basis. Our position on this is well known.

On space strike weapons, both Reagan and Shultz, at different times, as well as other officials, have raised with us proposals for cooperation. They suggest we do this by discussing methods and means to prevent a first-strike capability and the stationing of offensive weapons in space. This is just a way to avoid discussing the ABM Treaty. The Administration wants verbiage promising not to deploy weapons in space, but a free hand to pursue its research. We believe they want to develop a nationwide territorial ABM capability. This is unacceptable. They will never get anywhere with this approach.

On strategic weapons, the President expressed a willingness to reduce by 50%. But for the 1986 summit he wants only to pave the road for signing the agreement when the President visits Moscow—in late 1987 or 1988. That is, he wants good feelings and the appearance of progress this year, but no agreement until the eve of his departure from office.

Regarding other matters, the President’s people have made clear that they would like progress on a chemical weapons ban and are prepared to negotiate agreements on Afghanistan and a range of bilat[Page 1003]eral matters. We now believe that there is a real possibility of progress in Vienna and on taking some confidence-building measures.

We think there are possibilities in all five of these areas. The President and Shultz have persistently pushed the idea that in 1986 we need agreements on the key elements, but no agreements need be finished. These can be ready for signature in Moscow in 1987 and ratified by the Senate, maybe just before the 1988 election. As Shultz put it, “We need to identify elements now to have agreements ready next year.” When Dobrynin had his final meeting with the President, the President said, “What would you think about identifying the elements of an INF agreement at the 1986 Summit? If we could, we would have almost a year to build an agreement and sign it in 1987.”

Therefore, we believe that the President is proposing a two-stage process. It is a cynical and politically motivated attitude. Preliminary agreements in 1986 and complete agreements in 1987. American officials make it very clear. For example, Matlock told one of our people that we need to settle on the types of weapons to be covered and the numbers, and to talk in precise terms. These are just words. They have nothing practical in mind, just words. [Horowitz commented that he thought the words attributed to me demonstrated the opposite of what the Soviets were trying to prove. I agreed, and explained that I was merely pressing them to get down to business in Geneva.]

What is President Reagan’s intention? First, to avoid agreements in 1986. Second, to pave the way for a Summit in 1987 or 1988. Third, all this is politically motivated. The White House would be satisfied with smiles when Gorbachev comes to the U.S., and a document of words but no substance. Things like rules of behavior and mutual understandings. That is worthless.

We are deeply concerned that international affairs are now so deeply tied to Republican Party politics. We can see that the President needs to employ harsh rhetoric to placate his right wing. We also know why he announced the decision on SALT–II the way he did. It was to play to the right wing. We do not take it seriously because it has no practical significance.


Other Matters:

In addition to his “official message,” Pavlov made a number of comments on other questions, some of which he represented as only his personal view. The ones Horowitz mentioned to me are the following:

Summitry: Shultz and Shevardnadze will meet, Pavlov said. (He did not say when.) The Summit will be held in the U.S. this year. (When Horowitz asked whether this was Pavlov’s opinion, the latter said, “It is fact, not opinion.”) And, finally, Pavlov repeated that it was the [Page 1004] Soviet assessment that agreements would be reached with the President before the end of his term.

Human Rights: The Soviets are releasing 10 more families, as the “second wave” of visas promised Kennedy. One of the persons included, a physicist named Azernoy, could have more than routine significance since he worked in Sakharov’s laboratory and is the first scientist who worked with Sakharov who has been permitted to leave. Pavlov said that this might set a “useful” precedent for dealing with Sakharov, but that he had “no word” whether anything would be done to alleviate Sakharov’s status. (He observed that Sakharov’s Moscow home “was being maintained” so the practical possibility exists for him to return there, but that he was unware of any decision to allow this to happen.)

American Politics: The Kremlin, Pavlov said, had reached the conclusion that the Democrats could not gain control of the Senate in 1986 or 1988, and could not win the Presidency in 1988, therefore they would have to deal with the Republicans. (Pavlov claimed that he personally did not agree with this analysis, but stated that it was the Kremlin assessment.)

Pavlov added that, of the potential Republican candidates in 1988, they liked Bush the most and Laxalt the least. He explained that they knew Bush and thought they could deal with him. But they considered Laxalt an ideologue who would be most difficult. They thought they might have the best chances of all with Dole, he continued, since they “liked his approach,” but felt that he didn’t have a chance. After reviewing these names Pavlov observed that of course they would prefer to deal with any Democrat rather than a Republican, but they just didn’t see this as a real possibility and assumed that they would be dealing with Republicans beyond 1988.

Soviet Bureaucracy: Pavlov is a close friend of Gorbachev’s foreign affairs assistant Chernyayev. When Horowitz asked him what had happened to Zagladin (also a friend), Pavlov claimed that Zagladin is still in charge of “parliamentary contacts” in the Central Committee, including with the U.S., and stated that Dobrynin does not have the field totally to himself. He stated that his meeting with Horowitz had been approved personally by Gorbachev, that his written “instructions” had been approved personally by Shevardnadze, and that Bessmertnykh had participated in the drafting.

Matlock Comment: The chutzpah in the Soviet effort to play both sides of the street on the American political scene is rather breathtaking. Not surprising, but it is so blatant that it is more likely to backfire than to achieve whatever purpose they have in mind. (They probably assume that Kennedy is their pipeline into the entire Democratic Party—which would be typical of the sort of assumptions they make. Actually, I doubt that he tells any of his colleagues about this in any concrete fashion.)

[Page 1005]

Horowitz started our conversation by observing that he had “good news” for us. “They’re telling us they plan to deal with the President,” he added. I think that is exactly right. They have concluded that they have no real alternative but to deal, and are attempting to give the Democrats “fair warning” not to expect “assistance” in the form of stonewalling agreements and such to “help” them in coming election campaigns. I don’t know whether they really believe all the claptrap about the President’s political motivations—they possibly may—but the analysis they offered was obviously tailored for Kennedy’s ear. Even if they believe it, it may not be too damaging, unless they assume that political motivations will make the President “soft” in the end game. If they should make that mistake, they will probably find they are wrong too late to do much about it.

It occurs to me that, in this caper, the Soviets may have been too clever by half. If the message they were peddling gets out to the Democrats, it could be most helpful, since the only logical conclusion to draw from it is that it is most dangerous to make a campaign issue out of the President’s alleged inability to deal with the Soviets. By the Soviets’ own admission, he is dealing effectively, and is likely to have something to show for it before the votes are cast in November, 1988. On the interim restraint decision, the implication seems pretty clear: “Save your breath; it isn’t going to make any difference!”

Horowitz’s Plans

Larry is moving to California this weekend, to take up a job with an investment banker. (Says a couple of years there should take care of his kids’ education!) However, he will continue to be Kennedy’s contact with the Soviets. (They like to deal with people they know.) He offered to be of service to us if we have anything for him to do, and said he would keep us informed if there are any further substantive contacts. He repeated again that he is not sure his Soviet contacts know that he passes this on to us, so that we should not play any back to Soviet officials.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File 1980–1986, Matlock Chron June 1986 (5/16). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Brackets are in the original. Reagan initialed the memorandum in the top right-hand corner, indicating he saw it.
  2. Horowitz, assistant to Senator Edward Kennedy; see Documents 65 and 66 and Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, Documents 163 and 180.