247. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Shultz in Singapore1

Tosec 110162/199602. Subject: Soviet Ambassador Dubinin’s Call on the President; Gorbachev’s Letter.

[Omitted here is the text of the June 23 memorandum of conversation; see Document 246.]

4. Begin text of Gorbachev letter, in informal Soviet translation:2

[Page 1011]

Dear Mr. President,

In your letter of May 23, 1986 you note that a full six months have been lost, which could have been used for resolving important problems in the relations between the USSR and U.S.3 In principle it is difficult not to agree with that. Indeed, the months which have passed since our meeting have turned out to be a kind of a period of missed opportunities.

Speaking frankly, without diplomatic contrivances we are disappointed by the developments after Geneva, and we have serious grounds for that. Last November it was our assumption that through the efforts of both sides—joint or, if you will, simultaneous—the shift of our relations to a more stable, solid basis would be practically implemented. In other words the period after Geneva was supposed to become a time for intensive work to prepare the next, higher stage of Soviet-American relations.

This, however, did not happen. The reason is not that the real opportunities for such a shift were lacking. It is that the American side did not join the constructive efforts made by the Soviet Union, and even resisted them.

I am saying this not for the sake of polemics which would substitute a businesslike discussion, but in order to set the record straight. The fact remains that it is precisely the Soviet Union who, following the joint commitments undertaken at the Geneva meeting, has prepared and introduced the proposals which, should they be taken up by the other side, would ensure a weighty material content of agreements on the main directions which you and I, Mr. President, have chartered. They constitute a sufficiently comprehensive system of possible solutions on the main aspects of the problem of security. I am speaking about space, strategic offensive, nuclear medium-range, nuclear operational—tactical, chemical and conventional weapons. At the same time we have worked out anew a broad spectrum of measures to strengthen verification and enhance confidence-building measures.

Unfortunately, so far our initiatives have not generated a real reciprocal movement on the part of the U.S. Yet, in fact, each of those proposals contains as an integral element an opening for cooperation with the United States.

The American side has responded by unwillingness to give thought to the essence of our ideas, unpreparedness to get down to their specific discussion or, at best, by calls to return to its proposals introduced even before the November summit. The latter looks strange, to say the least, if one is to take into account that you and I agreed in Geneva [Page 1012] to accelerate the process of negotiations, that is, to move forward, not backward.

Judging by your latest letters, you, too, recognize the importance of the atmosphere shaping up around Soviet-American relations. Understandably, the political climate is determined not only by the public utterances on either side, though this factor cannot be discounted completely, but, mainly, by the practical actions. In this connection it must be stated outright that many American actions, for example, the attack against Libya, renunciation of compliance with the 1972 interim agreement and the SALT II Treaty, were of an extremely negative, dangerous nature. This, naturally, has a direct bearing on the evaluation of the intentions of the U.S. in the international arena and cannot but affect our perception of the attitude of the American leadership to the conduct of affairs with the Soviet Union. Clearly, such a line of action of the U.S. does not make things more definite also in so far as a new summit meeting is concerned, our attitude to which, as I have already told you, is in principle positive.

Nothing should be left unsaid on this subject, however. We are deeply convinced—and we sincerely say that—that with no confidence that actual agreements will be reached there would be no point in holding such a meeting. A sterile meeting would only mislead the public opinion, would have the opposite effect.

Preparing and holding a productive meeting between the leaders of two countries is, naturally, a mutual endeavor. You and I should be equally interested in a positive outcome. Accordingly, an equal degree of readiness to make a tangible contribution to ensuring a positive outcome should also be manifested. In the language of the political practice, that means the willingness and ability to reach mutually beneficial compromises.

I admit, the thought appeals to me, which you expressed in the conversation with Anatoly F. Dobrynin to the effect that the practical possibilities of agreements can lie somewhere between the optimum requirements of both sides. Certainly, it would be, nevertheless, good to resolve the vital problems at one stroke, radically. The critical moment we are going through requires that. But since so far in practice it doesn’t work out that way, let us begin by taking the path of searching for solutions leading to that.

Should the search show that pragmatic agreements are within the realm of our possibilities, then the necessary efforts could be exerted to make them a positive core of our meeting.

In our view, there are several areas where, given mutual willingness, forward movement could be achieved, which could take the shape of agreements at the summit. Given the work which we continue to [Page 1013] conduct to create a basis for such agreements, I would like to suggest that now attention be focused on the following:

First: Space and strategic offensive weapons. The Soviet side, as you know, introduced in Geneva the other day a compromise version of a possible agreement on this subject.4 As a key element we propose to come to agreement on strengthening the regime of the ABM Treaty, among other things, by adopting the obligation not to use for a certain agreed period of time the right to withdraw from the treaty. A more solid degree of strategic stability and confidence resulting from such a step could be enhanced by agreement to ban “offensive weapons” in space, that is, weapons capable of striking targets in the Earth’s atmosphere or on the surface of the Earth, and to prohibit anti-satellite systems, including the liquidation of the existing ones. We would be also prepared to clarify on a mutual basis the boundaries of the activities in the ABM field permitted and prohibited under the treaty.

A forward movement on these problems would undoubtedly permit to resolve as a practical matter the problem of a substantial reduction in strategic offensive arms. On this subject we have outlined two versions of agreements, so to speak, for the American side to pick and choose. One—involving the inclusion of the American medium-range nuclear systems capable of reaching the territory of the USSR among the weapons to be reduced, the other—without the inclusion of such systems.

I have noted with satisfaction your assessment of the new Soviet proposals as “undoubtedly serious”, which will be “intensively and carefully studied” in Washington, which was transmitted to me by Secretary George Shultz through Ambassador Yuriy Dubinin. I see in that an encouraging sign and expect that you will instruct your delegation in Geneva to get down to a businesslike and specific discussion. Our representatives have all the necessary instructions for that.

Second: Medium-range missiles in Europe. Though we have agreed in Geneva, among other things, to conduct a search around the idea of an interim agreement, the American side has never departed from its old “zero option”, the lopsidedness of which is obvious to everybody. Some later procedural additions to that American position do not change things, of course. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we are able to find a mutually acceptable version. The best of them would certainly be agreement on the complete elimination of the medium-range missiles of the USSR and U.S. in the European zone, reinforced by the appropriate obligations not to circumvent it, both on your and on our part. But, I repeat, we are also prepared for partial measures. [Page 1014] I think, there is merit in starting exploring them without delay. If the American side, too, has concrete considerations on this score, it would be good for our representatives to exchange ideas on this subject.

Third: Cessation of nuclear tests. You, Mr. President, have spoken frankly enough about the motives the American side is guided by in continuing to conduct underground nuclear explosions. And yet, I place the question of restraint in that area in the category of political rather than military decisions.

This issue attracts universal attention in the world. Taking unilateral actions in this area and inviting the United States to come along, we by no means are seeking “to drive the other side into the corner”. We would like Washington to have a correct perception of this policy of ours.

I have carefully thought over again the considerations outlined by both sides, including the recent ones, concerning the talks of experts in the field of nuclear explosions. I am also inclined to think that such discussions, conducted without any preconditions, should touch upon the entire range of questions—both the questions of verification and the obligation to define the conditions and ways leading to complete renunciation of nuclear weapon tests.

Taking into account a certain convergence of attitudes we suggest that such talks, which you also spoke about, start in the nearest future, say, in early July. The level and place for these bilateral discussions, I presume, could be worked out soon through diplomatic channels.

All in all, it would certainly make sense for both of our sides to show a realistic approach to this set of questions, which touch upon the nerve centers of security of both the USSR and U.S.

There are, we think, possibilities for joint work, including in the context of the summit, also on such problems as the strengthening of the safety regime for nuclear power plants, cooperation in the peaceful use and exploration of outer space as well as in a number of areas of concrete bilateral contacts. It is our understanding that the American side is also interested in such cooperation.

Thus, Mr. President, the Soviet side does not slacken its efforts directed not only at the normalization of our relations and strengthening of international security, but also at a practical preparation, by deeds, of the summit meeting. I hope that you will view in this light also the considerations about the substance of the issues stated in this letter.

Now, a few words about how our further work could be organized. First of all the already existing fora and channels, including the contacts of our embassies in Washington and Moscow, should be made more active. We attach, as I already have said, great significance to the [Page 1015] intensification of efforts of the Soviet and American delegations at the Geneva negotiations on space and nuclear weapons.

Along with those traditional fora it would be useful as a practical matter to conduct several working meetings at the level of experts, who could consider in a purely businesslike manner a number of problems of importance for the development of our bilateral dialogue. For example, in this format the possibilities could be discussed of bringing closer together the positions of the USSR and U.S. on conventional forces and armaments, on confidence-building measures in Europe, some points of contact could be additionally explored in the positions of the sides on the prohibition and elimination of chemical weapons. We think it is necessary to have a comprehensive exchange of views—in conceptual as well as practical terms—on the whole on the issues of a peaceful settlement in the regions torn by conflicts. Soviet-American bilateral relations could be the subject of special consideration at a similar level.

Such a blueprint of the preparatory work, if it suits you in principle, could be set in motion already in the near future (if necessary its details could be discussed at the ambassadorial or deputy minister level.) The results of such work could be then jointly analyzed by our Foreign Ministers, who could at the same time pick out several questions for a more in-depth consideration at their level. As a result, it could be finally determined how things are shaping up as far as the summit is concerned.

In conclusion, I would like to say: In the complex dynamics of the contemporary international life, ideal moments, indeed, as you write, are hard to find. But to create moments enriched by our mutual constructive efforts, leading up to important results is well in our power. In fact, this is the key to the implementation of that decisive turn in the relations between the USSR and U.S., about which I spoke to you at the beginning of my letter.

End text of letter

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N8600006–0461. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent to Moscow for information.
  2. The letter was presented to Reagan by Dubinin during their June 23 meeting. Although it was undated, Dubinin told Reagan that Gorbachev signed the letter on June 19; see Document 246. In his memoir, Shultz recalled: “While I was in Singapore, a flash cable from Washington arrived with the news that Ambassador Dubinin had brought a letter from Gorbachev. Many Sovietologists in the U.S. government had worried that Gorbachev might not want to expose his arms control ideas to his ‘interagency process,’ and so, with urging, especially from the NSC staff, a private channel or set of special emissaries to carry on the work between us had been proposed. No, Gorbachev indicated that he wanted the work done through ‘existing channels,’ our respective embassies, with the foreign ministers, Shevardnadze and me, taking the lead. This was helpful to me, in the face of the NSC staff’s constant efforts to become the U.S. special channel or emissary.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 722–723)
  3. See Document 235.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 236 and Document 238.