256. Memorandum of Conversation1

Visit of Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh
July 26, 1986


    • Ambassador Ridgway
    • DAS Simons
    • Ambassador Matlock (NSC)
    • Mark Parris (SOV)
    • Bruce Burton (SOV) (notetaker)

    • Deputy ForMin Bessmertnykh
    • DCM Sokolov
    • Second Secretary Vitaly Churkin

Ambassador Ridgway welcomed Bessmertnykh to Washington. She recalled the all-night negotiating session with Bessmertnykh at the summit and hoped we wouldn’t have to go through that again.2 The purpose of the meetings in Washington was to organize our work and set the stage for a meeting between ministers and ultimately by our leaders at the summit. The Soviet side has said it wants a summit with concrete results. So do we. We understand the Soviet side has some detailed ideas on how to organize efforts in the weeks ahead. We’re eager to hear them and have some ideas of our own.

Bessmertnykh said he was glad the two sides had come to the same conclusion on preparations for a good meeting between Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. Gorbachev’s June 19 letter had suggested steps for moving ahead, and the Soviet side very much appreciated U.S. acceptance of these ideas for arranging meetings. It [Page 1041] was good to have talked with Ambassador Hartman and to have come to agreement on this point.

Bessmertnykh continued that it was important to arrange meetings over the next few weeks so that time is not wasted. There can be a number of meetings in Washington and Moscow on a number of subjects. The Soviets are quite open to U.S. suggestions. “We want to finish the job with you here so we have a complete program.”

[NOTE: At this point, the two sides then covered, in order, Security and Arms Control, Regional Issues, and Bilateral Affairs.]


Nuclear and Space Talks

Bessmertnykh said this subject was paramount and we should not wait until the opening of the next NST round to discuss it. Thus, the Soviets want a “working-type meeting” between representatives of the two sides. This should not simply be a repetition of Geneva plenaries; there is no time for that. The idea is to get together in small groups, not delegations. One person should be in charge, and have two or three others with him. These representatives would, in effect, say: We know each other’s principled positions. Do we have any common ground? Are there grounds for a summit? Their slogan should be: “Let’s be practical”. If they find there is no common ground, they can say, well all right, let’s not trouble with it at a ministerial meeting. If they agree that ministers “should dwell on it,” they would recommend more formal treatment.

Saying she wanted to make sure we were clear about the Soviet proposal, it was her understanding that this small group would get together and make recommendations to foreign ministers. Would the group recommend further work?

Bessmertnykh replied, “Yes.” The group could look at possible communique language, or foreign ministers could declare they would like the subject worked out in the negotiations, through diplomatic channels or through other means.

Ridgway said that, on the matter of a communique, we would be under “the same injunction as of last fall.” The Secretary had told Dubinin that one thing the Secretary and Shevardnadze should take up is how to record the results of a summit.

Ambassador Matlock said that, speaking ad referendum, there would probably be no particular problem if we were at the point of exchanging language, so long as we don’t call it a communique. The President has indicated that he doesn’t want staffs pre-negotiating an outcome, which he wants to determine. But this may be a matter of semantics or form. We can work at recording what both sides are discussing.

[Page 1042]

Bessmertnykh agreed that it might just be a matter of form. We could try to develop a joint statement or perhaps separate language on individual issues. This is a matter for consideration after September.

Ridgway and Matlock agreed.

DAS Simons said there was a third possibility: having a piece of paper that is something between a communique or individual elements. Ridgway commented that the President knows perfectly well that the language of the Geneva joint statement wasn’t done in one night.

Bessmertnykh said the working meetings should be confidential. Matlock asked if that applied just to the NST working meeting; Bessmertnykh answered, all working meetings.

Parris asked if Bessmertnykh meant the existence of the working meetings was to be confidential, or their content? Bessmertnykh said he recognized that the existence of the meetings was likely to become known, so he was referring to their content.

Bessmertnykh continued that the representatives should have a mandate to explore ideas, “not be frozen into known positions.” If the U.S. is prepared, the Soviets would like to give them freedom to explore—“How about this? How about that?” He said the meetings should not be prolonged. The groups would meet for two or three days, go back to Ministers, then meet again. If they go too long at one sitting, such as two weeks or so, they would become like negotiations, with the representatives requesting instructions from capitals. The working meetings should decide how to handle further meetings. “This will create a flow of business.”

Ridgway asked where the meeting might take place. Bessmertnykh said he would go through that.

Bessmertnykh said the Soviets envision one person in the chair, with perhaps one expert for each of the broad NST subjects, space, strategic arms, medium-range arms.

Matlock asked if Karpov would head the Soviet team. Bessmertnykh said this was possible, but he personally had in mind someone else.

Simons asked if the groups would be of equal size on both sides. Bessmertnykh said they should not be terribly asymmetrical, with three or four on one team, and a dozen on the other.

Ridgway said she could not say much today about the Soviet suggestion, since we are looking over ideas. To recap, the Soviets have in mind a small group, with one person in charge, but not necessarily “experts” in the technical sense.

Bessmertnykh said that’s right. Four representatives would be the maximum. He said the Soviets do not exclude having heads-of-delegation, but Bessmertnykh personally believes that is not a good idea. We shouldn’t close the door to other arrangements.

[Page 1043]

On time and venue, Bessmertnykh said the talks should be held in Moscow or Washington between August 10–15. The Soviets are prepared to host the U.S. group in Moscow; the second round would be in Washington.

In answer to a question from Simons, Bessmertnykh said they want to hold the sessions in Moscow or Washington, and not in Geneva or some other capital, because they do not want cable traffic on the discussions.

Matlock said we will try to have an answer to Bessmertnykh on Monday or before he departs Washington.3

Nuclear Testing

Bessmertnykh said that since our experts are already meeting in Geneva, he did not believe there was a need for a special group.

Ridgway said we can confirm the Barker-Petrosyants channel as the appropriate place to discuss nuclear testing.

Bessmertnykh said that if the talks need additional impetus, we can give it. But we should not tie them too closely to the Foreign Ministers’ meetings. There is not much time for progress, and the destiny of the talks should not be tied to ministerial meetings or a summit. Of course, if they do make progress, that would be good.

Simons told Bessmertnykh not to be pessimistic. Bessmertnykh quipped, “I’m not pessimistic, I’m just not a short-term optimist.”

Conventional Force Reductions in Europe

Bessmertnykh said he believed we can work together on a bilateral basis and can approach this subject as we do chemical weapons, where bilateral Soviet-American talks support the multilateral negotiations. He had two specific suggestions:

MBFR Ambassador Mikhailov would meet with an American representative in Moscow during the last 10 days of August;

CDE Ambassador Grinevsky would meet in Washington during the same time frame.

Ridgway said she understood that the CDE delegations were departing Stockholm in the next few days but would all return there on August 12. Would Grinevsky come to Washington before August 12?

Bessmertnykh answered that, in light of this, we should keep open the possibility of meeting in Stockholm at the beginning of August. He suggested we check with Ambassadors Grinevsky and Barry about this.

[Page 1044]

Ridgway said the Soviet suggestion seemed acceptable since it was in the direction of our own thinking, and we could have our ambassadors hold their meetings in those places. Her sense is that both MBFR and CDE are down to the essentials, such as verification.

Bessmertnykh said that the teams would meet in Vienna and Stockholm. The same rules would apply as to the NST teams. There would be three or four representatives on each side. They would look at the possibilities—not appraise the status of the negotiations, but look at common points for Foreign Ministers to discuss or for the President and General Secretary to say. He added that by helping “Stockholm I”, we will be paving the way for “Stockholm II”.

Ridgway said discussion of conventional force reductions will be difficult for us, since the NATO study will not be completed until December.4 A search for common ground will be complicated by this timing.

Bessmertnykh said he understood that the Halifax study wouldn’t be done until December. One issue is crucial: Where do we discuss conventional force reductions from the Atlantic-to-the-Urals? Vienna? Stockholm? He said his personal preference was “Stockholm II”, but perhaps we can focus on that one element and reach agreement before December.

Ridgway said, “I think not.”

Chemical Weapons

Bessmertnykh said there are two groups in Geneva.

Ridgway said, yes. Hawes and Issraelyan discuss CW proliferation. The CD ambassadors meet on a CW treaty. Both channels are acceptable to us. There will be an early September meeting, and Foreign Ministers can discuss the results.

Bessmertnykh said they would like a meeting in early August which pays more attention to bilateral measures on a CW ban. This could be a basis for discussion by Foreign Ministers—the effort to solve the global CW problem.

Ridgway pointed out that the CD adjourns in the near future until January. To be clear, she understood that Bessmertnykh was suggesting that our CD ambassadors get together in August and identify areas for further work.

Bessmertnykh said that was correct. The Soviet CD ambassador will be ready to go to Geneva whether the CD is in session or not.

[Page 1045]

There was then some discussion about the impact of this work program on summer vacations. Ambassador Ridgway emphasized that she was taking the last two weeks in August. Bessmertnykh said, “Good. I will tell Shevardnadze that Roz Ridgway is taking the last two weeks, and that I’ll get my vacation.”

Parris then asked whether Bessmertnykh was thinking of working on a CW treaty or was looking for areas of agreement. Bessmertnykh said he personally believed there were possibilities for working out the CW question. Perhaps not a treaty, but an understanding or commitments which both sides might take bilaterally. He said the U.S. has suggested three or four areas, and the Soviets have ideas.

Ridgway said there might be a parallel to preparations for last year’s summit, where we both examined our positions and found it possible to come up with some areas of common ground to put into a statement.

Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers

In answer to the Soviet proposal in the July 25 meeting, Matlock said Bessmertnykh could inform his people that a meeting on NRRCs the week of July 28 in Geneva was impossible for us. Colonel Linhard of the NSC staff thought the earliest a meeting might be possible would be August 15, but from our point of view, September would be acceptable.

Bessmertnykh said Obukhov might be involved in the other (i.e., NST) working group. If that were the case, and the group came to Washington in late August, perhaps he could also hold the meeting on NRRCs at that time.

Other Issues

(Note: the following items were actually brought up after the discussion on regional affairs.)

Ridgway said the SCC was meeting in Geneva now.

She said we would have technical talks in early September on the hotline upgrade.


Regional Experts Meeting

Bessmertnykh said we have held experts meetings on five regions separately and do not need to start again on these five groups. He suggested that we have a four- or five-man team discuss regional affairs “as a general subject”. The regional question is a problem in U.S.-Soviet relations and world stability. These talks could look at the situation, perhaps find areas of common interests. The talks could become too academic or focus too much on particular issues, “but we should give [Page 1046] them a chance to talk about regional affairs differently—what approaches are there to solve existing problems or to prevent new ones?” Iran-Iraq was one possibility. Polyakov would participate, not as an expert on the Middle East, but as a specialist on regional affairs.

Ridgway said continuation of the regional experts talks on an annual cycle has been good. We had hoped to have a general discussion of regional affairs during the Foreign Ministers meetings, but this of course had now been put off for nine months. In any case, as we prepare ideas for dialogue, it is good to keep the regional experts meetings going. This doesn’t require great preparation for the summit, just confirmation that it is a good thing. Ridgway continued that, if she understood Bessmertnykh correctly, there would be a single group called “regional” which would get together to look at the broader question of the role of regional issues in U.S.-Soviet relations.

Bessmertnykh said he had talked to Ambassador Hartman about this. The experts meeting the Soviets envision would not “interrupt the flow” of the regional experts talks, which should begin again next January. The meeting would not prevent a discussion by Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Ministers will discuss regional affairs. The experts meeting rather would focus on issues for Foreign Ministers to discuss. It would not prevent or supplant the existing regional experts talks or Foreign Minister discussions.

Simons asked if the Soviets accept our dates for the Afghanistan experts talks (September 3–4). Bessmertnykh said they would.

Matlock said the U.S. would think about the Soviet idea. He had no immediate negative reaction.

Ridgway commented that the proposal posed some difficult questions. We don’t really have an official at Polyakov’s level who is charged with general regional matters—that would be handled by Under Secretary Armacost. But this raised problems of level and visibility.

Bessmertnykh suggested that we find a Polyakov and make him a generalist. He proposed that the talks be held in Moscow or some European capital such as Paris, Madrid, or perhaps Stockholm, and that they be held in mid-August.

Simons remarked that this subject was tricky. Bessmertnykh rejoined, “It’s a minefield.”


Ridgway said Polyakov and Murphy had discussed experts talks on terrorism. This was a good idea. We envisioned a discussion that was broader than just the Middle East. Ambassador Oakley and DAS Simons had talked with people here. They thought we could look at terrorism as a functional, not regional issue, and could look at such areas as civil aviation or hostage-taking. Thus, she would propose to [Page 1047] add terrorism to the meetings calendar. We would take a very practical approach. Simons and Oakley would be our representatives.

Simons added that perhaps Sokolov or (Embassy Minister Counselor) Isakov could represent the Soviets.

Ridgway repeated that we should get a place on the program for terrorism talks.

Bessmertnykh said he accepted the subject on the program and would be back to us through Sokolov.


Bessmertnykh said the Soviets would like to use the same approach on this set of issues as on the others. One group would meet in August to see what could be done or improved.

Ridgway said, that’s going to be me, so don’t pick a date (i.e., in the last half of August). Bessmertnykh replied, that would wreck my vacation, so let’s pick someone else. Mikol’chak? (NOTE: Mikol’chak is senior deputy in the USA and Canada Department).

Matlock said Kashlev is coming to Washington. (NOTE: Kashlev is head of Soviet MFA’s humanitarian/cultural department.)

Bessmertnykh said he only deals with cultural affairs.

Ridgway said there is lots of work going on and she would hate to postpone the work already under way. Wherever there is a group, they should keep going.

Bessmertnykh agreed. The new groups should not interrupt the flow of other groups.

Simons and Bessmertnykh agreed that the bilateral group could meet in August, in Washington and Moscow.

Simons said his last day before vacation was August 23, so let’s start in Moscow.

Ridgway said let’s start as early as possible. The group should lay out some ideas where progress could be made. For instance, on space cooperation, our experts could meet in September to renegotiate our Space Cooperation Agreement.

Bessmertnykh said we could discuss peaceful uses of space, and nuclear reactor safety.

Ridgway said there were other subjects as well—a transportation agreement, health, environmental protection, maritime boundary, Search and Rescue, Coast Guard cooperation. A lot of issues fall under this umbrella.

Simons said we had also suggested, in the Bilateral Review Commission talks now under way in Moscow, an agreement covering dual nationals. We know the Soviets don’t recognize dual citizenship, but we should find a way to deal with these cases.

[Page 1048]

Ridgway said Simons would go to Moscow in early August, and Mikol’chak would come to Washington later.

Bessmertnykh agreed that Simons would go to Moscow; the outside date would be August 23. (At lunch after the meeting, it was agreed that because of coverage considerations on the U.S. side, it would make more sense for Mikol’chak to come to the U.S. in early August, with Simons to pay a return visit in early September).

Matlock said he saw no problem with comparing notes on where we stand on bilateral issues. Simons added we should also identify areas where movement is possible. Matlock continued that some things, like fusion research, may take longer.

Ridgway asked when the Soviets would be in a position to announce dates for the September ministerial. She added that a meeting was becoming common knowledge in any case.

Bessmertnykh answered, probably in a few days.

Simons asked can you confirm that there will be a meeting on humanitarian affairs with Kashlev when he comes to the U.S.?

Bessmertnykh asked, do you want to deal with it as a separate subject?

Simons said we could raise it informally, perhaps at lunch.

Bessmertnykh said that if you raise it, Kashlev will be prepared to talk.

Simons said we’re ready to consider a separate meeting.

Sokolov said Kashlev’s schedule with USIA was very tight.

Simons said Kashlev’s discussions on cultural matters were the main part of Kashlev’s visit. If there isn’t time, we could discuss humanitarian matters during Simons’ visit to Moscow. To clarify, such matters as space cooperation could go forward without prejudice to other meetings; we’re thinking of an early September meeting on this.

Parris asked whether the Soviets envisioned a philosophical review or more concrete discussions for the bilateral experts meetings.

Bessmertnykh said, They’re the experts. They should have one practical goal in mind; to say something to Foreign Ministers.

Ridgway said, to pursue that point, do you see Foreign Ministers reporting to leaders what are areas of possible progress?

Bessmertnykh said, yes. We have to help them make up their minds on possibilities of progress, to see if a summit is justified.

Ridgway said, “Let’s be frank. We’re talking about convincing your leader.”

Bessmertnykh answered that both sides agree that a summit should be well prepared.

Ridgway then previewed the schedule for Monday—a 9:30 A.M. meeting with the Secretary, followed by discussions on nuclear arms [Page 1049] control, lunch, and discussion of non-nuclear arms control. Ridgway said the U.S. would want to talk about the substance of these issues.

Bessmertnykh said he is not in a position to discuss the President’s letter now. However, he could give some hints about Soviet thinking about directions we should be heading, so the working meetings don’t get off the track. This is no time to get propagandistic. There is a time and a forum for that. Now, the two sides have to listen to each other.

The group then adjourned for lunch at the Soviet Embassy.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ambassador Nitze’s Personal Files 1953, 1972–1989, Lot 90D397, July–August 1986. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Burton. The meeting took place in the EUR Conference Room at the Department of State. Brackets are in the original.
  2. During the Geneva Summit in November 1985, the U.S. and Soviet delegations worked through the night to formulate an acceptable joint statement. See footnote 1, Document 159.
  3. July 28.
  4. A statement issued at the end of the NAC Ministerial meeting in Halifax on May 30 established a task force to conduct a study on conventional arms control. See the Department of State Bulletin, August 1986, pp. 53–54.