273. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • Soviet Response to President’s Message on Daniloff

Ambassador Dubinin came by this evening to deliver Gorbachev’s reply (enclosed) to your message on Daniloff.2 The reply makes two main points, keyed to those in your own letter:

—That, although their investigation has not yet reached any conclusions, the Soviets have evidence that Daniloff has been engaged in activities which are against Soviet law;

—And that the case should not be allowed to damage our broader relationship.

Dubinin’s only gloss was to point out the quick turn-around on your message as a sign of the seriousness with which it was read in Moscow.

[Page 1102]

I told Dubinin that we continued to believe Daniloff was being held without justification and that he should be immediately released. The circumstances in which he had been seized, I noted, made it clear he had been trapped. I acknowledged Gorbachev’s expression of concern that the case not damage our relations, but made clear that the Soviets’ continued detention of Daniloff would inevitably affect our relations. Dubinin’s only response was to stress that Gorbachev’s letter had been written with the “most constructive” of motives and was “objective” in its presentation of the Soviet viewpoint.

I think it is significant that Gorbachev’s letter does not challenge your assertion that Daniloff has had no association with the U.S. government. It seems to suggest that the Soviets feel they have sufficient evidence of wrong-doing by Daniloff to try him without directly asserting he was spying for the U.S. government. While we don’t know precisely what they may have on him, Daniloff’s editors have confirmed to us that he sent them photos and other materials on the basis of which a Soviet court would have no difficulty convicting him.

I am also struck by the fact that your message seems to have put the shoe on the other foot with respect to which side seems most concerned about where the Daniloff case may lead. They are now the ones saying that the case shouldn’t hurt our relations. We are the ones saying it is bound to if it isn’t resolved. They may, in short, be beginning to realize how serious we are about this.

Finally, I think it is important to note Gorbachev’s indication that they have yet to draw any conclusions in Daniloff’s case. That suggests they may want, at least for the moment, to retain some room for maneuver, even though they have not yet shown their hand.3


Letter From Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to President Reagan4

Dear Mr. President,

Your letter of September 5 prompted me to ask for information regarding the question you raised. As was reported to me by the [Page 1103] competent authorities, Daniloff, the Moscow correspondent of the U.S. News and World Report magazine had for a long time been engaged in impermissible activities damaging to the state interests of the USSR. Now an investigation is being conducted by the results of which we shall be able to make a conclusive judgement about this entire case.

I think that we both should not permit the use of questions of such kind to the detriment of the Soviet-American relations whose improvement and development are extremely important.5


M. Gorbachev
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Head of State Files, U.S.S.R: General Secretary Gorbachev (8690616, 8690659). Secret. A typewritten notation on another copy of the memorandum reads: “9/6 sent via special S/S–I courier to the WH at 9:00 PM. ABA.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Top Secret/Secret Sensitive Memorandum, Lot 91D257, Daniloff Detention in the USSR September 1986 (Yogurt))
  2. In a September 6 memorandum to Shultz, Parris informed him that Dubinin had requested an urgent meeting with Shultz to deliver a “response from Gorbachev to the President’s letter of September 4 on the Daniloff matter.” Parris continued: “Late yesterday our Charge in Moscow made the same points to Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh that Mike Armacost made Thursday [September 4] to Dubinin. In the course of the conversation, it became clear that Dubinin’s reporting to Moscow on the matter has been incomplete or distorted. Bessmertnykh admitted that certain elements of Combs’s presentation were new to him, for example, the fact that the Soviet Embassy had not alerted us to their letter to the court requesting custody of Zakharov.” (Ibid.) For Reagan’s September 5 letter, see Document 271.
  3. Shultz wrote in the margin below this paragraph: “I hope we can discuss next steps on this very sensitive matter as soon as you return to Washington.”
  4. No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. The text of the letter, translated from Russian, was provided by the Soviet Embassy.
  5. On September 7, Reagan wrote in his diary: “Word came the Soviets were going to officially charge Daniloff with espionage. Gorbachev response to my letter was arrogant & rejected my statement that Daniloff was no spy. I’m mad as h—l. Had a conf. call with Geo. S., John P., Don Regan. Decision was to wait until Tues. [September 9] in Wash. where we could explore our course of action. This whole thing follows the pattern. We catch a spy as we have this time & the Soviets grab an American—any American & frame him so they can then demand a trade of prisoners.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II: November 1985–January 1989, p. 635)