277. Memorandum From Stephen Sestanovich of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Poindexter)1


  • Daniloff and the Summit

At the outset of a new phase in the Daniloff case, it is important to re-examine its connection to other issues of US-Soviet relations, especially the prospects for a summit.2 We have heard the argument that because of our interest in these issues, the Administration should pull back from punitive retaliation. I believe this is exactly the wrong lesson to draw, for two reasons—one hard-line argument, the other soft.3

The first has to do with “linkage.” People have disagreed about whether it works and how, but almost everyone (in this Administration at least) has agreed that the worst policy is what might be called “reverse linkage”—in which we sacrifice a concrete national interest in the hope of keeping the arms control “dialogue” alive. This is precisely what the President himself accused Carter of doing. If the Soviets also have an interest in arms control, then such a policy is plainly unnecessary, but it’s also unwise: the Soviets will read our flexibility on Daniloff as a sign of great eagerness for a summit, which will lead [Page 1115] them to raise the price on other issues. As a result our bargaining position on these issues will be weakened. And if our allies see that we pull our punches so as to keep a good East-West atmosphere, they will feel obliged to trim their own positions too. Only Moscow wins if we start such a process.

The second reason is different, but equally important. To hold a summit in which there is real movement (and perhaps even to hold one at all), the President will need a great deal of negotiating flexibility and domestic maneuvering room. Only then will he be able to explore seriously a package of arms control formulas that would be acceptable to both sides. No bargaining process of this sort occurs without compromises and concessions; these are justifiable as long as they produce an agreement that is in our interest, but it is never easy to gain bureaucratic consensus about which specific concessions to make, and when. If the Daniloff affair sparks recriminations and charges that a desire for a summit led the Administration to step back from a tough, previously-chosen policy option, I believe the President’s flexibility will be less, not greater. By contrast, if he carries through a swift, sure strategy on Daniloff that makes sense, he will strengthen his hand domestically, make clear who decides policy within the Administration, and show the Soviets that his tolerance is limited. It is very possible that some delay in movement toward a summit will result, but our true strategic position vis-a-vis the Soviets will be stronger. A summit in conditions of weakness will be no great triumph.

These considerations suggest three guidelines for handling the Daniloff aftermath in the next several days.

First, our interest is best served by a quick, clean resolution that frees us for retaliatory measures. To force the pace, and avoid prolonged ambassadorial custody, we could go back quickly to the Soviets, saying that we intend to seek Zakharov’s early expulsion, and asking whether Daniloff will be freed while we are seeking to get their man’s charges dropped. With Daniloff out, we can then include Zakharov in the much larger list of expellees.

Second, it is important to keep elements of the US-Soviet relationship balanced, not linked. This means we should consider putting forward some new negotiating positions (either publicly or privately), while the personnel decisions are unfolding. The President’s UNGA speech would be a good forum for this.

Third, as long as we have a firm policy, there is no need to humiliate the Soviets or fill the air with a lot of rhetoric. Rushing the expulsion order before Shultz meets Shevardnadze may be ill-advised. The irreversible decision to go forward should be made beforehand, however, and kept separate from whatever comes out of the meeting.

In sum: It is impossible to be sure when a summit can be held and what its outcome will be. But the most important decision the President [Page 1116] must make is not the timing of the summit, but how to keep his position strong both before and at the meetings that eventually take place.

Peter Rodman concurs.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Stephen Sestanovich Files, Daniloff: 1985–1986. Secret. Sent for information. Copies were sent to Cockell, Matlock, and Major. A stamp in the upper right-hand margin reads: “Natl Sec Advisor has seen.” Poindexter also wrote: “Steve, Good points. Thanks, JP.”
  2. In a September 10 memorandum to Reagan, Shultz wrote: “Our Embassy in Moscow has passed us a message to you from Nick Daniloff. Daniloff asked our consul in Moscow yesterday to convey his deep appreciation for your support. Daniloff said he wished to emphasize that he greatly values the concern you have expressed publicly and privately in your letter to Gorbachev. Daniloff relayed his hope that a diplomatic means would soon be found to resolve his case so that ‘very important’ U.S.-Soviet talks could take place in an atmosphere unimpaired by his continued detention.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Top Secret/Secret Sensitive Memorandum, Lot 91D257, Daniloff Detention in the USSR September 1986 (Yogurt))
  3. In a September 10 memorandum to Shultz, Solomon concurred with this analysis: “In arresting US journalist Nicholas Daniloff, the Soviet leadership has created an important opportunity for us to strengthen further our position in managing the US-Soviet relationship and to weaken Gorbachev’s efforts to play public pressures against the US and Allied governments. If we handle this case effectively, we can not only undermine Gorbachev’s efforts to capture the initiative in the relationship—as through his Vladivostok speech, public proposals for a nuclear test ban, etc.—but we can also strengthen our ‘two-track’ approach to pressures combined with dialogue in dealing with the Soviet Union.” (Ibid.)