286. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Second Shultz-Shevardnadze Plenary on Arms Control


  • U.S.

    • Secretary Shultz
    • Ambassador Nitze
    • Ambassador Ridgway
    • Ambassador Hartman
    • Ambassador Matlock
    • ASD Richard Perle
    • DAS Tom Simons
    • Robert Linhard, NSC
    • Mark Parris, Director, EUR/SOV
    • Dimitry Zarechnak (Interpreter)
  • U.S.S.R.

    • Foreign Minister Shevardnadze
    • Deputy FM A.A. Bessmertnykh
    • Ambassador Dubinin
    • Ambassador Karpov
    • V. Kuznetsov (Soviet Embassy)
    • T.G. Stepanov (Soviet MFA)
    • V.A. Mikol’chak, Deputy Chief, USA and Canada Division, MFA
    • P.R. Palazhchenko (Interpreter)

The meeting was preceded by a one-hour private session at which only interpreters were present.2

At the outset of the meeting, Shevardnadze asked to speak. Acknowledging that it had been agreed the day before that the present session would begin with a discussion of INF, Shevardnadze indicated he would like to make a few comments on the issue of nuclear testing. As the Secretary knew, the General Secretary had raised the issue in the letter Shevardnadze had delivered to the President the day before.3 Gorbachev had also made a number of recent public statements on the subject. Shevardnadze had to some degree already outlined his views with the President. But he wanted to reaffirm that, for the Soviets, testing was a “fundamental” issue to which they attached great importance.

Shevardnadze assured the Secretary that, when Moscow adopted its testing moratorium decision, it had not been seeking propaganda advantage. Rather, the Soviets viewed the testing question as of fundamental importance in any serious approach to questions of limiting and reducing nuclear weapons. They felt that this was an area where progress was possible.

[Page 1168]

The U.S., sometimes at a very high level, had said in response that the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in this area, that Moscow could afford to stop testing for a while, that it was in fact conducting other tests. This was not so. The Soviets had taken a risk. They had done so because they concluded that it would be a responsible step.

Negotiations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were now underway on testing. Shevardnadze would not say the two rounds which had been held thus far had not been useful. Discussion was necessary. But Moscow did not want to feel that there was no promise in this area.

Shevardnadze questioned whether further nuclear tests were really necessary, as U.S. experts had argued. Existing arsenals would not become obsolete and could remain in inventories for a long time. Testing was necessary only to develop new weapons. It was also necessary to develop space-based weapons. Thus, if, as the Secretary and Gromyko, and later the President and Gorbachev had agreed, there was a serious intent to stop an arms race on earth and prevent it in space, the decision to stop testing was an important one. That did not make it an easy decision; but it was a necessary decision for both sides.

Shevardnadze said he could not think of more than one or two countries in the world which would not agree with this proposition. All others, including the Delhi 6 and the participants in the recent Harare NAM Conference, were in favor. Many political leaders, including some of the U.S.’s allies, were of the same view. To be frank, the U.S. was isolated on this issue in political terms. It ought, therefore, to reconsider the matter and see if there might be possibilities in this area.

With respect to verification, Shevardnadze acknowledged it was a problem. It was necessary to perfect systems of verification. But if the U.S. and Soviet Union were to conclude an agreement, and other nations were to join them, adequate means using existing technology could be found to ensure no tests occurred. Shevardnadze noted that U.S. private scientists were now in the Soviet Union monitoring Soviet test sites. He was convinced they had no doubts the Soviets were observing their moratorium.

What precisely did the Soviets want? They wanted the U.S. to give further thought to the matter, from the standpoint of a future summit (Shevardnadze added parenthetically that he did not know when that might be). It might be that discussions should take place at a higher level. Modalities could be discussed. But Shevardnadze could say in Gorbachev’s name that the General Secretary intended to keep the issue on the agenda.

Shevardnadze acknowledged that it would be impossible to decide the issue today. He wanted only to emphasize that, for the Soviets, this was a serious, important question. It was a test of the two sides’ willingness to work seriously toward nuclear arms reductions, the [Page 1169] ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, an end to the arms race on earth, and the prevention of an arms race in space.

The Secretary said there were some things which could be decided today. There was a saying in the U.S.: “Don’t run before you can walk.” We should start by walking. The way to do that was to establish known means of verifying the size of the nuclear explosions allowed in the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT). We could then ratify that Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET). Then we could proceed to discuss other issues. As Shevardnadze was aware, the TTBT committed both sides to “continue their negotiations with a view toward achieving a solution to the problem of the cessation of all underground nuclear weapon tests.” The U.S. was prepared to honor this commitment.

As long as deterrence depended on large numbers of nuclear weapons, however, we needed to test for various reasons. We needed to ensure the quality of our arsenals. We needed to be able to ensure the safe handling of weapons. The Soviets had completed an extensive modernization of their nuclear forces in recent years, while we had remained relatively stagnant. We now were in a modernizing phase, and needed to be able to test.

The Secretary wanted to emphasize, nonetheless, what the President had said in his July letter. To the degree that we were able to reduce our arsenals (the Secretary noted parenthetically that both sides had used the figure “zero”), then we can deal with the testing program. We were ready to do so in that context. The Secretary underscored the President’s seriousness in adding the testing issue to his letter—but in the context of a related issue: reductions.

We wanted significant progress, the Secretary continued. But the most significant measure in this regard would be the drastic reduction of nuclear arsenals, and especially of ballistic missiles. The President’s commitment in this regard was strong; we were willing to take definite substantive steps. And this was an area in which we were not dealing with unknown things.

Shevardnadze noted the Secretary’s reference to the possible ratification of the TTBT. The problem with this is that it did not get to the heart of the issue. New weapons were being created as a result of testing, even at levels permitted by the TTBT. There was a danger that this trend would move into a qualitatively new sphere—space. A responsible decision was needed now to prevent that. Ratification of the TTBT would not change the situation. Moreover, in view of our past inability to make concrete progress in reducing strategic weapons, there were no guarantees in this area. That was why an “emergency” step was needed. A moratorium was the only realistic approach. It would facilitate our efforts to limit and reduce nuclear arms.

[Page 1170]

Shevardnadze said he could understand why some would want to develop new systems. It was not easy to bring such processes to a halt. What was one to do? Join the competition? But if the Soviets responded, there would be no end to the rivalry. So Moscow had decided that the most realistic approach would be to simply end testing. British, Chinese and other nuclear experts had, Shevardnadze noted, endorsed this approach.

Thus, perhaps at the level of experts, or possibly at a higher level, it would be worthwhile to look again for mutually acceptable solutions in the testing area. Again, Shevardnadze emphasized, the issue would be on Gorbachev’s agenda for his meeting with the President.

The Secretary reaffirmed that we were willing to discuss testing, but said it was important to start with something practical. Such steps could be taken. With respect to the TTBT limits, the Soviets had accused us of violating those limits; we had made similar charges. Shevardnadze commented that the U.S. had not been able to make such charges of late. The Secretary agreed that we had not accused the Soviets of testing in the past year. But the fact was that existing methods of verification had a sufficiently high range of error to cause uncertainty. This could be removed through known methods. We simply wanted to do this, and then move on. Testing was not isolated from other issues.

Picking up on Shevardnadze’s point of the day before on interrelationships in arms control, the Secretary noted that testing was closely linked to the existence of nuclear weapons. If there were a drastic reduction in these weapons, it would have a gigantic impact on the need to test. So there were things we could do in the short term for the purpose of having something concrete. We had made specific proposals and were prepared to move forward quickly.

Shevardnadze remarked that, just as he had obviously not convinced the Secretary, the Secretary had not convinced him. He reiterated that we should look for other ways to deal with the problem. The Secretary said he could be convinced of the need to look. The key to the problem, he felt, was in the START and, in a sense, the INF negotiations. We would be looking for reductions there. Shevardnadze proposed a compromise: the U.S. would stop testing, and the Soviets would ratify the TTBT. The Secretary replied that the proposal was hard to pass up.

The Secretary suggested that the discussion move on to INF. Shevardnadze agreed, and the Secretary opened with a summary of current U.S. views.

The Secretary noted that progress had been made on INF. Both sides agreed there should be an interim INF agreement with equal ceilings on U.S. and Soviet LRINF missile warheads in Europe, and an equal ceiling on U.S. and Soviet LRINF missile warheads worldwide. Both sides had contributed to this movement toward an agreement.

[Page 1171]

Recalling that the Soviet side had proposed a ceiling of 100 warheads on each side in Europe, the Secretary told Foreign Minister Shevardnadze that in the right context, the U.S. had no problem with that. The Secretary noted the Soviet proposal to freeze SS–20 levels in Asia, and that General Secretary Gorbachev had referred to it in his letter. We would, he said, be interested if the Soviet side could expand on that reference.

A simple freeze of Soviet SS–20 levels was not acceptable to the U.S. side, the Secretary continued. Reductions in Europe would increase the significance of SS–20s in Asia. Their range and mobility—especially their mobility—allows them to threaten the security of our Allies in Europe. Simply to freeze SS–20s in Asia would discriminate against Asian states, and would represent a massive shift to Asia in the distribution of Soviet LRINF missiles. This the U.S. could not accept. The U.S. position had long been that SS–20s in Asia should be reduced in the same proportion as in Europe. If the two sides reduced to 100 warheads in Europe, and reduced Asian systems in the same proportion, the Asian ceiling would be something like 63. That, the Secretary said, would be the best outcome.

As the U.S. said in the summer meetings of experts, we are prepared to settle on 100 in Europe and 100 in Asia.4 We were not asking for unilateral reductions; however, a lower Soviet level would result in a lower worldwide ceiling on U.S. forces, and, if the U.S.S.R. reduced SS–20s in the Asian part of the Soviet Union to a level we could accept, the U.S. in turn would undertake not to deploy its LRINF missiles outside Europe or U.S. territory.

The Secretary called attention to a second item, shorter-range systems, which he said could not simply be deferred. At a minimum, these systems should be frozen in an initial agreement. The effectiveness of an agreement reducing LRINF missile systems would be undermined if there were no concurrent constraints on SRINF missiles, the Secretary said, adding that the Soviet side must be aware that this is a matter of concern to our allies, especially West Germany.

The Secretary recalled that the Soviet side had once included constraints on shorter-range systems in its own INF draft treaty. The reluctance of the Soviet side to agree to constrain these systems now troubled us, as it suggested a possible interest in increasing them.

A third point to focus on, the Secretary said, was the question of duration of an agreement. Perhaps the issue was under control, but an interim agreement was only a step on the road to further reductions and eventual elimination of LRINF missiles. We wanted a significant [Page 1172] agreement with substantial reductions that would provide substantial benefits to ourselves and other countries, and we want those benefits to endure until we can work out further reductions on the way to zero.

The U.S. was interested, the Secretary continued, to note that the Soviet draft INF agreement of May 15 contained a clause referring to its remaining in force until replacement by a follow-on agreement.5 That is the concept the U.S. supports.

The Secretary said the U.S. was prepared to undertake a joint commitment to begin negotiations with the objective of further reducing and eliminating LRINF missiles as soon as the interim agreement enters into force. It was important, he added, to build in a follow-on concept.

In conclusion, the Secretary observed that we seemed to be getting somewhere. The Soviet side had suggested a ceiling of 100 LRINF warheads in Europe. The U.S. had no problems with that, if the U.S.S.R. would make comparable reductions in Asia. We were prepared not to insist on strict proportionality, and can accept equality between Europe and Asia. Why not 100 warheads in Europe and 100 warheads outside Europe with a concurrent freeze on shorter-range systems at the current Soviet level? In short, the Secretary concluded, the basis for an agreement is within our reach.

Shevardnadze noted in reply that U.S. spokesmen had on a number of occasions described INF as the most promising area for negotiations. The Secretary himself had said this, as had the President. The Soviets agreed. Shevardnadze recalled that the Soviets had earlier proposed that this issue be separated from other questions being discussed at the Geneva Nuclear and Space Talks (NST). This was a significant step on Moscow’s part toward accommodating U.S. concerns.

U.S.-Soviet contacts over the course of the summer had confirmed that, despite some still-substantial differences, INF was a promising area for further efforts. Such obstacles as remained struck the Soviets as of an artificial nature. The Soviets could only regard their appearance as reflecting an unwillingness to reach an agreement on INF.

The Soviet January 15 proposals had, Shevardnadze recalled, provided for an “ideal” solution to the problem of INF in Europe. While the U.S. might choose not to remember, the Soviets had dropped their insistence on taking UK/French forces into account, despite the threat posed to the Soviet Union by the modernization of those forces. The [Page 1173] Soviet Union will talk with them, but they are U.S. allies who have a very substantial potential against the USSR.

The Soviets also had to consider in this context U.S. reluctance to alter its traditional practice of transferring its most modern weapons and technology to the U.K. There was, Shevardnadze suggested, a moral as well as a political dimension to such an arrangement. The U.S. might have a different view if the Soviets had such a relationship with the GDR, Poland, or Hungary.

The U.S. was also insisting that Asia be included in an agreement on medium range nuclear forces in Europe. But this was not necessary, because the situation in Asia was different. The Soviets believed an interim solution was possible. They had made proposals, which Shevardnadze would not repeat. He would only say that U.S. calls for drastic reductions in Soviet SS–20 missiles in Asia were unjustified.

Similarly unjustified were U.S. demands for inclusion of SRINF in an agreement. The systems involved had been introduced by the Soviets as a response to the deployment of U.S. LRINF in Europe. Reversing that step was something the Soviets were not prepared to do. Bringing SRINF into the equation now would only complicate efforts to reach an agreement.

The Soviets did think it should be possible to find a formula for dealing with systems in Asia. To do so, however, Moscow needed to be sure it would be possible to find a solution to the problem of medium range nuclear forces in Europe, that the U.S. really wanted to remove missiles from Europe. The Soviets impression was that the U.S. did not want to withdraw these forces from Europe. Was that not right?

The Secretary suggested the Soviets put us to the test. We had proposed to eliminate the entire class of such weapons worldwide. If the Soviets were prepared to do that, they would find us ready.

Shevardnadze urged that the U.S. consider carefully the draft treaty the Soviets had tabled in Geneva. Possibilities had not been exhausted for reaching an agreement. It should be possible to find a solution, including for Asian forces.

With respect to the duration of an agreement, that was something delegations could resolve.

In a somewhat disjointed summary of how Moscow viewed the state of play in the Geneva NST discussions, Shevardnadze said that there was some movement overall. Further development was needed to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement. Delegates should now be instructed to try to bring the two sides closer together, keeping in mind their objective of stopping the arms race on earth and preventing its expansion to space. INF was indeed the most promising area. A means should be found of preserving the ABM Treaty and keeping it [Page 1174] in effect for a sufficiently long period. When this question was resolved, the way would be clear for drastic reductions which would take both sides’ positions into account. Finally, there was the possibility of agreement on INF in Europe on an interim basis. The Soviets would be prepared to consider a mutually acceptable formula if convinced that the U.S. was prepared for a solution to the problem of INF in Europe.

Thus, the two delegations should be given instructions so that, in the spirit of the discussion Shevardnadze had had with the Secretary, they would be able to find the mutually acceptable solutions both leaders wanted. There would be a summit sooner or later. It should be crowned with resolution of these questions.

Additionally, there had been good movement over the summer on the question of establishing nuclear risk reduction centers (NRRC’s). Here, too, the Soviets were prepared to reach a mutually acceptable solution. They believed a concrete draft agreement could be considered at a summit. It might now be appropriate for the consultations which have already taken place to become formal negotiations at the Deputy Foreign Minister or some other level.

The Secretary agreed. We were prepared to field a delegation at any time and to formalize the results of the discussions so as to refer them to our leaders.

Shevardnadze proposed that the modalities of NRRC discussions be worked out through diplomatic channels. He said Bessmertnykh would be the responsible official on the Soviet side and would issue the appropriate instructions. Shevardnadze added that Karpov, who would be returning immediately to Geneva, would also be receiving appropriate instructions.

Shevardnadze suggested that other “groups of questions” might also be handled through embassies. The important thing was to be in a position to move forward more boldly than in the past.

In this context, Shevardnadze recalled his discussion with the Secretary the day before on the Stockholm talks. Since that conversation, there had been progress. But now it appeared there were some steps backward. While he did not want to get into specifics, Shevardnadze wanted to note this perception. He suggested both sides order their delegations to find mutually acceptable solutions so that the conference might end on a positive note.

The Secretary replied that we were ready to do so, but that the thresholds would have to come down. This was a matter of principle. There was no way we could accept a threshold so high as to vitiate the other serious work which the conference had accomplished.

Shevardnadze urged that the approach to threshold issue not be one-sided. The Soviets had twice reduced the levels they were willing to [Page 1175] consider; the other side had not been so accommodating. Shevardnadze urged that the U.S. delegation be told it could raise the threshold. The Soviets would look at what they might do, and would be in touch with the neutrals/non-aligned. Moscow was ready to cooperate, but only on a mutual basis.

The Secretary repeated that we were ready, but pointed out that the Soviet threshold had been too high to begin with. Shevardnadze replied that they were no more guilty than the U.S. of padding their opening positions.

Returning to the NST talks, the Secretary told Shevardnadze we would be providing a full account of the present discussions to our delegations. We assumed the Soviets would do the same. We would convey a sense of the depth of the discussion. We would hope the Soviets registered the possibilities in START as well as in INF. We hoped they would reflect on the deep significance of the President’s initiative with respect to SDI. There was potential for bold action. The implications of eliminating ballistic missiles entirely were staggering. We knew the Soviets were considering all this. We hoped they would reflect further.

The Secretary hoped he and Shevardnadze would have a chance to discuss the issues they had addressed again at some point, and that the President and General Secretary would also have the opportunity before too long.

Shevardnadze indicated that he would consider the points the Secretary had highlighted. He asked the Secretary, for his part, to consider especially how it might be possible to strengthen the ABM Treaty. As Shevardnadze had stressed repeatedly, this was of fundamental importance from the Soviet standpoint. Shevardnadze also hoped the U.S. would consider the question of offensive space weapons—however they might be termed. This, too, was fundamental.

The Secretary noted we had given a partial response the day before.

Continuing, the Secretary noted he had a few things to say on chemical weapons. He urged that our ambassadors at the Conference on Disarmament look at the outstanding issues: data exchange, challenge inspections, etc. There was much to be discussed in Geneva, but the Secretary felt prospects were better in the wake of recent exchanges than in the past.

On CW proliferation, it was clear from exchanges since Geneva that both sides were concerned about the problem. It might be possible to identify some things which could be done about it. Our experts should continue to meet to see if they could reach agreement.

Shevardnadze agreed. Our representatives at the CD had been cooperating well and had generated some important momentum. Shevard[Page 1176]nadze put down a marker that the Soviets viewed challenge inspections as reserved for extreme circumstances. Nonetheless, to advance the conclusion of a CW convention, the Soviets could accept mutually acceptable procedures which would satisfy verification concerns without threatening the security of the inspected country, or compromising commercial secrets of the chemical industry. The Soviets found some similarity to their own views in the recent UK proposal, although certain points required further clarification.

Regarding non-proliferation, non-production of chemical weapons by commercial industry was not a simple question. They should not produce supertoxic chemicals. Measures should be agreed to prevent chemical weapons proliferation. The Soviets had taken unilateral means to ensure against precursors falling into the wrong hands. Recent U.S.–Soviet exchanges on the subject had also been productive and led to a degree of mutual understanding. This could be the basis for more effective cooperation. The Soviets would be prepared to cooperate more intensively at the expert level, or, if necessary, at the Deputy Foreign Minister level to address questions which have arisen. If this approach suited the U.S. side, there would be some basis for further work. In closing, Shevardnadze called for eliminating binary weapons, which, he said, only complicated the problem.

The Secretary commented that there seemed to be room for movement in this area.

Moving in the “headline” fashion he and Gromyko had used to deal with time constraints, the Secretary continued that NPT appeared to be another area where we could agree to cooperate, as we have in the past.

With respect to conventional armaments, the Secretary expressed the U.S. deep disappointment that, after making a major concession to the Eastern position on data, the East’s interest appeared to have fallen off completely. We believed an agreement along the lines we had suggested would be a good thing.

The Secretary proposed that we break off the discussion at this point for lunch.

Shevardnadze first replied that, for their part, the Soviets were disappointed with the U.S. approach to the problem of conventional arms in Europe. It should be possible to do something positive in this area.

The Soviets were in favor of concluding the Vienna talks on a positive note. No one expected a revolution there. But something positive was possible.

Shevardnadze said he was aware that NATO experts were studying recent Soviet proposals for a fresh approach to the problem of conventional arms in Europe. He felt these proposals deserved careful atten[Page 1177]tion, calling attention to the fact that they represented a comprehensive package involving inspections not only of reductions but of residual forces. This was a fundamental move by the East and warranted the most careful consideration by the U.S. and NATO.

Soviet concern over next steps in European security was the reason Moscow was prepared to give an impetus to its delegates in the Stockholm conference. After that meeting, it would be necessary to decide where and in what kind of mechanism to consider the question of reducing armaments in Europe. The Soviets had an open mind on this point: a continuation of Stockholm; a new forum; or an expansion of the Vienna talks. The problem with the Vienna forum, as the U.S. knew, was that it was incomplete. The French, to give only one example, were not represented. So Shevardnadze hoped for a good response from the NATO experts.

The Secretary noted the range of options Shevardnadze had mentioned and confirmed that the NATO study would be completed by the end of the year.6 The meeting concluded.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 4D, 1986 Soviet Union September. Secret; Sensitive. There is no drafting information. Cleared by Davies and Pascoe. An unknown hand initialed for Pascoe. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. See Document 285.
  3. See Documents 280 and 283.
  4. See Documents 263 and 275.
  5. An analysis of the Soviet May 15 proposal was provided in telegram 4556 from the NST Delegation in Geneva, May 15. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860378–0764)
  6. See footnote 4, Document 256.