32. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

6602. Dept for Secretary and White House for President and McFarlane From Baldrige. Subject: My Meeting With General Secretary Gorbachev.

1. (Secret—Entire text.)

2. Summary: I met with General Secretary Gorbachev for two hours and fifteen minutes accompanied by Art Hartman and Jack Matlock. The discussion ranged from horses and films to the serious questions of our general relationship and the inter-relationships of politics, arms control, trade and political will. In an impressive mixture of advocacy and a rather one-sided painting of recent political history, Gorbachev went on at some length to describe how the Soviet Union would not and could not be put at a disadvantage. He ended, however, with upbeat notes on his desire for improving relations and a meeting with you (the President) and expressing appreciation for the exchange of views which we had. I corrected some of his history, assured him of your desire to be realistic, to seek ways to improve the relationship, to find paths toward peace and to use such items as trade as a way of bringing about a more normal relationship. My overall impression is [Page 121] that he starts from a very ideological and, I would say, historically inaccurate base, but that when you do see him, you will enjoy the exchange and hopefully will be able to set him straight on some of his misconceptions. End summary.

3. Gorbachev was accompanied by Trade Minister Patolichev and the General Secretary’s long-time foreign policy advisor Alexandrov-Agentov. The interpreter was Viktor Sukhodrev. Gorbachev had several pages of notes in front of him but referred to them only fleetingly. After I mentioned that I had seen both a horse farm and a circus, he described his own origins in Stavropol, which is one of the Caucasus areas where the Cossacks came from. He told several stories about his childhood memories of the area and his visits to the horse-raising areas of the region. He then welcomed me and said that the Soviet side regrets that it has been seven years since an American trade minister had visited.2 He said this is surely not normal, and it is surely not normal that we can’t find the will and the wisdom to adjust the relations between us, not just in trade, but more generally in politics in order to bring about a more normal relationship and avoid tragic endings and a bad turn in the world situation. (We had given your letter to the Soviets prior to the meeting so that he would have a chance to read it.)3 In reading your letter, he said he could not agree more that there will not be a fundamental change in our trade relationship without parallel improvements in other aspects of our relationship. Interpreting this in a broader sense than we do, he said we must have better general relations in order to be able to improve trade on a realistic basis. The real question is how we build confidence and that is the most important question.

4. He then went on to set forth his views and those of the Soviet leadership that an improvement in relations with the U.S. is of great importance both for bilateral purposes and for the international security situation in general. But, he said, “we are realists. We recognize the great contributions that the American people have made to world economics, culture and politics.” He said, “We pay tribute to the American people’s contribution, but at the same time we want the U.S. leadership today and tomorrow to be more realistic about the Soviet role and to appreciate the role we have played. This seems to be lacking on the U.S. side. An analysis of the last ten or fifteen years would show that there has been a zig-zag in U.S. policy—punishing the Soviet Union, teaching us lessons, sometimes the whip, sometimes the cookie. [Page 122] We can’t accept this. We don’t approach the U.S. this way. But in Vienna we came a little closer to agreeing on a meeting at the summit. We want to use these contacts to shape our relationship and put it on a more normal basis.”

5. Gorbachev then went on and pursued a line of thought which, I gather, he had used before with the Vice President and Congressman O’Neill—that they could perhaps sit back and wait until the U.S. decides what it wants on a more realistic basis, but they think that is wrong. There is no time to lose because of the giant strides being made in science and technology. “We are not begging for alms. We have enough power to assure equality with the U.S. It would be a terrible mistake of U.S. leaders not to recognize equality as the basis for our relations. Basing policy on strength is not the way to achieve progress.” He then recalled the progress of the seventies on European security, nuclear affairs, in the ABM and SALT I agreements and later in SALT II. He said, “We are capable of solving problems, and the memory of those agreements encourages us to try once again.”

6. He said he and the leadership were giving concrete thought to a future meeting with the President. “We have just begun new negotiations in Geneva—that is perhaps a sign of progress.” But he expressed great discouragement about the first round of negotiations. (He even referred to the head of the U.S. delegation as recently saying that the U.S. wanted enough power to destroy the Soviet Union. I denied this and said that he must be misinformed about such a statement.) He said that perhaps the tactic was to wait for Soviet concessions. “There will be no unilateral concessions,” but he said the Soviet goal is radical and real reductions in nuclear arms. He hopes the second round will get specific, but if these negotiations just run on, or if we just want to draw them out to convince people that something important is going on and keep the peace groups and our allies quiet, the Soviet authorities will find a way to show up our true designs. “We will not participate in a delusion, but if the U.S. meets us half way, we will join.” He hopes that the U.S. can live without its nuclear stick. When he reads statements by U.S. experts, he wonders if the U.S. can conduct foreign policy without a war machine. But, he said, “We have not lost hope. We hope that the President is not under this illusion because we will respond to any challenge as we have in the past. As I told Congressman O’Neill’s group, it is ten times cheaper to overcome SDI with a bigger offense.” He had the feeling the President wanted a realistic response. “Perhaps both of us have positioned ourselves in a corner, but we must find a way out.”

7. Getting around to trade, he said that the President was right in saying that it must reflect our basic political relations. In 1972 we signed a trade agreement in October, but it was preceded by a political [Page 123] agreement in May.4 We had a solid basis for building something, but then in 1974 it was buried by the Jackson-Vanik linkage to human rights. (At this point he even threw in the bombing of a sect in Philadelphia to show how little we care about human rights.5 I countered him on this one as well by saying that a black mayor was dealing with a very dangerous local situation involving blacks.) He said when the Soviets take action, we never see them. In sixty years the Soviets had put together a multi-nationality system which had raised the standards of many backward peoples. “Those are real human rights. If you want to discuss human rights, we are prepared, as I told Congressman O’Neill, but only after the U.S. signs and ratifies the U.N. Human Rights Convention. The emigration issue has buried trade. Today it is only grain, but even in that sector, if the U.S. tries to make propaganda benefits by saying that you are feeding the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union is perfectly capable of buying its grain elsewhere. It’s as if you want to conduct economic warfare and not act as a partner who is predictable.”

8. Gorbachev said that they are now in the process of making general plans for the next fifteen years and detailed plans for the next five years. If projects are not in the plan and particularly if there are no plans for purchasing from the U.S.—“the train will have left. But we are in favor of trade if it is profitable and we are in favor of trade with the U.S. So far this seems to be only in agriculture.” He said he sympathized with the task that Patolichev and I have, but he can say that the Soviet leadership supports what Patolichev agrees to. If we don’t trade, we both lose.

9. In summing up, he said we need to unfreeze Soviet-American cooperation and freeze the arms race and the enmity that has grown up. Cooperation in trade, science and economics could be the litmus test of our true intent. If there is no desire to improve these, then perhaps there is no desire to have better political relations. “If you are here to remedy this situation, that is a good sign. Our basic interest is in improving the political situation and we think trade will help.”

10. I began by saying that I was not going to claim equal time. I appreciated his directness and I would be as direct as he was. I had just a few simple things to say, but I meant them deeply. It looks as [Page 124] though since a Commerce Secretary has not been here for seven years, the General Secretary had saved up many issues to throw at this one today. I promised to report to you the points that he had made, but I said that I could not let pass certain things that he had said that do not accord with the facts. Our American negotiator could not have said what the General Secretary reported him to have said. I then commented on his use of the tragic situation in Philadelphia. In general, I said as an American listening to what he had to say, I felt it was a very one-sided presentation and particularly that it did not in any way represent the positions of the President of the U.S. I encouraged him to talk to you because I was sure that he would find that your goals and policies were quite different from what he appeared to have as preconceptions. I said that it should be clear from the various communications that you want better working relations—that you want progress in arms control, general political relations, trade, and cultural relations. I have heard you use those exact words. I said that you had sent me here because you had decided that trade could form a part of this general policy to improve our relations. I thought that there have been some constructive developments in this field, but that the General Secretary was right that first we must rebuild confidence and then we can think of more significant moves after that. I mentioned several examples of areas where an exchange could perhaps be mutually beneficial—in the areas of management, food packaging and storage and in learning about various service industry techniques. This also could be helpful to them in getting greater access to Western markets more generally. I said that in this goal of improving our trade relations they should not be diverted by what they read in the press because these are not the thoughts of the President of the U.S. I know from having talked to you that the U.S. policy is not one of economic warfare and you have said this publicly. In general, trade will help the rest of our relationship.

11. I said with respect to emigration and human rights that I had raised this problem in the first private meeting with Minister Patolichev not to have a philosophical discussion but rather to state facts realistically.6 I could say with some assurance that Congress would not change [Page 125] the MFN situation if there were no change in emigration practices in the Soviet Union. This was a practical statement of fact.

12. At Jack and Art’s suggestion, I also asked that the General Secretary look carefully at your recent long letter.7 The proposals contained in that letter were designed to improve our relations. I said that I was sure you did not expect all the concessions to come from the Soviet side, just as we cannot be expected to make all the concessions.

13. After I had made the point on emigration Gorbachev interrupted with some heat and asked if we were next going to ask the Soviets to give up socialism. He said Soviets were not like Latin America where we could tell Pinochet what to do or replace him. How, he asked, can we hope to improve relations if Congress thinks it can dictate to the Soviet Union. He could tell us formally and firmly that this (dictation) was ruled out. He then, as we stood to leave, returned to the positive side to say how much he wished to improve our relationship. He complimented me by saying that he thought he could work with me and paid his by now traditional compliment to the fact that the meeting had taken place. But it was a definite upbeat note about the desirability of concrete actions to improve both our trade and our over-all relationship.

14. In addition to any other places that the General Secretary may be getting his misinformation about America, a rather interesting exchange took place in which he indicated that he is a faithful film watcher, and I am afraid he may be getting from those films some of his impressions of our country. He mentioned particularly that while he enjoys the films, there is a lot of emphasis on guns and shooting, “which can’t be good for young minds.” The Ambassador tells me he will try to improve the General Secretary’s film diet. In sum, this is a tough fellow, but I think you will eventually enjoy talking to him.

15. As we were about to leave and I asked how we should treat this conversation in statements to the press, we had an interesting exchange. He said that the less said, the better about summitry and that he thought that the Foreign Ministers after Vienna had been suitably restrained. He said it was all right to confirm that there was support on both sides for such a meeting and that it was useful and necessary, but that the President and the General Secretary were in contact on [Page 126] this matter. Thus, we could confirm that it was mentioned and that there was a willingness in principle on both sides to meet, but that the rest was “under discussion.” He also said that we should not say too much about the rest of the content of our discussions. He said that we should be “very considerate of these contacts,” implying that they should be treated as fragile plants. He ended by asking me to pass on to you his greetings and his appreciation for your recent letters, which will be carefully considered, and he again expressed hope for positive results.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Secretary of the Treasury Blumenthal and Secretary of Commerce Kreps attended a meeting of the U.S.-USSR Trade and Economic Council in Moscow on December 6, 1978. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 161.
  3. See Document 26.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Document 65. Documentation on the May 1972 summit is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972.
  5. Presumably a reference to a May 13 bombing in Philadelphia. According to William K. Stevens of the New York Times: “A state police helicopter this evening dropped a bomb on a house occupied by an armed group after a 24-hour siege involving gun battles.” (“Police Drop Bomb on Radicals’ Home in Philadelphia,” New York Times, May 14, 1985)
  6. Prior to the opening session of the Joint Commercial Commission on May 20, Baldrige met with Soviet Foreign Trade Minister Nikolai Patolichev. The Embassy reported in telegram 6725 from Moscow, May 22: “In a sometimes tense and confrontational meeting, Secretary Baldrige and Minister Patolichev disagreed over Soviet emigration and the question of sending letters to the respective business communities to urge them to do more business with each other. Patolichev said that all our bilateral trade difficulties were the fault of the United States, and it was up to the United States to solve the problems. In a sharp clash of views, he refused to comply with Secretary Baldrige’s request that he tell Soviet FTO’s that they should put U.S. companies on bid invitation lists and that they should not discriminate against U.S. firms. Baldrige told him that he could not accept that response. If Patolichev was not willing to send a letter saying that Soviet side wanted to increase trade with the U.S., then we had come half way around the world for nothing and there was little point in going further. After consulting with his colleagues, Patolichev changed his position and said that since the matter was so important to the Secretary, he would agree to send such a letter. Meeting then ended cordially.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850359–0503)
  7. See Document 23.