42. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan 1


  • Analysis of Gorbachev’s June 10 Letter: Familiar, Except for Afghanistan

We have now taken a closer look at Gorbachev’s latest letter to you. A second look confirms that there is very little new substance.2

As in his face-to-face encounters, Gorbachev avoids harshness or excessive polemics in the letter, and he tries to respond directly to some of the issues you raised in your April 30 letter to him.3 I noted his response to your summit invitation in my initial report. He also addresses your long, stiff opening statement on Nicholson, calling the tragedy “a deplorable incident” and then passing on to arms control.4 Clearly the Soviets are on the defensive about Nicholson, and would like to see the matter dropped.

Despite this effort to be responsive, however, except for Afghanistan and bilateral issues the substance is standard and covered with Gromyko fingerprints:

—Half the letter is devoted to arms control, and most of that consists of pursuing the public Soviet SDI argument in private, even toughening it up with the odd statement that merely announcing an SDI research program is in contradiction with the ABM Treaty. The list of other arms control topics is also familiar: a nuclear testing moratorium, ratification of the 1974 and 1976 treaties, resumption of comprehensive test ban talks with the British, moving in the Stockholm and MBFR negotiations. Gorbachev mentions chemical weapons because you did, but he claims to be pessimistic about the Geneva negotiations on a global ban because of our own CW program, and there is no reply to the proposals I made to Gromyko concerning experts’ talks on Iran-Iraq CW use and Soviet observation of our CW destruction procedures.

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Gorbachev supports our exchanges on regional issues and says he expects an answer to the Soviet proposal for exchanges on new regional topics, i.e. beyond Southern Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East. (I suggested to Gromyko in Vienna that once we saw how the exchanges on Southern Africa and Afghanistan went, the Far East might be the “next best” topic to consider.)

Gorbachev treats bilateral issues directly for the first time in your correspondence, and appreciates that in this area we are again “filling the relationship with content,” as the Soviets put it. Indeed, he says he wishes to move faster and extend the range of the topics we are discussing in the bilateral area. We should keep the pressure on them to close on items where there has been some progress.

—On human rights Gorbachev does not give an inch, but he at least responds. Before he had buried the topic obliquely under objections to “interference in internal affairs.” Here he leaves out the phrase, even while insisting they will not negotiate. In this area, as on Nicholson, the language has a defensive air.

On Afghanistan, Gorbachev is once again responding on a point you stressed at some length in your last letter, where you warned against Soviet intimidation of our Pakistani ally. Predictably, he harps on the question of “outside interference.” But it may be of interest that he identifies “curtailment”—note he does not say “elimination”—of Pakistan’s direct support to Afghan freedom fighters operating from Pakistan as a potential “positive signal from the American side” that would help Soviet-American relations. He asks us to clarify our position for him, using the experts’ talks now scheduled for June 18–19 as an opportunity. We will have to see what approach the Soviets take in those talks before we can determine whether there is anything new here.

With these few exceptions, however, this latest letter from Gorbachev is largely a rehash of existing positions. We may have reached the point of diminishing returns from such lengthy exchanges on matters of principle and attempts to cover our entire agenda. I will have a suggested response for you next week which will be shorter and more sharply focussed.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1985 Soviet Union June. Secret; Sensitive. A typed notation in the upper right-hand margin reads: “6/15 The Secretary will hand carry to White House per S/S—cdb.” Burt sent Shultz the memorandum under a June 14 action memorandum, recommending that he sign it. According to Burt’s memorandum, the memorandum to the President was drafted by Simons and cleared by Palmer and Burt.
  2. See Document 41.
  3. See Document 23.
  4. See Documents 12 and 22.