64. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Draft Presidential Letter to Gorbachev

Regarding the State Memo with a draft of a letter from the President to Gorbachev and your profs note on the subject, the background is as follows:2

The President now has two unanswered letters from Gorbachev, one of June 10 which was in reply to his long letter which touched on items on the entire agenda, and one of June 22 in reply to the President’s letter on his interim restraint decision (copies are at Tabs IV and V).3 Pursuant to your decision, State was also tasked to prepare the invitation to send nuclear testing experts to our test site in the form of a Presidential letter. They felt, and I concur, that it would not be a good idea for the President to send a letter on this subject and ignore the unanswered letters he has received.

As for the non-paper, I don’t believe State considered the President’s letter as an answer to it. Rick in effect answered it on the spot when he told Sokolov that it was acceptable to us.4

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I believe it is appropriate for the President to react to the Gorbachev letters of June 10 and 22 when he makes his nuclear testing proposal. However, I agree with you that the State draft is defective in some basic aspects. First, it does not really answer the two Gorbachev letters. And second, as you point out, by concentrating on the possibility of agreements in advance of the Geneva meeting, it is likely to leave the impression that we are panting for them.

I have redrafted the letter totally, except for the section on nuclear testing which I have left intact. In doing so, I have tried to do several things: (1) Answer some of the more egregious claims made by Gorbachev in his letters, since the Soviets tend to consider failure to answer charges as tacit confirmation of their accuracy; (2) Avoid extensive and detailed polemics, while reserving the President’s position on all those matters not mentioned; (3) Include the testing invitation in the context of meeting an expressed Soviet concern, with the suggestion that Gorbachev must show comparable regard for the concerns we have expressed; (4) Eliminate all talk of possible agreements before the Geneva meeting, while leaving the door open for some if the Soviets wish; (5) Put the Geneva meeting in the context of an agenda-setting exercise.

This redraft is at Tab I.5 I believe it meets your concerns. I would note, however, that I have not shown it to State, and anticipate a good bit of pain when they see it. (They will cite the last paragraph of Gorbachev’s letter of June 10, in which he expressed an interest in using the time before November “to search for possible agreements which could be readied for the meeting”. In my opinion, however, we should just let this stand and let the Soviets move toward some agreements if they really want them.)

Before spreading my draft further, I will need your reaction—and your instructions in this regard. Perhaps it would be best, if you concur that my redraft is preferable, to deal directly with Secretary Shultz on the matter. I believe that it allows the Secretary full scope to discuss the whole range of issues with Shevardnadze in Helsinki, but at the same time positions the President well tactically. In effect, he will be saying, if you guys want some agreements, you know what you have to do. It’s no skin off my back if you hang in tough and we don’t have any for the meeting in November.


1. That you approve or amend the draft at Tab I, subject to any coordination you may direct.6

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2. That you approve my coordinating the arms control sections with Bob Linhard.7

3. That you either handle the State clearance directly with Shultz, or authorize me to provide the draft to Rick Burt.

A. I’ll handle with Shultz


B. Supply the draft to Rick and get their reaction8

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron July 1985 (3/8). Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action.
  2. The Department of State memorandum and draft were Tab II, which was not found attached. Attached at Tab III is a July 16 electronic message to Poindexter, in which McFarlane wrote: “in any Presidential letter we might send, we ought not be laying out the laundry list of issues in the four areas with the view toward making progress between now and November—THAT IS FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG—and is the surest sign to them that we are panting to get some kind of agreement (and implicitly, that they can leverage our overanxiousness against us). The worst possible way to negotiate. Any letter ought simply to say that the President looks to the meeting as an occasion for setting an agenda and priorities and possibly a game plan for moving on the several issues in the years ahead—period. I wouldn’t even advert to the possibility of reaching agreements before then—surely no more than to say ‘. . . it may be that some headway may be possible before we meet but I don’t think that is essential, especially given your preoccupation with other matters now.’ Please pass this to Jack and ask that he staff this promptly.”
  3. Not found attached. See Documents 41 and 46.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 62. In his PROFs note to Poindexter (see footnote 2, above), McFarlane commented: “the Shultz answer to the Shevardnadze non-paper ought to go back as a non-paper. And it ought to be short and sweet. That is, we ought to say—probably in an oral note to Sokolov this week—roger your last and we’ll see you in Helsinki.”
  5. Not found attached. The final text of the letter was sent via telegram on July 29; see Document 69.
  6. McFarlane approved this recommendation and wrote “exactly.”
  7. McFarlane approved this recommendation.
  8. McFarlane approved recommendation B. He crossed out “Rick” and wrote “Roz as of 7/19,” when Ridgway took over as Assistant Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs, and below this commented: “but elevate it quickly i.e. this week.”