67. Electronic Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Poindexter) and Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff1


  • Conversation with Sec Shultz

I just had a long talk with Secretary Shultz by secure phone in California. He is about to go into the Bohemian Grove and consequently will be out of pocket until Sunday.2

I opened with the several Soviet issues taking first the backchannel matter. I described the two variants for responding developed by Jack and Mark Palmer explaining the differences (State wanting to prejudge or at least imply Shevardnadze’s involvement; we preferring to leave the format to them without foreclosing anything). He agreed basically but did want to make one change to what I suggested to Jack. Jack’s version states that we have received their proposal and are willing to engage and would welcome their views on how, when etc. I added a line to the effect that Secretary Shultz would head a delegation to Helsinki and that the Soviets could convey their preference as to format to either Mark or Jack.3 The Secretary would like to add his name so that now the message would state that Sec Shultz will head our delegation to Helsinki and that if the Soviets wish to do so, they may convey their ideas as to format to Shultz, Matlock or Palmer. I don’t mind that.

We then discussed what I believe is a fundamental difference as to our approach to the meeting. In my view, State was taking the tack of saying up front to the Russians, “Look, a meeting will take place which ought to involve concrete agreements and that for that to happen we need to focus our attention on those pending negotiations where agreement appears possible.” To me that opens us to being leveraged to make concessions because of our self-imposed deadline. I preferred the approach of saying that their leadership has changed; that warrants the setting of a foundation of viewpoints between our leadership cen [Page 255] tered upon exchanges, first at Helsinki but then followed by analogous dialogue between Reagan and Gorbachev on how each side views its international responsibilities and the threats to their individual and collective interests posed by the other side. This could devolve into a discussion of the several baskets of the relationship (Regional, bilateral, human rights and arms control) but in the context of summarizing how we view the issues and determining, if possible where priority attention ought to be focussed after the November meeting toward resolving some of the disagreements. In so doing, we might find in the wake of Helsinki that the Soviets come forward with positions which make possible agreement in a given area—or we might not. In my view, the President would surely live with either outcome. The Secretary said he agreed with my characterization!! Jack should therefore, work up the Helsinki talking points accordingly.

I then turned to the letters. The Secretary said that he had not seen Mark’s draft and would not until at least Sunday but that he did not really see the need for a letter at all.4 I told him that I originally felt the same way but had been persuaded by Jack that it was in order 1. We have two unanswered letters from them;5 2. With Shevardnadze appointed, and a date set for a RR–G meeting, it was reasonable for our President to state in a foundation letter how he saw our relations proceeding in the coming months—if for no other reason than to put the ball in their court; and 3. To give them something concrete to think about as they come to Helsinki and thereby make that meeting more worthwhile. Shultz acknowledged the merit of these points but said that he thought it just as defensible to answer the pending letters after the6

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron July 1985 (7/8). Secret.
  2. July 28.
  3. Two draft messages, as described in this message, from Palmer and Matlock respectively, along with contingency talking points for the upcoming Helsinki meeting, are in the Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron July 1985 (7/8).
  4. In a July 25 covering note to Shultz, attached to a draft letter to Gorbachev, Armacost wrote: “Mr. Secretary, No letter to Gorbachev is preferable to this one. Jack Matlock, seemingly pressed by Bud, has argued for a letter that focuses on our nuclear testing inspection offer and on rebutting a Soviet claim that SDI is a weapon of mass destruction. Privately with Matlock, EUR has strongly opposed a letter dominated by such narrow and uninteresting themes. But Jack says Bud is keen on them. EUR has tried to add other points to give the letter balance, but to my mind it is beyond repair.

    “A letter to Gorbachev that develops our thinking on how to approach the Summit, and offers concrete ideas where progress might be made, could be useful. But the attached letter does not do this. I recommend that you make the following pitch to Bud: 1) on the eve of the Shevardnadze meeting it would confuse the Soviets to send Gorbachev a letter that neither sets the stage for the meeting nor appears designed to advance Summit planning, 2) let’s hold off on the letter until after the Helsinki meeting and then consider our options, and 3) in Helsinki I’ll convey the offer on testing inspection.” (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1985 Soviet Union July)

  5. See Document 64.
  6. The remainder of the message is missing from the copy printed here. No complete version was found.