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

3607. For the Secretary. Subject: March 21 Hartman-Gromyko Meeting.

1. Secret—Entire text.

2. Summary: My March 21 meeting with Gromyko produced what I take to be the first hint of a counterproposal to the President’s invitation to Gorbachev. Gromyko indicated that the President’s letter is still being studied and advised against our “pushing” for a reply.2 But he asked pointedly at what “level” we would be represented at commemorations in Helsinki of the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Final Act, suggesting Moscow may prefer a meeting there to coming to Washington. While this is obviously not satisfactory from our point of view, I recommend that we not react, lest we appear too eager for summitry. Better to let the Soviets take their own time to reply.

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3. While Gromyko strongly endorsed my view of the need for an expanded dialogue in the months between now and the UNGA, he repeatedly emphasized the need for greater “substance” in our discussions, including, implicitly, in any summit meeting. While my impression is that no decision has been made as yet, this line may presage an attempt to push for quick progress from us in Geneva as the price of a meeting with Gorbachev. Gromyko implied that he will be in Vienna for the State Treaty anniversary and suggested he might see you there.

4. Gromyko expressed a willingness to suspend judgement for the moment on prospects for NST (although he was not encouraged by preliminary reports), but complained about the Western approach in MBFR, CDE and the CD. He begrudgingly agreed to “reflect on” our concerns on Moscow’s plan to take over payrolling of Embassy employees and even to look into a suggestion that I meet with one of his deputies on U.S.-interest human rights cases. He avoided an attempt to draw him out on Soviet VE Day plans. Apparently fresh as a daisy after what must have been a grueling week and a half, Gromyko was cordial, if unenthusiastic, throughout the meeting. While he assured me of Gorbachev’s strong interest in U.S.-Soviet relations, I saw nothing in Gromyko’s presentation to suggest that the new leader has made any inroads in the old master’s brief. He very much appreciated your plaque and guffawed (an oddity in itself) when I suggested they show it to security experts. End summary.

5. Gromyko received me for an hour and twenty minutes accompanied by the MFA’s USA Department Chief (Bessmertnykh), the Ministry’s senior interpreter (Sukhodrev) and an unidentified notetaker. I had along my Political Counselor. After exchanging greetings, I gave Gromyko the sign from Geneva you had had mounted, along with your letter.3 He seemed genuinely pleased, and, after asking me to convey his thanks invited me to begin the session.

6. Summarizing high-level U.S.-Soviet exchanges since November, I told Gromyko I expected to be in Washington in April, and that I would find it useful in my meetings there to have his impressions of where the relationship might be heading in the months ahead. I noted that you had announced you would be going to Vienna in May (he remarked, “I’ve heard”) and recalled our suggestion to Gorbachev that it would be useful to have political level discussions at some point. I suggested that in the period ahead people both here and in Washington [Page 28] would inevitably want to turn their attention to internal affairs, and that there might be some value in talking about how we managed our competition to give ourselves some respite to do so. I pointed out that you had been encouraged by the business-like tenor of your last two meetings with Gromyko, and speculated that the two of you would have an opportunity to meet, if not sooner, at the UNGA next fall. What, I wondered, did Gromyko see as a useful, achievable agenda in the meantime.

7. Gromyko prefaced his response by noting that he might see you if he, too, goes to Vienna. (He later indicated he expected to tell the Austrians “very soon” whether or not he will attend the May 15 festivities). Indicating that he would eventually respond to my final query, he invited me to outline our own views of possible areas of cooperation in the period ahead.

8. I told Gromyko we had put an important part of the relationship back in motion with the resumption of the Geneva talks. It remained to be seen, especially in light of what we considered a first misstep on the Soviet side (Karpov’s interview),4 whether it would be possible to maintain the confidentiality of the proceedings. But we felt preliminary discussions had shown that serious work was possible and that we were prepared to deal with the real issues. While it was too early to draw conclusions on Geneva, at some point a review of progress in other negotiations might be useful. We hoped exchanges in both Stockholm and Vienna would bear fruit, and bilateral NPT talks seemed to be on track. We needed to talk more about CW.

9. We could do more on regional issues, I continued. Referring back to Gorbachev’s remarks in our Kremlin meeting on conflicting U.S.-Soviet views of behaviour with respect to the developing world,5 I asked whether we should not try to develop a better common understanding of the concept of “restraint” than we had in the seventies. I noted that we had already had discussions on Afghanistan and Southern Africa, and that the recent consultations on the Middle East had been useful. We were nonetheless concerned that, despite these exchanges, the Soviets seemed unwilling to take constructive steps even in areas, such as the Iran-Iraq War, where we appeared to share common overall objectives. Reports that Soviet-made rockets appar[Page 29]ently supplied by Libya to Iran had struck Baghdad dramatically underscored this concern.

10. Finally, I noted that there were bilateral problems we could usefully address. By way of example, I noted that four months of negotiations had created the impression on our side that certain Soviet institutions were not anxious to conclude a new exchanges agreement. The cultural and higher education ministries seemed determined not to allow even as extensive a program as had existed before 1979. We were unwilling to settle for less. It would take a political stimulus if we were to move beyond this impasse.

11. Before launching into a somewhat rambling response, Gromyko asked me one very pointed question. Had we, he wondered, given any thought to how the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act might be marked? More specifically, “at what level” should the anniversary be marked? He did not respond immediately to my reply that we had not yet definitively addressed this question. After commenting on my other points, however, he returned to Helsinki, observing that it would be well to mark the occasion fittingly. Moscow’s plans, like ours, had not yet crystallized, he said. The Soviets were considering the question of “level”. In case I missed the point, he repeated that “the level of Soviet participation” at the anniversary was being considered.

12. Taking up my points on dialogue, Gromyko recalled our Kremlin meeting with Gorbachev. Gromyko portrayed the “thrust” of the new General Secretary’s presentation as “the need to find practical means of improving bilateral relations and the international situation”. The main problem was to move from words to deeds. While the U.S. funeral delegation had expressed “solidarity” with the general idea of improving relations, it had, Gromyko chided, seemed to avoid dealing with the substance of the most acute problems facing us—those being addressed in Geneva. The Soviets had not expected an in-depth discussion of Geneva-related issues, of course; but they had “noted” the U.S. “triad’s” apparent lack of preparedness for a “concrete discussion”. Gromyko complained that he had noted the same problem in discussions of less weighty, but still important issues, in diplomatic exchanges here and in Washington.

13. On Geneva per se, Gromyko agreed with me that it was too early to draw any conclusions. He noted, however, that initial reports from the Soviet delegation did not make him “hopeful”. Reiterating that we were only at the beginning of the talks, he expressed a willingness to wait and see how they developed. He was less charitable on our approach to MBFR, Stockholm and the Committee on Disarmament. On the first, he warned that the Western attitude was leading people here to conclude that NATO capitals did not want progress. He [Page 30] described the latter two negotiations as “going around in circles”, warning that Moscow would not accept unilateral steps against its interest. He interpreted the NATO position on CSBM’s at Stockholm as reflecting a greater interest in “intelligence gathering” than in security. This approach would not, he warned, lead to an acceptable agreement.

14. Gromyko acknowledged the utility of the February Middle East discussions,6 but complained that other bilateral exchanges on regional issues had been “cursory” in nature. The Soviets would prefer that future discussions be more “specific” and would be prepared to work with the U.S. to identify possible topics. Exchanges could then proceed through Embassies in either Washington or Moscow. The Soviets were for future regional exchanges, Gromyko concluded, feeling that they played a useful role in “keeping an even temperature”.

15. After making the point on Helsinki described above, Gromyko concluded by reassuring me that the President’s letter to Gorbachev was being “studied”, and that a response would be forthcoming. He did not believe it would be useful for us to “push” for a response. The Soviets felt it best to consider “coolly, level-headedly, and unemotionally” all facets of the message before responding.

16. After addressing a number of Gromyko’s points, I raised our concern over Moscow’s approach to the fortieth anniversary of the VE Day. That approach, I pointed out, had recently manifested itself in a particularly malign way in a Pravda piece (Moscow 03396)7 suggesting that U.S. bombing of Dresden and Tokyo in 1945 was to frighten Moscow. Another problem was the Soviets’ refrain not only that they had won the war themselves, but had been hindered by its “allies”. I reminded Gromyko of Vice President Bush’s assurances that we remembered the sacrifices the USSR had made with us during the war, and pointed out that the Western wartime allies would be commemorating the end of the conflict at the Bonn Summit with our former enemies.8 Our themes would be reconciliation, forty years of peace and economic progress, attempts to bring the fruits of that progress to [Page 31] less developed nations, and the emergence of a new generation. We saw all too little of such themes in Soviet preparations for the anniversary, and thus had doubts about associating ourselves officially with whatever Moscow might have in mind. Noting recent rumors that Moscow would mark VE Day with a major military parade to which Ambassadors would presumably be invited, I told Gromyko that, based on what we had seen thus far, I regretted that my recommendation to Washington would currently be that I not attend.

17. Gromyko, looking more than usually pained, avoided the opening I had given him to reassure us on VE Day. Noting that he was “optimistic” Moscow would win if we compared tendentious commentary in each other’s press, he suggested we “bracket” the issue, and returned to his previous line of thought.

18. Gromyko hoped that Washington would devote more “serious” attention to the main problems facing our two countries: disarmament, the limitation and reduction of conventional and nuclear weapons, non-proliferation, and stopping the arms race, including its extension to outer space. Noting that we had been talking for an hour without dealing directly with any of these questions, he emphasized Moscow’s willingness to do so and stressed that “the most important thing is substance”. The U.S. side’s desire to talk was a good thing in itself, he observed, but it was necessary to fill the discussion with “content”. As Gorbachev had informed Vice President Bush, Gromyko said, such meetings as might take place must be “substantive” and “result in progress in the relationship”. Gromyko assured me he would inform Gorbachev of our discussion, observing that Gorbachev “has a great interest in U.S.-Soviet relations”.

19. I made clear that we were as serious as Gromyko about the substance of the issues being discussed in Geneva and would give our delegation there full attention and support. I pointed out, however, that the time would inevitably come for decisions at the political level. I then raised two final points.

20. I expressed our deep misgivings over the Soviet plan to take over payrolling of Embassy local employees. We could not, I stressed, accept a unilateral change in a system which had worked well for all concerned. It was unacceptable that we should not be able to pay our own employees directly, or that we not be able to use rubles which had been legitimately obtained to do so. Expressing the hope that it would be possible to avoid something neither side needed at this time, I urged Gromyko to look into the matter. He agreed to do so, but pointed out that there was a question of sovereignty to be considered. I could not deny, he intoned, that the Soviet Government had a right to implement the changes it had proposed, just as we would have under analogous circumstances. I acknowledged that they of course [Page 32] had the sovereign right to do this but went on to say that others also had sovereign rights. A competition in applying these we did not need. He agreed to “reflect” on what was said.

21. I then raised the question of emigration cases in which the U.S. had a direct interest—either as regards U.S. citizens or divided families. I said that we had noticed recent signs of progress in a number of cases and that we hoped these would be resolved. Returning to a suggestion that Alexander Haig had made in one of his meetings with Gromyko, I asked if it might be useful for me to meet with one of Gromyko’s deputies to identify particularly promising cases for resolution. Gromyko remembered Haig’s suggestion and asked Bessmertnykh in Russian if anything had been done. When Bessmertnykh shook his head, Gromyko said he would look into the matter. A debater to the end, however, he warned, that the MFA could consider nothing which would infringe on the USSR’s “immutable sovereign rights”.


22. There is more between the lines than on the face of Gromyko’s circumlocutions. My sense is that Gromyko has given Gorbachev his recommendations for a response to the President’s letter but does not yet have the General Secretary’s approval, and therefore must preserve all options. I take his remarks on Helsinki as a hint that we might get a counterproposal to our offer of a summit in Washington. If it is not forthcoming before then, Gromyko may well deliver such a message in Vienna. His ramblings on the need for greater “substance” in our exchanges suggests the Soviets will not be satisfied—at least initially—with a simple get-acquainted summit meeting. Instead they seem to be tempted to see if they can use the prospect of a meeting to move their favorite projects along. Gromyko’s brush-off on VE Day suggests the Soviets have concluded we will not associate with their commemorations under any circumstances, and that they can therefore indulge themselves in a no-holds barred celebration of their “victory over fascism” and link it to their current “national struggle” against the American-fed arms race. His failure to express determination to implement the payrolling plan is a good sign. We will know how good April 1.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ambassador Arthur Hartman Files, Lot 2016F0003, Folder 17: 1984–1985 US-Soviet Relations. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See Document 1.
  3. Thank you letters to Gorbachev, Kuznetsov, and Gromyko from Shultz and Bush were transmitted via telegram 3204 to Moscow, March 14. It seems likely Hartman delivered another copy of this by hand to Gromyko. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850178–0187)
  4. In telegram 3334 from Moscow March 18, the Embassy reported: “Karpov made an unusual appearance on the TV news program Vremya March 16. Soviet spokesmen stress that an agreement on space weapons must accompany any reduction in nuclear arms. They question whether administration support for SDI is consistent with the agreed purpose of the talks.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850183–0565)
  5. See Document 5.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, Document 371.
  7. In telegram 3396 from Moscow, March 19, the Embassy reported: “A major Pravda commentary by Yuriy Zhukov March 18 takes the U.S. to task for its failure to plan for an adequate commemoration of V-E Day. The Zhukov article comes in the wake of Gorbachev’s reference in his March 11 Central Committee speech to the possibility that the 40th anniversary of the end of the war could be the occasion for new positive steps in East-West relations. Gorbachev’s statement and the Zhukov follow-up probably signal a new phase in Moscow’s campaign to press the U.S. on this year’s anniversaries.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850186–0414)
  8. The G–7 was scheduled to meet in Bonn from May 2 to 4.