177. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze of the USSR


  • US

    • The President
    • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
    • Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci
    • Kenneth Duberstein, Chief of Staff to the President
    • Colin L. Powell, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Marlin Fitzwater, Assistant to the President for Press Relations
    • Rozanne Ridgway, Assistant Secretary of State, European and Canadian Affairs
    • Ambassador Jack Matlock
    • Nelson C. Ledsky, NSC Staff (Notetaker)
    • Peter Afanasenko (Interpreter)
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh
    • Ambassador Yuri Dubinin
    • Gennadiy Gerasimov, Department Head, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Viktor Karpov, Department Head, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Teymuraz Stepanov, Senior Assistant to the Foreign Minister
    • Aleksey Obukhov, Head of Delegation, Nuclear and Space Talks
    • Sergey Tarasenko, General Secretariat Head, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Georgiy Mamedov, Deputy Department Head, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Pavel Palazhchenko (Interpreter)

The President greeted Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze in the Oval Office, and the two walked out into the Rose Garden with Secretary Shultz for a series of photographs.2 When the picture-taking was completed, the President and Secretary Shultz escorted their guest back into the Oval Office, where the formal discussion between the two delegations took place. (S)

The President began the meeting by welcoming the Soviet Foreign Minister to the White House. He said he looked forward to this conversation. He asked that his personal greetings be conveyed to General [Page 1209] Secretary Gorbachev, and recalled with great fondness his own visit to Moscow some four months ago.3 (S)

The President said that both sides should be proud of what they have been able to achieve over the past few years. Much more remained to be done, both in our common interest and in the interest of all other nations in the world. The President observed that the process that had been set in motion would not end with his Administration. The consistency of policies and the continuation of discussions, as represented by this meeting in the Oval Office, will serve both our countries well in the years to come. The President mentioned specifically the progress made in human rights, arms control, the resolution of regional conflicts, and the expansion of cooperative exchanges, especially people-to-people contacts. The President observed that all this progress shows what can be achieved when two countries recognize differences, but seek ways to overcome their mistrust. (S)

The President noted that there were still four months remaining before he left office. He said he did not intend to remain idle during this period, especially since opportunities existed for additional progress. The President suggested there were a number of things he especially wanted to work on during these final months, but said that before going into detail, he would ask the Soviet Foreign Minister and Secretary Shultz to report on the meetings they had been having together over the past day and a half. (S)

Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze thanked the President for his comments and for his gracious greeting. He said he wished to begin by extending best regards to the President from General Secretary Gorbachev and the other members of the Soviet Leadership. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze recalled that before leaving Moscow, General Secretary Gorbachev had told him that he and all the Soviet people remembered the President’s visit to Moscow in June, a visit that had made a deep imprint on Soviet-American relations. The General Secretary had also said that our two countries had been able to score some important successes over the past several years. We had developed a unique relationship and could be proud of the developments that had occurred between us. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said he wanted to emphasize personally the special role the two leaders had played in these developments. It would have been hard to imagine two or three years ago that US-Soviet relations could have reached this level. Shevardnadze recalled he had told Secretary Shultz that the whole world breathes a sigh of relief as they see the relationship between our two countries develop, [Page 1210] and as we make progress together on arms control, regional conflicts, humanitarian issues and bilateral relations. Historians will certainly record all this, and stress how important these developments have been for mankind. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze observed that summing up the titanic work of our two leaders and reflecting on what needed to be accomplished next formed the core of the General Secretary’s letter to the President. Shevardnadze noted that an advance copy of this letter had been given to the State Department and the White House, and at this point, he handed the original of the letter from General Secretary Gorbachev to the President.4 The Soviet Foreign Minister said the Gorbachev letter represented an attempt to evaluate what has been done and to speak to the need to consolidate these achievements. Those were not simple tasks, but they were tasks the two sides could cope with. Imbedded in the letter was the concept of mutual understanding and respect, something close to both our people. “You must have felt that spirit when you were in Moscow, Mr. President, both through your talks there with our leadership and in your discussions with all levels of our people.” Foreign Minister Shevardnadze continued by saying that the Soviet leadership sought to be in close touch as well with the American people, and thought the desire of most Americans was to build and develop still further cooperation between our two peoples. Both sides want to enhance stability in US-Soviet relations and to achieve additional real results. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said that he could characterize his discussions with Secretary Shultz yesterday and today as extremely useful. They had covered the full range of issues normally on our agenda. Shevardnadze noted that this was the 29th meeting between the two Foreign Ministers. There had also been four summits between General Secretary Gorbachev and the American President. This was unprecedented in US-Soviet relations. Even Defense Ministers, Shevardnadze observed, were now meeting and competing with the Foreign Ministers in exchanging views. (S)

Secretary of Defense Carlucci broke in to note that there had not been anything like 29 meetings between US and Soviet Defense Ministers. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze replied that the Defense Ministers had started late, and thus were somewhat behind. Nonetheless, meetings between Defense Ministers were an important sign. They were a positive and very good development. They showed that something new and special was developing in our relationship. The Soviet Foreign Minister went on to recall that Secretary Carlucci had been shown the [Page 1211] latest Soviet aircraft. He had even been allowed to go inside one. The Soviet Defense Minister in turn had visited advanced US military installations. Even though nothing concrete had resulted from either visit, the events themselves were important. (S)

Secretary Carlucci complained in jest that he had not been allowed to fly the Soviet plane, to which the Soviet Foreign Minister replied “perhaps next time.” (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze continued by observing that what was really important was that specific results had been achieved between our two countries. Those who know history will appreciate how far we have come. Never before have our two countries exchanged experts, had open discussions, and sent professionals into each other’s country to observe how specific agreements were being carried out. The Soviet side believes it important to preserve these arrangements and to reach further agreements in discussions “of our well-known four part agenda.” (S)

“Let me start with humanitarian issues,” said Shevardnadze. If one looks back at our discussions beginning in 1985, one recalls how heated and discordant they were. Now they are quiet and constructive. We are searching for solutions. There have been real changes on our side, and some movement on the US side, at least in your willingness to listen to our positions and to examine your own behavior. This is real progress. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze noted that the two sides were also able to cooperate in a new manner on regional issues. In many areas, we have been able to proceed from rivalry to cooperation. To be sure, suggested Shevardnadze, confrontation remains easier than cooperation. But we have come to identify our mutual interests in some problems, and this is a common and major achievement. Without the Soviet Union’s cooperation in Afghanistan, for example, the Geneva Accords would never have been achieved. There are encouraging trends now present in Cambodia as well, and perhaps even on the Korean peninsula. There is also some prospect for real results in southern Africa, despite the complicated issues involved. Possibilities even exist in Central America. The real results achieved have been reflected and recorded in the Joint Statement we will be issuing this afternoon. (S)

Progress in the nuclear and space talks have been more modest, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze suggested. We have been able to reconfirm the Washington Summit language on the ABM Treaty. Some limited advance has also been made on air-launch cruise missiles and mobile missiles. The two sides have instructed their negotiators to use every hour of every day, and to allow no pause or slow-down in efforts to reach agreement on specific points in the arms control area, and to create and improve wherever possible the atmosphere for negotiations. (S)

[Page 1212]

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze acknowledged his awareness of the American concern for the radar at Krasnoyarsk. “The Soviet side takes a sober view of this problem,” which is the subject of a good part of the letter from General Secretary Gorbachev.5 It is also a subject where the Soviet side has made known its views to the general public. We have decided to remove this obstacle to our relations, concluded Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, by turning the Krasnoyarsk site into a place for world space research. We will invite scientists from all countries to work with us to restructure and convert the Krasnoyarsk station for specific peaceful outer space use. Shevardnadze said his government would also be inviting congressmen and people from Third World countries to come and view the changes. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze claimed good progress had also been made in the conventional arms control area. The problem of a conventional mandate in Vienna needed to be solved, because we want negotiations on conventional arms reductions to begin before the end of 1988. We were not able, Shevardnadze continued, to remove all problems in the mandate area, but we were able to draw our two positions closer, and we now believe we have a good basis to complete our work and to draft agreed language in Vienna. We also think some good progress has been made in our efforts to ban chemical weapons. This is a complex and grave problem. All of us are concerned by this problem, to which the Soviet side has brought some new proposals and “to which we understand the American side is also prepared to bring fresh ideas.” With respect to testing, agreement on the two open protocols can be reached, so that treaties can be sent to our respective legislatures for ratification by the end of the year. All that we have achieved and the problems that we still face are reflected in the Joint Statement which we have prepared together.6 (S)

With respect to bilateral relations, a good start has been made. Our exchange programs are moving in the right direction so that programs between ordinary people, scientists, politicians and students have begun and are growing. Not enough has been achieved with respect to trade and commerce, and the Soviet side is ready to move this topic forward in US-Soviet relations whenever the Americans are ready. Obstacles still exist, Shevardnadze said, but he declined to speak of detailed problems, and expressed optimism that trade and commerce could be developed further between the US and the USSR. (S)

[Page 1213]

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze asked to say a final word about the impetus to relations provided by the personal rapport between the two Foreign Ministers. He said that he valued greatly his relationship with the Secretary of State and wished to make that clear now in concluding his report to the President. (S)

President Reagan thanked the Soviet Foreign Minister for his detailed presentation and said he would like to pick up on only a few of the points which the Soviet side had mentioned. First, there was the question of Krasnoyarsk. This radar is not a new issue, but it is one that greatly troubles our relationship. We have discussed this subject all the way back to Geneva in 1985, and the continued existence of this problem goes to the heart of our dilemma about arms control. As I have said on many occasions, the President continued, we do not mistrust each other because we are armed, but we are armed because we mistrust each other. So the sources of mistrust must be eliminated, and one of them certainly is the Krasnoyarsk radar. (S)

The President observed that there would be a new person in the White House in 1989, and he wanted the arms control process left in such a way that old violations had been corrected, and new agreements could be signed and ratified. If, however, the new President and the Congress were faced with old violations, it would be more difficult to conclude and ratify a START or a Defense and Space agreement. The President observed in this connection that he had dealt with four General Secretaries during his term in office and that the current Soviet Administration would soon be dealing with its second American Administration. Because of these kinds of changes, the President observed, it was important to continue to make progress on such subjects as human rights and, wherever possible, to institutionalize that progress through changes in law. (S)

The President said the next US Administration—whether Democratic or Republican—would be just as concerned about human rights as this one has been. Both sides must do everything possible to maintain the progress we have made. The President insisted that all political and religious prisoners in the Soviet Union must be released. Also of concern were divided families, separated spouses and people who have claim to US citizenship. The President observed that US interest was not limited to individuals, and that he and Secretary Shultz had been frank in calling for changes in laws, policies, and practices that conflict with international human rights obligations and the Helsinki Agreement. “If the Soviet Union makes these changes, then individual cases could be resolved automatically, without the kind of political problems they now cause.” Moreover, if there are changes in legislation, fewer people would want to leave the Soviet Union, the President suggested, and Soviet society as a whole would benefit. (S)

[Page 1214]

The President said he would like to conclude his remarks by noting again that the Krasnoyarsk radar issue was particularly hard to swallow at a time when a variety of additional arms control treaties were under discussion. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said he would only say a couple of words in response to the President’s presentation. He noted that he had sought in his summary to emphasize the positive aspects of our relationship. He had not dwelt on Soviet complaints against the United States. Both sides knew what the difficult issues were. The Soviet Union speaks today of its problems openly, perhaps more than Americans do. (S)

As for the Krasnoyarsk radar, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze insisted that the Soviets wanted to close the book on this issue, and that he had so told Secretary Shultz during their conversation yesterday.7 The Soviet Union planned to invite American and other scientists to view the Krasnoyarsk site, and to participate in altering that installation so it could be used for peaceful space research. “We will remove the elements that concern you, and ensure that nothing at this site causes problems.” At the same time, the Soviet Union remains concerned about the radar at Thule, Greenland, and a radar station in the United Kingdom. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze suggested that Soviet scientists be invited to view these installations. Building trust must be a two-way street, Shevardnadze concluded. (S)

Secretary Shultz said he would like to make just a few comments. The meetings over the past two days were good both in tone and substance. A fair amount of work had been reviewed. Some real progress had been made. Above all, there had been continuity of discussion. Our discussions constitute a way of producing results that people view as constructive. “Mr. President,” Secretary Shultz continued, “between now and the time you leave office, we believe there will be new achievements to point to.” There are good prospects for concluding the Vienna CSCE meeting and achieving a balanced outcome. The conventional stability talks could start before January. All of our allies will be in New York next week, and we will try to put into motion with respect to the Vienna conference things we have talked about with the Soviets yesterday and today, and drive things forward at least a bit. (S)

With respect to nuclear testing, which we have talked about all through this Administration, there are good prospects for bringing the necessary protocols into existence and moving forward this year. We have made some progress on other arms control issues as well. To be [Page 1215] sure, regional issues and human rights stir up more distrust and attention than anything else. We want to work together to resolve existing hot spots. Every success has a ripple effect on the solution of other problems, and we are resolved to push things forward as far as we can in the months ahead. (S)

On human rights, there has been continuing evolution of positions and gradual progress. We have established a good pattern of discussion in our working groups, and the Soviet side has told us it intends to issue new decrees and draft new legislation which will institutionalize the kind of changes that we have been looking for. (S)

The Krasnoyarsk radar, Secretary Shultz insisted, is the kind of problem that must be solved now. The Secretary said he could not say for sure if recent Soviet ideas would move things along. The Soviet side has offered to turn the radar into a center for space research. Perhaps this is a positive development. What we need is a Soviet commitment that the things at Krasnoyarsk that violate the ABM Treaty will be removed. We have talked about language that would perhaps get us there. Further talk, however, seems required. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said we still have found no handle to solve the problems in Thule, Greenland, or the United Kingdom, but perhaps we will do this too at a next stage. (S)

Secretary Shultz said both Thule and the United Kingdom were grandfathered by the ABM Treaty. All that is taking place there now is normal modernization. The United States has made this clear on at least 100 previous occasions. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze acknowledged that Secretary Shultz had said this yesterday and on previous occasions. He suggested, however, that the issue be taken up again on “a serious and sustained basis.” Why not let Soviet scientists come and view these sites, Shevardnadze suggested. (S)

The President noted at this point that the Western radar sites had met the terms of the ABM Treaty, and that nobody to date had ever suggested they did not. (S)

Secretary Shultz observed for a second time that the two sides were perhaps on a path towards solving the radar issue, and that further discussion at this point would not be productive. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze agreed but said he was honor-bound to note that, with respect to Krasnoyarsk, the Soviets had made another proposal, namely, if the US side reaffirmed its willingness to observe the ABM Treaty for a period of ten years, the Soviets would be prepared to remove the Krasnoyarsk radar altogether. (S)

Secretary Shultz did not comment on this point, but sought to conclude this discussion by noting our requirement for a good clear agreement on this subject. (S)

[Page 1216]

The President then said that he would like to mention one additional subject that had not yet been raised. He recalled that in June 1987, he had gone to Berlin and made a speech in front of the Berlin Wall, a speech which called upon the Soviet Union to work with the West to improve the situation in that city.8 It had perhaps been unrealistic to have suggested then that the Berlin Wall be torn down in its entirety. The President said he realized that the division of Germany and of Berlin was a product of World War II, and the feeling on the part of the Soviet Union and many others that Germany should never again be allowed to be the strongest and most dominant power in central Europe. But since we had talked earlier about the elimination of mistrust between us, one clear way of eliminating mistrust in Europe would be to allow the two parts of Berlin to work together, and the two parts of Germany to work together. This would be good for Europe and the world. (S)

The President continued that in 1987 he had outlined specific proposals for improving the situation in Berlin, including making the city a European aviation hub, bringing international conferences to Berlin and arranging major sport festivals in the city, including some future Olympic game. The President noted that the Soviets had now responded in a disappointing manner to these ideas. Since true stability in Europe could only come if the aspirations of Berliners and Germans for positive change were met, our offer to work with the Soviets remained open, and we hoped that the Soviet side would still agree to meet with us, the British and the French to discuss possible improvements for Berlin. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said that the President’s statement and speech at the Berlin Wall and his view of the role of Berlin had evoked a harsh negative response in the German Democratic Republic. The German Democratic Republic believed these remarks reflected an attempt by the United States and the West to interfere in the domestic affairs of the GDR. The Soviet Union and the United States had been cooperating in discussing the solution of various regional questions, but one of the principles in these discussions has been respect for the interest of third countries. The GDR, as Ambassador Ridgway well knew, was a sovereign state whose interests could not be interfered with if progress was to be made. (S)

President Reagan said his proposals represented no attempt to interfere with anyone. In our discussions of regional issues, we were well aware that it was up to the parties concerned to solve a good part of the problem themselves. Our role in regional problems was to help [Page 1217] remove existing road blocks, so that the people on the ground could do what they wanted. That was all we sought to do in Berlin. The city was divided unnaturally and artificially. If the two of us would agree to remove the obstacles so that air traffic could be expanded and the city could have international meetings, it would benefit all the people who live in Berlin. The future of the city and of the two existing German states should be left to the Germans to decide. But the Germans had every reason to live cooperatively together, and that was all the US proposals were aimed at accomplishing. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said that the President was misinformed if he thought the questions related to Berlin and the division of Germany could be resolved simply. He recalled the long work required to complete the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin. Some 15 years were needed to develop that document. An effort to revise this agreement should not be undertaken lightly. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said some of the things the President had said sounded sensible and were indeed quite interesting, but his presentation skimmed over the fact that there existed two sovereign German states. There was also the separate political entity of West Berlin, and an existing Four Power Agreement. If we tried to tackle the Berlin problem alone, we might never get anywhere. (S)

Secretary Shultz agreed that the Berlin issue presented major difficulties. The Olympic subject, for example, aroused many emotions. He recalled, for example, the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at which Adolf Hitler refused to shake hands with US Olympic winner Jesse Owens. (S)

General Powell suggested that we were running out of time, at which point the President said in conclusion that we have made great progress on many issues and that, while he did not want to create new problems, it was important to remember that there were still a number of existing difficulties which could not be ignored. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze at this point reached into his briefcase and handed the President letters to Mrs. Reagan from children at the school she had visited in Moscow in June. (S)

The President looked at these letters, noting they were in English, and said he would be very happy to give them to Mrs. Reagan. (S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze then closed the meeting by handing the President a commemorative INF Treaty medal which had just been minted in the Soviet Union. The Foreign Minister said this was the first medal off the press, and that there would be only a few additional copies made. (S)

The President thanked the Foreign Minister for the medal and for the useful discussion which had just taken place. He wished the Foreign Minister well and said he hoped he had a useful visit to New York [Page 1218] next week. He said that he would be reading the Foreign Minister’s speech to the UN, and would be talking to Secretary Shultz about further sessions the two Foreign Ministers would be having together in New York. (S)

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Memoranda of Conversations Pertaining to United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, Ministerial Memcons. Secret. Drafted by Ledsky. The meeting took place in the Oval Office at the White House.
  2. For the record of the informal exchange among Reagan, Shevardnadze, and reporters, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1988, Book II, pp. 1213–1214.
  3. See Documents 156163.
  4. See Document 168.
  5. See Document 167.
  6. Reference is to the September 23 “Joint Statement on Soviet-United States Relations.” For the text, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1988, Book II, pp. 1214–1216.
  7. See Document 173.
  8. See Document 54.