178. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Meeting with Shevardnadze


  • U.S.

    • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
    • Assistant Secretary Rozanne L. Ridgway
    • Ambassador Jack F. Matlock
    • Assistant Secretary Richard Schifter
    • Nelson Ledsky, NSC Staff
    • DAS Thomas W. Simons, Jr.
    • Alexander R. Vershbow, EUR/SOV Director (notetaker)
    • William Hopkins, interpreter
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh
    • Ambassador Yuriy Dubinin
    • Teimuraz Stepanov, Aide to Shevardnadze
    • Georgiy Mamedov, USA and Canada Department, MFA (notetaker)
    • Mr. Groshev, interpreter

After an exchange of pleasantries Secretary Shultz invited Shevardnadze, as guest, to speak first. The Secretary said he would appreciate anything Shevardnadze could say about developments in the Soviet Union and about Gorbachev’s speech to the UNGA to be delivered later that morning. He noted that he would be sitting in the U.S. Chair at the speech. The Secretary added, with respect to the agenda for this meeting, that he also wanted to talk about human rights and to pass on some late information about the Angola/Namibian negotiations on which we have worked effectively together.2

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Shevardnadze commented that if he started with the Soviet internal situation, the Ministers would be late for the UNGA session. He said the most important question he wanted to discuss was the meeting that day between our countries’ leaders.3 Shevardnadze said he believed that, in both form and timing, the Governors Island meeting represented the completion of a very important stage in US-Soviet relations and the beginning of a dialogue with the new Administration.4 We had laid a solid foundation for that dialogue and he wanted to stress on behalf of General Secretary Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership their appreciation for the input Secretary Shultz had made. The Soviets believed the leaders’ meeting should demonstrate to the entire world the commitment of the Soviet leadership and the U.S. Administration to the principle of continuity.

Secretary Shultz replied that he was sure the President and the President-elect shared the sense of satisfaction with what had taken place. President Bush would, of course, want to put his own stamp on things; but as Bush had told Shevardnadze when they met in September, the Vice President wanted to see a continuation, a further development of this relationship.5

Shevardnadze said that everything which had been accomplished in our active dialogue, both at the Summit and ministerial levels, had become an asset for our two nations and for other countries. We could not step back from this process but needed to intensify it by making use of our rich experience. One practical idea he wanted to suggest was to issue a brief document on the results of the Governors Island meeting. This would not address specific aspects of relations, but since this was a concluding meeting, it would be good to have a very brief final document. The Soviets had a draft which also took into account the anniversary of the INF Treaty. It was offered simply as food for thought.

The Secretary replied we were glad to receive Shevardnadze’s suggestion; he would pass it along to the President. It was our view, however, that we probably did not need a joint statement since this was a different kind of meeting. We would, however, study the draft. Shevardnadze said that if the U.S. found the draft acceptable, this would be all right; but the Soviets did not insist on a joint statement. The Secretary said he always looked at Assistant Secretary Ridgway when the subject of joint statements arose. Shevardnadze said he knew whom to look at as well. The Secretary quipped that she looked downcast at the prospect of no joint statement.

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Shevardnadze said he wanted to describe in general terms Gorbachev’s speech to the UNGA.6 He knew the Secretary would be participating in the session and this was also an indication of the new character of our relations. The speech would be of a philosophical and conceptual nature but it also had some specific ideas. He did not think the proposals would make the U.S. uncomfortable since they involved the Soviets’ own commitments.

Shevardnadze said the first element concerned the implementation of the Soviet Union’s defensive military doctrine. Up until now this had taken place at the conceptual level; now the Soviets are starting the practical implementation. The Soviets had developed a concept of “defensive sufficiency.” As a first step toward this concept, Gorbachev would be announcing substantial unilateral reductions in the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe, the western part of the Soviet Union, and Mongolia. While the speech would contain specific numbers he would just say now that the reductions would be substantial. The Soviets had in mind armed forces and armaments in the European part of the Soviet Union amounting to several hundred thousands of men, several thousand tanks, a great number of artillery pieces and combat aircraft, as well as substantial reductions in airborne forces, especially in Eastern Europe.

Continuing, Shevardnadze said the speech also spelled out decisions that been taken on human rights and humanitarian problems. The General Secretary would cite specific proposals on people-to-people contacts, secrecy, family reunification—the whole range of problems will be addressed. In addition, Gorbachev would explain Soviet views about the economic aspects of cooperation among states at the contemporary stage of development. He would speak of ecological problems and make proposals with far-reaching consequences. All these issues would be addressed not in a confrontational spirit but free of polemics and in the spirit of cooperation. Gorbachev would speak of a transition from an economy of weapons to an economy of disarmament. Shevardnadze repeated that numbers and figures would be given in the speech. He believed that this important Soviet initiative would contribute to a successful wind-up of the Vienna meeting and to the more dynamic development of negotiations in all areas—conventional, chemical, nuclear, and space arms.

Secretary Shultz commented that it would clearly be a significant statement and he would listen with great care. Shevardnadze said that in general there was no propaganda in the speech (or almost none). It [Page 1221] would be a businesslike, fundamental statement in the spirit of the “new thinking.”

Regarding the Vienna meeting, Shevardnadze said he wanted to offer a few comments. He believed our countries should steer matters toward completing the meeting soon, given that the Secretary and he had agreed to take part in the conclusion. Based on contacts with Foreign Ministers from Eastern and Western Europe, Shevardnadze believed there were real prospects for concluding the meeting on January 6. He knew that the Secretary would soon be having important contacts with his European allies so he thought it would be good if the Secretary could discuss with them the goal of finishing Vienna by this date. If we ended on on January 6, we could rationally plan for the two Ministers to participate in both the end of the Vienna meeting and the Paris CW conference on January 7.

The Secretary said he would like nothing better than to conclude the Vienna meeting and to mark the event jointly with Shevardnadze. He liked the idea of a traveling road show moving from Vienna to Paris. In a way there was a connection, since conventional arms control, our concerns about human beings in the CSCE process, and our attempts to raise consciousness about chemical and biological weapons were all of a piece. It would be a good idea to wind things up in Vienna, the Secretary said, and he would carry Shevardnadze’s thoughts to the NATO Ministerial.

Shevardnadze said that at Vienna there were essentially three unresolved questions. The first was how to relate the negotiations among the 35 and the negotiations among the 23. The French had recently made proposals on this subject but the Soviets supported in principle the NNA position. It would be good if NATO could make clear its own position. The Secretary replied that we had worked out our differences with the French after some struggle and had tabled a proposal reflecting the results of those negotiations. We believed it was broadly in accord with previous US-Soviet discussions.

Shevardnadze said the second question was the geographic zone. The Soviets thought that, having made major concessions, they had resolved the issue. But unfortunately the Western countries had returned to their old positions, and this could oblige the Soviets to return to their previous positions as well; this would only complicate matters.

The Secretary said he was not up-to-date on the status of this issue and asked Assistant Secretary Ridgway to comment. Ridgway said there were proposals on the table for an exchange of Soviet and Turkish territory that would be excluded from the scope of the talks. The question was how much of Turkish territory and how much of the Soviet Transcaucasus would be excluded. We had some problems with [Page 1222] the latest Soviet proposals since they did not seem to reflect the balance between these two regions. But she thought we would be able to work this out in negotiations, although this would mean a struggle for our experts. The Secretary added that he would highlight for the U.S. delegation that this was an issue which we should be able to work out.

Shevardnadze said he wanted to clarify the Soviet position since this would perhaps be useful for Shultz’s upcoming discussions with U.S. allies. The Soviets assumed that in those parts of Turkey to be excluded from the mandate there should not be any foreign bases. As a big concession, the Soviets would not seek to exclude too large an area of the Transcaucasus in return. It was on this basis that Moscow thought there was a compromise. The Secretary said he thought that this issue had been resolved as well and suggested that our experts be instructed to do what they were told.

Shevardnadze said the third unresolved question at Vienna concerned follow-on meetings. There had been many proposals. Taking into account Gorbachev’s UNGA speech, Shevardnadze did not believe these questions should become a problem. Compromises were possible, but there needed to be reciprocal movement from East and West.

The Secretary said he wanted to address the area of human rights. We saw genuine progress relevant to our conditions for a Moscow human rights conference. He had set out U.S. views on this question in his letters to Shevardnadze. We welcomed the recent movement. While not privy to how the decisions were made, he could not help but feel that Shevardnadze personally, together with Chairman Gorbachev, had played a role in the recent positive developments on jamming, increased emigration, resolution of individual cases, etc. But certain things that are important to us still remained to be done, the Secretary explained. Perhaps in his speech Gorbachev would issue some undertakings about institutionalization of change. This would be fine and we would listen carefully for such assurances.

We continued to have problems with divided family cases, the Secretary continued. We were now down to 32 cases of which 11 were on the way to resolution. This, however, left 21 cases still unresolved and we could not see any reason why these should not all be cleared up. In this regard we should carry over the “zero option” from the INF area. On dual nationals, the Secretary said he understood the Soviets had assured us these would be dealt with. There was still quite a number of refuseniks, however, who had been blocked from emigrating for many years. A large number had recently been notified that their security restrictions had been lifted and we welcomed this, especially the case of Yuliy Kosharoviskiy; but there remained quite a number of refuseniks still denied exit visas.

Regarding prisoners of conscience, Secretary Shultz continued, we recognize there may be individuals who are in prison because of ordi [Page 1223] nary crimes even though we classify them as political prisoners. We in some cases have similar problems (for example, activists who have destroyed government property albeit for political purposes). On these disputed cases, the U.S. would like to see some mechanism whereby we would agree to go through these cases and sort them out. The U.S. had proposals to advance in this regard.

Shevardnadze said that in Gorbachev’s speech these problems would be addressed. He added that if we were speaking of zero options, the Soviets would figure out how to do it in this area as they did in the area of INF. He added that the Soviets would not pay any price for a Moscow human rights conference and did not believe it would be a tragedy if no such conference were agreed. But, as he had told the Secretary, steps were being taken as a result of perestrokya’s own rules.

The Secretary commented that he agreed fully and in fact felt much better that these changes were being made because of perestrokya and not as concessions to the U.S. Perhaps we should switch sides: the Secretary would insist on a Moscow human rights conference and Shevardnadze could reluctantly agree. The key thing was that we keep at it. We would listen to Gorbachev’s speech with great care.

Shevardnadze noted that there were proposals at Vienna for follow-on meetings in other areas as well—environment, science, etc.—with countries such as Italy, the FRG, the UK, and Bulgaria wishing to host meetings. He believed that there might be five or six follow-up meetings. What is important is to support the initiatives of those countries.

Secretary Shultz replied that he agreed the environment was an issue of tremendous concern. He had recently been briefed by scientists on global warming and found their thinking quite convincing. This problem had to be faced up to. There was no way one country can deal with these important matters by itself; somewhere in this area we should find a way to move forward together. The Secretary said we continued to believe there should be a limited number of follow-on conferences so that people don’t spend their whole time in meetings. The U.S. wanted to cover the various subjects but not to have so many conferences that they lose their meaning.

Shevardnadze quipped that perhaps the new Secretary of State should travel more than Shultz. The Secretary replied that he had covered more than a million miles. Shevardnadze commented that the Secretary was correct on the importance of environmental problems. An ecological catastrophe was coming and this represented a greater danger than nuclear weapons.

Secretary Shultz said he wanted to make a few comments on chemical weapons. He had recently learned that there were areas in France that were still roped off today because of the residue of CW used [Page 1224] during World War I. Morever, recently he had seen a study of what it would take to clear the Shat-al-Arab waterway of sunken ships. One of the problems in this case was that our experts had found CW residue: Iran and Iraq had fouled a waterway that had been used for centuries, and it was a serious question how we might clean it up. This would have both immediate and long-term effects just as serious as nuclear radiation.

Shevardnadze said the primary task on CW was to conclude a convention banning these weapons. The Soviets thought there were good prospects for this. The Paris conference would be a good opportunity. The attitude of many countries had changed, especially that of the French, and we clearly should be making more headway on a CW convention. He wanted to offer a specific proposal: perhaps after the Paris conference it would be useful to have a special meeting on CW at the Foreign Minister level. Shevardnadze said he understood that this would be a multilateral meeting, but much depended on the U.S. and Soviet positions. The Secretary asked whether Shevardnadze meant a meeting in Geneva related to the CD or a special ministerial. Shevardnadze responded that either approach was possible, but the main focus should be on CW.

Shevardnadze said he had another idea, this one concerning the resumption of talks on nuclear and space arms. We unfortunately had not had enough time to untangle all our positions and complete a START treaty this year. There were still major problems awaiting resolution. It would be good if the sides could agree to resume the talks on February 15 in Geneva. And the side should try from the start to impart a dynamic character to the negotiations. Shevardnadze suggested that perhaps before February 15, if Foreign Ministers had not met personally by that time, they should exchange special letters to ensure that each side understood how the other approached the next round. Sometime later it might be useful to have a Foreign Ministers meeting on START.

The Secretary said that Vice President Bush would have to address this subject. The U.S. had suggested resuming NST in mid-February, but obviously the new President would want to review for himself all the issues. The Secretary added that Bush has experienced people so he did not know how much time this review would take. But he did know his successor James Baker and he knew he was anxious to meet with Shevardnadze.

The Secretary then digressed to explain the basics of our governmental system. George Bush had been elected but he was not yet inaugurated, so he was being careful to do nothing that showed a presumption he was already President. He would attend the Governors Island lunch as Vice President. James Baker was well known but had yet to go [Page 1225] through Senate hearings. The Senators would ask all sorts of questions. The Secretary added that anyone who is nominated to a senior position is well advised to keep his mouth shut and do his homework, doing nothing to suggest that he assumed the Senate would confirm him. This was why Baker had decided not to be present at the Governors Island meeting. The Secretary said that when Shevardnadze began to deal with Baker he would find him a person who was able to carry out what he believed in. He was a close friend of Vice President Bush and would likely be liked and respected in Congress.

Shevardnadze thanked the Secretary for this very important explanation. He noted that he had received a letter from Baker that expressed the wish to continue our dialogue and to maintain businesslike relations. The Secretary remarked that the new Administration would need some time for rest and review. Shevardnadze said that some rest was fine, but too much rest was not a good thing.

The Secretary said he wanted to raise southern Africa. The efforts the Soviet Union had made to support our negotiating efforts had been great and represented an example of how we could work together effectively. We were of course disappointed that the South Africans had pulled back at the last Brazzaville round. But we had worked on them and now had them back to the table, so we were prepared to have another go in Brazzaville. Our aim was to have the protocol agreed before the parties arrived. We believed South Africa was on board and were trying to reach the Cubans and Angolans. Soviet efforts would be critical in this regard. It was possible we could finalize the deal as early as the coming weekend, thereby permitting signature in New York in the latter part of December. The Secretary added that we would push hard on national reconciliation. We appreciated the sensitivity of this issue for the Soviets but knew Moscow had been helpful.

Shevardnadze replied that the Soviets had the same feelings and would shortly be having contacts with Cuban leaders. They would act on the basis of our joint experience in solving regional problems.

Secretary Shultz said he wanted to mention the nuclear testing talks. The two of them had nursed these along and it was a disappointment that the TTBT protocol had not been finished. We had finished the PNET protocol and would be ending the current round on December 15. We hoped to have a joint draft text with brackets at that time so that we could see the areas of common ground. He had recently met with Ambassador Robinson and would try to ensure we could finish the job as soon as possible.

Shevardnadze said he agreed it was bad that we had not been able to complete the two protocols by the end of year, even though we had agreed to do so. He suggested that we set as a goal for our delegations [Page 1226] the completion of all the papers by the first meeting of our Foreign Ministers under the new Administration.

The Secretary said he would be interested in hearing about the Soviets’ talks with the Chinese on Cambodia.7 Perhaps this could take place while their bosses were meeting in private. Shevardnadze said he was ready for that.

The Secretary said he wanted to mention the Krasnoyarsk radar. The Soviets had said that their intention was to deal with the radar in the context of an international space center. We hoped we could do this. As we have made clear, however, the radar needed to be dealt with in a way that the large building were altered or destroyed so it did not contain the long lead-time items—in other words, so that the ABM capability were removed.

Shevardnadze replied that in his speech Gorbachev would state that the radar had been handed over to the Academy of Sciences. This offered very interesting prospects for using the radar in the peaceful exploration of space; there would be invitations to scientists. The Secretary replied that he knew this and thus had asked Andrei Sakharov what the Academy of Sciences was going to do about Krasnoyarsk. Sakharov, however, did not seem to have focused on the question.

Shevardnadze said that, before concluding the meeting, he wanted to clarify one point. While Gorbachev in his speech would speak positively about US-Soviet relations, there was one critical statement regarding the denial of a visa to Arafat. He wanted to know if there had been any change in the U.S. position; if not, they would stand by the words in the speech.

The Secretary suggested that he and Shevardnadze have a private word on this subject. But the visa decision had been taken and had not been changed.

Private Meeting

In their private meeting the Secretary explained that the Swedish Foreign Minister had asked us to provide him with a statement of what the PLO would need to say in order to establish a dialogue with the U.S. We had provided him with such a text, which he had undertaken to pass to Arafat. We had been informed that Arafat was prepared to say something that we would view as satisfactory; he might even be saying it at the time of this meeting. If the statement were satisfactory we would respond accordingly.

The Secretary said he wanted Shevardnadze to be aware of this. This initiative was totally unknown except to a small number of individ [Page 1227] uals in the U.S. government. If it did not work out, the U.S. had agreed not to publicize the matter. No other government knew anything about this; but given his close personal relationship with Shevardnadze he wanted him to know.

Shevardnadze said he understood the sensitivity and thanked the Secretary for the information.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Memoranda of Conversations Pertaining to United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, December 1988 Governor’s Island. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Vershbow; cleared by Simons, Ridgway, Collins, and Haines. An unknown hand initialed for the drafting and clearing officials. The meeting took place at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
  2. Negotiators had issued a statement in November regarding a calendar for phased withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.
  3. See Document 180.
  4. Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected President on November 8.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 170.
  6. On December 7, Gorbachev addressed the United Nations General Assembly and announced a unilateral reduction in Soviet conventional forces. See “Gambler, Showman, Statesmen,” New York Times, December 8, 1988, p. A–34.
  7. See Document 179.