38. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Initial One-on-One with Shevardnadze 11:30 am-1:25 pm, Monday, April 13, 1987


  • United States

    • The Secretary
    • Mark R. Parris (Notetaker)
    • Dimitriy Zarechnak (Interpreter)
  • Soviets

    • Foreign Minister Shevardnadze
    • Interpreter

The Secretary opened the meeting by explaining the reason for his limp: he had pulled a muscle in his leg. Noting that he was aware that the Secretary was active in sports, Shevardnadze quipped that he had [Page 134] heard that the Secretary liked to choose opponents less skillful than himself. The Secretary said it was always nice to win. Shevardnadze turned to substance by noting that a number of problems had accumulated since their last meeting.2 Unfortunately, it seemed to have become a tradition that the atmosphere should turn unfavorable in advance of high-level US-Soviet meetings. That had happened before the Geneva summit and before the Reykjavik meeting. Shevardnadze recalled that he and the Secretary had had to devote most of their time during their last meeting in Washington to “the problem which had created the atmosphere” surrounding that meeting (a reference to The Daniloff affair). Now there was a similar atmosphere.

Shevardnadze said it was important to decide how he and the Secretary should proceed. Time was short. Shevardnadze was prepared to discuss any point the Secretary might care to focus on in their traditional spirit of frankness. So, he asked the Secretary, how should they proceed?

The Secretary agreed that their recent talks had been marked by tension, a tension itself produced by things outside the immediate scope of their agenda, and, more specifically, by the actions of Soviet intelligence services. It was important to face these problems. The Secretary wanted to take a few moments to describe how the situation looked to us and to hear the Foreign Minister’s views. The Secretary regarded it as one of his duties to deal straightforwardly with such matters, but to do so in a manner which did not disrupt the ability to deal with other issues. So he wanted in private to deal with the issue clearly, and then get on to other issues. After he had dealt with this first order of business, the Secretary noted, he wanted to make a few additional comments in the area we called “human rights” before getting into arms control issues in the plenary session.

With respect to other bilateral issues, the Secretary’s sense was that they were proceeding reasonably well. There had been good talks in Washington at the Bilateral Review Commission.3 The head of our delegation to those talks, DAS Thomas Simons, was prepared to pick up in Moscow where they had left off two weeks earlier on certain issues. So if Shevardnadze would designate someone to represent the Soviet side, the two might carry on “satellite discussions” while he and the Foreign Minister went about their own programs.

There was, however, one point that the Secretary wanted to make on the bilateral side. That point was simply that the environment in [Page 135] which our diplomats in the Soviet Union [worked?] was very difficult. There was an assymetry in the working environment between Moscow and Washington which worked to the Soviets’ benefit. Simons and his interlocutor could address the issues involved in this assymetry, but the Secretary wanted to emphasize the importance he attached to creating working and living conditions for our staff in the Soviet Union which would enable them to concentrate on their tasks without having to be distracted by administrative duties. Perhaps before he left Moscow, Simons and his partner could report on this matter to the ministers. Shevardnadze agreed to the suggestion. The Secretary proceeded to introduce the “current problem,” which, he noted, had created a strong atmosphere. As he had said in his press conference of April 10,4 we were very angry both with the Soviets and ourselves that this (note: the Moscow Marine problem) had happened. But it seemed to us that the root cause of the matter was a complete lack of restraint on the part of Soviet intelligence services and their relentless targeting of US Mission staff. Constant surveillance, bugging, entrapment, microwave beaming, the use of spy dust had created an oppressive environment for our people. We were not naive, nor were the Soviets. But this sort of thing could be overdone and could easily get out of hand.

Then there was the problem of the new US Embassy chancery building. We had been examining the structure for some time. The Secretary had to say that the building was just honeycombed with various types of listening devices. Our intelligence services had to admire Soviet techniques. But at this point it was an open question as to whether we could deal with what had been put there and still have a secure working environment. Some felt that the presence of these devices was so pervasive that the only solution was to tear down the present structure and start over.

In any case, we were determined to provide our people in Moscow with a secure working environment, regardless of the time or effort that might be involved. And, as the President had said, we would not move in until we were satisfied that the facility was fully secure.5 We would not permit the Soviets to occupy their new chancery in Washington until that was the case. That was unfortunate, as both sides needed the additional working space. We had not come to any conclusions on what to do with our building, but from what we had seen so far, extreme changes would have to be made, if it could deal with the problem at all. This would be expensive and take time.

[Page 136]

Frankly, the Secretary noted, the problem had become so acute that many in the US were asking what was the point of maintaining a respectable presence in the Soviet Union. The USSR was a great and powerful country, and we had always felt it warranted a strong US Mission. But we needed an ability to operate, an atmosphere less hostile from an intelligence view.

Shevardnadze’s initial reply was a quote from Turgenev: “if one wished to cover up one’s own sins, one had to cry loudly about the sins of others.” This, Shevardnadze felt, summed up how the US was acting now. Shevardnadze appreciated the compliment to the Soviet intelligence services, and would convey it. But he had been asking himself, especially after the President’s recent speech, what could explain the official US outcry over this affair? He had concluded that the answer was twofold. The US was seeking on the one hand to divert attention from its own internal problems and, on the other, to obscure the international debate on security issues in hopes of pushing these issues into the background during the present visit.

Shevardnadze said that the Soviets were well aware of the extent of US intelligence activities. Whole networks had been created to support spy operations in various countries and at various levels. The whole world knew what was going on.

For its part, the Soviet Union had not sought to capitalize on US domestic problems such as Irangate.6 Moscow had been relatively restrained on such issues as the contras and illegal operations against Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Angola and elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Soviets knew what US agencies and institutions were responsible for working out such plans.

Now the US was trying to use incidents of varying kinds to play political games. Shevardnadze recalled the outcry over “spy dust.” Only jokes remained from the incident. He recalled the “diplomatic wars” of the previous fall, and the 25 hours he and the Secretary had spent on related matters during their September meetings.7 The outcome of that series of moves had not been to the US benefit.

Now the US was trying to start a new cycle—it might be called “electronic wars.” As for recent allegations that Soviet intelligence had penetrated the US Embassy in Moscow, the Soviets had felt compelled in the response to these allegations to show the world the real face of US intelligence. The Soviets had not exhibited all the evidence they had of US intelligence operations against Soviet diplomats (the Secre[Page 137]tary could consult his own experts for the details). But if the Secretary desired, Shevardnadze could arrange to show him some of the masterpieces of the US electronic industry.

Shevardnadze observed that he and the Secretary, as persons with important responsibilities, must decide whether to continue this kind of war, or end it and go on to serious matters. The President had accused the Soviet Union of putting sensors in US buildings. But where was the proof? He could accuse anyone of anything by such methods. The Soviets had both arguments and proof. Shevardnadze was prepared to “prove” that he was right. For example, the Secretary had mentioned the problem of working conditions for US staff in Moscow. Maybe Soviet authorities did interfere with the work of US employees. But only when they were involved in intelligence work. The Secretary should look into what went on in the Embassy. Shevardnadze handed over a paper (attached) describing the activities of US personnel, including some still attached to the Embassy, engaged in intelligence work.8 He also gave the Secretary a list of Soviet demarches since 1986 on such activities.9

As for the new office building in Moscow, if the US wanted to tear it down, that was its decision. The Soviets had no intention of tearing down their chancery in Washington. They could detect the clever devices the US had installed there. The US could probably do the same in Moscow. So maybe demolition was not a good idea.

The Secretary asked to make a few comments. First, the pattern of Soviet intelligence activities far exceeded in oppressiveness whatever the US was doing. The result was that the process periodically got out of hand and exploded into the kind of problem we now faced.

Second, Shevardnadze was wrong to conclude that our protest of what the Soviets had done in our Embassy was a function of our internal political problems or of a desire to obscure important substantive matters. The Secretary would not be in Moscow if the latter conclusion were valid. The President had said, and the Secretary agreed, that we had important things to discuss and that we should do so. But problems like those the Soviets had created did not make the process easier. As for the timing of the incident, that was a function of when we had detected the compromise of our facilities which had resulted from the Soviets’ subversion of two Marines. It had nothing to do with Irangate or any related problem.

In reply, Shevardnadze asked the Secretary to explain why US intelligence services had implanted dozens, hundreds of monitoring [Page 138] devices in Soviet diplomatic buildings—and even in the bedrooms of Soviet personnel. This was outrageous.

The Secretary noted with irony Shevardnadze’s concern over “dozens” of devices. It was his understanding that the quantity of such devices implanted in our new office building by the Soviets was endless. If Shevardnadze wanted evidence, no doubt his intelligence services could provide it. We would have to deal with the problem eventually either through demolition or by digging the devices out in a way which left the structure intact. The Secretary noted on the basis of his experience in the contracting business that, when a party failed to deliver what was provided for in the contract, that party was liable for the costs. In this case the Soviets had delivered more than the contract called for.

Shevardnadze protested that this was all groundless. The Soviets had taken out many devices from their missions in the US. They had excellent instruments for finding such devices. Perhaps they could give the US some help in this area.

The Secretary said he wished he were just peddling a line, but that that was unfortunately not the case. If the Soviets had some sophisticated technology to give us, however, we would be glad to have it. We accepted Shevardnadze’s offer.

Laughing, Shevardnadze said that, yes, the Soviets had some good equipment. They were not as backward technologically as some in the West would like to believe.

The Secretary said that he never put down Soviet technology, especially in the area of espionage. In that field, the Soviets were first class.

The Secretary noted in bringing to a close this segment of the conversation that he had made his points. Whether Shevardnadze accepted them or not, the problem the Secretary had raised was a major and continuing one. Dealing with the new office building would be a long and hard process. We also wanted to register as strongly as possible the disruption that the Soviet “full court press” on our people here caused us. The Secretary added that he would like to proceed to human rights matters.

Shevardnadze repeated that, to the degree that Soviet authorities were complicating the lives of American personnel in Moscow, it was because those employees were themselves engaged in intelligence activities. All the Americans had to do was respect Soviet laws. If the US had real evidence to back up its claims, it should produce it. So far, Shevardnadze had not seen any.

The Secretary opened his presentation on human rights by expressing his pleasure that the discussion took place against the backdrop of a number of significant humanitarian steps by the Soviet govern[Page 139]ment. This was a welcome change from some previous meetings. The changes which were taking place in accordance with Soviet law and for the Soviets’ own reasons had been noticed in the US. We welcomed such steps as Sakharov’s return from exile, the release of some political prisoners, progress in resolving divided family and separated spouse cases, and what appeared to be an upturn in emigration.

On a personal basis, the Secretary was pleased to note the progress that had been realized on the list of names he had given Shevardnadze the previous September, when the Foreign Minister had undertaken to look into the cases involved and to act where appropriate. This had happened, and the Secretary wanted to give Shevardnadze due credit.

Regrettably, two of the persons on the list, Inna Meiman and Anatoliy Marchenko, had died. But the Secretary asked Shevardnadze’s help in resolving the two remaining cases, Ida Nudel and Leyla Gordievskaya. The Secretary had met on several occasions with Nudel’s sister, and it would be a fine humanitarian gesture if the two could be reunited in Israel.

There was also an outstanding agenda in the case of Inna Meiman. Her death had left her husband, Naum, alone in the world except for his daughter in the US. It was difficult to take seriously arguments that his previous work in sensitive work barred his departure, since that work had taken place 30 years before. Also outstanding was the case of Inna’s son, Lev Khitroskiy, whom Shevardnadze had informed Cyrus Vance would be allowed to emigrate. The Secretary hoped this commitment would be honored.

The Secretary raised the case of Vladimir Slepak, who, he pointed out, had sought for 17 years to leave the Soviet Union. Prior to his departure for Moscow, the Secretary had met with Slepak’s two sons. They had asked him to deliver to Slepak photographs of Slepak’s two grandsons, whom he had never seen. The Secretary said he had heard reports that Slepak had been mistreated and placed under house arrest over the weekend. He hoped those reports were not true. The Secretary urged that Slepak’s case be reviewed and that he be allowed to emigrate to Israel, offering to take him and Nudel out on his own plane if the Soviets would permit it.

The Secretary said that the President had asked that he take the opportunity to mention several cases in which the President had taken a prsonel interest: the gifted pianist Vladimir Feltsman; separated spouse Matvey Finkel, separated spouse Galina Goltzman; and dual national Abe Stolar.

Finally, the Secretary suggested that the Soviets allow the prompt departure of the small number of people who had asked to leave the Soviet Union and were seriously ill. There was great interest in these [Page 140] cases, and, from the Soviet standpoint, they were a problem. The Secretary hoped something could be done about them.

The Secretary then ran through a number of areas of US concern in the human rights field. He noted that most of the specific cases he had mentioned appeared on the representation lists of divided families, separated spouses and dual nationals which the US from time to time presented. These lists were short, and the Soviets had acted on many cases. We would like to see the rest resolved and to remove them from our agenda.

The Secretary welcomed the upturn in emigration. The numbers were not what they had been in the past, but they were better than in recent years. We felt strongly that a sustained, significant increase was called for. A good start would be the prompt processing of outstanding refusenik cases. This was an issue we had often discussed before. The Soviets had accepted information we had given them on the subject. The Secretary suspected that Shevardnadze had had something to do with the positive developments we had seen.

Another area we had discussed in the past was that of political prisoners, of which over 100 had been released. We welcomed that. But as the cases which had been released were different in no important respect from the remaining political prisoners, we hoped that those still being held would also be released. The Secretary added that, in line with the General Secretary’s new thinking, an end would be put to the practice of psychiatric commitment on essentially political grounds, and that such establishments as the notorious Perm prison camp would be closed down.

The Secretary commented on the problem of religion in the Soviet Union. He noted that relatively few of the political prisoners released recently were religious believers. We did not believe that people should be jailed for their religious beliefs, and we knew it was not formally a crime in the Soviet Union to profess a religion. But we also know that Soviet rules and regulations prohibiting religious believers from organizing bible study groups, conducting religious classes for children, and carrying out charitable or social activities made it difficult for them to practice their beliefs. We thus hoped for progress in this area, consistent with the obligations the Soviets had undertaken in the Helsinki Final Act.

Turning to the question of the free flow of information, the Secretary recalled that we had welcomed General Secretary Gorbachev’s willingness to discuss the question of radio jamming at Reykjavik. USIA Director Wick had since written Propaganda Secretary Yakovlev with a number of proposals for pursuing that discussion.10 Unfortu[Page 141]nately, we had received not a reply. We hoped that there would be one soon, as we were anxious to expand our dialogue in this area. But we believed that information exchange was a much broader issue than jamming, and an essentially positive one. Jamming was illegal and should be ended. The same held true for continuing Soviet interference with postal and telephone communications between US and Soviet citizens. We hoped that the Soviet Union would bring its practices into compliance with the obligations they had assumed at Helsinki and under the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

So, in conclusion, we were encouraged by the progress that we saw taking place. We hoped to get some sense of what it was that the Soviets were doing which could excite the heart of so hard-bitten an anti-communist as Margaret Thatcher.

Shevardnadze said he would like in reply to ask two questions:

First, why did the US refuse to associate with the Bern Declaration?11

The Secretary answered that we felt the document represented a backward step in some important respects. We felt no purpose was served by undertaking commitments which were more restrictive than those we had already undertaken in other fora. There were some good things in the Bern document, but there were also limitations. We were nonetheless willing to continue to work in this area.

Shevardnadze posed his second question: The Secretary would recall the Soviet proposal at the opening of the Vienna CSCE Review Conference12 for a serious discussion of all humanitarian problems, including human rights, in Moscow. What, Shevardnadze asked, were the US views on this issue?

The Secretary indicated that the US continued to study the problem with its allies. We believed that the site of such a conference should be one in which the Helsinki process was already being fully lived up to. That was why we were so interested in some of the things which were now happening in the Soviet Union; we were trying to understand what was going on.

Personally, the Secretary had counseled his fellow Foreign Ministers in Vienna that it would be a mistake to reject outright the Soviet proposal. He had suggested that the idea be considered on the basis of whether conditions might emerge which would justify such a Moscow [Page 142] meeting. There were of course, other considerations, but this was the main one.

Shevardnadze said he had posed the question because profound changes were taking place in the Soviet Union. Laws were being perfected; entire institutions of legality and lawmaking were being overhauled. The fact that this process was underway suggested that some elements of Soviet society were outdated, and that they could be improved. The problems involved touched on economic and humanitarian problems, and had a social and political aspect.

As for the points the Secretary had made, it was of course possible to continue to discuss specific cases. The Soviets knew such cases did exist. They had accepted lists of such cases from individuals and governments, including the US. But Moscow also considered it important to discuss the problems which affected all mankind, and wanted to do so on a solid, scientific basis.

The Soviets recognized that there was much to be concerned about in their country in this area. They were publicly addressing some of these problems, e.g., the need for greater democracy. But other countries had some of the same problems, often in even more acute form. It was important to have honest information about the true status of things. The Soviet Union was now dealing with this problem, and would continue to do so. But it was equally important to have information on how such problems were being dealt with in other countries, e.g., the US, the UK, France and Poland.

The Soviet Union was for fully respecting the obligations that had been undertaken in the Helsinki Final Act, at the UN, and elsewhere. It would like a serious discussion either in an international conference along the lines of the Soviet Vienna proposal, or on a bilateral basis, of, say, the problem of unemployment. This was an old question, but an important one. Shevardnadze knew that the Secretary would say that unemployed in the West received welfare and were not hungry. Shevardnadze did not dispute this. But if one is serious about freedom and human rights, one must recognize that the right to work is fundamental. There was also the problem of the homeless. Was this not a problem? According to US statistics, two million Americans were without adequate housing. Shevardnadze held up lists of “tens and hundreds” of Americans who had died of exposure—42 in Philadelphia alone since 1985.

Then there was the question of the status of blacks in the US. Every country had its own specific characteristics. As a multinational society, the Soviet Union was particularly attuned to the problems affecting ethnic groups in other countries. In that regard, Soviet citizens could not help but be concerned by US statistics indicating that half of the 1.5 million black single parent families lived below the official poverty [Page 143] level. Another figure: although blacks make up 12 percent of the US population, they account for 45 percent of all prisoners. Black children suffered from high levels of illiteracy.

As the Secretary could see, Shevardnadze concluded, he could go through a list of his own on human rights questions. For example, as a multi-ethnic society, the Soviet Union was particularly concerned by the problem of assimilation of emigrants to the US. The Soviets would like to have a serious discussion of the fate of emigres from the Ukraine, from the Baltic Republics, from Poland once they reached the United States.

For its part, the Soviet Union was not offended that the US raised issues which “had to be raised” about the Soviet Union. But the Soviets were similarly entitled to raise questions about the US in the humanitarian field.

That, the Foreign Minister explained, was why the Soviets felt a conference could be useful, not as a propaganda exercise, but as a forum for serious discussion.

The Secretary, Shevardnadze noted, had raised the question of Soviet psychiatric practices. Shevardnadze could assure the Secretary that the Soviets were prepared to open up any psychiatric institution in the USSR to western observers so that they could see for themselves what was going on. Participants in a Moscow conference would be able to see any individual or group. On the basis of reciprocity, they should have every opportunity to see how people live.

Similar points could be made, Shevardnadze continued, on the question of media access and information flow. The BBC was no longer jammed in the Soviet Union. The question was a bit different with respect to the US. The US wanted the Soviet people to listen to American radio broadcasts. So did Soviet authorities. But the Soviets also wanted American audiences to get information about the Soviet Union. The issue was already being discussed, but could also be addressed in a Moscow conference.

In short, many problems in the humanitarian area had piled up. They should be discussed. What the Soviets had in mind was not mutual recriminations and polemics, although some of this was to be expected. Rather, they hoped for a serious look at the issues, and, where possible, to determine what could be done to build confidence and trust and to increase the flow of information. This should be done in a businesslike and nonpolemical fashion.

(At this point, Shevardnadze was given a note, and asked to be excused. On his return five minutes later, he indicated he had just spoken to Gorbachev, who sent the Secretary his best regards, and looked forward to their meeting at 3:00 pm the next day.13)

[Page 144]

The Secretary said that the US was very interested by some of the things now taking place in the Soviet Union, some of which Shevardnadze had mentioned. We were anxious to hear even more about the process, which sounded important. We were more than ready to discuss the kinds of problems Shevardnadze had mentioned as well as the specific cases and categories of cases that we had raised. The Secretary suggested that Assistant Secretary Schifter, who had accompanied the Secretary to Moscow, meet with whomever Shevardnadze might designate for such a discussion. They could then make a report to Ministers prior to the Secretary’s departure.14 Shevardnadze readily agreed, noting that he had been prepared to propose a similar arrangement.

In response to the Secretary’s query as to whether the Soviets could provide space for the Schifter meeting, Shevardnadze said that would be no problem. The Foreign Minister quipped that, however, there should be no eavesdropping. The Secretary said it made little sense to eavesdrop on our own bilateral conversations. Shevardnadze recalled how, on the occasion of their first meeting in Helsinki, the Secretary had counseled him to keep his briefing book covered during the initial photo op.15 Shevardnadze had never forgotten that advice.

The Secretary suggested that, after lunch, the two take up arms control issues. Regional questions could be taken up in a latter meeting. Shevardnadze agreed, asking if the Secretary would prefer to start after lunch in a one-on-one or plenary mode. The Secretary felt it would be best for arms control experts to be present so that, if there was work to do following the meeting, they would be ready to work. Shevardnadze agreed, and the two proceeded to lunch.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Memoranda of Conversations Pertaining to United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, Moscow Trip—Memcons 4/12–16/87. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Parris. This one-on-one conversation was preceded by a plenary session in which Shevardnadze greeted Shultz and went over the schedule for the latter’s stay in Moscow. See Document 39. Prior to arriving in Moscow, Shultz stopped in Helsinki. At the conclusion of his meetings, Shultz traveled to Brussels to brief the North Atlantic Council before returning to the United States.
  2. See Document 7.
  3. The Department transmitted an account of this meeting in telegram 85300 to Moscow, March 21. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870556–0667)
  4. Presumably reference is to Shultz’s news conference of April 8. (Department of State Bulletin, June 1987, pp. 24–27)
  5. Reference is to Reagan’s radio address of April 11. (Public Papers: Reagan, 1987 Book II, pp 377–378)
  6. Reference is to the Iran Contra scandal.
  7. Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. V, Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986.
  8. Not found.
  9. Not found.
  10. Wick’s letter is in Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, P870079–2167.
  11. Reference is to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, an international agreement signed in Berne, Switzerland, on September 9, 1886. At the time of the Shultz-Shevardnadze conversation, the United States was not a party to the convention. On October 31, 1988, Reagan signed the Berne Convention Implementation of Act of 1988, which took effect on March 1, 1989.
  12. Shevardnadze elaborated on this proposal in Document 6.
  13. See Document 42.
  14. Schifter’s conversations on human rights are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XLI, Global Issues.
  15. References are to Shultz’s meetings with Shevardnadze in Helsinki, July 30–August 1, 1985, scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. V, Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986.