42. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Meeting with Gorbachev April 14

The Secretary met with Gorbachev in the Kremlin between 1500 and 1925 Moscow time April 14. The Secretary was accompanied by Ambassador Matlock, Ambassador Paul Nitze, EUR Assistant Secretary Ridgway, EUR DAS Tom Simons (Notetaker), and Dimitri Zarechnak, Interpreter. Gorbachev was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, CPSU CC Secretary Anatoliy Dobrynin, Ambassador to Washington, Yuriy Dubinin, Gorbachev Chief of Staff Anatoliy Sergeyevich Chernyayev, and P. Palazhchenko, Interpreter. Chief of Staff Marshal Akhromeyev later joined the meeting.

The Secretary had handed Gorbachev a letter from the President2 before the meeting began, and Gorbachev began by thanking the President for his letter and his kind invitation. The Secretary replied that it reflected the President’s personal sense of communication that the President felt he had developed with Gorbachev. Gorbachev said that frankly this provided an incentive to him, despite unpleasantnesses, to continue to seek cooperation with the Reagan Administration as he was doing. He was a realist, and knew that America would remain America under any administration, pursuing its own national interests, not affected by one party’s being in government. The Secretary said this was sound thinking. Gorbachev said it was part of his new thinking, and invited the U.S. side to join in this new thinking.

The Secretary said he had just had one of the most interesting conversations he had ever had with a Soviet leader in discussing economic matters with Mr. Ryzhkov.3 He was anxious to learn what the Soviets were doing and it was clear to him that important changes were taking place which had a potential to change not just Gorbachev’s country but the whole world. Gorbachev replied that he hoped that when the Secretary left the Government, as all politicians eventually must, he would be one of the active supporters of broad cooperation between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Their number was not substan[Page 186]tial at present. The Secretary said he had been one since he had been Secretary of the Treasury in the early 70’s.

The Secretary noted to Gorbachev that he had told Shevardnadze one of his most difficult tasks was to help manage U.S.-Soviet relations in an upward direction, where we see events that pose severe difficulties. It was hard to work to keep the trendline positive. Gorbachev said there are those that speak of trust, and yet it is very hard to find solutions to international and bilateral problems with the U.S. when trade and economic relations begin to move, as relations in the cultural field were to some extent beginning to move, it would be easier to develop trust. There were so many obstacles and logjams that were hard to clear, and not only in economic relations. What was needed was not just a Soviet bulldozer but also an American bulldozer.

The Secretary replied that this was true, but a good example of what he was talking about, of flare-ups that are hard to manage, is the so-called spy scandal. We had protested vigorously against Soviet assault on our building here, which we had found honeycombed with devices. He had told Shevardnadze that our intelligence agencies respect Soviet techniques. But things had gone so far that 70 members of the U.S. Senate voted against his coming here. The President and he had not agreed. They believed we needed to overcome the difficulty. But it does reflect what we regard as an overbearing intelligence effort on the Soviets’ part.

Gorbachev said the President and the Secretary had acted correctly, despite the situation which has been so much discussed. Both the President and the Secretary knew well that their country does at least ten times what the Soviets do when it comes to spying. He had seen no evidence from the U.S. side of what the Soviets had done to the Embassy under Ambassador Matlock’s predecessor,4 while the Soviets had presented evidence of what the U.S. had done against their building in Washington. He still did not believe there was anything in the U.S. building and he awaited proof. But he knew that U.S. Marines led a turbulent, loose life. Perhaps some secrets leaked out as a result, but where they went—to the Soviet Union or elsewhere—he did not know. He guessed that even if the people in Congress did not know what the U.S. was doing, the Secretary did. When political officials meet, they should not look like naive young ladies. The U.S. financed CIA activities in the intelligence field, and the Soviets were engaged in such things, too.

However, Gorbachev continued, he believed that the fact that the U.S. knew so much about the Soviets in the military and intelligence [Page 187] fields was not so bad. Such things helped us know each other better. If we didn’t, there would be less stability and trust, and greater risk. Intelligence is in general constructive, provides a stabilizing element in relations, and helps prevent rash political and military action. What do we expect from Dubinin and Matlock, Gorbachev asked, but full and comprehensive information, to help develop realistic policies based on full information about society in all its aspects. They are in the main intelligence people, and thank God they exist. This was not all they existed for, and their activities were more varied, and we both understood this. A certain range of activities was understood, and people understood them. But attributing things to the Soviets, like breaking into the office of the Ambassador, he rejected.

The Secretary replied that he agreed that a degree of information helps and encourages understanding. But the most valuable material that crossed his desk was open material. Getting to know people, and not covert means, was what helped most. He was not naive; these things took place. But he wished to ask a question. Gorbachev had said he did not believe there had been physical penetration of one of his intelligence agents inside our embassy building and he rejected the charge that the ambassador’s office had been broken into. The Secretary’s question was: Could he tell the President that it was against Gorbachev’s policy and rules to allow his intelligence agencies to physically penetrate our Embassy building? Gorbachev replied “This is precisely so.” The Secretary thanked him and said he would report that to the President.

Gorbachev asked the Secretary to consider also what the Soviets had shown to the press in Moscow and Washington of what the U.S. had done to their Washington embassy.5 The question of razing the building arose. It should be borne in mind that the Soviets have shown only a fraction of what they had found, including in Dobrynin’s residence. The Secretary replied that he did not know what we would decide about displaying evidence, but he had seen physical evidence, and it had the respect of our intelligence agencies. The Soviets had done a good job. But it may make our building unusable. That remained to be seen.

Gorbachev said sarcastically that this was how the Soviets cooperated with the U.S., and asked where we should go from here. He hoped the Secretary had not come to tell him about the hoopla in America, about the spy mania. He wanted to tell the Secretary that he had some [Page 188] experience, perhaps limited, but he had spent two years interacting with the present American administration. It always seemed to him that the administration acted as if nothing had happened in the Soviet Union, as if the administration did not see or did not want to see what the Soviet Union had done to create a healthier environment for bilateral relations and international relations.

The Secretary interjected that, on the contrary, the President was fascinated with what was going on here. Whenever he heard that a person had been here, he invited him or her in to hear their views. The Secretary was also very interested. He only wished he had more opportunity to listen, to travel, to get a feel for what was going on, because it was quite clear to him that important things were taking place. He wanted to understand them, and they seemed positive to him.

Gorbachev replied that he had been speaking of something else. What he meant was that the Soviet side had taken many steps to try to create a new situation, to give new prospects and more dynamism to U.S.-Soviet relations. It was not simply his own view that the U.S. did nothing in return. No other U.S. administration had had such opportunities to improve things. Yet, it missed and wasted them. He could wait for a new administration, and try with them. But we had a relationship, a dialogue with the U.S. side now, a degree of understanding, personal relationships, knowledge of each other. This created an atmosphere where the next stage should be agreements on important matters, if there was desire on the U.S. side to pursue this. Each time the Soviet side moved, the U.S. placed a new burden, created fresh difficulties. The chance should not be lost, yet the U.S. scuttled and frustrated things. The U.S. should not think the Soviets were so weak they just wanted to court the U.S., or that it could just pocket Soviet concessions. The base of such an approach was illusion.

Gorbachev continued that he was speaking frankly because generally time was passing. There was very little time. Either we would find solutions in the months remaining or nothing would come out of our relationship, and we would only keep the fire banked, so as not to lose everything.

Gorbachev said he would like to hear the Secretary’s view, and the foreign minister’s, of what the Secretary had brought. Otherwise, they could talk and part, and there would be no movement, no progress, and they would all be sorry for the wasted time. He asked: Is the administration ready to do something in the time remaining or not?

Turning to medium-range missiles, Gorbachev said the Soviets had made an effort to go part way and more to create a good situation for this administration to reach an agreement with the Soviets despite its problems. This would be helpful to the Soviets and the Americans given the domestic situation in the Secretary’s country. The Soviets had taken a step he considered more than enough to push things forward.

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The Secretary replied that the U.S. side was ready to reach an agreement on medium-range missiles, and he felt we were pretty close to a basis for it. He would tell Gorbachev where the matter stands as he saw it. We were agreed on the central number: reduction to 100 warheads, or 33 SS–20 missiles, on a global basis with the Soviets’ in Soviet Asia and ours in the U.S. We were prepared to stick with that, although he had told the Foreign Minister we thought there were important reasons why it would be more advantageous to both to go the rest of the way and eliminate the 33 launchers and 100 warheads. But we were prepared to stay with the 100 although we preferred zero for good reasons.

Gorbachev said this was what had been agreed at Reykjavik. The Secretary said precisely. Gorbachev and the President agreed that verification was important, as Gorbachev had said again Friday, and the U.S. side had tabled a draft treaty with detailed verification suggestions. The Soviets had said they agreed in principle and might go even further. But the essence was in the details, and we awaited the Soviet response to our suggestions. We felt that what we agreed should be a model agreement on verification, and we hoped it would lead into an agreement on strategic matters. Gorbachev had properly labelled this the root of the problem in his Friday speech and the Secretary agreed with that.6 He ventured to say that one important reason we considered zero preferable to 100 was that it enhanced substantially confidence that we can verify the end result. This was easy to understand.

So somewhere, the Secretary continued, there should be a clear path to agreement on those central issues. Then came the question of so-called short-range missiles. We had seen the Soviet proposal. The Foreign Minister had given it in detail the day before. We had gone over some details. He wished to state the principles which we thought should govern this matter. They were not inconsistent with the particular proposal which the Soviet side had made. We had not thought it through completely, but they did not seem to contradict the Soviet position.

First, the Secretary said, there should be some understood top limit. The Soviets had said they would take their missiles in the GDR and Czechoslovakia and destroy them. After that, there would be some number left. Gorbachev interjected at the translation that the best top limit would be zero. The Secretary said he understood. Gorbachev said those missiles would be withdrawn and destroyed independently of whether a short-range missile agreement had been reached.

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Second, the Secretary went on, this top number remaining had to be understood to be global. The reason was the same as for LRINF, but was even more important, since these missiles could be more easily moved, could be thrown in an airplane, were very mobile. The only thing that made sense was to move to a global basis. As far as he could see, the Soviets agreed with that, but he was just stating that.

Third, the Secretary continued, was the principle of the equality. The Soviets had always insisted on it, and so did we. We did not have these kinds of missiles deployed, but in any agreement we had to have the right to equality, whether we exercised it or not.

Gorbachev said the third principle was linked to the first. If the missiles removed from the GDR and Czechoslovakia were destroyed, equality would be achieved at that level and achieved for the remaining missiles when they would be eliminated. There was a basis for agreement on shorter range missiles. But disarming in order to rearm did not make sense. If shorter range systems were reduced to zero in Europe, the global issue was removed from the agenda. The Soviet side was ready to deal with short-range missiles. There was no problem from the Soviet side.

In fact, Gorbachev continued, all the problems were on the other side. You in NATO were like a cat walking around a bowl of hot porridge (kasha). Agreement had to be reached now. If it was not, it would be clear to the Soviets finally what kind of an administration they were dealing with. They had made all the moves. They had set aside British and French systems despite the modernization programs. They were removing missiles from the GDR and Czechoslovakia. U.S. FBS were still there. The Soviets were prepared to discuss reaching an agreement covering all these things. In the West they said you could not take Gorbachev at his word, but had to test him. Well, here was the test. His proposals were realistic. Steps had to be taken.

There were two kinds of politicians, Gorbachev went on. The first kind were people who were happy to take part in negotiations under this or that administration. They got paid. What happened in the world didn’t matter to them. They then went and wrote their memoirs, White House years or White Hall years. The Secretary interjected that he and Nitze could make more in private business. Gorbachev said he knew that, and that was why he hoped they were in a different category, the category of politicians who saw where the world was going, what the trends were, what could be done. They knew their responsibility, and that should mean the responsibility to reach specific agreements. That was the harder path, but it was what the world needed.

The Secretary replied that the President and he both wanted an agreement, and he would tell Gorbachev why. The world had seen a relentless build-up of the numbers of nuclear warheads. They thought [Page 191] it was essential to mankind and to their own country to reverse this trend and start downward. The only way to start was to take opportunities to do something somewhere.

Returning to the short-range issue, the Secretary said he thought from this that we could agree on the principles involved, although the part about numerical expression needed more work. First, there should be a limit, say at the level of the present Soviet short-range systems, minus those in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, but in any case a limit. Second, any limit whatever, that or zero, would apply on a global basis. Gorbachev asked what this meant. The Secretary began to explain that neither would have any or each could have some. Gorbachev asked if this meant the whole world. The Secretary said yes, it would be worldwide at zero or whatever number. The second principle was that the limit should be global.

The third principle was equality, the Secretary went on, as it has been honored in our relationship. Since we did not have these systems, we needed the right to match, whether we exercised it or not. Gorbachev asked whether we wanted it even if the Soviet side were ready to eliminate these weapons. The Secretary rejoined that the Soviet side was not ready to do so right now but needed a period of time. Gorbachev asked whether the U.S. side would still want to match if the Soviet side wrote into the agreement that the Soviet Union would destroy all remaining missiles in months or years. The Secretary said we would want the right to match.

Gorbachev said that a formula could be found. He hoped that the U.S. would not want this even if the Soviet Union destroyed what it now had in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, and pledged to eliminate the rest over a period of time. The Secretary said that the principle of equality, the right to match, was essential. This was not just on behalf of the U.S. The U.S. had allies in NATO. The proposal Gorbachev was making to him now was new. Some members of our alliance were not prepared to go to zero in this category, or they might have in mind a finite number other than zero. We had to talk this out. But it had to be clear what we were talking about among us.

Gorbachev said that as he understood the Secretary’s position—and he had information that the Secretary had consulted with U.S. allies—the Secretary was on a kind of probing mission, a kind of intelligence mission. He could not agree to either accept or reject any Russian proposal. He had to reserve the right to have another look. He kept referring to U.S. friends, as if the Soviets did not have friends. Despite this, Gorbachev had thought the Secretary would have well-thought-out proposals. But it seemed he was on an intelligence mission, as Carlucci and Baker had said the day before.

The Secretary said he would try to define where the matter stood. He would like to see it completed. Gorbachev said he was still collecting [Page 192] information. The Secretary recalled that Gorbachev had said that collecting information was a good thing. Gorbachev said that the Secretary was the most competent to do so. The rest was baloney. The Soviet side had said everything to the Secretary—more than the Secretary had expected. Further, they were ready to tackle tactical missiles. But the Secretary was fearful. The Secretary said that we agreed on many points and the task was to narrow differences and complete this thing. That was what he was trying to do.

Gorbachev asked what the foreign minister had thought of his conversation with the Secretary. Shevardnadze said the U.S. wanted to have a certain number of short-range missiles deployed and didn’t make a complete proposal. The Soviet proposal was for rapid negotiations to eliminate these systems. The U.S. proposed to make it possible to have them in a treaty, and begin negotiations only after six months. The Soviet move was more far reaching, and because the U.S. didn’t have them, it was a move toward the U.S. It was amazing that the U.S. objected to unilateral Soviet elimination of operational-tactical missiles.

The Secretary said that we were 90 percent there, and he was trying to finish. Gorbachev said that was a clever move. Shevardnadze said they had discussed the principle of equality, and what it means, the day before. The Secretary said they were making headway.

Gorbachev said he would summarize the Soviet position on medium-range and related short-range missiles. On medium-range missiles, the Soviet side reiterated the Reykjavik option. It fully agreed with the U.S. that at the present stage there was a possibility of real agreement on verification questions. This was of priority importance. Verification of medium-range would have value in the future for other types of weapons. Dobrynin commented that this meant START. Gorbachev continued that verification includes inspection with no obstacles of bases, production facilities, deployment areas, of facilities whether or not they have Pentagon contracts, including in third countries. The specifics are for our negotiation.

On related shorter-range systems, Gorbachev said the Soviets were ready for negotiations concurrently with medium-range negotiations. On what they call operational-tactical missiles. If the U.S. believed that a medium-range agreement could be ready earlier than a short-range missile agreement, the Soviet side was ready to include principles on shorter-range missiles in a medium-range missile agreement.

Gorbachev said those operational-tactical missiles the Soviet Union had deployed as a response to Pershing II would be removed and eliminated in the context of a medium-range agreement. Concurrently there would be negotiations on the remaining systems, and the Soviets favored their elimination. This would take care of the problems of equality, globalism and a top limit. On Asia, he thought the approach [Page 193] should be similar to the one for medium-range missiles. We should apply the same principle as for medium-range missiles, that is, either equality at a low level, with Soviet systems in the Asian USSR and U.S. systems in the U.S., or zero for both the U.S. and the USSR.

The Secretary said he did not think geographic location made sense, since these weapons were so easily moved. Gorbachev said that in that case, the Soviets were for global zero.

The Secretary turned to the question of how to express agreement: as part of an INF or medium-range treaty, the subject of what we call short-range systems should be treated. He thought we understood which systems are involved. Gorbachev replied, “the 23’s and upwards.”

The Secretary continued that short-range missile questions should be settled on the basis of a global limit, with an immediate top number derived by subtracting the missiles in Czechoslovakia and the GDR from the present Soviet number. The U.S. would have the right to match the Soviet number whatever it was. It would be up to the Soviet Union, but it could announce in advance its desire to eliminate the remaining missiles. We had not decided what our position would be. We were talking about a finite number of SRINF missiles. Negotiations would determine whether this was zero or above.

Gorbachev said he thought the Secretary was now defending the U.S. position taken before he had heard the Soviet proposal to eliminate all short-range missiles, and not just those in the GDR and Czechoslovakia. Now the Soviets had proposed not a freeze, but negotiations that would lead in a short time to elimination. Why then, rearm, he asked. Why would the U.S. add more? This had no logic. There was perhaps a legalistic reason for insisting on the right to match. But this was hair-splitting. If we said that all would be eliminated in a short time, why would the U.S. want any? But the Soviet proposal was new to the U.S. side in its detail and fundamental novelty. He invited the Secretary to examine it and think why the U.S. should arm while the Soviets disarmed, how the U.S. would look to the world.

The Secretary said he would be glad to think about it, and he had his own view on it. But the principle was not casuistic; it was an essential, important principle. He would have to sit in front of senators to defend an agreement and say they must ratify it. He would need argumentation. Dobrynin had been there and would understand. (At the translation, Gorbachev said the Soviets would send their people to help; this would be a new form of cooperation. The Secretary said they should tell the Senate it should not ratify it. Gorbachev laughed and said he understood.) If he sat there and said the U.S. had agreed the Soviets could have more than us, they would say he should have his head examined. But if he said the Soviet Union had this number, [Page 194] would negotiate, had said they wanted to go to zero, and we had the right to match, if the Senate wished to invest in a new weapons system, it would be different. But the right was an important consideration.

Without it there would be deep trouble. This matter would be examined with extreme care, like the verification side, as it should be. There was an argument for zero in long-range systems, and he had to say also for other systems. If there was some production, inventory, lots of associated things, they would have to be chased around and verified.

Gorbachev said he thought they could start that part of the discussion here. The Secretary had the latest Soviet views, the Soviets had heard the Secretary’s arguments. He saw the possibility of success unless the U.S. intended to scuttle the matter. The Soviets were ready for any outcome, with this administration. The Secretary had not cleared away his doubts as to whether the administration wanted an agreement, but they were fewer.

The Secretary said we should try to translate the conversations into something written down, but he thought the ingredients were there. The basic structure was that on short-range missiles, the Soviets had made a proposal, and we owed them an answer. He invited comment by Ambassador Nitze.

Nitze noted that as he had said before, as one looks at the full panoply, there is a problem at below the range of what we call INF. For tactical nuclear forces, there is an imbalance in Soviet favor; the same was true of conventional forces. The Soviets had suggested discussing these in another forum, but they needed to be carefully considered, and with our allies as well. The Secretary noted that from what the General Secretary had said he was fully aware that there are other units of work. Dobrynin commented that these are different kinds of things. Gorbachev said he was not linking tactical forces with medium-range and short-range missiles. If the Secretary did not object, he would like to propose discussion of the big questions of Reykjavik, beginning with strategic weapons, but he proposed a seven-to-ten minute break first.

During the break, from 4:45 to 5:10 p.m., the Secretary and Gorbachev exchanged views on prospects in the world economy and their implications for the two countries. Gorbachev complained about U.S. opposition to Soviet interests in joining GATT, and the Secretary explained that GATT was established to regulate trade relations among free-market economies. Gorbachev also asked why, if Americans were so confident that Soviet products could not compete in the U.S. market, there were so many additional restrictions on their entry.

On resumption, Gorbachev asked the Secretary to summarize the positions of the two sides on strategic offensive weapons. The Secretary said he was a little disappointed. He felt we had moved a long way [Page 195] at Reykjavik but we did not seem to have moved any further. We agreed that at Reykjavik on limits of 6,000 warheads and 1,600 launchers and we also agreed to cut into the main elements of the various types of forces in the triad. He remembered that Gorbachev had used that kind of expression in Hofdi house.

Gorbachev said we had found a good solution there, of cutting every element by half. Nitze objects, but the President, had not. The Secretary said it was a question of translating the agreement into numbers. They had passed the issue over to Nitze and to Akhromeyev, and in their meetings they had come up with the very important rule on counting bombers. We had come up with numbers that were illustrative of how to cut into the forces. Starting with that idea, we have come down to equal levels, to equality recognizing the force structures that have emerged in different ways. It would be unreasonable for the Soviets to force us, or for us to force them to match structures. But we needed to come down through some process that gave stability as it went along, recognize the various in force structures, and dealt with important weapons systems. So, in the process of the Akhromeyev-Nitze session and subsequently we had changed positions quite a lot to meet ideas that the Soviet side had put forward. He had thought we were getting somewhere, although the night before we had, if anything, gone backward.

Gorbachev asked in which elements the Secretary saw backward movement. The Secretary replied that the Soviet side had seemed to walk away from the concept of sub-limits. Even if we reduced on a mechanical basis, which made no sense, we would end up with sub-limits. We had expressed our view and provided some rationale, and we should argue back and forth.

The Secretary went on to say that within the total limit of 6,000 warheads we thought it important to state a limit on ballistic missile warheads. The reason was that by contrast to weapons delivered by aircraft, they were the most threatening. They were fast, they were accurate, they were non-recallable. The U.S. had suggested a limit of 4,800, derived from the idea of halving. The Air Force felt this would put quite a crimp in its forces since it suggested a limit of 1,200 cruise missiles and might limit the possibilities of the stealth program. It would also limit ballistic missiles on our submarines. It would keep alive our land-based forces, and as they were modernized it would squeeze submarine weapons further up against the ceiling. None of this was easy, but it seemed workable and we had thought that the Soviet side, with more or less the same kind of reasoning, had agreed on it. So we thought it important that there be a ballistic missile ceiling within the 6,000.

Gorbachev said that it seemed to him that we had decided at Reykjavik to do without sub-limits. What did we talk about, he asked. [Page 196] On strategic force structures both the USSR and the U.S. had its own specific features which had emerged historically. Both had all three legs, but the share of each was different in each country. The Geneva talk showed that neither side could agree on sub-limits. At Reykjavik it had been agreed that sub-limits led to an impasse. They were where the devil is, each side insisting on certain points that were not acceptable to the other. So, at Reykjavik the Soviet side had proposed to take what existed, the triad as it was, and to reduce it by 50 percent over the first 5 years. The triad would remain as it was, but with 50 percent remaining for each element. Gorbachev said he had asked himself before what the U.S. was after with sub-limits, and the U.S. had said that this was an acceptable approach. It was simple, it was understandable. If it were abandoned today, he would suspect the U.S. of seeking an advantage. It seemed to him the simplest and best way.

The Secretary said that it did not work. It did not give the stability, the equality, and equal numbers necessary. The general idea was to respect structures, but the idea of getting to equal numbers required a process that ensured stability. Akhromeyev and Nitze had worked on that. We were looking for more concrete expression of the more general idea. Simple arithmetic would not yield a good result. We were seeking reasonable reflections of our views. (At this point, Chief of Staff Marshal Akhromeyev joined the group.)

Gorbachev said their impression was that the U.S. was trying to make Reykjavik fall apart and blame the Soviets. The Secretary rejoined that we were just trying to make the approach work.

Gorbachev asked if the Secretary considered it correct to state that at present strategic parity existed. The Secretary said the Soviets had a greater number of strategic missiles than we did, that there were variations in structure and that their land-based missiles were awesome, far outstripping us. Developments in other fields were also impressive. The U.S. side thought the Soviets were formidable.

Gorbachev asked whether the Secretary meant to say there was no strategic parity. The Secretary said we would like to feel comfortable that we could give a good account of ourselves, but the Soviets had made an impressive modernization effort. They had many new systems. The number of warheads was growing at alarming rates. This had in fact led to the reinvigoration of our efforts during President Reagan’s tenure.

Gorbachev said that by Soviet data numerical equality, even closely calculated, existed. The same held for the overall capability of the two sides. Parity existed at a high level, and reductions were needed, but it existed. The U.S. side spoke of the threat from Soviet land-based missiles. They felt an even greater threat from our less vulnerable and very accurate SLBMs. And as Shevardnadze had pointed, there existed [Page 197] a mechanism, in SALT II, that provided us with limits and reductions, even though it was not ratified. The Soviet side had taken reductions to be in compliance.

We had had a mutual understanding that there is strategic parity, Gorbachev went on. If the structure today provided for strategic parity, then there would be the same balance with a 50 percent cut, but lowered by half. Why not do this? There would not be anything new, and sub-limits would be avoided. Pushing for limits and sub-limits gave rise to mutual suspicions that bad intentions were involved in defining them. We needed simple means, and the Soviet side had thought we had a good one at Reykjavik. He was amazed that this was questioned. He, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister had been there, and the Secretary personally had supported this approach.

Shevardnadze added that when the Soviet side had proposed reductions by one half, it had proposed something it had never proposed before—50 percent reductions of its heavy missiles. Previously the maximum had been 33 percent. Second, a rule counting heavy bombers as one system had been agreed. We know how many weapons there are, so this was a principled question. Third, there was a question they had discussed the day before: it worried the Soviet side a little that the U.S. was adding a new timeframe, going from 5 years to 7 years. This looked like a hardening of the U.S. position compared to Reykjavik, as had also occurred in the space area.

Akhromeyev said he and Nitze had discussed sub-limits for about two hours. It seemed there was agreement at that time that heavy bombers carrying gravity bombs and SRAMs would count as one launcher and one warhead. For many years such a solution had not been found, and it had been a great accommodation for the Soviet side. Nitze had said that in that context the question of all sub-limits was removed, except for the sub-limit on heavy missiles. We had agreed on 50 percent cuts in other categories. That was the essence of Reykjavik.

Nitze said that when Marshal Akhromeyev and he had met, they had negotiated from 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and reached no agreement. The reason that there was no agreement whatsoever was that Akhromeyev was insisting on 50 percent reductions by category from the levels then existing, and Nitze would not agree to anything that did not involve equal end levels. At 2:00 a.m. Akhromeyev rose and said he was leaving and would return at 3:00. They both left, and returned at 3:00, and he said he was authorized to agree to equal levels. This resulted in 1,600 launch vehicles on both sides, and 6,000 warheads on each side, including reentry vehicles, SLBMs, ICBMs and a number of long-range cruise missiles. Then the question arose as to how to count heavy bombers not carrying long-range cruise missiles. Marshal Akhromeyev suggested that heavy bombers carrying gravity bombs and [Page 198] SRAMs be counted as one weapon, warhead and delivery vehicle. Nitze had considered this a fair settlement of a difficult question.

Nitze continued that he had suggested a sub-limit of 4,800 for reentry vehicles, but Akhromeyev did not agree. He said he was authorized to reduce heavy missiles to half of what the Soviet side then had, but he was not authorized to agree to either 4,800 nor to 3,300 for ICBMs. Near 6:00 a.m. they began to work out a final set of three paragraphs on the extent of agreement achieved. He had suggested that a sentence be included to the effect that either side in follow-on negotiations was entitled to raise the question of sublimits. Akhromeyev asked that it not be included in the paragraph, and assured Nitze it was not needed, saying that either side was free in a negotiation to raise what it thought fit. Nitze had asked that Akhromeyev give him his word that this was a situation on which Nitze could rely. He had assured Nitze that this was so, and on that basis Nitze had agreed not to include the sentence.

Akhromeyev said Nitze’s account was essentially accurate except for one point. He had told Nitze he was authorized by his leaders to the rule counting bombers as one delivery vehicle and one warhead only on condition that the question of sub-limits thereby be removed. So that if the U.S. now withdrew from that agreement, the bomber counting rule should be withdrawn too. Nitze said he did not remember this condition, but he was sure of the agreement that we could subsequently raise sub-limits.

Gorbachev said he remembered that Akhromeyev and Nitze had talked and had meetings, but then he had met with the President. They had considered the report of ten hours’ work, and what agreements had been reached. He had a record of agreement to 50 percent reductions in ballistic missiles, and agreement to counting bombers with gravity bombs and SRAMs as one launcher and one warhead. There had been no mention of sub-limits.

But if one looked simply at the entire mass of strategic weapons systems reduced by one-half, Gorbachev went on, and the concession on heavy missiles, this was an improvement for the U.S., and a concession on the part of the Soviets. He asked the Secretary to recall that they had agreed and given the matter over to their negotiators. Where we had stumbled was on SDI, on the ABM problem. Now new questions were being raised, and were being used to weaken the Reykjavik agreement. He simply could not accept such an approach. The Soviet side did not want to outstrip the U.S., but to accommodate it. It had thought it could reach an agreement with this concession. Even the President had agreed to it all. The one question that remained was the concession he had asked for on SDI.

Gorbachev said he wanted to turn to the ABM regime. The U.S. had buried SALT, and nothing had been created yet to take its place. [Page 199] The burial was proceeding. Every Administration including the present one had issued reports until 1983 that underlined the one single interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Now the U.S. planned to go into space with weapons, and squeeze the Soviet Union from there. And that was in a context of a situation where chances were emerging to reduce strategic offensive weapons. That made the Soviet side suspicious. When the ABM Treaty limits looked too narrow for U.S. SDI plans, lawyers appeared with a broad interpretation. But so far they have not been able to prove it is correct even to the U.S. people. The Administration was going ahead without looking around. The Soviet Union had had specific debates with the U.S., where it was hard to find answers. In this situation there suddenly came the idea of the U.S. side’s extending the arms race into space. The Soviet side was supposed to look on this as routine, rain today but not tomorrow. But no: what was involved was changing existing ideas of parity and balance. Why should the Soviet side help, Gorbachev asked. He simply did not trust the U.S. side.

Gorbachev said he considered this a very critical moment in the process of reducing strategic offensive weapons. But as he had said on a number of occasions—and this was a position that was worked out—this was a serious matter, not a machine gun, serious. He had the firm conviction that if the U.S. side went to deployment of ABM in space, there would be no agreement between us even on 50 percent reductions.

The Soviet side was not engaged in that kind of research to the extent the U.S., Gorbachev went on. Soviet research concerned the ABM defense of Moscow, one limited anti-missile base. It was hard to predict the success of SDI; they would have to rely on the U.S. But he thought Americans did not invest in things that were not cost-effective, and that meant the U.S. thought it could be done. He thought that since the U.S. was that committed, the Soviet objective should be to take care of its own interest, not to make the U.S. task any easier. The U.S. was trying to impose a choice on the Soviets, and they preferred the U.S. discontinue SDI as unnecessary. But while the U.S. felt it might be able to do something with SDI, to gain advantage, or superiority, this was an illusion. The U.S. side would not achieve it. The Soviet response would be asymmetrical; it would not necessarily be in space; and it would be less expensive.

Gorbachev said that if the U.S. violated the ABM Treaty and deployed SDI, the Soviet side would implement its program to defend its interests. This would create a most dangerous situation. There would be no trust for the U.S., and the situation would not be quiet for the U.S. It would have to watch the Soviets, for they would not sit idly by. Gorbachev asked whether it was responsible policy to destabilize the existing arrangements and SALT at a time when the contours of a strategic arrangement were emerging.

[Page 200]

The Administration had painted inself into a corner, Gorbachev went on. The orders had been placed. Industries had been engaged. It expected a technological breakthrough, with computers and information systems. Had it concluded, with President Johnson, that he who rules space rules the world?, Gorbachev asked. Mr. Secretary, he said, this was a grave illusion.

But if the Administration was that committed to SDI, he went on, he proposed to record the Soviet side’s agreement to the U.S. side’s conducting laboratory research. The SDI program would be preserved. That was the thought, and they had returned to the idea. They could talk about it if it would help the Administration untie the knot. They were thinking of an interpretation of laboratory not inconsistent with the ABM Treaty. The Soviet side could now explain, for the first time, that it consider laboratory work ground-based research in various scientific institutions and research centers, conducted without launching an object into outer space.

Obviously we could discuss in the negotiations which objects would be specifically banned from space, Gorbachev went on. This was a last effort. He had run out of gas for further new proposals. U.S. policy was one of extorting more and more concessions. This was not polite. Two great powers should not treat each other like that. In later years people would look back and wonder at it.

The Secretary said he was crying for Gorbachev.

Shevardnadze noted that the day before the Secretary had proposed a limit of seven instead of ten years for non-withdrawal. He cited the Russian proverb the further you go into the forest, the more firewood you see.

Gorbachev said he wished to end on this topic by saying that the Soviet side was ready to begin the process of working out an agreement to end all nuclear testing, with the understanding that we would begin with the treaties and further limitations.

In sum, said Gorbachev, the Soviet side was ready to work to develop key provisions for all agreements, on strategic offensive weapons, on space, on nuclear testing. These, with the treaty on medium-range missiles, could become the subject and the main result of a political agreement, and this could happen toward the end of this year or in the autumn. And if that happened the two sides could proceed to develop legally binding treaties between the Soviet Union and the U.S. on all three questions.

The Secretary said he would comment on all three areas but only briefly. The U.S. side was dedicated to trying to find agreement with the Soviet side in all three. He was even more aware after that day’s discussion of how difficult it would be.

[Page 201]

On strategic weapons, the Secretary said, since we were not able to agree on the kind of two-stage approach to vast reductions discussed at Reykjavik, we had concentrated on 50 percent reductions, which would in themselves be a magnificent and unprecedented thing to bring off. Gorbachev commented that this was again a retreat from Reykjavik. The U.S. was afraid to reduce nuclear weapons. Still the Soviet side was ready to proceed. Politics was the art of the possible.

The Secretary rejoined that as he had said to Shevardnadze we had made various proposals and none of them had rung a bell. We had therefore gone to another one, not as large as the ones the Soviets had rejected. This showed how anxious we were to make an important agreement in this field. 50 percent would be breathtaking. Gorbachev said he agreed.

On sub-limits, the Secretary said perhaps we should not call them sub-limits; we might find another phrase. But we should hold on to the 1,600, the 6,000, the halving of heavy missiles, and we should try to hold on to the bomber counting rule. We should try to see how it was possible to squeeze the numbers to equality in a way that preserved some stability. Our 4,800 number is approximately half the Soviet number, based on the Soviet side’s percentage. The point was that numbers are needed to make the principle real. A very strict inspection regime would also be needed. By the time we were through there would not be anything left in either country. We would not need intelligence services because everything would have been discovered.

The Secretary said the American side thought we should keep driving. We hoped to be in a position at the next START round to present a full draft agreement. We had no objections at all to setting out next fall or at some point, as definitively as possible, what a strategic agreement would look like, or what an agreement on space would look like, if we could find them.

We thought it important to recognize defense, the Secretary went on. The Soviets did recognize it, and we should more than we do. The Soviets had extensive air defenses. Like us they poured concrete around silos. They had their Moscow ABM, which we recognized was permitted. They had mobile systems, hard to verify. We both put missiles under the sea; that too was defense. The concept was as old as warfare. It was important to see that it could contribute to stability. This was what the President had tried to do. It would be good to engage at the philosophical level. He had given over a paper, and even though Karpov had said there was nothing new in it, it might serve to engage us.

Gorbachev said he thought it was a great historic misfortune that the President had met with Teller.7 Without that there would be no [Page 202] SDI. As to air defenses, the Soviets were doing them, the U.S. was doing them. But SDI was different. It changed the whole situation. The Secretary would recall the time it had taken us to develop an approach for treating existing arsenals the various commissions, Smith,8 Nitze. Now it seemed that instead of using that, the U.S. was opening up an arms race in space, all into the unknown, the devil knew where it would lead. Dreams were fine, they were important in politics, but one could not turn politics into dreams. As for strategic defense with an arms race in space, he rejected it. It would be destabilizing.

The Secretary said it was important to keep at work. The ten-year commitment had been offered in the context of elimination of all ballistic missiles. He had to point out that seven years was an eternity in U.S. political time, two Presidents away in terms of U.S. politics.

The Secretary continued that Gorbachev had mentioned nuclear testing. He knew Gorbachev had thought a lot about it. The U.S. placed importance on starting negotiations to deal with it. Shevardnadze and he had discussed finding a measure of agreement. They had talked of various means of verification under discussion by scientists, CORRTEX, seismic. These ought to be tried out, to see what works best to try to improve what goes on. So they had assigned people from both sides to draft an agreement to start negotiations. They had reached agreement on all except the last paragraph, the Secretary said, and he had merged some language and brought it over. The way to get started with negotiations was to agree to start. If we had a start to negotiations right away, it should not be difficult to have the two treaties ratified by the fall. If the text he was presenting was agreeable, he would [be] glad to be in touch with the President, and thought he would find it agreeable. They could thus agree here in Moscow and get started.

Gorbachev said he would have the comrades look at the issue as a whole, and would give a reply the next day.

Gorbachev asked the Secretary what he thought of the laboratory testing formulation. He (Gorbachev) saw the possibility of a compromise. The Secretary said he was willing to listen, but wished to give Gorbachev the President’s view. This was that we had the ABM Treaty, and had a program conducted in accordance with it. (At the translation, Gorbachev said in accordance up to now, but not in the next stage. The Secretary assured him that it would continue to be.) The program would continue. Questions abounded, and no decisions on them had been made. We were making laborious progress studying them, largely in the Secretary’s own department, and the results would be presented to the President, who would look at them and look at the program. [Page 203] Until then, he would see what could be done consistent with the Treaty. He was leery of changes. He was willing to listen, but in candor he had to say that the President’s view was that the ABM Treaty gave us guidance. Gorbachev said the Soviets were not saying it should be changed, but observed. The Secretary said the U.S. was saying “let’s observe it.”

Gorbachev asked why the U.S. delegation in Geneva was avoiding discussion of what was permitted and not permitted under the treaty. The Secretary said he understood Ambassador Kampelman had given many explanations. Gorbachev said he had his own information, and urged the Secretary to try to develop some new instructions.

Gorbachev appealed to the Secretary to give careful thought to all aspects of strategic offensive weapons across the entire triad and to related ABM Treaty questions. The President should look again at all aspects. The Soviet side thought compromise was possible on all aspects, without prejudice to the President or his interests. There might not be enough time to complete a treaty, but there was time to agree on basic provisions. There had been years of discussion, of clarifications. These were assets that should not be wasted.

The Secretary assured Gorbachev he would give the President a full report when he saw him in California, and would supplement his written report with a sense of how Gorbachev had said it, to give the full impact of Gorbachev’s view, as the Secretary had given Gorbachev the President’s view.

Gorbachev said he had covered all the ground he wanted to propose, and invited the Secretary to touch on items of interest.

The Secretary said he would like to mention one he had discussed with Shevardnadze, and another he would raise later with Shevardnadze. First, he wished to say that he thought the decisions we saw coming forward on emigration, on political prisoners, on representation list cases, on the category we call refuseniks, a range of decisions related to the new thinking in Gorbachev’s society, were something we welcomed. These things meant a lot to the U.S. side. He could only express the hope that there would be a continued flood of developments in this area.

Gorbachev said the Soviet position was well-known, and he had nothing to add. The Soviet side would be prepared to consider everything that emerged in the humanitarian area. During the first three months of 1987 permission to depart had been given to 1,500, which was 1,355 more than the year before. Thirteen percent had been refused for security reasons. They were considering further cases.

But, said Gorbachev, he had received a letter for the Secretary from some rather prominent Soviet Jews. They had heard that the Secretary [Page 204] would raise human rights, the spy mania, and also Jews, and they had written protesting against the way he would raise these questions. They had drawn attention to the fact that the Secretary dealt only with a certain group of Jews, people who did not like it here, or had complaints. He showed no interest in the mass, the millions of Soviet Jews; they were out of his field of vision, when he presented things as dramatic, and very bad. They noted that in his meetings he seemed to prefer to meet people who were irritants. And they asked whether the Secretary of State and other American officials were not stimulating this. That would be interference in internal affairs, and they did not accept it. Gorbachev said he would consider the issues the Secretary had raised. Life is life, he said, and things need solutions. But steps in the direction of interference should be ended.

The Secretary said he welcomed Gorbachev’s comments, as a way of saying that if Jews wanted to practice their religion, to learn Hebrew and teach it to their children, that would be alright with Gorbachev. He believed that if emigration were open there would not be much of a problem. He suggested Gorbachev look at Hungary. It was completely open, and there was no emigration. So he welcomed what Gorbachev had said.

Gorbachev replied testily that if the Secretary did not like the way things were the Soviets would do their best to make the U.S. happy, and he hoped the Secretary would also work to improve things in the U.S. Since the Secretary has gotten into polemics, Gorbachev wished to say that the Soviets would soon be celebrating 70 years since the Revolution, and had quite a record on relations between nationalities, with self-determination and autonomous areas for even the smallest. The U.S. had many nationalities, ten million Poles, Russians, Hispanics, all kinds. It could learn from Soviet experience, and they were willing to give counsel. He suggested that the new Ambassador,9 who knew the Soviet Union well, get in touch with the Central Committee to develop recommendations.

The Secretary said he wished to discuss so-called regional issues before he left. This was a very important topic. Gorbachev said this was worth going into the next day; the Soviet side had much to tell the Secretary. At this meeting he wished only to say one thing. It seemed to the Soviet side that the U.S. considered regional problems and conflicts as a special reserve for maneuver, a means to regulate the level of confrontation, of use of force, of anti-Soviet propaganda. If that were so and if it did not change, he was sure our relations would face very great trials and tests.

[Page 205]

Gorbachev said the Soviet side believed that we should not turn such problems into areas of confrontation between systems, or between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, if the U.S. saw it that way. He did not want to oversimplify. Many problems had piled up. It was his deep conviction that we could interact and cooperate. But, for instance, he frankly did not see any interest on the U.S. side in finding solutions in the Middle East.

The Secretary said he would welcome a chance to discuss these things, and had some ideas. Gorbachev said that after the Geneva meeting he had had the impression that it might be possible for us to cooperate to seek a solution to the Afghanistan problem. That had dissipated. U.S. policy was now to put sticks in the spokes, and we were beginning to do so. It was unacceptable for either side to adopt the idea that the worse for the other side, the better for it. The Secretary said he agreed with that.

Gorbachev said we should discard the old stereotypes, the old approaches, and try to interact. No one in the world could substitute for our two countries, for our responsibility. He wished to say again that it was not the Soviet position not to take account of U.S. interests, but they could not accept the U.S. considering all other countries as a hunting ground or fiefdom, the rest as second-rate.

Gorbachev said he welcomed the process that had begun with the visit of Secretary Armacost and hoped it would continue. We gain through that more understanding, possibilities of interaction. It was not Soviet policy to pick a fight with the U.S., but rather to take legitimate U.S. interests in the world into account. It expected the same from the U.S. It was not true that the cause of tensions was the two systems. Until 1917 there had been only one system, the capitalist system, and there had been the First World War, not to speak of all the other wars. In World War II we had had a coalition of states with different systems. What did exist was each country’s national interest, but it was not just us who had one. Seeking a balance of such interests was the art of foreign policy, and at each stage a new balance existed, and a new approach was needed.

Gorbachev said he had told Margaret Thatcher that she should not try to use the ideas of the Fulton speech,10 of the 1940’s and 1950’s, to deal with the problems of the end of the 20th century. He invited the U.S. and the leaders of the U.S. to consider what the Soviets were saying with understanding. Reconstruction was required here too. The U.S. side could not outsmart the Soviet side, nor could the Soviet side [Page 206] outsmart the U.S. side. But they could work together, think how to do it, in the interest of normalization of relations both bilateral and international.

Gorbachev asked the Secretary to convey his greetings to the President.

The Secretary said he would. He added that if he ever had a chance to visit and discuss these things, he would find that there were very powerful forces at work that had nothing to do with capitalism or socialism, but affected both. They were changing the world, and this deserved discussion. Gorbachev said he agreed. The Secretary said there was a lot of potential conflict, and at a minimum it would be an exercise in damage control. The proverb that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applied.

Gorbachev said the U.S. and the Soviet Union and other international partners should remember that solutions are not for one or the other to make, but only in common. This was not the case at present, and that was the problem. There was a great deal to think about, and it was better to think, meet, compare than to think about how to destroy each other. Those were the good things Nitze and Akhromeyev did, though they did it for succeeding generations.

Gorbachev said it had been a pleasure to meet the Secretary again to resume discussions and exchanges. He had not been so happy with what had transpired, but what was was, and the exchange had clarified positions. He still thought we could find a solution on medium-range missiles; the others would be more difficult. The Secretary said “difficult, but not impossible,” and suggested they agree on nuclear testing.

The Secretary said he would tell the President that Gorbachev had mentioned the possibility of a visit to the U.S. in the fall. If that developed as something genuine they should probably have in mind another meeting at his level with Shevardnadze. He would be glad to receive him in the U.S. as part of the planning process. It could be worked out. But for a high-level meeting we wanted content, and good preparation, for it to be successful.

Gorbachev said he could confirm that as before he wanted a “resultful” summit. He was ready to go to the U.S. and spend as much time as possible to achieve it. But the foreign ministers should do some preliminary work. He felt there was a definite possibility of movement on medium-range missiles, on testing, and perhaps other topics. The foreign ministers should work more intensively, and if there were agreements there could be a summit of the President and the General Secretary. But we should not relegate things to Geneva; he confessed he was kind of allergic to it.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S–IRM 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 Simons; cleared by Graze and Pascoe.
  2. See Document 37.
  3. See Document 41.
  4. Arthur Hartman.
  5. Reference is to an April 10 press conference during which Soviet officials charged that the United States had systematically spied on the Soviet Embassy in Washington. (Thom Shankar, “Soviets Hurl Bugging Charges Back at U.S.,” Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1987, p. 1)
  6. See footnote 5, Document 39.
  7. Reference is to Reagan’s September 14, 1982, meeting with scientist Edward Teller.
  8. Gerard Smith, the lead U.S. negotiator in the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks.
  9. Jack F. Matlock. See footnote 3, Document 15.
  10. Reference is to Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, which he delivered at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946.