67. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze of the USSR (U)


  • US

    • The President
    • Vice President
    • Secretary of State George P. Shultz
    • Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger
    • Howard H. Baker, Chief of Staff
    • Kenneth Duberstein, Deputy Chief of Staff
    • Frank C. Carlucci, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Marlin Fitzwater, Assistant to the President for Press Relations
    • Kenneth Adelman, Director, ACDA
    • Paul H. Nitze, Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State
    • Max M. Kampelman, Counselor of the Department of State and US Negotiator on Space and Defensive Arms
    • Edward Rowny, Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State
    • Rozanne Ridgway, Assistant Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Jack Matlock, US Ambassador to the Soviet Union
    • Thomas Simons, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
    • Robert E. Linhard, NSC Staff
    • Fritz W. Ermarth, NSC Staff (Notetaker)
    • Dimitry Zarechnak (Interpreter)
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh
    • Ambassador Yuri Dubinin
    • Gennadi Gerasimov, Head, Information Department
    • Ambassador Victor Karpov, Head, Arms Limitation and Disarmament Department
    • Teymuraz Stepanov, Senior Assistant to the Foreign Minister
    • Sergei Tarasenko, Head, General Secretariat (Notetaker)
    • Pavel Palazhchenko (Interpreter)
[Page 311]

At noon, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze was escorted by Secretary Shultz into the Oval Office to meet the President. He was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh and Ambassador Dubinin. Secretary Shultz noted to the President that he and the Foreign Minister had had several hours of conversation in a positive and constructive tone. While exchanging pleasantries in front of press teams, Shevardnadze also characterized his earlier conversation with the Secretary as thorough and fruitful, creating a good atmosphere.2 In response to a press query, the Foreign Minister noted that the letter he carried to the President from General Secretary Gorbachev3 did not mention a summit date. He refused to characterize the contents of the letter to the press, explaining that he would then have nothing interesting to tell the President. (U)

At approximately 12:10 p.m., the President led Secretary Shultz and Minister Shevardnadze into the Rose Garden for the signing of the agreement on Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers.4 (U)

The plenary meeting of the President with the Foreign Minister commenced in the Cabinet Room at approximately 12:30 p.m. The President opened his remarks by welcoming Mr. Shevardnadze once again to Washington. He noted that our relationship has not seemed so promising in many years. If we can achieve the arms reduction that lies before us and progress in other areas, an historic improvement in our dealings with each other and in the cause of peace is possible. (U)

The President briefly surveyed the whole shape of the relationship to open the exchange. On arms control, he noted, we are near major achievements; issues remain, but can be solved. On human rights and bilateral issues we see some progress and a lot more needs to be done. The area where we are most disappointed concerns regional conflicts. These conflicts are dangerous for both sides. They have blocked our cooperation in the past and could continue to do so. They have local sources. But they are not purely local; they engage the superpowers. Our concern with Soviet policy is that it causes or inflames such conflicts by seeking to impose a political system unwanted by the people and by its lavish supply of arms to aggressive and irresponsible regimes. There can be no general improvement in our relations while such Soviet policies continue. But if those policies change for the better, then great improvements are possible. (S/S)

[Page 312]

Afghanistan, the President said, is the most troubling case. There will be no solution as long as a communist-dominated regime in Kabul, however disguised, is the goal. For the Afghans will fight this, and we shall support them. We shall not desert them for a phony political settlement. On the other hand, if the Soviets really want to withdraw, then they should simply do so. Practical arrangements for this can be made with the Resistance and Pakistan. Once the Soviets give convincing evidence of their determination to withdraw without control over what they leave, then their security interests can be safeguarded. So long as this war drags on, it will be a drag on our relationship and a danger to us both. (S/S)

The President noted that, one way or another, the other regional conflicts that concern us—in Central America, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia—resemble Afghanistan. Efforts to impose by force an alien political system that the people do not want, does not work, causes continuing war, suffering, and international danger. We cannot progress while this legacy of the Brezhnev era persists. You are trying to overcome that legacy in internal affairs, the President said. We want you to do so in foreign policy too. (S/S)

On Iran-Iraq, the President noted, we have parallel interests in ending the war, and have cooperated in the UN. Now is the time to press Iran to accept Resolution 5985 and, if it does not, to move immediately ahead to a second resolution on enforcement. Rather than moving toward more cooperation, however, Soviet policy is backsliding. It seeks to take diplomatic advantage—but any advantages gained this way will not last and will be costly to Moscow in the Arab world and the West. It seeks to put pressure on our military presence in the Gulf, which is modest and responsible—but this will fail because we have compelling reasons to stay, and regional support. If your claim to “new thinking” is real, the President said, surely you should turn aside from local maneuvers and join us in real cooperation. (S/S)

On Human Rights, the President noted, the Soviets have made positive steps, and he welcomed them. He said that he especially appreciates recent resolution of three cases: Vladimir Feltsman, Matvei Finkel, and Iosif Begun. But more must be done to assure free emigration, to release political prisoners, to let divided spouses rejoin, to end persecution of religious dissenters. The President said the Soviets would gain greatly if they quickly allowed all current Jewish refuseniks to emigrate and assured the same right to future applicants. The Soviets actually diminish the value of positive steps, he said, if they dribble them out grudg [Page 313] ingly for diplomatic effect. We note, the President continued, that revisions of your laws on political offenses are under consideration. That is good news. The world longs to see more justice in your great country. It is suspicious of mere gestures. We do not belabor human rights issues to put you on the political defensive or to gain bargaining advantage. We are simply trying to communicate what we deeply believe it takes to bridge this gap between us. (S/S)

In this connection, the President reminded the Foreign Minister of the proposal he made in June for reducing the division of Berlin, including tearing down the Berlin Wall.6 People would believe you mean glasnost at home and abroad, if you acted in Berlin. If you cannot bring yourself to take a big step in Berlin, the President continued, then join us in taking some small ones such as improved air access, international conferences, and perhaps the Olympics in Berlin. (S/S)

On Bilateral Affairs, the President noted, we have made important progress, especially in cultural exchanges and contacts among our people. This must go forward. I am deeply committed, he added, to more contact among common people, especially our young people. There are a number of subjects on which we have serious complaints. The one I wish to mention here concerns our Embassy. We shall need and expect your full cooperation—on a scale you are not used to giving—in order to solve the problems we have found there. That cooperation will be necessary for our relationship to advance. (S/S)

The President then turned to Arms Control. Nuclear Risk Reduction Center Agreement signed today shows we can make progress. Now it’s time to tackle the major issues. Let me share my thoughts on priorities, he continued. (U)

The START agreement, the President said, should be our top arms reduction target. Since Reykjavik, there have been some useful procedural steps, such as exchanging draft treaty texts, but on substance, we are about where we were a year ago. I’m not satisfied with that, the President said, and I hope you and the General Secretary aren’t either. I hope you and Secretary Shultz will take a fresh look at the issues and see what can be done to solve them. (S/S)

We should wrap up INF, the President continued. Chancellor Kohl has volunteered a statesmanlike step that should remove the artificial obstacle the Soviet side created. Let me make it absolutely clear, the President said, we will not agree to any formal negotiations—in the Treaty or apart from it—on German systems or our established program of cooperation. You should accept Kohl’s decision and get on with an agreement. Yesterday we tabled specific proposals on the remaining [Page 314] issues that divide us. Your team needs to address them if there is to be an INF agreement. (S/S)

On Defense and Space, the President made two points: First, he disagrees with the Soviet demand to hold up START for an agreement on Defense and Space. This is an artificial linkage. Second, he cannot accept Soviet attempts to cripple SDI. You know my views on the importance of the SDI program, the President said, and everyone knows you have long had your own strategic defense program. So let’s be clear: SDI is not going to be bargained away. We’ve offered proposals to ensure stability and predictability in the strategic relationship as SDI research goes forward. If the Soviets want to find a way forward, avenues are available. (S/S)

With respect to compliance, the President welcomed Soviet cooperation in recent US inspection of a Soviet exercise. This was a good start at improving openness and confidence in Europe. Unfortunately, many compliance problems remain. The Krasnoyarsk radar is the biggest of all. Krasnoyarsk is not an issue of our making. The Soviets built the radar where they shouldn’t have. Halting construction or claiming that the radar is not for early warning won’t answer our concerns or get them back into compliance. Neither will touring a few visiting Americans. As long as the radar stands, it will remain an obstacle to progress both in reaching agreements and in ratifying them. (S/S)

The President concluded by saying that he sees a bright prospect in the Foreign Minister’s visit this week and his work with us in the months and years ahead. Our experience with an earlier Soviet statesman from the republic of Georgia7 was, the President said, mixed. The President added that he was increasingly confident that the Foreign Minister’s place in the history of our relationship will be remembered more fondly, and that this was certainly his deep personal hope. (C)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze began his response to the President by noting it was difficult to say all he had to say in the brief time available. Karl Marx, he recalled, had once written that he had written a long book because he had so little time. He noted that he and Secretary Shultz had started and would continue a thorough and constructive dialogue on all issues. Shevardnadze said he did not think endless debate about who was right and wrong on all the issues would be constructive. Responding to the President’s critique of Soviet policy toward Afghanistan, he said if US arms had not been supplied, there would be peace in Afghanistan; if the US had been more respectful of the people of Central America, there would be peace there. But he would not dwell on this, preferring what he regarded as more construc [Page 315] tive debate. He noted that he had discussed human rights and humanitarian affairs at length with the Secretary, that working group exchanges would take place, and that this was positive. He took strong exception to the implication he drew from one of the President’s points on human rights, namely that there was some propaganda purpose in Soviet moves. Soviet actions deemed positive by the US are driven by the internal requirements of democratization, he said. He noted that the President had once again stated his desire to see the Berlin Wall torn down and said this plea was offensive to the German people because the GDR was a sovereign country which had the right to decide when and where to build or tear down its walls. (S/S)

Turning to arms control, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze stated that very substantial progress had been made since the summits of Geneva and Reykjavik. The two leaders had agreed that nuclear war was unwinable and should never be fought. While short of substantive agreements, there had been an advance on the global problem of reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons. We had reached a crucial moment in world affairs. Our relationship could be transformed if we could move ahead on an INF agreement and get major breakthroughs on strategic offensive arms and on assuring strict compliance with the ABM Treaty. The outlines of agreement had emerged and were visible. We faced the simple question, according to Shevardnadze, do we want agreement or not? We had initial understanding. Problems remained, as the President had noted. But we had to maintain momentum. (S/S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze stressed that Gorbachev saw the time factor as very important because he wants to sign an agreement with the President. Therefore, Shevardnadze said, he and other Soviet leaders saw it as very important that his conversations with Secretary Shultz should speed up the process toward signing an INF agreement and registering substantial progress toward radical reductions in strategic arms. For the Soviet side as well as the US side, achieving radical reductions in strategic arms and progressing toward their elimination was indeed the “root problem”. In pursuit of such agreement, the Soviet side had aired new views in Geneva and would continue airing them in Washington. (S/S)

However, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze continued, the ABM Treaty must be preserved; if the Treaty was destroyed, no strategic agreement was possible. There were ways to preserve the ABM Treaty. The Soviet side had recognized the President’s commitment to the SDI program. It had begun with insistence on preserving the ABM Treaty, then it proposed non-withdrawal for a 15–20 year period, then a period of 10 years, and other concessions. The Soviet side was ready to seek mutually agreeable solutions. It had proposed establishing the dividing line between permitted and prohibited activities in space and lists of [Page 316] permitted activities. Such a list would be submitted to the US providing a good businesslike basis for proceeding. Another approach would be to agree, without conditions or lists of activities, to adhere for 10 years to a strict interpretation of the ABM Treaty and to 50% reductions in strategic arms. We could instruct our negotiators to proceed on this basis. Meanwhile, the Soviet side found very worrisome what it saw as US introduction of new complications: Above all, reintroduction of sublimits which were unacceptable to the Soviet side because of their impact on Soviet heavy ICBMs and which had been set aside at Reykjavik; reintroduction of the Backfire, which had long been a clarified issue; exclusion of SLCMs from discussion. These approaches showed no desire to reach agreement, according to Shevardnadze. (S/S)

The Soviet side had a new proposal, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said, which should be of interest to the US side, according to which no more than 60% of either side’s warheads could reside in any element of the Triad. In practical terms, which Shevardnadze noted Secretary Weinberger would understand, this meant that no more than 3600 warheads would reside on ICBMs. This should be satisfactory to the US. (S/S)

Thus, according to Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, we had the outlines of approaches to dealing with our nuclear arsenals. There were good prospects for progress. We could make progress this year on a chemical weapons accord, perhaps agreeing within six months of the next year. How much, Shevardnadze asked, can be accomplished in the next 18 months, a significant time frame? An INF agreement is within reach, he said, and work must continue on remaining obstacles. The Soviet side had not yet been able to study fully the new US INF treaty draft; first impressions revealed that it still posed problems. Remaining issues, including thorough study of the US draft, would take time. Therefore, he said, it was necessary to use every minute and every hour of his stay in Washington to intensify effort. A breakthrough of the difficulties in the way of a 50% reduction of strategic arms was possible; agreement could also be reached on strengthening the ABM treaty regime. Momentum must be maintained. He was ready to work. (S/S)

As a final thought, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze added, if all obstacles to an agreement on LR and SR INF missiles had not been cleared away, he would not rule out another ministerial meeting a month hence to wrap up work on an INF agreement and to decide when a summit should take place. No time could be wasted, however; as many questions as possible had to be resolved now. (S/S)

At the close of the Foreign Minister’s presentation, the President asked Shevardnadze to join him for a short tete-a-tete in the Oval Office prior to lunch. The Foreign Minister was accompanied by Mr. [Page 317] Bessmertnykh and his interpreter. After stating that the US would always plead for free emigration as a general right, the President used the occasion to plead for specific emigration cases of concern to him. He asked that the Soviets allow Abe Stolar’s daughter-in-law to accompany father and son in leaving the USSR. He pled that the right to emigrate be granted to Ida Nudel, who had waited 15 years to join her sister in Israel; to Naum Meiman who was seeking to join his daughter in the US; and to Vladimir and Masha Slepak whose only two sons lived in the West and who had worked at their professions for many years. The President recognized the special sensitivity that might be attached to the Soviets doing anything for Leyla Gordiyevskaya, the wife of the man who had defected in England, and suggested that the Soviets might handle this by simply exiling or banning her. (S/S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze responded by saying that he would assure careful consideration to what the President had requested. He was not familiar with these cases but would certainly look into them. (C)

At that point, the President led the Foreign Minister to the East Wing for lunch. During cocktails, Shevardnadze cited Gorbachev’s warm remembrance of Reykjavik; the President reciprocated this. Secretary Shultz mentioned the formula often repeated by both leaders, that nuclear war could not be won and should never be fought. The President noted that this statement always got strong applause. He noted that the vast devastation of any nuclear war would render life unlivable for the survivors; Chernobyl had demonstrated this. And with only a small fraction of the total nuclear power available to the two superpowers, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze added. (C)

The President opened luncheon conversation by asking about the progress of restructuring in the USSR and what kind of resistance it faced. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze replied by noting that the most important revolutions take place in the mentalities of the participants. Everyone in the USSR wants restructuring, but for some it is difficult to adapt their thinking, for some ministers and for some ordinary people. To work in democratic conditions, with public debate, is more difficult than simply following orders. (C)

Secretary Shultz suggested that Shevardnadze relate the capsule history of Soviet evolution that he had presented in their earlier conversation. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze noted that the USSR had gone through several stages after the Revolution: War Communism, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat—under the well-known constraints of dictatorship—then the State of the Whole People, and now a quest for overall democracy. Every system had its ups and downs, he noted. (C)

Recalling that the American Revolution, an armed revolt, had left some smudges in the White House, dating from the British attack, the President asked whether some of the innovations being pushed by [Page 318] Gorbachev harked back to concepts of Lenin which had been blocked under Stalin. (C)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze affirmed this was the case. He said many progressive ideas of Lenin had failed to be implemented for objective and subjective reasons. Among the objective reasons were lack of time to achieve industrialization and economic embargoes by the West, the virtual isolation of the USSR into the mid-1930s. On the subjective side, Shevardnadze said, the Soviets now admitted that they had made errors and had allowed violations of their own laws. (C)

The President asked whether restructuring was affecting the farming sector; he asked about the status of private plots and whether they were not more productive than collectivized agriculture. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze replied that new policies were developing in Soviet agriculture, with all oriented toward achieving economic results. There have always been private plots in the villages; now city dwellers were encouraged to develop them too. In Georgia, his republic, he noted that 45% of state-procured meat came from private plots. He went on to say that the collective and state farms would remain the backbone of Soviet agriculture because modern machinery could only be used efficiently on large farms, of 30, 40, 50,000 hectares. But the contradictions between collective and individual incentives in agriculture were now being overcome. Shevardnadze’s family, he recalled, had a private plot. He used to make his own wine. He had been characterized as the foremost diplomat among winemakers in the USSR. Responding to a question from the Vice President, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze noted that the size of private plots varied according to regional land availability but tended to be around one-half a hectare, or about one acre. He noted that most rural income is still derived from work on collective land. (C)

The President recalled that he had grown up in farm country where several farmers would together buy and use expensive equipment, the sharing of which was a social bond and event. (U)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze turned the conversation to compliance with arms control agreements. He noted the US charge that the Krasnoyarsk radar violated the ABM Treaty. He said the recent visit by US Congressmen to the radar, which they had photographed, showed its true purpose. On one hand, he reflected, there might be a similar Soviet visit to US radars in Greenland and England where the Soviet side saw violations. On the other, he said, there existed a mechanism in the Special Consultative Commission to prevent violations or assess charges of violations. There were experts there. What was needed, according to Shevardnadze, was an end to polemics about this. In the fall, the SCC would reconvene. Soviet leaders had formally proposed that Secretary Weinberger meet with Soviet Minister of [Page 319] Defense, General Yazov, within the SCC or otherwise, to lay this matter finally to rest. Experts could contribute and leaders could decide. Such a meeting of defense ministers could also address questions of military doctrine and of force asymmetries which the Soviet side was willing to address. (S/S)

Before asking Secretary Weinberger to respond, the President asked Paul Nitze to comment on Shevardnadze’s points on violations of the ABM Treaty. Ambassador Nitze noted that Shevardnadze was fully familiar with the US contention that the Krasnoyarsk radar was a violation because it was an early warning radar in the wrong place, and that US radar improvements in Greenland and England were not because they were permitted modernization, mere conversion of dish to phased-array type radars. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze responded that the Soviet side might visit these sites, but it would take a meeting of defense ministers to resolve the problem. (S/S)

Secretary Weinberger, addressing the point on force asymmetries, noted that for 13 years the US had sought to get the Soviets to recognize their existence and importance. If the Soviets were now ready to do so, perhaps we would see some progress. As to the radars, our radars at Thule and Fylingdale were allowed modernization while Krasnoyarsk was many hundreds of miles out of place. If, he continued, a meeting of defense ministers would establish once and for all that Krasnoyarsk was a violation, then it would be a good idea. (S/S)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze responded by noting that he had asked General Yazov why he was violating the ABM Treaty; General Yazov convinced him that he was not. The defense ministers should meet to settle this. (S/S)

Secretary Weinberger recalled that he had proposed a meeting of defense ministers a couple of years previous, but apparently the message did not get through. Now there was a new Soviet defense minister; and we would consider the idea of such a meeting. He asked Shevardnadze to pass his greetings to Boris Petrovsky, the former Soviet minister of health and an acquaintance from the early 1970s. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said it was a pity that Petrovsky was not defense minister; then there would be no Krasnoyarsk problem. Careful thought must be given to removing this problem from the agenda. (S/S)

The President interjected a private fantasy, as he put it: What if we were attacked by extraterrestial beings? Wouldn’t our conflicts seem unimportant? In that event, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze replied, we probably wouldn’t even care about meetings of our defense ministers. Secretary Shultz added that we ought to encourage meetings of our top defense leaders—of which exchanges under the Incidents at Sea [Page 320] Agreement8 were a model—at least to spread the workload from the diplomats. The Vice President cited a fanciful intercept of a conversation in an alien space craft: “Keep calm. Four heads are better than two.” (C)

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze asked the Vice President about his impending trip to Europe. The Vice President said he saw it as a very important trip he was eager for, a trip which would include Poland. Secretary Shultz queried Shevardnadze on his impending travels to Latin America. The latter noted that he would be visiting Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, a first for any Soviet foreign minister. He would not, he said, be going to Nicaragua. (S/S)

The President observed that time was running out, that a hungry press wanted some comment. After a brief exchange, resumption of work at the State Department was confirmed for 3:30 p.m.9 Foreign Minister Shevardnadze thanked the President for his hospitality and conveyed warm regards to Mrs. Reagan from General Secretary and Mrs. Gorbachev. The President said it had been a pleasure and that he would have to convey those regards by phone since the First Lady had departed for California for events connected with her campaign to help children and combat drug abuse. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said he was aware of the First Lady’s activities in these areas. (U)

The lunch terminated at 2:00 p.m. (U)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Ermarth Files, President’s Meetings With Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze September 1987 (2). Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Ermarth. The conversation took place in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and the State Dining Room at the White House. Ermarth sent a copy of the memorandum to Carlucci under a September 21 covering memorandum, requesting that Carlucci approve it. Carlucci initialed his approval. (Ibid.) A copy of the 12:25–1:05 p.m. portion of the conversation, which Simons drafted on September 22, is in Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Memoranda of Conversations Pertaining to United States and USSR Relations, 1981–1990, Lot 93D188, ShultzShevardnadze—Wash—9/87.
  2. For the text of this exchange, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1987, Book II, p. 1033.
  3. See Document 64.
  4. For the text of Reagan and Shevardnadze’s remarks, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1987, Book II, pp. 1033–1034. The accompanying text of the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center is in Department of State Bulletin, November 1987, p. 37.
  5. Reference is to UNSC Resolution 598 of July 1987 calling for a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war.
  6. See Document 54.
  7. Reference presumably is to Stalin.
  8. Reference is to the 1972 Incidents at Sea Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union.
  9. See Document 68.