78. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.

    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Walters
    • Under Secretary Armacost
    • Assistant Secretary Ridgway
    • Assistant Secretary Murphy
    • Mr. Burton (SOV), Notetaker
    • Mr. Hopkins, Interpreter

    • Foreign Minister Shevardnadze
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Petrovskiy
    • Ambassador Belonogov
    • Mr. Tarasenko (MFA)
    • Mr. Posuealuk
    • Mr. Palazhenko (Interpreter)

The Secretary opened by saying that, as always, there were many issues to discuss, but the focus on today’s meeting should be on the Persian Gulf.

Foreign Minister Shevardnadze said that was his understanding.

The Secretary said he would be glad to have the Foreign Minister start off, review the situation as he sees it, give his appraisal and perhaps describe where we go from here. The Secretary said that first, however, he wanted to echo something Shevardnadze had said. The U.S. and Soviet Union had acted together with their colleagues on the [Page 392] Security Council in a unified way, and that is one factor that made an impression. If we didn’t agree as we go along, we didn’t agree, but the effort to maintain unity was one we should continue to make. Further, if the UN effort on the Iran-Iraq War succeeded, it would be a strong step in a direction that both the Foreign Minister and the Secretary advocated—a more effective UN and Security Council.

Shevardnadze said he had no particular enthusism for going first, but he would do so. He said that in broad terms, he had tried to express his views from the UN rostrum. He agreed that there were some positive elements and trends which should be preserved. One was the fact that Resolution 598 was adopted.2 It was a good resolution, a balanced resolution, one which made it possible to work with both Iran and Iraq, which also took into account the interest of the littoral states, and which made it possible to settle “this grave conflict”.

He continued that a very important element, in the process of drafting the resolution and to a substantial extent in the subsequent stage, was that states were ready to take steps to implement Resolution 598. It was very important from the Soviet standpoint that the unity of the UNSC permanent members be preserved. The permanent members were facing a difficult test. It was a positive fact that the Secretary General’s visit to the region was not without results. It would have been naive to expect, if anyone did, that the trip would overcome all difficulties. That would have been unrealistic given the differences that exist, but tomorrow the permanent members could speak in support of that mission and what had been done.

He continued that the report of the Secretary General, the list of steps being proposed, and the two sides agreeing in principle, were important aspects of the current situation. Yesterday in his UN speech, Shevardnadze had said that the primary task was still to achieve a ceasefire.3 Today, he still believed it was the primary problem. He had been worried at the prospect that Iran would flatly reject the demand. But they seemed to be accepting it, admittedly with some reservations and conditions. Those conditions and reservations, of course, were significant.

In addition to a ceasefire, other points had been outlined by the Secretary General, such as control of troops and subsequent measures. These should be taken up.

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There was also the question of setting up an international body of inquiry which would become an unbiased body to determine the reasons for the conflict and who was the aggressor. This was a most difficult question, and it must be seen in the context of the whole issue.

Shevardnadze continued that the Iraqis were not morally or psychologically ready for a commission. He knew from his own meetings with (Iraqi Foreign Minister) Aziz that it was a very sensitive matter for Iraq. But Shevardnadze had urged him to have a change of heart. The Iraqis were most interested in the ceasefire, given the consequences of the war. They would have to take a stand, including from the UN rostrum. But Aziz had agreed that it was a parallel process—ceasefire, withdrawal of troops, exchange of prisoners of war, and in parallel, establishment of a UN investigating body. That was the first time, Shevardnadze thought, that the Iraqis had mentioned “in parallel”. Clearly, they had reservations. They did not want to find themselves in a trap. But on that basis, very active diplomatic efforts could begin, including the possibilities available to the Secretary General, the Security Council, and “all of us.”

Shevardnadze said he had talked at some length with the Iranians. He understood there was a paper from the Iranian delegation in which they accepted the resolution and a ceasefire, and then provided details of their position. Some details were acceptable and some less so, but the position still was a basis to look for compromises.

So that was how Shevardnadze saw the situation. He had said in Washington, and wished to repeat, that the Soviets were very worried about the “massive” American military presence in the Gulf. He understood the U.S. had interests, including important economic interests, and other states did as well. But it seemed to Shevardnadze that what had happened was completely needless and a complicating factor.

It was not a good situation to talk of cooperation in the Security Council and helping the Secretary General, but on the other hand, a group of countries had, behind the back of the Secretary General, decided to build up arms in the region. Shevardnadze did not approve and could not approve of this. He recognized, nevertheless, that it was an established fact, but he was very concerned. No one could say what would happen. The Iran-Iraq War could shift to a new battleground, with the Gulf itself the arena. The buildup should not have taken place after the UN Resolution.

But, Shevardnadze said, it was a decision that had been made. So what should happen next? We must continue to insist on the role and functions of the UNSC. Perhaps consideration could be given to making forces available to the UNSC. The UN flag would have a very different impact from that of the U.S. flag or those of other nations.

That, however, was for the next stage. The first task was to look at the steps in the Secretary General’s report. If there were a ceasefire, [Page 394] it would make possible all other courses of action. Shevardnadze and his people had worked late last night to think of ideas, but could not come up with anything better than what he had said. The situation was very complicated.

Shevardnadze said he had heard what the President of Iran had said. The Iranians were very tense. Shevardnadze would meet tonight with the Gulf States (NOTE: he mentioned specifically Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait), and would try to get a feel for their attitudes. If something very substantial developed, he would report his impressions to the Secretary.

As for the Iranians, the Soviets had had contacts. Whether it was Shevardnadze or his deputies speaking to the Iranians, the Soviets had consistently told them that the Soviet Union would work for Resolution 598 and that it was the right resolution, that the Soviets would work in the Security Council for every word and phrase of the resolution. The Soviets had also told the Iranians that the resolution would not be the last step and they would talk about other steps to implement the resolution. Shevardnadze said he had no plans to meet with the Iranians, but his deputies would otherwise make contacts in the framework Shevardnadze had outlined.

Shevardnadze said that what the Iranians stated from the rostrum was one thing; there were people in Iran who would like to cut Iran off from the world. But he had found that the Iranians do not in fact want to be isolated.

So, Shevardnadze continued, he wished to urge calm and restraint. Perhaps, he quipped, Secretary Weinberger could restore order during his current trip, and the Secretary and Shevardnadze would just have been wasting time in New York. But, he concluded, it was an established fact that the Security Council permanent members had been able to work in unity on Resolution 598. In that same spirit of unity, they should work for the resolution’s implementation. It provided a basis that did make progress possible.

The Secretary said he appreciated Shevardnadze’s thoughtful comment and constructive efforts. The U.S. had a parallel analysis—of course, the U.S. did not talk directly to Iran, but we discuss the situation with others.

The Secretary said he wanted to comment about our ship presence. The U.S. believed its naval presence in the region was a constructive factor. It had helped prevent Iranian intimidation of the Gulf states. It was a passive force, there for defense, and any provocations came from Iran. Stopping Iranian mining of international waters also was a constructive force, not destructive. If there were a ceasefire, then the need for our presence would diminish, and we would act accordingly.

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The Secretary continued that he agreed wholeheartedly that Resolution 598 was a good resolution, and we should stick to it. Our effort here in New York was to implement it. The fact that the Resolution was unanimous gave it strength. A resolution to follow 598 was very important. The behavior of Iran—and for that matter, Iraq—had been affected by the Resolution. So a strong and visible effort was very important.

The Secretary said that, like Shevardnadze, he had found the Iranian response a little more forthcoming than had been expected. It still fell far short of satisfactory or what Iraq would accept, but nevertheless, it was something to work with. The Secretary’s impression was that Iran was a country which faced lots of decisions and had difficulty coming to grips with the need for a precise response. The effort on an enforcement measure would be catalyzing.

As the Secretary understood it, the Iranians had accepted the idea of a ceasefire and establishment of a commission of inquiry. However, the idea of an informal or undeclared ceasefire without any troop withdrawal was very troublesome. As we had worked on Resolution 598, the link between a ceasefire and troop withdrawals was a very important element. Iran now occupied territory of Iraq of such a nature as to make it impossible for Iraq to resume oil shipments by sea.

The Secretary continued that it seems to him that if you read Resolution 598, a number of parallel actions were required. His reading was that parallel establishment of a commission of inquiry was consistent with the Resolution. We did not see any need to change the resolution in any way. We did not want to get into the position of changing the resolution but rather working within its framework. He suspected that the work of the commission would not be so easy, and would take longer than Iran thought, to gather evidence, work through it and come to conclusions. So, delaying key elements of the resolution was kind of an implicit statement by Iran that if the conclusion of the commission were not satisfactory from Iran’s standpoint, then all bets would be off.

In our discussions with the Secretary General, he continued, we needed to give him full support, to have him in a position where he was working for implementation of Resolution 598 as it stood, recognizing that he had certain flexibility to work with, but also recognizing that the kind of sequencing Iran envisioned was not consistent with the resolution, and he needed to change that with Iran. To the extent the U.S. and Soviet Union could point toward that outcome in their contacts, it would help the Secretary General. A strong and visible effort to show we were prepared to follow through on Resolution 598 would be an important motivating force, and we had to think through how to do that. Our objective should be action.

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In summary, the Secretary said he saw quite a similarity of both analysis and what should be done. We should not just push ahead blindly with the Resolution, ignoring the possibility of some constructive diplomatic activity. But, neither should we let up and make the resolution invisible. The Secretary proposed that the U.S. and Soviet Union should get together on instructions that the Secretary General should have in hand as he tried to work. As he had listened to Shevardnadze, it had seemed that his view was not too different.

Shevardnadze said he thought there was no serious difference with the Secretary. The Secretary’s statement that if the ceasefire took effect then U.S. military forces would be reduced, was very encouraging. There was a basis for working for the resolution. At this stage, he saw the resolution as an adequate basis to settle the crisis.

In any settlement, he went on, there were priority steps. The most difficult on the part of Iran was the decision to accept a ceasefire. The Iranian government had inculcated fanaticism in its people—an entire generation educated in a fanatical pursuit of total triumph and the removal of Saddam Hussein. But there were some forces in Iran that were more “educated” (NOTE: moderate) and they saw things differently.

Shevardnadze said that was one point he wanted to make. A second was the establishment of an international investigating body. This could be a fundamental decision which could help forces in Iran argue for a ceasefire. This problem would be put in the forefront. We should proceed from the premise that there would be a parallel process—ceasefire and commission of inquiry. Shevardnadze was not ready to say who should be on such a group; perhaps the U.S. and Soviet Union should discuss it, although Shevardnadze was unprepared. But it was an issue that would come to the forefront. We should also speak to the Iraqis. They have said they were not afraid—no one should be afraid. So, Shevardnadze saw a process consisting of a ceasefire, initiation of a commission of inquiry, and subsequently other steps could occur; troop withdrawal, return of prisoners of war, and other steps mentioned in the Secretary General’s report. Thus, parallel establishment of a commission of inquiry would have a positive impact in Iran.

The Secretary replied that Iraq’s attitude toward a commission of inquiry suggested that the answer would not be quite as simple as Iran expected. The commission would take some time, and the answer was not likely to be absolutely clean cut, it was important that conditions that went parallel with the commission of inquiry were conditions that would contain stability within them. So the Secretary welcomed Shevardnadze’s comments on return of prisoners of war and troop withdrawals.

The Secretary said he thought Shevardnadze’s comments on the difficulties of a ceasefire for Iran were very perceptive. If that were so, [Page 397] then the Iranians must be pushed. From the Iraqi standpoint, the Iraqis could not have Iran sitting for a long period on territory that represented Iraq’s export capability.

Shevardnadze said that after tomorrow’s meeting, the Secretary General would get down to practical work and a good deal would become clearer. It would be naive for Shevardnadze to expect that the Secretary General would produce in a week an agreed formula. It would be a painful process; as Mr. Armacost knew from his work, the Afghanistan-Pakistan talks had gone on for a long time, and now were in their ninth round, he thought.

The Secretary General must be given some leeway, some freedom of maneuver within Resolution 598. It might take him several trips, and perhaps the appointment of a special representative to be present in the region. But the fundamental points now were unity in the Security Council, faithful implementation of the resolution, and readiness to support all efforts of the Secretary General. The priority step was a ceasefire with subsequent steps, and it was desirable to resolve as soon as possible the issue of a commission of inquiry. So, Shevardnadze concluded, within that framework, we could say we had agreed.

The Secretary said he wanted to make a couple of points. It was not desirable to give a sense of endless patience. Rather, we should give the impression of impatience, that it was time to move ahead with the resolution. We should make clear we are ready to have the Secretary General look at the situation, but that we were looking for action, and we would implement the resolution if we did not see action.

The degree of responsiveness of Iran, the Secretary continued, was due to the unanimity and forcefulness of the resolution relative to Iran. So, we should take steps to make clear we were were working on steps to enforce the resolution. That would be a strong and visible effort.

The Secretary General needed support, plus flexibility, some room for maneuver. But it probably would be advantageous to have made it clear that the resolution was the basic framework we must work with, and he had no flexibility to change it.

The Secretary went on that the commission of inquiry was consistent with the resolution. The Secretary, like Shevardnadze, was not prepared to make a statement, but we should think about it.

The notion of parallel steps did mean that troop withdrawal would go with the ceasefire. We would have to keep coming back to that, because the absence of troop withdrawals in exchange for a ceasefire would fundamentally undercut the resolution. Obviously, there would have to be a ceasefire in order to carry out troop withdrawals, so there would have to be some sequencing, but that was not the same thing as allowing a ceasefire in place. So there were parts of the resolution we simply had to stick with.

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Ambassador Walters said that the Secretary General kept telling him and Ambassador Belenogov that he needed guidance, so if the Secretary and Foreign Minister wanted the Secretary General to do something, we would have to tell him.

The Secretary said we wanted to put the Secretary General in the position of being a real mediator. We had to give him an idea of what he had to work with, and what not, with Resolution 598 as his basic document.

Shevardnadze said perhaps tomorrow some formula could be found in the Secretary General’s proposals. The Iranians and Iraqis had not approved the proposals but they were thinking about them. Perhaps the permanent members could develop a statement, by the President of the Security Council, that the permanent members approved the recommendations of the Secretary General, both their content and their sequence. It would help the Secretary General if the Security Council stated its view that it supported him, perhaps in a statement by the President of the Council. That would be an action—an energetic action. We were placing great responsibility on him.

The Secretary commented, “And great opportunity.”

The Secretary continued, suppose we tried our hand at such a statement, to see what it might look like? We also needed to consider instructions for the Secretary General, to give him a mandate for his mission. Both the U.S. and Soviet delegations could try their hand at that, compare them, and check around with others. Even if we did not have it all agreed, we could have it along and discuss it at the Secretary General’s lunch.

Shevardnadze said such a statement could be drafted. As for pressure on Iran, the fact that the resolution had been adopted was pressure. All subsequent steps were pressure, for example, the fact that Iraq had agreed to the resolution and Iran had not. We had to have a subtle and consistent approach, but one mixed with flexibility. There will be a breakpoint for Iran—a graduated approach. If there were certain elements in Iran advocating a “healthier” approach, the Secretary General needs to understand that. If there were not, then other things would need to be done.

The Secretary said he wanted to restate—without swinging it around like a baseball bat—the importance of doing things on the so-called second resolution, so we would make clear our determination to follow through on the resolution. He suggested that we establish a drafting group, so there would be the fact as well as the appearance of work getting done. This was the sort of thing he had in mind to make clear there was not endless time and there was determination to move ahead if the Secretary General’s mission was unproductive.

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Shevardnadze said, so that was agreed. He quipped that it would be good if after their meeting, the war would end.

The Secretary rejoined that there was more possibility of that than there had been in a long while; the fact that the Soviet Union and U.S. were working together had something to do with that.

Shevardnadze asked why Secretary Weinberger had gone to the Middle East. His trip had caused a stir in Iran.

The Secretary said the trip had been planned for some time. He noted that Secretary Weinberger went periodically to visit the Gulf states, and with our ships there, it gave an added reason for the trip. Under the circumstances, the U.S. considered that it would not be wise to call off a long-scheduled trip; from our perspective, that might have sent the wrong signal. But he could assure Shevardnadze the trip was not a provocative act.

[Here follows discussion of proposals for defense ministers meeting, ministerial dates, arms control, Moscow agenda.]

The Secretary said there was a press stakeout in front of the Mission and he and Shevardnadze should consider what to say about the Iran-Iraq situation. The Secretary suggested that they tell the media they had spent a productive hour discussing the subject, would meet again at the Secretary General’s lunch, and that both he and Shevardnadze gave him support on Resolution 598 and its implementation. Beyond that, however, they would give no details.

Shevardnadze suggested they add a point in favor of unity in the Security Council.

The Secretary said, “Good,” and suggested they say, “We both place great value on the ability to work in a unified fashion.”

Shevardnadze agreed.

There was some discussion whether to appear together or separately before the media, with a decision on the latter. The meeting then concluded.4

  1. Source: 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. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Burton. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in Walter’s office at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
  2. UNSC Resolution 598 was adopted on July 20, 1987, an immediate ceasefire between Iran and Iraq, the repatriation of prisoners of war, and a withdrawal to the international border.
  3. For excerpts of Shevardnadze’s September 23 speech, see “Shevardnadze Speaks at the U.N.,” New York Times, September 24, 1987, p. A–7.
  4. Following the conclusion of this meeting, Shevardnadze and Shultz offered brief remarks to the press that stressed the importance of implementing UNSC Resolution 598. (Department of State Bulletin, September 1987, p. 54)