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The Moscow Summit 20 Years Later

From The Secret U.S. and Soviet Files

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 251
Compiled and edited by Thomas Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya

For more information contact:
For more information, 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Left: President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev on Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, May 31, 1988, with interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko to the right.  Just out of the picture is U.S. Navy lieutenant commander Woody Lee, carrying the “football” briefcase with U.S. nuclear war plan options and launch codes for missiles targeting Red Square.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

 

 

 

President Reagan speaking at Moscow State University, May 31, 1988.  This briefing book’s co-editor, Svetlana Savranskaya (then an MGU student), is in the front row, third from right, wearing pink.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

Washington D.C., May 31, 2008 – Twenty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan declared the end of the Cold War while walking through Red Square and the Kremlin in Moscow during a summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that was friendly and largely ceremonial, according to the previously secret summit transcripts published today on the Web by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org). 

Asked by a reporter on the Kremlin grounds May 31, 1988 about the famous “evil empire” speech of 1983, Reagan responded, “I was talking about another time, another era.”  The underlying documents from the summit, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests in the U.S. and from the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, show that Gorbachev was thwarted in his efforts for rapid arms control progress by lack of trust on the U.S. side, and that the “human factor” reflected in Reagan’s comments was the most important outcome of the summit.

 The documents include the official U.S. transcripts of the face-to-face meetings in Moscow between Reagan and Gorbachev, the President’s briefing book for the summit (prepared by the State Department), notes from Soviet Politburo sessions before and after the summit (taken by Gorbachev aide Anatoly Chernyaev), the U.S. National Security Decision Directives leading up to the summit, and the talking points sent to U.S. embassies around the world after the summit.

The Web publication on the Moscow summit is the fourth in the National Security Archive’s series of online briefing books posting key U.S. and Soviet documents on each of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings (Geneva 1985, Reykjavik 1986, Washington 1987, and coming in December, New York 1988).


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1)   Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, February 22, 1988 [Excerpt published by the Gorbachev Foundation, Moscow]

 This conversation provides a unique snapshot of the global nature of the U.S.-Soviet competition and of Gorbachev’s conviction that all the “painful knots that have built up around the world” could be resolved if the Soviet Union and the United States made a genuine cooperative effort to settle those regional conflicts.  Among the regional conflicts discussed are those in Angola, Cambodia, the Iran-Iraq War, the Middle East and most significantly Afghanistan.  On February 8, 1988, Gorbachev had announced that Soviet troops would leave Afghanistan starting in May and would be completely gone by spring 1989 – an outcome that the top CIA officials Robert Gates and Fritz Ermarth had bet $25 and $50, respectively, would never happen.[1]  Here, Gorbachev presses Shultz to move on finalizing the Geneva negotiations on Afghanistan and speedy signing of the accords to provide a model of superpower cooperation in settlement of regional conflicts, and to ensure that Afghanistan could become a neutral non-aligned country.  Gorbachev and Shultz also discuss U.S.-Soviet cooperation in the U.N. Security Council on the Iran-Iraq war.  Both express their concern about the fundamentalist government in Iran and the Iranian factor in Afghanistan and the Middle East.  Concerned about the Iranian influence, Shultz suggests jokingly that “the Iranians would not mind fundamentalist governments in the Kremlin and Washington.”  From this conversation, one could get a sense how profoundly the U.S.-Soviet relations changed by early 1988, when both sides seem to be ready to work together on the issues where the differences and interests previously appeared irreconcilable.  This excerpt released by the Gorbachev Foundation does not include the discussion on strategic weapons and missile defense, which took place in the first part of the meeting.  At the time, Shultz and the Soviets both are pushing for a START agreement to be ready by the time of the Moscow summit.

 2) Politburo Session, February 25, 1988 [Excerpt from notes of Anatoly Chernyaev]

 Gorbachev informs the Politburo about his conversations with Secretary of State Shultz.  The tone of the report is very upbeat and optimistic.  At this point Gorbachev still strongly believes that it would be possible to prepare the START treaty on 50% reductions of strategic nuclear weapons by the time of the Moscow summit and sign it while Reagan is still in office.  In 1987, that hope of reaching a fast agreement on strategic weapons reductions drove many of Soviet concessions in the INF negotiations, and the two leaders had agreed at the Washington summit in December 1987 to move quickly to a START agreement.  Gorbachev sees a window of opportunity for arms control because “because politically we have entered a new situation in our relationship with the United States.” The Soviet leader directly links the success of perestroika to deep reductions in military spending while keeping basic parity with the United States.  He speaks strongly about the need to revise the Soviet military budget to rein in defense spending.  Yet on this very day in Washington, President Reagan tells editors of the Washington Post that time is too short to reach agreement on START by the time of the summit, in effect ratifying the go-slow views of his new national security team, most of whom (notably Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and national security adviser Colin Powell) remained skeptical of Gorbachev’s intentions, although not as hostile as the departed hard-liners Caspar Weinberger and Richard Perle.  Shultz was taken by surprise and dismayed at the shift, which undercut his efforts that Gorbachev is talking about here.[2]

 3) Politburo Session, March 10, 1988 [Excerpt from notes of Anatoly Chernyaev]

 Gorbachev informs the Politburo about his conversations with U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Carl Levin and talks between Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov.  Disappointed but still somewhat hopeful on START, Gorbachev points out that the focus of arms control is now shifting toward reductions of conventional weapons in Europe.  This document reflects the Soviet leader’s decision to move seriously on the issue of the military imbalance in Europe—which would eventually produce the startling announcement of deep Soviet unilateral cuts in December 1988 in Gorbachev’s U.N. speech.  Here he calls the Politburo to “prepare the cards,” which he is going to “put on the table” later taking into account proposals brought by the U.S. Senators and those developed in European social democratic circles.

 4) National Security Council Memorandum of Conversation, NSC Meeting with Suzanne Massie, March 11, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 The author and Russian culture expert Suzanne Massie would meet with President Reagan some 21 times in four years, starting in early 1984 at the time of Reagan’s conciliatory “Ivan and Anya” speech.  The Massie conversations would educate the President about Russian culture and attitudes, encouraging him to seek rapprochement with the Soviet Union, as well as provide an informal back channel between the White House and Soviet intellectuals.  Here, the back channel includes an official message from “even higher” levels in Moscow asking whether Reagan still believed the USSR to be the “evil empire” and if not, to make such a statement before the summit.

 5) Conference with Politburo Members, March 21, 1988 [Excerpt from notes of Anatoly Chernyaev]

 Gorbachev again briefly mentions the recent visits of U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Carl Levin, and Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci to Moscow.  He notes that his conversation with the Senators was “one of the most substantive conversations” and points to expanding possibilities that the meeting signified.  The General Secretary is very impressed with the depth and sincerity of talks between Carlucci and Soviet Minister of Defense Dmitry Yazov.  In both conversations the “human factor” played a great role, just as in Gorbachev’s own meetings with President Reagan.  The Soviet leader sounds slightly surprised that interactions with Reagan’s supporters could be so productive.

 6) National Security Decision Directive No. 304, “Organizing for the Moscow Summit,” April 19, 1988.  [NSC declassification, FOIA request]

 This Directive provides the wiring diagram for the bureaucratic process in the U.S. government leading up to the summit, including authorizing the various policy groups and coordination mechanisms.  Ultimately, the U.S. delegation to Moscow would include more than 700 officials.

 7) Department of State, Memorandum of Conversation, “The Secretary’s Initial Meeting with Shevardnadze,” April 21, 1988 [State Department declassification, FOIA request]

 This State Department memorandum of conversation records the third set of negotiations between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Soviet Foreign Minister leading up to the Moscow summit (February in Moscow, March in Washington, now April back in Moscow).  Shevardnadze presses for progress on START, but Shultz responds that still-unresolved issues like sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) would not “reach full closure during the next month,” so agreement is unlikely for the summit.  (Arguments over these nuclear-armed cruise missiles would hold up START negotiations for years, pushed by the parochial interests of the U.S. Navy rather than a consideration of the national interest, but by 1991 their lack of strategic value would lead to President George H. W. Bush’s unilateral decision to withdraw all tactical nukes from U.S. ships.[3])  The bulk of the discussion here concerns human rights issues, including an interesting exchange about the Vienna follow-up meeting on the Helsinki Final Act (CSCE).  Shultz raises his “disappointment with the performance of the Soviet delegation” at Vienna, which “was not prepared to go as far in its statements as what the Soviet leadership was saying in Moscow.”  Shevardnadze responds, “We have a hard delegation” in Vienna, we tell them one thing, “They do something different.”

 8) National Security Decision Directive No. 305, “Objectives at the Moscow Summit," April 26, 1988.  [NSC declassification, FOIA request]

 This Directive sets out the Reagan administration’s goals for the summit, and provides an interesting contrast to Gorbachev’s and Shevardnadze’s eagerness to negotiate strategic arms control and conventional forces reductions.  The American side explicitly seeks only to “consolidate the gains” on the standard four-part agenda including human rights, regional conflicts, bilateral relations and arms control, although there is a rhetorical commitment to “attainment as soon as possible of a START agreement” (it would not happen until 1991, and even then, only bring U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons down to about the level where they were when START negotiations began in 1982).  The continuing caution and skepticism on the U.S. side is reflected in the warning against “exaggerated expectations on the future pace and achievement of U.S.-Soviet relations or the reform process under way in the Soviet Union” – a stark contrast to the possibilities envisioned by the Soviet leader, and even by Reagan himself at the Reykjavik summit only a year and a half earlier.

 9) Memorandum of Conversation, Colin Powell and Ambassador Dubinin, April 29, 1988. [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 The Soviet ambassador to Washington, Yuri Dubinin, calls on President Reagan’s national security adviser to “see if the United States had a concept of the President’s visit to Moscow.”  Powell responds that Reagan anticipates “no major problems” and “no surprise[s]” but simply seeks “to learn about the Soviet Union and about its people” – underlining the largely ceremonial purpose of the summit as seen from the U.S. side.  Dubinin brings up the sea-launched cruise missile issue again to no avail, and on issues from ABM to Central America, the two officials simply agree to disagree.  Powell seeks to reassure the Soviets about various Reagan speeches earlier in the spring that seemed to gloat about the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and take credit for pressuring Moscow – to which the Soviets had taken offense, most directly when Gorbachev himself confronted Shultz only a week earlier in Moscow.  Powell remarks again “we each have many different constituencies, and that one should not look at what the President said from place to place in the United States, but reread the speeches, toasts and statements he had issued during the Washington Summit.”

 10) Department of State, Background Book, “President Reagan’s Meetings with General Secretary Gorbachev, May 29-June 2, 1988.”  [State Department declassification, FOIA request]

 This remarkable 70-page briefing book prepared by the State Department for President Reagan provides a detailed point-by-point review of practically every issue in U.S.-Soviet relations from human rights to fisheries, from START to terrorism, and from the long-planned Kiev consulate to the unrest in the Soviet national republics.  The format lends itself to the kind of quick review and annotation that the President preferred: bullet points, short summary memos, talking point outlines of the U.S. and Soviet positions, and tangible examples that could be used by speechwriters and on the index cards that Reagan always carried for his sessions with Gorbachev.  According to the drafting dates on the various memos, State Department officials drafted them starting in early April 1988 and continuing through mid-May, though the final compilation is clearly complete by the time the President and the Secretary of State leave Washington on May 25.  Substantively, perhaps the most remarkable assertion in this package is the summary near the end of “Soviet Foreign Policy Trends.”  Reflecting the cautious and still-conflicted view in the Washington establishment, the memo asserts that “Gorbachev’s primary foreign policy objective has been to achieve stability and predictability in foreign relations, in order to create breathing room for domestic reforms.”  In fact, as the now-available Politburo records and Chernyaev diaries show, Gorbachev’s aim is to abolish nuclear weapons and end the Cold War in Europe, leading him to initiatives the ostrich-like U.S. officials never predicted, like the unilateral reductions in Soviet troops he would announce at the United Nations at the end of 1988.

 11)  Department of State, Moscow Summit Overview (undated, circa May 23, 1988). [State Department declassification, FOIA request]

 This 2-page overview apparently prepared just before the President’s departure from Washington provides the State Department’s main talking points about the summit.  The memo in effect keeps the government’s spokespeople on the same page (or 2 pages, as the case may be), emphasizing that “Moscow should be where the dialogue catches its second wind, not be seen as its high-water mark.”

 12)  Department of State Memorandum, “Summit Briefing Book for Mrs. Reagan,” May 23, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request] 

This cover memo from the State Department to the national security adviser conveys the materials for Mrs. Reagan’s briefing book, of which only the 2-page table of contents and the two scope papers (“Moscow Summit” and “Recent Developments in the Soviet Union”) are currently available.  The table of contents provides a succinct overview of the schedule, including Mrs. Reagan’s quick visit to Leningrad; and the scope papers similarly give concise summaries of U.S. expectations for the summit (“the first [visit] by an American president in fourteen years”) and U.S. analysis of Gorbachev’s situation, including “recent high-level challenges to his authority.”  This last phrase refers to the so-called Nina Andreeva affair, when a Leningrad chemistry teacher published on March 13 a striking anti-reform message titled “I Cannot Betray My Principles” while Gorbachev was out of the country – a publication that would not have happened without backing from conservatives like Ligachev on the Politburo.  It would take three weeks before the new thinkers would marshal their response in the form of a full-page Pravda rebuttal.

President and Mrs. Reagan shaking hands on the Arbat, May 29, 1988.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

13) President’s Annotated Agenda, “The Moscow Summit,” May 25-June 3, 1988. [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 This minute-by-minute agenda prepared jointly by the State Department and the White House staff provides locations and times for each event of the trip, and thumbnail sketches of the planned remarks and statements to be made by the President from May 26 through his return to Washington on June 3, including each of the face-to-face meetings with Gorbachev as well as his Finnish and Moscow welcomes and his London debriefings after the summit with Prime Minister Thatcher and Japanese Prime Minister Takeshita.  Not on this agenda is the impromptu walk by the two leaders on Red Square, which would be suggested by Reagan to Gorbachev on May 30 and memorably accomplished on May 31.

14) National Security Decision Directive No. 307, “Review of the United States Arms Reduction Positions in Preparation for the Moscow Summit,” May 27, 1988.  [NSC declassification, FOIA request]

 Apparently signed by President Reagan in Helsinki en route to Moscow, this Directive details the specific arms control goals on the U.S. side for the Moscow discussions.  With the advantage of access to the internal Soviet documentation of the time, we now know that much more dramatic arms reductions were there to be seized if the Americans had more boldness and more confidence in Gorbachev.  But just as Gorbachev’s lack of trust in Reagan led the Soviet leader to miss the Reykjavik opportunity for nuclear abolition, so too the misguided American assessment of Gorbachev’s intentions in 1988 would create yet another missed opportunity for reducing the nuclear threat.  After the end of the Cold War, reading these details about – for example – the counting rules for air-launched cruise missiles takes on the quality of medieval theological debates over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, yet countless person-years of the best and the brightest officials on both sides of the Cold War would be devoted to this kind of minutia.

15) Memorandum of Conversation, “The President’s First One-on-One Meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev,” May 29, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 The memcons of the Reagan-Gorbachev summits provide an extraordinary and practically verbatim testament to the power of the “human factor” in diplomatic relations.  This memcon of the opening discussion at the Moscow summit refers back to the original Geneva summit in 1985, when the two leaders signed a joint statement “that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” – the maximum goal of the Soviet side coming in to Geneva, which Reagan completely agreed with, to the Soviets’ surprise.  Here, Gorbachev gives Reagan the text of a proposed new statement to the effect that “no problem in dispute can be resolved, nor should it be resolved, by military means” and that “non-interference in internal affairs and freedom of socio-political choice” should be the “inalienable standards of international relations.”  Reagan then says he “likes” the statement, but once the leaders leave the “one-on-one”session (it actually is four-on-four with interpreters and notetakers), U.S. officials would object strenuously to Gorbachev’s proposed statement, especially phrases like “peaceful coexistence” and the implication that U.S. support for anti-communist insurgents like the contras in Nicaragua (one of Reagan’s favorite causes) is illegitimate.  For his part, Reagan presents his traditional handful of cases of dissidents and refuseniks, and the two leaders proceed to an interesting discussion of religious freedom, including Reagan’s frank description of his own son Ron as “an atheist, though he called himself an agnostic.” 

16) Memorandum of Conversation, First Plenary Meeting between President Reagan and General  Secretary Gorbachev, May 30, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 Now the two leaders meet with their top officials at the table, and again Gorbachev makes a plea for the statement against use of military force, but draws no response from the American side.  The almost 2-hour-long meeting centers around the two sides’ negotiating talking points on arms control topics across the whole range of acronyms, START and ABM and ACLMs and SLCMs and ICBM sublimits, to name a few.  At one point Gorbachev raises again the Soviet view of missile defense: “The President, he stated amiably, was being deceived” about weapons in space as part of the strategic defense initiative.  Gorbachev says Reagan “had initially been deceived by former Defense Secretary Weinberger; perhaps Carlucci was now doing the same thing” with “Shultz’s help, … moving the President in the wrong direction.” Gorbachev “wanted to state this in their presence so they could defend themselves.”  At this point, Reagan intervenes and restates his long-standing arguments for missile defense, including his pledge “if a workable system were devised, the US would make deployment of such a system available to all countries, and would not deploy until nuclear weapons had been eliminated.”  In Reagan’s view, missile defense would be like a gas mask you would keep even after chemical weapons were banned, as defense against an accident or a madman.  But for Gorbachev, the problem with missile defense continues to be its possible use as a space-based platform for a first strike – the perennial Soviet security nightmare dating back to Hitler.  Gorbachev effectively admits the Krasnoyarsk radar is a treaty violation and offers again to dismantle it in the context of a larger ABM agreement, and then turns the tables on Reagan by bringing up American resistance to verification inspections of U.S. ships and factories in contrast to Reagan’s favorite and frequently-repeated Russian proverb “trust but verify.”  The most interesting part of the discussion concerns conventional forces in Europe, in which Gorbachev – presaging his December 1988 unilateral cuts – refers to Warsaw Pact-approved proposals for a 500,000-troop cut on both sides.  The U.S. side demurs, with Shultz saying such ideas “have to be marketed to our respective allies” first.  Gorbachev admits the Soviets have the advantage in the central European theater, but argues that NATO is superior on the southern flank, and claims the reason the U.S. is resisting exchanging full data on the military balance is because such data would show “there was no superiority on the Soviet side.”

17)  Record of Conversation between General Secretary Gorbachev and President Reagan, May 30, 1988 [Excerpts from the Gorbachev Foundation, Moscow]

 These excerpts from the Soviet transcripts of the Moscow summit, as released by the Gorbachev Foundation, show once again what the Soviet side regarded as the most important issues discussed at the summit—negotiations on the strategic nuclear weapons and verification of compliance.  On strategic weapons, Gorbachev acts very assertively pressuring the U.S. side to reach agreements on the remaining problems—sublevels on mobile ICBMs and sea-launched cruise missiles.   On the issue of verification, now it is the Soviet side that is ready to move much further than the Americans, and challenges them to abide by their own earlier statements:  “you always said that you are for the strictest verification, that you are ready for any kind of verification. And now we are persuading you to agree to this kind of verification.”  Gorbachev argues for the most comprehensive verification regime, which would also include naval forces, and production facilities, especially noting the need “to overcome the resistance of American naval forces on this question.”  While not a complete transcript, the Soviet notes track well with the more detailed U.S. memcons that are now available.

 18)  Memorandum of Conversation, “The President’s Meeting with Monks in Danilov Monastery,” May 30, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

One major goal of the U.S. side at the Moscow summit is to engage with the Russian people, including as a priority the Russian Orthodox Church.  But a planned meeting with the Church Patriarch would fall victim to the Church’s insistence that Reagan not meet with activist priests like the human rights hero Father Gleb Yakunin (present at the Spaso House reception later this day).  So instead, Reagan’s advance team would arrange this visit to the Danilov Monastery hosted by a metropolitan of the Church (equivalent to a Catholic cardinal).  President Reagan’s prepared remarks would mention the Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) Church as a way to push back at the Russian Orthodox Church’s official desire to become an exclusive state religion.  Here, Mrs. Reagan initiates an interesting dialogue about whether believers in Russia “would ever be free of the state.”  In response, Metropolitan Filaret says “It was hoped that, after the meetings between the President and the General Secretary, all such problems would go away.”

President Reagan waving to Moscow residents from his limousine.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

19) Department of State Cable, “The President’s Human Rights Reception a Success,” May 31, 1988. [State Department declassification, FOIA request]

 This cable written by U.S. ambassador Jack Matlock describes a highlight of Reagan’s trip to Moscow, the reception at the ambassador’s residence, Spaso House, on May 30, 1988, for 42 leading dissidents and refuseniks, with their spouses and children.  Matlock reports that the reception “went off without a hitch, thanks in part to KGB and militia cooperation,” that the President’s speech was “vigorously applauded,” and that “Soviet media commentary followed swiftly and was biting and sarcastic.”

20) Memorandum of Conversation, “President’s Second One-on-One Meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev,” May 31, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request]

 This conversation begins with Reagan’s gift to Gorbachev of an American-made denim jacket, which Gorbachev calls “a memorable gift,” but Reagan does not know whether it will actually fit the Soviet leader.  After Gorbachev tells Reagan about various Soviet citizens who have named their kids after Ron and Nancy, the two leaders discuss perestroika, capitalism, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a chocolate brownie entrepreneur, border controls, Cuban-Americans in Miami, and assorted matters.  They end with a philosophical agreement that the real task is to “eliminate the distrust that has led to the arms race.”

21) Memorandum of Conversation, “Second Shultz-Shevardnadze Meeting,” May 31, 1988.

 This session between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Soviet Foreign Minister begins with Shultz’s ironic statement that the two would have to talk about regional issues, at least “to touch on” them, so “that those outside the room know that each regional subject was mentioned at the Summit.”  After some minutes of discussion of the Vienna CSCE meeting and a draft paper from the neutral/non-aligned states, Shultz finally defers the matter by saying “[w]e are simply spinning our wheels on this issue now.”  When Shevardnadze comments that Shultz has a difficult trip ahead of him to the Middle East, the American Secretary of State says he “was only going because he liked failure so much.” The friendly tenor of the talks comes through in various jokes, including the Shultz-Shevardnadze-Carlucci banter about how the Soviet Union would be a non-aligned state once all military pacts were dissolved, but such dissolution might risk the defense secretary’s job.

President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev on June 1, 1988 signing the ratification documents for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that had just been approved by the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Soviet.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

22) Department of State Information Memorandum, “Agreements Concluded to Date at Moscow Summit,” May 31, 1988.

 In the absence of a major arms control agreement to announce, the U.S. side emphasizes the multitude of bilateral agreements wrapped up at the Moscow summit, and the State Department provides a helpful page of talking points that spins the lack of major progress by describing the agreements as each “a small, but real accomplishment.” 

23) State Department Cable, “Full List of Attendees at President’s Reception for Refuseniks/Dissidents,” June 1, 1988. 

This followup cable to the May 31st Matlock report on the President’s reception May 30 gives the full list of dissidents and refuseniks and family members who were present.

 24) Memorandum of Conversation, Second Plenary Meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, June 1, 1988.  [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request] 

This final official session before the two leaders exchange the ceremonial INF ratification documents centers around presentations by Shevardnadze and by Shultz of the two sides’ positions, about which the best that can be said is that discussions were friendly and candid, even though not much progress has been made.  When Gorbachev and Reagan give their own summaries, the discussion of regional issues in particular shows the very different perspectives of the two sides, or as Gorbachev comments, “the American assessment as to the cause of regional problems was at variance with Soviet assessments.”  Gorbachev returns to the draft statement he gave to Reagan on the first day, and reminds the President of his initial positive reaction, which would be quickly rescinded once the document was in the hands of Shultz, Carlucci, Powell and the other senior U.S. officials.  Why not sign off on such a strong statement, Gorbachev asks, rather than the rather bland Joint Statement produced by the staff negotiators?  But the Americans respond by pointing to the objectionable phrasing, and even a last-minute personal plea from Gorbachev to Reagan does not reverse the American decision.   

 25) Department of State Information Memorandum, “Human Rights Group at Moscow Summit,” June 6, 1988.

 This summary from the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, Richard Schifter, describes the progress in the Soviet Union on human rights issues, and the commitment of “the majority of the Soviet leadership generally” for more improvement, but remarks that “the gulf between that commitment and the reality throughout the country is enormous.”

 26) Politburo Session, June 6, 1988 [Excerpt from notes of Anatoly Chernyaev].

In this report to the Politburo on his meetings with Reagan, Gorbachev has little to show for the results.  No significant breakthroughs were achieved and no treaties were signed.  His main hope—a quick progress on START did not materialize.  Looking back at the summit, Gorbachev talks about the importance of Reagan just being in Moscow, meeting with ordinary people and appreciating the Russian culture.  He stresses that during the summit, U.S. citizens could see the Soviet Union on their TV screens all day long, and that “[t]he ordinary American has seen the ordinary Russian.” The Soviet leader emphasizes the importance of “the human factor” once again in bilateral relations.  In his memoir, Gorbachev notes that the most important result of the Moscow summit was Reagan’s statement during his Red Square walk that the Soviet Union was no longer an “evil empire. … It was another time another era”—words, which essentially meant a proclamation of the end of the Cold War.[4]

Reagan and Gorbachev shaking hands after the INF signing, June 1, 1988.  [Photo courtesy of Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California]

27) State Department Cable, “Moscow Summit Briefing Materials,” June 8, 1988.

This detailed 19-page cable provides the State Department’s official talking points for all posts to use “in briefing host government officials at suitably high level” about the Moscow summit.  Referring to the Soviet attempt to get a statement against the use of military force, the cable says “we had to bring the Soviets back down to earth” and “we were not going back to the kind of vague concepts we had seen in the 1970s that were subject to differing interpretations and could result in misunderstandings and recriminations.”  But Gorbachev in his closing press conference would make clear that an American endorsement of his “new thinking” on security policy, and specifically such a rejection of “military means” to solve problems, would have helped him in his efforts to restructure Soviet foreign policy, and put his own establishment more on the defensive, thus allowing him to make more reforms even more quickly.  Gorbachev would express disappointment that “the opportunity to take a big stride in shaping civilized international relations has been missed.”[5]

 28) Anatoly Chernyaev Diary, June 19, 1988.

 This diary entry shows that preparations for the Moscow summit were not the main issue that preoccupied the Soviet leadership in the late spring of 1988.  Once Gorbachev realized in the beginning of May that the summit would not bring the desired agreement on strategic nuclear weapons, the focus of attention shifted to preparation for the XIX Party Conference, which took place at the end of June 1988.  Most speechwriters and Gorbachev’s advisers were occupied by drafting the theses for the conference at several country houses around Moscow.  The relative importance of the summit comes through Chernyaev’s unintentional phrase “[w]e took a break from Volynskoe-2 due to Reagan’s visit.”  In his diary he also notes that the main achievement of the summit was Reagan’s realization that the Soviet Union was no longer a Cold War adversary of the past: “Reagan saw that we are not an ‘empire of evil,’ but normal people, with a rich history at that, and… we are such a giant that you cannot intimidate or dazzle us.” 

 


Notes

[1] Don Oberdorfer, From the Cold War to a New Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 274-275.

[2] Oberdorfer, p. 289

[3] For an extended discussion of why limits on SLCMs were much more in the U.S. national interest than the Soviets, and how the Navy’s resistance to on-board inspections gave the moral high ground to the Soviets, see the analysis by the then-U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, in his book Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (New York: Random House, 2004), pp. 277-279.

 [4] Mikhail Gorbachev, Ponyat’ Perestroiku… Pochemu eto vazhno seichas [To Understand Perestroika … Why it is Important Now.], Moscow, Alpina Business Books, 2006, p. 161.

[5] Raymond Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (Washington D.C: Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 356.

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