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In November 1985 in Geneva, Switzerland, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met for the first time to discuss issues such as SDI and the reduction of nuclear weapons. However, after meeting, tensions still remained due to fighting in Afghanistan and Central America.
After months of postponement a mini-summit was organized in Reykjavik, Iceland, to open communications further. Here, the two leaders again discussed SDI at length but also made progress toward agreements to reduce ballistic missiles by 50 percent and a "zero option" agreement in Europe -- meaning there would be no more intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
While no agreement was signed in Reykjavik, both leaders felt that the meeting was a success and opened the way for further progress.
Excerpts of Gorbachev-Reagan Reykjavik Talks
11 October 1986 - Afternoon
President Reagan: The apprehensions you voice fall into two categories.
First, you are concerned that defense could be used for offense. I can assure you that this is not the purpose of SDI. Yes, the concern was voiced that space-based weapons could be used to destroy targets on the ground. But there are no weapons that are more reliable, more effective and faster than ballistic missiles. We already have an agreement prohibiting deployment of mass destruction weapons in space. And if you have additional concerns in this connection, we can work together to ease them.
Second, you voiced the concern that the United States might obtain a possibility for carrying out a first strike, and then avoid retaliation owing to defense. I can say that we do not have the capability for carrying out a first strike, and that this is not our goal.
The concern you voiced encouraged me to suggest drawing up a treaty eliminating all offensive ballistic missiles. In this case the question as to the combinations of offensive and defensive systems that would allow one of the sides to make a first strike disappears automatically. I am convinced that owing to this the situation will become stabler, safer, and that all of this will cost us less. Armaments that reach their target in a few minutes and cannot be recalled would be eliminated, which would provide a guarantee against cheating and the actions of third countries. What we want most of all is to replace ballistic missiles by defense, transition to which would occur in stages, with stability ensured at each stage of the disarmament process.
We are ready to share our accomplishments in strategic defense, and we could include a provision in the treaty which would make the quantity of defensive weapons deployed dependent upon the number of ballistic missiles remaining. Such a situation would be distinguished by high stability, since bombers and cruise missiles are unsuited to a surprise attack, in view of their slow speed and the absence of limits upon air defense systems.
We naturally need to examine the times and stages of transition to strategic defense. The principles of equality and stability would be observed at each stage of this process in this case. My proposal is a serious step, and we need to conduct serious negotiations. I am certain that its implementation will make it possible to place security upon an stronger and stabler foundation. As far as the proposal you made today is concerned, I do not fully understand what topics would be discussed in the negotiations you suggest. Will our proposals be discussed, including our idea of sharing the advantages of strategic defense, and the proposal to eliminate ballistic missiles?
Secretary General Gorbachev: I will answer this question later.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Before I respond, Mr. President, at least briefly to your statement, and the numerous issues you have touched upon, I would like to ask a few questions for the purposes of clarification. As I understand, you share our goal of reducing strategic offensive missiles by 50 percent.
President Reagan: Yes.
Secretary General Gorbachev: At the same time if I understood you correctly, the figures you cited reflect options that were discussed in Geneva and which foresee a 30 percent reduction.
President Reagan: We proposed 6,000 units.
Secretary of State Shultz: This level would include 4,500 ballistic missile warheads and 1,500 air-launched cruise missiles.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Much has already been said about these options, and you know that the matter reached a dead end. Our diplomats in Geneva can go on discussing all of these figures, levels, sublevels, and son on forever. I have data here on American and Soviet strategic arms. I can give this table to you. And what I propose is this: Inasmuch as we agree that strategic missiles should be reduced by 50 percent, let's reduce all forms of armaments in our strategic arsenals by half -- ground-launched missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and missiles carried by strategic bombers. Thus the strategic arsenals would be reduced by 50 percent across the entire spectrum. The structure of our strategic arms evolved historically, you see, and with such a reduction, not one form of armament would be wronged, and the level of strategic confrontation would be reduced by 50 percent. This is a simple, proportionate solution, one which everyone will understand. And then all of these debates, which have now been going on for so many years, about levels, sublevels, what counts or what doesn't count, and so on, will be resolved automatically, since a 50 percent reduction is a 50 percent reduction. And there will be nothing to debate. Do you agree with such an approach?
President Reagan: But my proposal also includes all strategic weapons except freefall bombs carried by bombers. But even these are limited indirectly, since a limit is set on the number of bombers.
Secretary General Gorbachev: The next issue. Do I understand correctly that the U.S. President no longer likes the zero option he proposed regarding medium-range missiles?
President Reagan: No, I like it very much, but only with a global resolution of the issue. If the zero is on a global scale, then this would be fabulous. But if intermediate-range missiles are eliminated only in Europe, while a significant number of missiles aimed, in your words, at Asia will remain on your side, I could not agree to that. Your missiles could reach Europe from there, after all, and in addition, they could be moved suddenly to other places.
Secretary General Gorbachev: But you have nuclear weapons in South Korea as well, at bases, aboard forward-based weapon systems, not to mention other nuclear arms. Because you had earlier stated concerns regarding the nuclear arms situation in Europe, we also propose eliminating all medium-range missiles in Europe. As far as weapons systems with a range below 1,000 km are concerned, we propose freezing them and starting negotiations, and as for weapons in Asia, we also propose starting negotiations with the objective of finding a solution pertaining to these missiles in Asia, and consequently a solution pertaining to these missiles in Asia, and consequently a solution to the problem as a whole.
We have already opted to leave aside the strategic arsenals of Great Britain and France, and this is a concession on our side. Nor are we raising the issue of forward-based systems. Why has the United States not taken any steps in return? What we are now proposing, after all, is a simple solution: zero in Europe and negotiations in Asia.
Secretary General Gorbachev: But what I want to ask you, Mr. President, is this: If a solution is found for Asia, will you agree to the zero option?
President Reagan: Yes. We stationed them there at the request of our allies, which my predecessor accepted and which I implemented in response to your SS-20 missiles. As far as your missiles in Asia are concerned, I have seen maps from which it follows that while they can't hit England, they can hit France, West Germany, Central Europe, Greece and Turkey. Plus, the fact that they are mobile.
All of this emphasizes everything I discussed back in Geneva. Before we can work things out in regard to armaments, we need to try to clarify the causes of mistrust. If we are able to eliminate it, it will be easier to resolve the problem of armaments.
Secretary General Gorbachev: That's true. Which is why I am amazed that you dispute what I told you about our missiles in Asia. They cannot reach Europe. Specialists know this well, and therefore your position seems to be an obvious paradox. This is not to mention the fact that it could be stipulated precisely in an agreement that no missiles will be moved anywhere, and that everything will be subjected to the strictest inspection.
I think that we can instruct our experts to discuss your thoughts and my idea. But do I understand correctly? If a solution is found regarding Asia, will you agree to the zero option in Europe.
President Reagan: Yes.
Secretary General Gorbachev: As far as SDI is concerned, it is not evoking concern among us today in the military respect. We are not afraid of a three-echelon ABM system. If your laboratory research motivates you to create such a system, considering that obviously America has a great deal of money, our response will be different, asymmetrical. What actually troubles us is that it will be difficult for us to persuade our people and our allies as to the absence of the ABM treaty. There would be no logic in this, and nothing could be built on this basis.
President Reagan: We have absolutely no desire to eliminate the ABM treaty. This treaty is defensive, but you capitalized on its provisions to create a powerful defensive potential. We did not do this.
In this situation all we can say to the Americans is this: If the other side destroys us, we will destroy it. But people are not sleeping any easier for this. We propose supplementing the ABM Treaty with provisions on specific defensive weapons being created not for a first strike or to obtain advantages. We want this to be available to all the world.
Secretary General Gorbachev: We will not deploy SDI. We have another concept.
President Reagan: We do not intend to eliminate the ABM Treaty.
President Reagan: A couple of words in conclusion. You said that you don't need SDI, but then we would be able to carry out our programs in parallel, and if you find that you have something a little better, than perhaps you could share it with us.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Excuse me, Mr. President, but I do not take your idea of sharing SDI seriously. You don't want to share even petroleum equipment, automatic machine tools or equipment for dairies, while sharing SDI would be a second American Revolution. And revolutions do not occur all that often. Let's be realistic and pragmatic. That's more reliable.
President Reagan: If I thought that SDI could not be shared, I would have rejected it myself.
16 October 1986 - Morning
Secretary General Gorbachev: We know that you plan to deploy SDI. But we do not have such plans. And we cannot assume an obligation relative to such a transition. We have a different conception.
Secretary of State Shultz: I would like to mention also the third question, which we included because you emphasize it so much. This is the situation which would exist until the time when the conditions indicated above were realized. The question is: what general understanding can the parties reach relative to the restrictions imposed by the ABM Treaty on activity related to creating a long-range strategic defense?
The President stated to you and the whole world that he will not renounce the SDI program. You do not agree with that. But as I understand it, you recognize his problem and that he is trying to meet your concern half-way.
Secretary General Gorbachev: But I think that I am even helping the president with SDI. After all, your people say that if Gorbachev attacks SDI and space weapons so much, it means the idea deserves more respect. They even say that if it were not for me, no one would listen to the idea at all. And some even claim that I want to drag the United States into unnecessary expenditures with this. But if the first ones are right, then I am on your side in this matter, but you have not appreciated it.
President Reagan: What the hell use will ABM's or anything else be if we eliminate nuclear weapons?
Secretary General Gorbachev: Absolutely right. I am for that. But the point is that under the ABM Treaty the parties do not have a large-scale antimissile defense, and you want to deploy such a defense.
President Reagan: But what difference does it make if it is not nuclear weapons? What difference whether it exists or not?
On the other hand, you know that even in this situation we will not be able to guarantee that someone will not begin to make nuclear weapons again at some point.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Mr. President, you just made a historic statement: What the hell use will SDI be if we eliminate nuclear weapons? But it is exactly because we are moving toward a reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons that I favor strengthening the ABM Treaty. In these conditions it becomes even more important. As for your arguments about the madman who decides to resort to nuclear weapons, I think that we will be able to solve that problem, it is not that serious.
President Reagan: It appears that the point is that I am the oldest man here. And I understand that after the war the nations decided that they would renounce poison gases. But thank God the gas mask continued to exist. Something similar can happen with nuclear weapons. And we will have to shield against them in any case.
Secretary General Gorbachev: I am increasingly convinced of something I knew previously only second-hand. The President of the United States does not like to retreat. I see now that you do not want to meet us half-way on the issue of the ABM Treaty, which is absolutely essential in conditions where we are undertaking large reductions in nuclear arms, and you do not want to begin negotiations on stopping nuclear testing. So I see that the possibilities of agreement are exhausted.
Secretary General Gorbachev: It is a shame, Mr. President, that you and I do not have enough time to discuss humanitarian issues. We have concrete ideas on this which we simply are not going to have time to discuss. I have to say that people in the Soviet Union are very concerned about the human rights situation in the United States. There is one other important subject. This is the importance of mutual information in our day. The situation now is this: the Voice of America broadcasts around the clock in many languages from stations you have in various countries in Europe and Asia, while we cannot present our point of view to the American people. Therefore, to achieve parity, we are forced to jam Voice of America broadcasts. I propose the following: we will stop jamming Voice of America and you will be able to broadcast what you consider necessary to us, but at the same time you will meet us half-way and help us lease, from you or in neighboring countries, radio stations that would allow us to reach the American people with our point of view.
President Reagan: The difference between us is that we recognize freedom of the press and the right of people to listen to any point of view. This does not exist in your press. Today in Washington there will be a press conference, and Americans will see it, and newspapers will publish the text of it. It is not that way in your country. Your system envisions only a government press.
Secretary General Gorbachev: But I asked a concrete question. I proposed that we can stop jamming Voice of America if you will meet us half-way and give us an opportunity to lease a radio station from you or lease or build a station in one of your neighboring countries.
President Reagan: I will consult about this when I return to the United States, and I will take a favorable position.
Secretary General Gorbachev: We are for parity in general. In the information field, for example, or in film. Almost half of the movies showing in our theaters are American. Soviet movies are hardly ever shown in the United States. That is not parity.
President Reagan: We do not have any ban on your movies. The film industry is a free business, and if someone wants to show your films he can do it.
Secretary General Gorbachev: I see that the President avoids this question and goes into talk about business.
President Reagan: Our government cannot control the film market. If you want to inundate us with your movies go right ahead. How our movies get to your country, I do not know.
Secretary General Gorbachev: It is an interesting situation, simply a paradox. In your country, the most democratic country, obstacles arise to showing our movies, while in our country, a totalitarian country, almost half the movies being shown are American. How can you reconcile this, that the Soviet Union is an undemocratic country but your films are being shown?
President Reagan: There is a difference between free enterprise and government ownership. You have no free enterprise, everything belongs to the government and the government puts everything on the market. In the United States we have private industry, and other countries have the right to sell their goods, movies and so on. You have the right to set up a rental organization in our country to distribute your movies, or to lease some theater. But we cannot order it.
Secretary General Gorbachev: One more question. There were two television bridges between the USSR and the United States recently. One involved the participation of the communities of Leningrad, Copenhagen, and Boston, and the other had Soviet and American doctors. In our country they were watched by 150 million people, but in the United States they were not shown.
President Reagan: The only thing I can answer is that the movie theaters and all belong to your government, and you show what you want in them. But our government cannot compete with private business.
But I want to tell you that your performing groups, such as the Leningrad Ballet, draw an enormous crowd in the United States, and they are shown on television too. But if you want to show other things too, please do. We have leasing companies, and theaters which show foreign films.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Mr. President, we have quite a few complaints about the United States. Here is the last question. For 30 years now you have refused to let our trade union figures enter the United States. Mr. Shultz simply does not give them visas. Where is the parity here? You know, your trade union figures come to the USSR and have interesting professional contacts and meetings with workers. But you do not let our people in. In your country, which is so self-confident, they are viewed as subversive elements.
President Reagan: I would like to look into this. Maybe I will have some proposals on the film problem that you mentioned.
Secretary General Gorbachev: Good.