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National Security Archive Update, October 13, 2006

The Reykjavik File: Previously Secret U.S. and Soviet Documents on the 1986

Reagan-Gorbachev Summit

http://www.nsarchive.org

For more information contact:

Svetlana Savranskaya/Thomas Blanton - 202/994-7000

Washington, D.C. and Reykjavik, Iceland - President Ronald Reagan and Soviet

leader Mikhail Gorbachev almost achieved a deal 20 years ago at the 1986

Reykjavik summit to abolish nuclear weapons, but the agreement would have

required "an exceptional level of trust" that neither side had yet developed,

according to previously secret U.S. and Soviet documents posted today on the Web

by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org) of George Washington

University and presented on October 12 in Reykjavik directly to Gorbachev and

the president of Iceland.

The documents include Gorbachev's initial letter to Reagan from 15 September

1986 asking for "a quick one-on-one meeting, let us say in Iceland or in

London," newly translated Gorbachev discussions with his aides and with the

Politburo preparing for the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz's

briefing book for the summit, the complete U.S. and Soviet transcripts of the

Reykjavik summit, and the internal recriminations and reflections by both sides

after the meeting failed to reach agreement.

Archive director Thomas Blanton, Archive director of Russia programs Dr.

Svetlana Savranskaya, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Dr. William Taubman

presented the documents to Gorbachev at a state dinner in the residence of

President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson of Iceland on October 12 marking the 20th

anniversary of the summit, which Grimsson commented had put Iceland on the map

as a meeting place for international dialogue.

The documents show that U.S. analysis of Gorbachev's goals for the summit

completely missed the Soviet leader's emphasis on "liquidation" of nuclear

weapons, a dream Gorbachev shared with Reagan and which the two leaders turned

to repeatedly during the intense discussions at Reykjavik in October 1986. But

the epitaph for the summit came from Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov, who at one

point during staff discussions told U.S. official Paul Nitze that the U.S.

proposals (continued testing of missile defenses in the Strategic Defense

Initiative or SDI while proceeding over 10 years to eliminate all ballistic

missiles, leading to the ultimate abolition of all offensive nuclear weapons)

would require "an exceptional level of trust" and therefore "we cannot accept

your position."

Politburo notes from October 30, two weeks after the summit, show that Gorbachev

by then had largely accepted Reagan's formulation for further SDI research, but

by that point it was too late for a deal. The Iran-Contra scandal was about to

break, causing Reagan's approval ratings to plummet and removing key Reagan

aides like National Security Adviser John Poindexter, whose replacement was not

interested in the ambitious nuclear abolition dreams the two leaders shared at

Reykjavik. The documents show that even the more limited notion of abolishing

ballistic missiles foundered on opposition from the U.S. military which

presented huge estimates of needed additional conventional spending to make up

for not having the missiles.

The U.S. documents were obtained by the Archive through Freedom of Information

Act and Mandatory Declassification Review requests to the Ronald Reagan

Presidential Library and the U.S. Department of State. The Soviet documents came

to the Archive courtesy of top Gorbachev aide Anatoly Sergeyevich Chernyaev, who

has donated his diary and notes of Politburo and other Gorbachev discussions to

the Archive, and from the Volkogonov collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.

These documents are now available on the Web site of the National Security

Archive:

http://www.nsarchive.org

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