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1988 May 27 Fr
Archive (Reagan Library)

Cold War: Reagan meeting with Finnish President (Koivisto) [declassified 2000]

Document type: archive
Document kind: Memcon
Venue: White House
Source: Reagan Library: Fritz Ermarth Files (1988 US-Soviet Summit Memcons May 26 - June 3 1988 (3) Box 92084)
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: -
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1,770 words
Themes: Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

THE WHITE HOUSE

WASHINGTON

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION
SUBJECT:The President's Meeting and Lunch with President Koivisto of Finland (U)
PARTICIPANTS:US
The President and Mrs Reagan
George P. Shultz, Secretary of State, and Mrs Shultz
Ambassador Rockwell A. Schnabel, U.S. Ambassador to Finland, and Mrs Schnabel
Kenneth M. Duberstein, Deputy Chief of Staff
Colin L. Powell, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Rozanne Ridgway, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Soviet Affairs
Nelson C. Ledsky, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Soviet Affairs, NSC (Notetaker)
FINLAND
President Mauno Koivisto and Mrs Koivisto
Harri Holkeri, Prime Minister and Mrs Holkeri
Kalevi Sorsa, Foreign Minister and Mrs Sorsa
Ambassador Rantanen, Finnish Ambassador to the U.S. and Mrs Rantanen
Ake Wihtol, State Secretary
Jaakko Kalela, Secretary General
DATE, TIME AND PLACE:May 27, 1988, 1:25 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Presidential Palace (U)

The meeting opened with picture taking and comments by Secretary Shultz about the beauty of Helsinki, which he had seen from the water during a boat ride around the city on Thursday. (U)

The American news photographers shouted a series of questions to the President, beginning with Panama, which the President declined to answer. This was followed by questions about the forthcoming Moscow Summit. The questioners asked if it were true that dissidents were not being allowed by Soviet police to attend the meetings in Moscow to which they had been invited. The President replied that we would do the best we can to have all invitees attend. The next question concerned the reduction in the number of plenary sessions in Moscow from five to four. The President answered that there had only been four plenaries at the Washington Summit, so this number was not surprising for Moscow. It was also possible that the Soviets had other important [end p1] business to conduct. This led Sam Donaldson to ask what could be more important to the Soviets than a visit from the American President. The President's response was that as far as he was concerned there was nothing more important on his agenda than the Moscow Summit. The final question concerned the amendment passed Thursday by the Senate to the INF Treaty. The President said that he honestly hadn't seen the amendment, but would look into it. (U)

As the newsmen departed, the President turned to his Finnish host and began apologizing for the behavior of the American press. He explained that they were not always on their best behaviour. Despite the rules, which sought to prevent questions being asked during photo opportunities, newsmen often shouted difficult questions. Sometimes one could decline to answer but there were occasions when a failure to answer or a “no comment” led to undesirable conclusions and hence, undesirable stories. Thus, sometimes a response was necessary.

President Reagan then related a story that President Lyndon Johnson told about the press. Johnson said that, if he were seen one day walking across the Potomac River, the press would only write that this was proof that the President could not swim.

The President of Finland then said he would like to offer a formal greeting to President Reagan and his delegation. It was a pleasure to have the President in Helsinki. Relations between our two countries are and have always been excellent. In many ways Finland regrets that the U.S. is so far away, but it is grateful that there are no bilateral problems and no irritants in our relationship. The Finnish President continued by saying that Secretary Shultz had visited Helsinki often in the recent past and had had a chance to discuss individual problems with Finnish officials. This process of discussion had resolved many minor issues and he hoped there would be continued frequent visits by the U.S. Secretary of State.

President Koivisto then turned to the President's forthcoming trip to the Soviet Union. He noted that Finnish relations with the Soviets were critical. The Soviet Union is Finland's largest and closest neighbor. Maintaining good relations with Moscow is important to Finland.

Finland thus tries to study and understand the Soviet Union. In recent months, Finnish scholars had observed “Perestroika” or Soviet restructuring as closely as possible. The Finnish President said he had begun drafting a letter to President Reagan giving his views as to recent developments within Soviet society. The letter had proven difficult to formulate, but he hoped to have it finished shortly before the President left Helsinki. In essence, the Soviets had no alternative to their “restructuring” policy. There were questions about how far reform should go and how quickly it should be undertaken. There were some in the [end p2] Soviet Union who wanted to move faster, and some who wanted to proceed more slowly. But everyone in the Soviet Union believes change is essential, that priority had to be given to domestic matters, and that the international obligations of the Soviet Union had to be curtailed.

The President of Finland said the key factor in the success of “Perestroika” depended upon whether the Soviet people themselves could be motivated to support it. This was the real key. The Soviet people must be given additional responsibility and they must be prepared to assume it. Power must be redistributed so that the average citizen has a greater stake in the results of “restructuring.” The dilemma here is that every time the central authority eases its hold on the citizenry, national feeling and religious feeling begin to grow again.

Finland's relations with the Soviet Union, continued President Koivisto, cannot be based on our feelings towards individuals. They must be formulated on an institutional basis. To be frank, the present leadership in the Soviet Union is to our liking. It is a leadership to whom one can talk freely and with relative frankness. Finnish-Soviet relations are easy at the present moment and, of course, our intention is to keep them that way.

President Reagan expressed his appreciation for the analysis provided by President Koivisto. He acknowledged that we, too, had found General Secretary Gorbachev to be a different kind of Soviet leader, one with whom it was possible to discuss issues frankly. There has been a great change in our relationship over the past three years. At the same time, we recognize that Gorbachev is motivated less by his interest in developing a positive relationship with us than by the nature of his internal economic situation. He knows what we have long known, namely that his economy is a kind of basket case.

The President then turned to US-Finnish relations. He recalled that Congress had proclaimed 1988 as the year of US-Finnish friendship. The year 1988 commemorated the 350th Anniversary of the first Finnish settlers in America. Our relations with Finland are absolutely excellent and, indeed, as I told the Prime Minister in Washington recently, there never has been a problem in our bilateral relationship.

The President went on to note Finland's contribution to the CSCE process and its active commitment to human rights. He recalled that the final document for CSCE had been signed in Helsinki in 1955. It is this document to which we refer when we discuss human rights issues with the Soviet Union.

President Reagan then spoke briefly about Afghanistan and thanked the Finnish Government for the new peace-keeping obligations that they had undertaken in that war-torn country.

[end p3]

The President then referred with pleasure to Finland's cooperation on high-tech transfer issues. He noted that the two countries had worked together extremely well on this subject and that he had recently directed US agencies to extend all remaining benefits to Finland.

The President then expressed his understanding of the special relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union. He said that he realized the Soviets were Finland's direct neighbor and that this at times must make Helsinki somewhat uncomfortable. It was for this reason, among many others, that he hoped that “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” can lead to something better in the Soviet Union. Still, it is our obligation to be careful and to move cautiously. The President recalled his three words in Russian which translate into “trust but verify,” noting that Gorbachev had heard them so often that he now covered his ears when the phrase is mentioned. Nonetheless, the President said, we had to remain on our guard and could not be lured into believing too much about change in the Soviet Union before we had seen it with our own eyes.

It was at this point that the Finnish President invited the gathering to move to the dining room for lunch. (U)

When the guests had assembled at the table, the Finnish President rose to offer a toast. He referred first to US-Finnish relations which, he said, were on a sound, firm basis. He recalled that this was the year of US-Finnish friendship and went on to offer his best wishes to the President for “success in Moscow.” He observed that the whole world would be following this visit and that the impact of the visit on the future of the planet could not be underestimated.

President Reagan rose and thanked President Koivisto for his kind words. He recalled that he had recently signed the proclamation designating 1988 as the year of US-Finnish friendship. He noted that this year represented the 350th Anniversary of the first Finnish settlers in North America and went on to praise the Finnish Government for its friendship, for the warmth of its hospitality and the good wishes it had offered to the President and Mrs Reagan with respect to the forthcoming Summit.

There was no general discussion during the luncheon itself, but toward the close, the President, Secretary Shultz and President Koivisto talked briefly about the prospects and difficulties of arranging joint ventures in the Soviet Union. The Finnish President pointed out that Finnish businessmen wanted to begin with small projects and develop them on a step-by-step basis, whereas the Soviets generally wanted to proceed with large ventures and were dissatisfied when smaller proposals were put forward.

[end p4]

Secretary Shultz then related the story of how the manager of Shannon's airport had developed a joint venture with the Soviets. The Irish had been so successful they had now been given permission to open a duty-free shop in Moscow airport. The Soviets pay for many of their expenses in aviation fuel which the Irish manage to sell for hard currency and also they are able to keep whatever hard currency is generated by their sales in the Moscow airport. Thus, they have managed to win on both ends of their joint venture. The luncheon closed with a few jokes about the cleverness of the Irish.