Ronald Reagan Goes to Moscow
Finally, all arrangements in place, Ronald and Nancy Reagan set out for their first trip to Moscow on May 25, 1988, with a stop in Helsinki to adjust to the time change. On arms control, I knew the chances of progress toward a strategic arms reductions treaty were minimal, but the Vienna negotiations to create a mandate for a new round of talks on conventional forces in Europe were moving toward a conclusion and needed a boost. On regional issues I took with me Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, in an effort to highlight the negotiations for Namibian independence and to enlist Soviet support for our efforts. Cuba and Angola were key countries involved, and both were clients supported by the Soviets.
Ronald Reagan expressed the overriding and powerful theme for the Moscow summit. On May 27, in his address in Helsinki's Finlandia Hall on the eve of his departure for Moscow, he said in stirring words, “There is no true international security without respect for human rights. … The greatest creative and moral force in this new world, the greatest hope for survival and success, for peace and happiness, is human freedom.”
He went on to ask bluntly “why Soviet citizens who wish to exercise [end p1] their right to emigrate should be subject to artificial quotas and arbitrary rulings. And what are we to think of the continued suppression of those who wish to practice their religious beliefs?” I supported these sentiments by attending a seder in Helsinki, well publicized in order to let the Soviets know the strength of our views on emigration and religious freedom. The president let the Finns know that he understood the heroism of their own continuing struggle for independence from their aggressive neighbor and for maintenance of a free and open political and economic system. From that moment, a new chapter was opened in U.S.-Finnish relations.
The Reagans also made known that they would, by a personal visit, demonstrate their concern for Yuri and Tatayana Zieman, Jewish refuseniks who had first applied to emigrate in 1977. The Soviets painted the apartment where the Ziemans lived and repaired their street. But they also sent Bessmertnykh to Helsinki with a message delivered to Roz Ridgway. They were “confident” that the Ziemans would be allowed to emigrate if “the issue is not forced,” but if the Reagans went ahead with their plan for a visit, the Ziemans might never be permitted to leave. President Reagan decided that he had accomplished his purpose. He considered the Soviet statement, delivered by a special high-level official, to be a commitment. Two months later, after a little further follow-up, the couple was allowed to emigrate to the United States.
On the first full day at the summit, May 30, in the late afternoon, the Reagans met the Ziemans, along with ninety-eight refuseniks and human rights activists, at a truly inspiring reception at Spaso House. Tables were elegantly set, complete with gold-embossed White House place cards. The occasion delivered a message of our respect: we are on your side. Three guests spoke of their own hardships, and yet focused on their continued hope for the future. Some had spent years in prison and had just been released; others were seeking to emigrate; all had felt the heavy hand of Soviet repression. Each was courageous to come. We, having invited them to this public event, recognized fully the responsibility to follow their treatment closely. Their very attendance was risky for them, and we did not want any reprisals to be taken against them. Ronald Reagan was eloquent. He praised the positive steps already taken by Gorbachev, but insisted that much more remained to be done, quoting Pushkin, “It's time my friend, it's time. The heart begs for peace, the days fly past, it's time, my friend, it's time.”
I included Chet Crocker in a side meeting with Shevardnadze the next day; we discussed the promising possibilities of gaining independence for Namibia. The behavior of the two Soviet clients, Angola and Cuba, would be critical to success. I wanted to achieve a sense of drive to further these complex negotiations being so deftly orchestrated by Crocker. Shevardnadze, with some reluctance, agreed to help and to use the tenth anniversary of the passage of UN Resolution 435 on Namibian independence, [end p2] September 1988, as a goal. We would consult with the Soviets all the way. If they helped, so much the better, but our discussion at least gave some assurance that the Soviets would not take up the role of spoiler.
I had a small personal triumph at the summit. I regard Red Square as one of the great sights of the world. I was determined that Ronald Reagan should have the chance to see Red Square for himself. The White House image makers were opposed: too much risk of pictures with the backdrop of Lenin's tomb. While we were in Helsinki, I told President Reagan how striking the square is. “Red is our translation for a Russian word for ‘beautiful.’ Red Square acquired its name even before the Communists came to power.” I suggested privately to the president that he say to Gorbachev, “Mr General Secretary, I understand that Red Square is quite a sight to see, and sometime during the course of this visit, I'd like to see it.” I even had this typed on a small card as a reminder. I told the president, “I'll bet that Gorbachev will say ‘great idea,’ and he'll wind up being your tour guide.”
That's just about what happened, providing the most memorable photographs and TV scenes of the visit – and a powerful visual symbol of the immense change well under way. There the two men were, easy in their relationship, greeting Soviet citizens. Gorbachev held a baby. Reagan's winning smile came through. Body language and imagery told the story: a dangerous cold war era was ending. In fact, Reagan enjoyed the scene so much that he took another piece of advice from me: go see Red Square at night. After our private dinner at a dacha with the Gorbachevs and the Shevardnadzes, the president asked his driver to return again to Red Square, where he and Nancy saw the dramatic lighted images, featuring the famous St. Basil's Cathedral.
The New York Times picked up another sidelight to our trip as well:
Toward the end of the Moscow summit meeting, Tony Dolan, the proudly conservative White House speechwriter, slipped out to Red Square for a final peek at the gilded onion towers of St. Basil's Cathedral.
Alas for the archimandrite of Reaganism, Mr Dolan [author of the Springfield speech] was sighted by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who was also making an unscheduled stop on the square.
Next day, Mr Shultz gleefully told colleagues that he had seen Mr Dolan “worshiping at Lenin's Tomb.” “I was not visiting Lenin's Tomb,” Mr Dolan indignantly sniffed to an inquirer this week, “I was in Red Square selling subscriptions to the National Review.”
[Footnote: New York Times, June 8, 1988, p. A26.]
On May 31, Ronald Reagan addressed the students at Moscow State University, standing at a podium against a backdrop of a gigantic bust of [end p3] Lenin. I was seated along the side of the room and could watch the students as they listened, connecting the words and the body language through simultaneous translation. Skeptical at first, they were drawn quickly into the president's message.
He talked about the future:
I want to talk about a very different revolution that is taking place right now, quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict. … It's been called the technological or information revolution, and as its emblem, one might take the tiny silicon chip, no bigger than a fingerprint….
Linked by a network of satellites and fiber-optic cables, one individual with a desktop computer and a telephone commands resources unavailable to the largest governments just a few years ago.
He talked about freedom and creativity and entrepreneurship: “In the new economy, human invention increasingly makes physical resources obsolete. … The explorers of the modern era are the entrepreneurs, men with vision, with the courage to take risks and faith enough to brave the unknown.”
He took a popular and humorous shot at the bureaucracy. The room erupted in laughter. He quoted from Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago, banned in the Soviet Union until recently, and he spoke against a symbol he particularly loathed – the Berlin Wall. “In my conversation with General Secretary Gorbachev, I have spoken of how important it is to institutionalize change – to put guarantees on reform. And we've been talking together about one sad reminder of a divided world: the Berlin Wall. It's time to remove the barriers that keep people apart.”
He concluded on an inspiring note: “A people free to choose will always choose peace. … Your generation is living in one of the most exciting, hopeful times in Soviet history. It is a time when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free.”
This was precisely the message to deliver. And Ronald Reagan delivered it magnificently. I wondered whether Gorbachev connected it with my own earlier discussions with him about the new information age, an age that would force the pace of change.
A moment of tension came suddenly during the last plenary session in St. Catherine's Hall on June 1. Gorbachev had given Reagan a brief statement during their first one-on-one session in the Kremlin, just after our arrival in Moscow. “Proceeding from their understanding of the realities that have taken shape in the world today, the two leaders believe that no problem in dispute can be resolved, nor should it be resolved, by military means. They regard peaceful coexistence as a universal principle of international relations. Equality of all states, noninterference in internal affairs, [end p4] and freedom of sociopolitical choice must be recognized as the inalienable and mandatory standards of international relations.” Gorbachev proposed that we include this in the final communiqué. President Reagan looked it over, saw nothing difficult in it, and said he would talk it over with his delegation.
I argued strongly that this represented a return to détente-era declarations that could be variously interpreted, had not stopped the Soviets from invading Afghanistan, and implied, by the phrase “peaceful coexistence,” a willingness to leave unchallenged areas of Soviet conquest and control. In the negotiations over the joint statement conducted by Roz Ridgway and Aleksander Bessmertnykh, Roz, who strongly concurred in my view, had successfully argued our objections. Now, at the last minute, Gorbachev threw it back on the table in a blazing and pugnacious manner. He handed the original Soviet text across the table, saying to President Reagan, “You had no objection to this last Sunday.”
I had seen these sudden Gorbachev mood changes before, in almost every one of my meetings with him in the Kremlin. I objected, as did Roz and Frank Carlucci. We called for a recess in the meeting. Our delegations and the press were waiting in nearby St. Vladimir's Hall to witness the signing of the ratification papers of the INF Treaty. We persuaded the president that he should not accommodate Gorbachev.
President Reagan went back to Gorbachev and stood toe-to-toe. “I'm very reluctant to put this in. I don't want to do it,” he said flatly. Then he was silent.
We could see that the issue was important to Gorbachev. I speculated that the statement might have been drafted by Gromyko, who, now occupying the largely ceremonial post of president, may have been reaching back to an earlier era favored by Kremlin conservatives. Gorbachev insisted. But he had also learned by now that Ronald Reagan, once settled on a position, was very unlikely to change. He sighed, put his arm around Reagan, and they walked together to the final ceremony.
On the way out, Bessmertnykh said quietly to Roz, “He almost buried our masterpiece.”
Through all the pomp and circumstance, state dinners, visits with intellectuals and dissidents, an unscheduled tour at the Arbat,
[Footnote: A street near Spaso House where Soviets are free to sell paintings and artifacts and where the arrival of the Reagans caused the KGB to display its capacity for brutality in controlling a friendly crowd. ]
Ronald Reagan personified an optimistic and forward-looking America. As he had in China four years earlier, he spoke of the values that made America the greatest land of freedom and opportunity in the world. And he inspired the young [end p5] people with his message that a vibrant future beckoned them in the name of freedom.