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Letter to House Majority Leader Jim Wright on Arms Control and the Meeting With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland

October 08, 1986

Dear Mr. Leader:

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to join me for breakfast yesterday and for the opportunity to discuss my upcoming meeting in Iceland. Your expression of support and your suggestion on resolving the obstacles relating to the Continuing Resolution were appreciated.

It is on the subject of the omnibus appropriations bill and its relation to the Iceland meetings that I write to you today. There is no doubt in my mind that all, be they Democrats or Republicans, wish success and progress in our discussions with the Soviets. There are no more pressing concerns for the American people and people around the world than peace and freedom.

Unfortunately, merely wishing for these goals will not allow us to attain them. We have before us a genuine opportunity to advance the prospects for true arms reduction, for progress on human rights, for addressing regional conflicts, and for building on our bilateral relationship. I believe this opportunity results from the resolve shown not just by this Administration but by the Congress and most importantly by the American people.

The American people understand that the Soviets will negotiate only when it is in their interest to do so and when they believe they will do better at the negotiating table than they will do through a continued arms buildup.

I want to address your suggestions on how we might reach final agreement on the Continuing Resolution. If I understood your approach, it was to seek compromise where possible on the outstanding differences of ASAT, chemical weapons, and SDI, but to put off decisions until next March on a moratorium on nuclear testing and adherence to the SALT II sublimits. In addition, you would require my commitment, in the interim, to adhere to the SALT II limitations.

You mentioned that, as Majority Leader, you were being an honest representative of the views of your Democratic colleagues and I respect the spirit in which you offered those thoughts. Nonetheless, I believe this approach would harm the prospects for success at Iceland.

The Soviet leaders are very intelligent and skilled negotiators. The Soviets are careful observers of our political and legislative process. They are watching intently what decisions our government makes on issues critical to them in deciding how they should approach our meetings this weekend. Our system does not mask our differences or our debate—a tradition of debate that is the foundation of strength in an open and free democratic society.

For five and a half years that system has demonstrated a commitment to peace achieved through a position of strength.

Specifically, the actions taken by the Congress in dealing with the Continuing Resolution will send a signal for all to see. Will we go forward maintaining our resolve or will we begin to negotiate with ourselves, jeopardizing the good work that has brought us to our current position? Now for the first time in history, the Soviets are discussing seriously not just limitations on how many more weapons we have but how we can reduce the weapons we already have.

How can I agree to Congressional restrictions on nuclear testing before we agree with the Soviets on adequate verification procedures to avoid cheating and before we agree to eliminate the nuclear weapons which now make nuclear testing necessary? How can I agree to adhere to certain limits of the unratified SALT II treaty when the Soviets have already violated some of its provisions?

Therefore, you should know that I believe any further delay in resolving the differences on the Continuing Resolution beyond the commencement of the talks in Iceland or postponing resolving those differences until sometime next year is unacceptable and could not have my support.

Further, I cannot be forced by the Congress to accept language that restricts our bargaining position at the negotiating table. We must not send a message to the Soviets that could be construed as an incentive to delay undertaking serious discussions now because of a belief that they could get a better deal from the Congress later.

Finally, it is equally important that the outstanding and unresolved domestic issues in the Continuing Resolution also be addressed. These items are as much of an impediment to finalizing the budget as are the national security-related matters.

I have instructed my staff to continue to work earnestly with the Congress to facilitate the completion of a Continuing Resolution that I can sign. I also want to reiterate the appeal I made to you and your colleagues yesterday. Partisan differences on national security issues must be set aside during this crucial time in our negotiations with the Soviets. I also want to restate my hope that I will go to Iceland with your trust, confidence and support—I won't let you down.



Note: The original was not available for verification of the content of this letter,

Ronald Reagan, Letter to House Majority Leader Jim Wright on Arms Control and the Meeting With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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