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Radio Address to the Nation on the Meeting With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland

October 04, 1986

My fellow Americans:

I'm sure many of you have heard that a week from now in Reykjavik, Iceland, I'll be meeting with the leader of the Soviet Union, General Secretary Gorbachev. Though the meeting will be relatively brief, our discussions will be of critical importance: We'll be laying the groundwork for Mr. Gorbachev's upcoming visit to the United States and the summit talks that will take place then. Now, as President, I get all sorts of briefings when talks like these are scheduled, but I thought today I'd change things around a bit and give a briefing of my own to those who I think are equally important participants in the summit process-you, the people.

Now, I know it's true that some here in the Capital think the people can't be trusted with such complex matters as foreign policy. But along with our Founding Fathers, I've always believed that the intuitive wisdom of the people is far more dependable over the long run than the temporary insights or parochial pursuits of the Washington experts. And that's why I've said right from the start that the first obligation of democratic leaders is to keep the people informed and seek their support on public policy. So, today I want to take a few moments to bring you up to date on the meeting in Iceland and ask your support for our objectives there. In particular, I want to ask your help in removing a grave obstacle to our chances for progress at these talks and the others to follow. It's an obstacle created by partisan divisions here at home, so I do think it's a problem you can help me solve.

Perhaps you remember, Mr. Gorbachev and I first met a year ago in Geneva. We spent about 5 hours alone and more than 15 hours together with the rest of our delegations. Believe me, we learned, again, the truth of the statement: Nations don't mistrust each other because they're armed; they're armed because they mistrust each other. On this point, I was very blunt and candid with Mr. Gorbachev and told him that in our view the source of that mistrust was the Soviet Union's record of seeking to impose its ideology and rule on others. But I also made it clear that while the United States remains committed to freedom and self-determination for all the nations of the world, we also want to work with the Soviet Union to prevent war and maintain peace.

We believe the twin goals of world peace and freedom can be furthered by making progress with the Soviet Union in four thorny but closely related areas: respect for human rights, arms reductions, the resolution of regional conflicts, and expanded bilateral contacts between our nations. And to achieve progress on such a broad agenda, we believe personal meetings between our leaders can be very useful. First, as I said, to dispel illusions—to make sure the Soviets avoid miscalculation, that they know where we stand. And second, the simple fact is that heads of state can frequently resolve matters far more quickly than other negotiators can.

On this point, I like to tell a story about the Geneva summit. Our experts thought the scheduling of any future meetings was a difficult, delicate subject best left to later in the discussions. Yet as we were walking together after our first meeting, I mentioned to Mr. Gorbachev how much I would like him to visit the United States. So, I invited him, and he said, "I accept." And then he told me how much he'd like me to see the Soviet Union. So, he invited me, and I said, "I accept." And there it was, as simple as that. So, face-to-face talks can be helpful. And when the Soviet Foreign Minister met with me 2 weeks ago, he carried a letter from Mr. Gorbachev. Part of the letter was the suggestion that we meet in a third country, like Iceland, for preparatory talks on the upcoming summit here in the United States. I accepted.

I want you to know that next week during the talks in Iceland, we will be taking the same balanced approach we took in Geneva. On one hand, we'll make it clear we seek negotiations and serious progress with the Soviets on a wide range of issues. On the other, we'll make it clear that we will not sacrifice our values, principles, or vital interests for the sake of merely signing agreements. And that's just another way of making it clear to the Soviets we harbor no illusions about them or their geopolitical intentions. This last point is important. You see, in the past, when agreements were reached with the Soviets, this led to much unrealistic talk about the great thaw in Soviet-American relations and even predictions about the end of the cold war. And then when the Soviets reverted to form, such as the invasion of Afghanistan, the result was shock and policy paralysis in Washington.

Well, this now has changed. Just last month—after a Soviet spy at the United Nations was arrested—the Soviets retaliated by taking hostage an American journalist, Nicholas Daniloff, in Moscow. It was an act of international outrage, but this time we were prepared. Because we understood that the Soviets are relentless adversaries, they could not surprise us nor could their actions derail our long-term commitments or initiatives. We knew what we had to do. We wanted Daniloff freed, with no deals. We had to make clear to them the consequences of their actions. We had to be direct, candid, and forceful. And we were. And that's why Nicholas Daniloff is freed and back in the United States. Later, we swapped Zakharov, the spy, for two noted Russian dissidents, Yuriy and Irina Orlov. And that's why we can now go forward to Iceland. Believe me, as we proceed along the path of negotiations, there will be other such obstacles. But let me assure you: As each obstacle arises, we will again make clear to the Soviets our lack of illusions about them and our resolve to hold them accountable for their actions.

Now, that's the bottom line to this briefing: In order to be successful in negotiations, an American President must be perceived by the Soviets as realistic and firm and, above all, a President speaking for a united people, a united country. In the past this has been one of the Nation's noblest traditions. When it came to matters of national security, politics usually stopped at the water's edge. Americans stood together and the fabric of bipartisan cooperation was untearable, the bond of national unity unbreakable.

As I mentioned when I returned last year from Geneva, rarely have the expressions of public and congressional support been more gratifying than during our negotiations with the Soviets. And so today, with a new round of negotiations underway, I'm appealing again for that support. And I'm asking the Congress to be especially alert about sending the Soviets a message of national unity. For example, we believe our 5 1/2-year military buildup has been a principal factor in bringing the Soviets to the negotiating table. So, we need continued support for defense appropriations. So, too, some legislative restrictions passed by the House of Representatives could well jeopardize the chances for successful discussions with the Soviets.

The House, for example, voted to ban tests of antisatellite systems, even though the Soviets have such a system in operation and we don't. They voted to stop us from producing a credible deterrent to modern Soviet chemical weapons. They voted to substantially cut our request for the Strategic Defense Initiatives, a program that promotes a safer future and also underpins our negotiating position in Geneva and our hopes for strategic arms reductions. They voted to deny funds to move beyond certain limits of SALT II, a treaty that couldn't be ratified and that would've expired by now if it had been ratified—and that the Soviets have repeatedly violated. And finally, the House has prohibited essentially the testing of all nuclear weapons, which we still need to deter war.

These national security proposals, as well as other unacceptable domestic policy provisions, are now included in the government-wide appropriations bill that is being sent this way. Unless they are changed from the House-passed version, believe me, it will be vetoed. But there is an even larger issue. Every single one of these issues I outlined is under discussion with the Soviets. I cannot afford to have my hands tied in our discussions about them, nor can we fail to have the Government's appropriations resolved for next year. The Soviets must not think that delay could work to their advantage by gaining from the Congress what they cannot win at the negotiating table.

And that's why we need to send to the Soviets a consistent message of clear resolve and national unity. These upcoming negotiations are important to you, your children, and America's future. Today I'm asking your support and that of the congressional leadership. Bipartisan cooperation has been the keystone of American foreign policy, and as I've said, I'm grateful and deeply touched by the support I've received in the past from all of you. But right now that support is needed more than ever. The Members of Congress should know that, as I said at the beginning, the people are the experts in any democracy and you will hold accountable those who, for the sake of partisan advantage, trifle with our national security and the chances for peace and freedom.

These are hopeful developments. And that's why I think we can view this whole summit process soberly and yet with a reasonable degree of optimism. Thank you for your support in the past, and as we leave for the talks in Iceland, I hope I can count on you again. Make your views known in Washington and remember to keep us in your prayers as well.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12..06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on 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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