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Remarks at a Meeting With Officials of the State Department and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on the Meetings in Iceland With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev

October 14, 1986

Well, thank you very much, and welcome of you to come over this afternoon to hear to the White House complex. I wanted all firsthand about our meetings in Iceland, and I have a terrible feeling that almost anything I say is going to have already been said about that trip.

But before I turn to my report, let me first say that I couldn't have gone to Reykjavik without the hard work and dedication, above and beyond the call of duty, of you men and women that I see before me. You labored night and day to get us ready for that first meeting, and I know we sort of sprung it on you at the last minute. I'm grateful to all of you for the fine work you did, and let me say thanks as well to the members of that small team that I took with me to the meeting. They worked around the clock—and I mean that literally. A few of them got no sleep at all while we were there. I've long had great respect for every one of them, and that respect grew even stronger in these 4 days. They were an outstanding team, and all Americans can be proud of them and of the work they did. And you can be proud of the fruit that your work is bearing, for the Reykjavik meeting may have set the stage for a major advance in the U.S.-Soviet relationship.

At Reykjavik the Soviet Union went farther than ever before in accepting our goal of deep reductions in the level of nuclear weapons. For the first time, we got Soviet agreement to a figure of 100 intermediaterange missiles—warheads for each side worldwide, and that was a truly drastic cut. And for the first time we began to hammer out the details of a 50-percent cut in strategic forces over 5 years. And we were just a sentence or two away from agreeing to new talks on nuclear testing. And maybe most important, we were in sight of an historic agreement on completely eliminating the threat of offensive ballistic missiles by 1996. Believe me, the significance of that meeting at Reykjavik is not that we didn't sign agreements in the end; the significance is that we got as close as we did. The progress that we made would've been inconceivable just a few months ago.

On issue after issue, particularly in the area of arms reduction, we saw that General Secretary Gorbachev was ready for serious bargaining on real arms reductions. And for me, this was especially gratifying. Just 5 1/2 years ago, when we came into office, I said that our objective must be—well, it must not be regulating the growth in nuclear weapons, which is what arms control, as it was known, had been all about. No, I said that our goal must be reducing the number of nuclear weapons, that we had to work to make the world safer, not just control the pace at which it became more dangerous. And now the Soviets, too, are talking about real arms reductions. And let me say that this wouldn't have been possible without the support that we've had from the American people over the last 5 1/2 years. Because the American people have stood behind us as we worked over the years to rebuild our nation's defenses. We went to the Iceland meeting in a position of strength. The Soviets knew that we had the support, not only of a strong America but a united NATO alliance that was going ahead with deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles. So, yes, it was this strength and unity that brought the Soviets to the bargaining table.

And particularly important, of course, was America's support for the Strategic Defense Initiative. Now, as you know, I offered Mr. Gorbachev an important concession on SDI. I offered to put off deployment for a decade, and I coupled that with a 10-year plan for eliminating all Soviet and American ballistic missiles from the face of the Earth. This may have been the most sweeping and important arms reduction proposal in the history of the world, but it wasn't good enough for Mr. Gorbachev—he wanted more. He wanted us to accept even tighter limits on SDI than the ABM treaty now requires; that is to stop all but laboratory research. He knew this meant killing strategic defense entirely, which has been a Soviet goal from the start. And, of course, the Soviet Union has long been engaged in extensive strategic defense programs of its own. And unlike ours, the Soviet program goes well beyond research, even to deployment. The Soviet proposal would've given them an immediate, one-sided advantage, and a dangerous one. And I could not and would not agree to that. I won't settle for anything unless it's in the interest of America's security.

Now, America and the West need SDI for long-run insurance. It protects us against the possibility that at some point, when the elimination of ballistic missiles is not yet complete, the Soviets may change their mind. We know the Soviet record of playing fast and loose with past agreements. America can't afford to take a chance on waking up in 10 years and finding that the Soviets have an advanced defense system and are ready to put in place more missiles—or more modern missiles. And we have no defense of our own and our deterrence is obsolete because of the Soviet defense system. If arms reduction is to help bring lasting peace, we must be able to maintain the vital strategic balance which for so long has kept the peace. Nothing could more threaten world peace than arms reduction agreements with loopholes that would leave the West naked to a massive and sudden Soviet buildup in offensive and defensive weapons.

My guess is that the Soviets understand this but want to see how much farther they can push us in public before they once again get down to brass tacks. So, here's how I see the meeting in Iceland adding up. We addressed the important issues of human rights, regional conflicts, and our bilateral relationship. And Mr. Gorbachev and I got awfully close to historic agreements in the arms reduction process. We took discussions into areas where they had never been before. The United States put good, fair ideas out on the table, and they won't go away. Good ideas, after all, have a life of their own. The next step will be in Geneva, where our negotiators will work to build on this progress.

The biggest disappointment in Iceland was that Mr. Gorbachev decided to make our progress hostage to his demand that we kill our strategic defense program. But, you know, I've had some experience with this kind of thing. One of my past jobs was as a negotiator of labor agreements in the motion picture industry, and I got used to one side or another walking out of contract talks. It didn't mean that relations had collapsed or that we'd reached an insurmountable impasse. It sometimes meant that a little maneuvering was going on.

Well, it's important for us right now to see the real progress that we made at Reykjavik and to unite so that we'll be strong for the next stage in negotiations. And if we do that, I believe that we have it within our grasp to achieve some truly historic breakthroughs. Last week I described Iceland as a base camp on our way to the summit. Well, this week I want to report to you that I believe there exists the opportunity to plant a permanent flag of peace at that summit. And I call on the Soviets not to miss this opportunity. The Soviets must not throw this away, must not slip back into a greater arms buildup. The American people don't mistake the absence of a final agreement for the absence of progress. We made progress; we must be patient. We made historic advances; we will not turn back.

Thank you, again, all of you, for all that you've done. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:08 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Meeting With Officials of the State Department and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on the Meetings in Iceland With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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