Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Participants in the Conference on United States-Soviet Exchanges

June 27, 1984

Well, Drs. Billington, Hamburg, Ellison, and Johnson, thank you for bringing your distinguished group to the White House. When I heard that you would be meeting at the Smithsonian to discuss U.S..-Soviet exchanges, I was eager to share my thoughts with you on this timely and important topic.

First, I want to congratulate the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Carnegie Corporation of New York; certainly nothing is more worthy of our attention than finding ways to reach out and establish better communication with the people and the Government of the Soviet Union.

For many months, I have encouraged the Soviet Union to join with us in a major effort to see if we could make progress in these broad problem areas: reducing the threat and use of force in solving international disputes, reducing armaments in the world, and establishing a better working relationship with each other.

At the United Nations, at the Japanese Diet, at Georgetown University, and at the Irish Parliament I have explained our efforts to reduce arms, particularly nuclear arms, and to establish a useful dialog on regional issues. Let me describe to you some of the many efforts that we're making to establish a better working relationship with the Soviet Union.

We've informed the Soviet Government that we're prepared to initiate negotiations on a new exchanges agreement, and we've completed our preparations for these negotiations. We've proposed to resume preparations to open consulates in New York and Kiev. We've taken steps to revive our agreements for cooperation in environmental protection, housing, health, and agriculture. Activities under these agreements have waned in recent years, because there've been no meetings of their joint committees to plan projects. We've proposed that preparations begin for such meetings in order to increase the number of active projects.

We're in the process of renewing several bilateral agreements that otherwise would have expired this year. And we've agreed to extend our fishing agreement for 18 months, and we're looking at possibilities to increase cooperation under the terms of the agreement.

We've proposed that our Agreement to Facilitate Economic, Industrial and Technical Cooperation be renewed for another 10 years and that preparations begin for a meeting of our Joint Commercial Commission.

The U.S.. Navy delegation held talks last month with their Soviet counterparts in accord with our agreement on avoiding incidents at sea. And we've agreed to extend this useful agreement for another 3 years.

We're reviewing the World Oceans Agreement, which has been useful in promoting joint oceanographic research, and we'll give careful thought to renewing the agreement prior to its expiration. And we've made proposals in several other areas to improve dialog, foster cooperation, and solve problems.

We've proposed a fair and equitable resolution of our differences on the maritime boundary off Alaska. We've proposed a joint simulated space rescue mission in which astronauts and cosmonauts would carry out a combined exercise in space to develop techniques to rescue people from malfunctions in space vehicles. And we're currently conducting another round of talks on consular matters, trying to improve visa procedures and facilitate travel between our two countries.

We've suggested discussions between the U.S.. Coast Guard and the Soviet Ministry of Merchant Marine on search and rescue procedures to assist citizens of all countries lost at sea. And we've made progress in our talks on upgrading the hotline, proposing discussions on potential nuclear terrorist incidents, on establishing a joint military communications line, and on upgrading embassy communications in both countries. We've also suggested regular high-level contacts between military personnel of our two countries.

So, as you can see, we've offered comprehensive and sensible proposals to improve the U.S..-Soviet dialog and our working relationship. And if the Soviets decide to join us, new avenues would open, I think, for your efforts.

It's still too early to judge the results. A few proposals are near agreement. Many others are still under discussion, and some have been rejected at least for now.

Meaningful contact with a closed society will never be easy. And I'm as disturbed as you are by recent reports of new measures taken by Soviet authorities to restrict contacts between Soviet citizens and foreigners. These restrictions come on top of intensified repression of those brave Soviet citizens who've dared to express views contrary to those of the Soviet political elite.

The people of the Soviet Union pay a heavy price for the actions of their government. In fact, we all pay a price. When the Soviet Government takes repressive actions against its people and attempts to seal them off from the outside world, their own intellectual and cultural life suffers. At the same time, the rest of the world is deprived of the cultural riches of the Soviet people. What would classical music be without a Tchaikovsky or literature without a Tolstoi or chemistry without a Mendeleev.

Civilized people everywhere have a stake in keeping contacts, communication, and creativity as broad, deep, and free as possible. The Soviet insistence on sealing their people off and on filtering and controlling contacts and the flow of information remains the central problem.

When Soviet actions threaten the peace or violate a solemn agreement or trample on standards fundamental to a civilized world, we cannot and will not be silent. We cannot—well, to do so would betray our deepest values. It would violate our conscience and ultimately undermine world stability and our ability to keep the peace. We must have ways short of military threats that make it absolutely clear that Soviet actions do matter and that some actions inevitably affect the quality of the relationship.

These reactions do lead to a decrease in contacts with the people of the Soviet Union, and this is a dilemma. However, our quarrel is not with the Russian people, with the Ukrainian people, or any of the other proud nationalities in that multinational state. So, we must be careful in reacting to actions by the Soviet Government not to take out our indignations on those not responsible. And that's why I feel that we should broaden opportunities for Americans and Soviet citizens to get to know each other better.

But our proposals to do that are not a signal that we have forgotten Afghanistan. We'll continue to demonstrate our sympathy and strong support for the Afghan people. The United States will support their struggle to end the Soviet occupation and to reestablish an independent and neutral Afghanistan.

Nor do our proposals mean that we will ignore violations of the Helsinki Final Act or the plight of Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, Anatoly Shcharanskiy, Yuriy Orlov, and so many others. The persecution of these courageous, noble people weighs very heavily on our hearts. It would be wrong to believe that their treatment and their fate will not affect our ability to increase cooperation. It will, because our conscience and that of the American people and freedom-loving people everywhere will have it no other way.

Now, I know these thoughts do not resolve the dilemma we face. But it is a dilemma for all of us. And I'll value your advice.

You know, I don't think there's anything we're encouraging the Soviet leaders to do that is not as much in their interest as it is in ours. If they're as committed to peace as they say, they should join us and work with us. If they sincerely want to reduce arms, there's no excuse for refusing to talk, and if they sincerely want to deal with us as equals, they shouldn't try to avoid a frank discussion of real problems.

Some say for the Soviet leaders peace is not the real issue; rather, the issue is the attempt to spread their dominance by using military power as a means of intimidation, and there is much evidence to support this view. But it should be clear by now that such a strategy will not work. And once they realize this, maybe they'll understand they have much to gain by improving dialog, reducing arms, and solving problems.

The way governments can best promote contacts among people is by not standing in the way. Our administration will do all we can to stay out of the way and to persuade the Soviet Government to do likewise. Now, we know this won't happen overnight, but if we're to succeed, you must stay involved and get more Americans into wider and more meaningful contact with many more Soviet citizens.

It may seem an impossible dream to think there could be a time when Americans and Soviet citizens of all walks of life travel freely back and forth, visit each other's homes, look up friends and professional colleagues, work together in all sorts of problems, and, if they feel like it, sit up all night talking about the meaning of life and the different ways to look at the world.

In most countries of the world, people take those contacts for granted. We should never accept the idea that American and Soviet citizens cannot enjoy the same contacts and communication. I don't believe it's an impossible dream, and I don't think you believe that, either.

So, let me just conclude by saying thank you, and God bless you for what you're doing.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Participants in the Conference on United States-Soviet Exchanges Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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