Ronald Reagan picture

Toasts at a State Dinner Hosted by the President at Spaso House in Moscow

May 31, 1988

The President. Mr. General Secretary, Mrs. Gorbachev, distinguished guests and friends, it's a pleasure to host all of you tonight and to reciprocate, in a small way, the hospitality you lavished upon us yesterday evening. While the General Secretary and I had already held three meetings before this one began here in Moscow, each of those earlier encounters took place in the autumn. The days were growing short, the weather ever grayer and colder. It makes for a bracing, delightful change to have this meeting take place at the high point of spring, a time of long, light-filled days.

I know that Nancy found her springtime visit to Leningrad earlier today both magnificent and moving. The play of light upon the rivers and canals added the special splendor of the season to a city splendid in any season. And everywhere, Nancy has told me, there was a sense of history, especially of Leningrad's immense courage and sacrifice during the Second World War, surely one of the most stirring epics in the whole human story.

Here in Moscow, I've been reminded a number of times during this springtime visit of a passage in a book about your country by Laurens Van der Post. Especially struck by the city's churches, Van der Post wrote that when he caught his first sight of the Moscow skyline he saw "the light of an unusually pure evening upon it. That light was alchemical, and it transformed Moscow into a city of gold. The tops of the spires and pinnacles drawing the rigid forms of the skyscrapers after them into arrows of gold aimed at the arched and timeless blue." So, we, too, have found Moscow a city of beauties. A city, especially, whose pinnacles and spires reminded one at virtually every turn of man's ancient capacity for aspiration, for reaching out toward the light.

It's a particular pleasure to be able to welcome you to Spaso House—a house of considerable beauty in its own right—the residence of our Ambassadors to the Soviet Union. During the 55 years of diplomatic relations between our two nations, Spaso House has served as one of the principal settings for exchanges between us—exchanges formal and informal alike. There have been some splendid moments within these walls. Prokofiev once conducted his marvelous "The Love for Three Oranges" in this very room. As wartime allies, our representatives met often under this roof. And Ambassador and Mrs. Matlock have continued the tradition of making Spaso House a centerpiece of American culture, a place to receive and talk with Soviet officials and with people from all walks of life and from all parts of the Soviet Union. But there have also been quiet times in this house—unnaturally quiet times. Times when difficult relations between us meant that this house, this huge, magnificent house, stood virtually empty of visitors. I'm told that it was even possible to hear the Moscow Metro rumbling past, ever so faintly, deep in the Earth below.

Mr. General Secretary, we know that on matters of great importance we will continue to differ profoundly, and yet you and I have met four times now, more often than any previous President and General Secretary. While our discussions have sometimes been pointed or contentious, we possess an enlarged understanding of each other and of each other's country. On specific matters of policy, we have made progress, often historic progress. And perhaps most important, we have committed our nations to continuing to work together, agreeing that silence must never again be permitted to fall between us. We have agreed always to continue the interchanges between our nations because, I believe, we both hear the same voice, the same overwhelming imperative. What that voice says can be expressed in many ways. But I have found it in vivid form in Pasternak's poem "The Garden of Gethsemane." Listen, if you will, to Pasternak's account of that famous arrest:

"There appeared—no one knew from where—a crowd of slaves and a rabble of knaves, with lights and swords and, leading them, Judas with a traitor's kiss on his lips.

"Peter repulsed the ruffians with his sword and cut off the ear of one of them. But he heard: 'You cannot decide a dispute with weapons; put your sword in its place, O man.'"

That's the voice. "Put your sword in its place, O man." That is the imperative, the command. And so, we will work together that we might forever keep our swords at our sides.

Mr. General Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, Spaso House has, as I said, seen quiet times, yet the animated conversation of this evening has already done much to make up for them. And so, I would like to raise a glass to the continued interchange between our two nations and, if I may, to Spaso House itself, as a symbol of our relations. May this lovely home never lack for visitors and shared meals and the sounds of spirited conversation and even the peal of hearty laughter. Thank you, and God bless you. And to the General Secretary, to Mrs. Gorbachev, to the relationship that I believe must continue.

The General Secretary. Esteemed Mr. President, esteemed Mrs. Reagan, ladies and gentlemen, comrades: I thank you, Mr. President for the words of greeting you just addressed to us.

Two great nations have given the two of us a mandate to determine what Soviet-American relations should be like. Since our first meeting in Geneva, relations between our two countries have overcome a long, drawn out period of confrontation to reach an acceptable level from which it is now easier to move forward. In Reykjavik, in Washington, and during this present visit of yours, our dialog has been intense. Its most important result has been the now-ratified first treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. A search is continuing to find a solution for problems relating to 50-percent cuts in strategic offensive arms. The Geneva accord in Afghanistan has come into force. We now have as many as 47 bilateral agreements on cooperation.

The visit by a President of the United States to the Soviet Union is an occasion for a glance at the past and a look into the future. The history of relations between our two countries has known all kinds of things, good and bad. Of the good things, we remember particularly well the Soviet-American comradeship-in-arms in World War II. Those grim years saw the emergence of the first shoots of Soviet-American friendship. And there was not one single Soviet citizen who did not feel bitter when that glorious page in the history of our relations gave way to cold war. That was a hard test for our peoples. The world found itself in a dangerous situation. We all felt the breath of impending catastrophe. Even today, we're sometimes chilled by cold winds.

But world developments in their main tendency are turning toward a search for political solutions, toward cooperation and peace. We are, all of us, witnesses to momentous changes, though a lot still has to be done to achieve irreversible change. Although everything urges cooperation and trust, prejudices and stereotypes are still with us, as is rivalry, above all in the military sphere. A great deal has been said at this meeting, too, about how pointless and catastrophic it is. More importantly, we can register some headway toward better mutual understanding in this area as well.

Today, I would like to address another major world problem: the situation in the developing world, which cannot but affect our countries, too. The problems which the developing countries face have turned out to be difficult [to] the point of tragedy. Glaring backwardness, hunger, poverty, and mass diseases continue to beset entire nations. An incredibly high debt has become an excruciating and universal problem. It would seem that everybody can see its complexity, involving as it does extremely diverse and truly vital interests, and understand that a way out must be solved.

We believe that if the international community and, above all, the great powers are to be of any help the starting point and the essential thing is to recognize unconditionally the freedom of choice. We are insisting on fairness. We have seriously studied the economic system in developing nations, and I am convinced that a way out is possible along the lines of a radical restructuring of the entire system of world economic relations, without any discrimination for political reasons. This would promote a political settlement of regional conflicts which not only impede progress in that part of the world but also cause turmoil in the entire world situation. With such an approach, our differences as to what kind of a future awaits the Third World would not take on confrontational forms. So, in this matter, too, our relationship is doomed to have an international dimension.

Turning now to our bilateral relations, we envision there opportunities and prospects primarily in light of internal evolution in both countries, but also in the context of world developments. Many Americans who are studying us and who have visited the U.S.S.R., and now, I hope, those present here as well, have been able to see for themselves the sweeping scope of change in our country. It is based on comprehensive democratization and radical economic reform. I'm gratified to note that today the President and I have had an in-depth exchange of views on this subject. We have also discussed our perestroika a number of times with other Americans. This is all to the good. It, too, is a sign of change in our relationship.

We, for our part, are trying to closely follow the profound trends in the United States. We see how little similarity there is between what is happening in our country and in yours, in two very different societies based on different values. But we do not regard this as an obstacle to identifying promising areas for mutually beneficial ties or for cooperation in the interests of the two peoples. We're in favor of competition and comparison.

And another thing, whatever the ups and downs of our dialog with America, Soviet representatives have been upholding the interests of the Soviet state. In their contacts with us, American officials have been acting in exactly the same way, vis-a-vis their own interests. The truth is that in building their relationship the Soviet Union and the United States can effectively serve their own interests only if they have a realistic view and take account of each other's interests and intentions. We must learn the difficult art of not just existing side by side but of building bridges of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Soviet and American people want to live in peace and communicate in all areas in which they have a mutual interest. The interest is there, and it is growing. We feel no fear. We are not prejudiced. We believe in the value of communication. I see a future in which the Soviet Union and the United States base their relations on disarmament, a balance of interest, and comprehensive cooperation rather than on deterring each other or upgrading their military capabilities. I see a future in which solutions to real problems are not impeded by problems historically outdated or artificially kept alive, inherited from the times of the cold war, and in which the policies of confrontation give way to a joint quest based on reason, mutual benefit, and readiness to compromise. I see a future in which our two countries, without claiming any special rights in the world, are always mindful of their special responsibility in a community of equal nations. It'll be a world that is safer and more secure, which is so badly needed by all people on Earth, by their children and grandchildren, so that they could gain and preserve the basic human rights: the right to life, work, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. The path towards this future can be neither easy nor short. We may be standing at the threshold of a uniquely interesting period in the history of our two nations. This new meeting between the two of us, Mr. President, confirms that 3 years ago in Geneva we took the right decision.

May the years to come bring a healthier international environment. May life be triumphant. To the very good health of the President, to the very good health of Mrs. Nancy Reagan, to cooperation between our two peoples.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. in the Chandelier Room at the Ambassador's residence. The President spoke in English, and the General Secretary spoke in Russian. Their remarks were translated by interpreters.

Ronald Reagan, Toasts at a State Dinner Hosted by the President at Spaso House in Moscow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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