Gorbachev’s Nuclear Initiative of January 1986 and the Road to Reykjavik

13 October 2016  — National Security Archive

Soviet nuclear abolition proposal in January 1986 welcomed by Reagan, set stage for historic Reykjavik summit and the INF Treaty 30 years ago

Gorbachev believed US dismissed idea as propaganda but declassified documents show major internal debate, consultations with allies, serious presidential support

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 563

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Washington, D.C. October 12, 2016 – Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s radical proposal in January 1986 to abolish nuclear weapons by the year 2000 met with derision on the part of many U.S. officials, who treated it as pure propaganda, but was welcomed by President Reagan, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive. The records reveal serious internal U.S. debates, consultations with allies, and support by the president that ultimately helped produce the historic Reykjavik summit 30 years ago.

The documents posted today include Gorbachev’s abolition letter of January 14, 1986, Top Secret critical responses by the U.S. defense secretary and by the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (“largely propaganda”), Reagan’s formal response over a month later (February 22), the minutes of a Top Secret National Security Planning Group meeting (February 3) that debated how to respond, key highly classified “OWL” and “SAGE” policy options papers produced by U.S. officials behind the scenes, reports back from consultation missions to allies from London to Tokyo, Gorbachev’s ultimate invitation letter for the Reykjavik meeting (September 15), and the actual declassified transcripts of the Reykjavik sessions where the two leaders came close to abolishing nuclear weapons.

Transcripts covering all of the bilateral summits from 1985 to 1991 will appear next month in the new book, The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War (Central European University Press, 2016).

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