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Doc Type: 
Reagan, Ronald
Full Title: 
An American Life
Language Type: 
Simon and Schuster
Pub City: 
New York

 (Summary by Holly Decker, Harriman Institute, Columbia University)

               Ronald Reagan, in his autobiography, describes his impressions of the summit meeting with Gorbachev. For Reagan, summit meetings were vitally important for successful diplomacy because he believed that leaders possessed the final authority. As an actor, Reagan was both well versed in reading people and in the art of negotiation. He describes his initial meetings with Gorbachev in positive terms, stating that he could tell that Gorbachev was a man with whom he could work with. The personal chemistry was vitally important for the discussions, especially when the two focused on contentious issues, such as SDI and human rights.

               SDI was the focal point of a majority of Gorbachev and Reagan’s discussions. It is unsurprising that this was a point of contention given Reagan’s firmly held conviction in using SDI as a way to save the world from nuclear disaster and the inherent mistrust that Gorbachev and the Soviets possessed regarding its potential offensive capabilities.

               Another issue of contention was human rights, an area that Gorbachev considers firmly in the realm of domestic concern.  Human rights was not the focal point of the summit meeting; however, Reagan did bring it up in a tete-a-tete. During the meeting, he championed the plight of several specific cases of human rights violations. In turn, Gorbachev responded by illustrating flaws in the American system. By other accounts, though Reagan does not dwell on it, in his memoirs the meeting became heated with Gorbachev interrupting Reagan before translations were concluded.

               Reagan also describes how Gorbachev proved to be a man of his word, when during the joint communique the Soviet delegation was stonewalling the American delegation. Gorbachev ordered them to complete the agreement as described.