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Soviet transcript of Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, 12 October 1986 (afternoon)
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English from Russian

published in FBIS-USR-93-121, 20 September 1993, 7 pp.

This side-by-side presentation of the official U.S. transcripts of the Reykjavik summit meetings and the Soviet transcripts as published in Moscow in 1993 and translated by the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service puts the reader inside the bullet-proof glass over the windows of Hofdi House as Reagan, Gorbachev, their translators, and their foreign ministers discuss radical changes in both U.S. and Soviet national security thinking.

The two sets of transcripts are remarkably congruent, with each version providing slightly different wording and detail but no direct contradictions. Reagan and Gorbachev eloquently express their shared vision of nuclear abolition, and heatedly debate their widely divergent views of missile defenses. For Reagan, SDI was the ultimate insurance policy against a madman blackmailing the world with nuclear-tipped missiles in a future where all the superpowers’ missiles and nuclear weapons had been destroyed. Reagan comes back again and again to the metaphor of keeping your gas masks even after banning chemical weapons, but Gorbachev feels as if Reagan is lecturing him, and says “that’s the 10th time you talked about gas masks.”

For Gorbachev, SDI was a U.S. attempt to take the arms race into space and potentially launch a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union – the ultimate nightmare for Soviet leaders seared into their consciousnesses by Hitler’s blitzkrieg. But Gorbachev’s scientists had already told him that missile defenses could be easily and cheaply countered with multiple warheads and decoys even if the defenses ever worked (which was unlikely).

The great “what if” question suggested by the Reykjavik transcripts is what would have happened if Gorbachev had simply accepted Reagan’s apparently sincere offer to share SDI technology rather than dismissing this as ridiculous when the U.S. would not even share “milking machines.” If Gorbachev had “pocketed” Reagan’s offer, then the pressure would have been on the U.S. to deliver, in the face of a probable firestorm of opposition from the U.S. military and foreign policy establishment. Working in the opposite direction in favor of the deal would have been overwhelming public support for these dramatic changes, both in the U.S. and in the Soviet Union, and especially in Europe.

Perhaps most evocative is the Russian version’s closing words, which are not included in the U.S. transcript. This exchange comes after Reagan asks for a personal “favor” from Gorbachev of accepting the offer on SDI and ABM, and Gorbachev replies by saying this is not a favor but a matter of principle. The U.S. version has Reagan standing at that point to leave the room and a brief polite exchange about regards to Nancy Reagan. But the Russian version has Reagan saying, “I think you didn’t want to achieve an agreement anyway” and “I don’t know when we’ll ever have another chance like this and whether we will meet soon.”