To observe the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit, I thought it would be fun to liveblog it. Here is some background on the summit. Liveblogging starts tomorrow, October 11.
Some dramatic license will be taken with precise times and details of events, but nothing that affects the broader history. This account is based primarily on Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, by Jack Matlock, Jr., and some direct quotes will be taken from that book, although not specifically noted. (Random House, New York, 2004). Additional resources:
The year 1986 was a difficult one for relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was also difficult for General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev. As he was learning just how badly off the Soviet Union was economically, Chernobyl Reactor Number 4 exploded in late April. The damage and death it unleashed, along with the customary but unjustifiable secrecy practiced by Soviet authorities impressed him that nuclear issues, particularly arms control, were an essential part of his strategy for improving the Soviet Union.
When Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan met in Geneva in November 1985, they agreed to hold two more summits in Washington and Moscow. But several incidents had flared up between the two countries, and progress toward the summits had slowed. In August, Gorbachev asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare a letter to Reagan suggesting a meeting in late September or early October in London or Reykjavik between the two of the to get the arms control process moving. The Ministry’s draft was unsatisfactory, and Gorbachev probably wrote the letter himself.
At about the same time, the FBI was planning to arrest Gennadi Zakharov, an employee of the Soviet United Nations Mission in New York. Zakharov had recruited an employee of a defense contractor to spy for the KGB. The Soviet Union had the largest mission to the UN, many of which used their diplomatic immunity to cover espionage activities. Earlier in 1986, a number of Americans had been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. The common practice by both countries was to retaliate with another arrest when one of their citizens was arrested in the other country.
So Zakharov was arrested on August 23, and, on August 30, Nicholas Daniloff, an American journalist, was arrested in Moscow by the KGB and charged with spying. On September 17, the American government gave the Soviet government a list of twenty-five members of its mission to the UN who are required to leave the US and warns the KGB privately that the US will not tolerate retaliation against the American Embassy in Moscow.
On September 19, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze delivered Gorbachev’s letter to Reagan. It specifically mentions the Zakharov-Daniloff situation in addition to arms control issues. Reagan accepts the invitation to meet in Reykjavik. On September 23, Daniloff was released, but mutual expulsions of diplomats and spies continued. This uproar and the domestic political pressures it generated for both Gorbachev and Reagan was part of the background to the Reykjavik meeting. Secretary of State George Schultz and Shevardnadze met to prepare for the meeting in Reykjavik on September 19 and 20 and spent more time negotiating the Zakharov-Daniloff situation.
On the positive side, the Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe closed on September 22, with significant gains in on-site verification of conventional arms and military preparations.
A few days before leaving for Reykjavik, Gorbachev received a position paper from his ministers. It was not what he wanted, and he changes the approach to proposing more radical cuts in both arsenals. Gorbachev wants to “sweep Reagan off his feet.”
October 9, 1900 GMT: Air Force One touches down at Keflavik, Iceland, and Reagan is greeted by Iceland’s president and prime minister.
October 10: Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev arrive in Iceland.
Reagan holds meetings with his staff.