Reykjavik Summit Between Gorbachev, Reagan as Stairway to Peace

© AP Photo / Scott StewartReagan,Gorbachev summit
Reagan,Gorbachev summit - Sputnik International
Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the meeting between then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and then US President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, Iceland, one of key turning points in the Cold War.

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The Reykjavik Summit, that took place on October 11-12, 1986, was the second in a series of Soviet-US summit meetings in 1985-1988 that changed bilateral relations and the international situation dramatically. The two superpowers transited from open confrontation to a policy of compromise and agreements, primarily on nuclear disarmament.

The first such meeting of Soviet and US leaders, which was held after a long time at the US initiative in Geneva in November 1985, did not produce any practical results. The United States could not accept the Soviet proposal on a large-scale reduction of strategic nuclear forces, which Gorbachev conditioned on the curtailment of the 1983 US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program. The talks ended with the adoption of a noncommittal joint statement, which said that the sides "have agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

At the same time, the Geneva summit drew the line under a period when the United States preferred harsh pressure on the Soviet Union to talks.

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The US and Soviet leaders sharply elevated the level of discussions by stopping the practice of the lengthy drafting of agreements by experts. Military and political talks were never held in this manner before. Although Gorbachev and Reagan appeared to like each other, this did not do much to break the impasse in bilateral relations much. Washington believed that the Soviet Union’s economic problems would force Gorbachev to accept US conditions for the nuclear disarmament he had proposed. Seeking to give a fresh impetus to the disarmament talks, Gorbachev suggested a new meeting, this time in Iceland, halfway between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet delegation arrived in Reykjavik with a package of proposals which provided for the destruction of all strategic offensive armaments within 10 years, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine- and air-launched ballistic missiles. Another proposal was to liquidate intermediate-range missiles (INF), which the United States and the Soviet Union deployed in Western and Eastern Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the main condition of the Soviet package was the termination of the SDI program.

The documents were to be signed during Gorbachev’s subsequent visit to Washington, the date for which depended on the Reykjavik agreements. On the first day of the talks, Reagan indicated that he likes the proposals on strategic nuclear weapons and the INF. In the early hours of October 12, Soviet and US experts coordinated strategic nuclear reduction ceilings for the first five-year period: 6,000 nuclear charges and 1,500 delivery vehicles on either side.

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Like in Geneva the year before, the key US objection concerned the SDI program, which the Soviet Union believed to contradict the 1972 ABM Treaty. When the US delegation proposed amending the ABM Treaty, the Soviet delegation responded that it should include a provision preventing the parties from withdrawing from this treaty for the next 10 years, until their strategic arms are liquidated, and to confine SDI technology and research to laboratories. Reagan said this restriction on the SDI program would effectively prevent further work on the program. Gorbachev said that he did "everything possible, if not more" to reach an agreement.

Therefore, the second US-Soviet summit failed, too. Like after Geneva, bilateral relations deteriorated, and Reagan announced the resumption of a crusade against the Soviet Union in early 1987.

The Soviet disarmament proposals had a major effect on the international community and also strengthened Gorbachev’s international prestige, although part of the Soviet military were firmly against his policies.

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After the Reykjavik failure, the Soviet Union abandoned the package approach to disarmament. INF issues were formulated as a separate item by the spring of 1987, and by fall the parties coordinated a framework agreement based on a Zero Option solution. Under it, the parties’ shorter- and intermediate-range missiles were not just to be removed from Europe/the European part of the Soviet Union, which they discussed in Reykjavik, but to be liquidated.

The INF Treaty was signed during Gorbachev’s visit to Washington on December 8, 1987. For the first time ever, the United States and the Soviet Union pledged to liquidate an entire class of nuclear missiles: shorter- and intermediate-range missiles with respective ranges of 500-1,000 kilometers (310 — 620 miles) and 1,000-5,500 kilometers.

The Soviet Union subsequently liquidated 1,752 ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, and the United States 859 missiles.

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