Primary Sources

President Reagan Addresses Congress Following the US-Soviet Summit in Geneva

Description

Ronald Reagan began his presidency in 1981 confident that the policy of détente with the Soviet Union—initiated by Richard Nixon in May 1972 and terminated in January 1980 by Jimmy Carter as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—was misguided. During his first three years in office, Reagan substituted a confrontational approach that he mediated occasionally with pragmatic policies. In January 1984, at the start of his reelection campaign, Reagan announced that he was ready to negotiate a new détente from a position of military strength, having “halted America’s decline,” a shift that eventually led the next year to Reagan’s decision to meet the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Their first summit, held November 19-21 in Geneva, marked a turning point in US-Soviet relations, as the two leaders, despite disagreements over Reagan’s “dream” of a missile defense system, developed a burgeoning rapport and issued a joint communiqué emphasizing the need to prevent war and agreeing that their countries “will not seek to achieve military superiority.”

Source

Ronald Reagan. "Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress Following the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Geneva," speech, U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., November 21, 1985, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Reagan Library (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

In the past few days ... we spent over 15 hours in various meetings with the General Secretary and the members of his official party. And approximately 5 of those hours were talks between Mr. Gorbachev and myself, just one on one. That was the best part—our fireside summit.... I can't claim that we had a meeting of the minds on such fundamentals as ideology or national purpose, but we understand each other better, and that's a key to peace. I gained a better perspective; I feel he did, too. It was a constructive meeting; so constructive, in fact, that I look forward to welcoming Mr. Gorbachev to the United States next year. And I have accepted his invitation to go to Moscow the following year....

We cannot assume that their ideology and purpose will change; this implies enduring competition. Our task is to assure that this competition remains peaceful....

We discussed nuclear arms and how to reduce them. I explained our proposals for equitable, verifiable, and deep reductions. I outlined my conviction that our proposals would make not just for a world that feels safer, but one that really is safer. I am pleased to report tonight that General Secretary Gorbachev and I did make a measure of progress here.... Specifically, we agreed in Geneva that each side should move to cut offensive nuclear arms by 50 percent in appropriate categories....

I described our Strategic Defense Initiative, our research effort, that envisions the possibility of defensive systems which could ultimately protect all nations against the danger of nuclear war. This discussion produced a very direct exchange of views. Mr. Gorbachev insisted that we might use a strategic defense system to put offensive weapons into space and establish nuclear superiority. I made it clear that SDI has nothing to do with offensive weapons; that, instead, we are investigating nonnuclear defense systems that would only threaten offensive missiles, not people. If our research succeeds, it will bring much closer the safer, more stable world that we seek. Nations could defend themselves against missile attack and mankind, at long last, escape the prison of mutual terror. And this is my dream....

All of these steps are part of a long-term effort to build a more stable relationship with the Soviet Union. No one ever said it could be easy, but we've come a long way....

How to Cite this Source

President Ronald Reagan, "President Reagan Addresses Congress Following the US-Soviet Summit in Geneva," Making the History of 1989, Item #55, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/55 (accessed November 01 2014, 2:55 am).

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