Primary Sources

President Reagan Discusses Summit Meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1987


The Washington summit of December 7-10, 1987 between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, their third such meeting, was called “historic” by both participants. On December 8, they signed the first treaty between the superpowers to reduce nuclear weapons arsenals, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and continued Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). INF talks had begun in November 1981, START in June 1982, but the Soviets broke them off after the US installed Pershing II intermediate-range missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles in Western Europe in response to a Soviet deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in a modernization effort. In their previous summit at Reykjavik, Iceland, Reagan and Gorbachev nearly had agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons from their country’s arsenals within ten years. The talks had stalled when Gorbachev insisted that for at least ten years, the US must limit research on its Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—Reagan’s “dream” of a missile defense system to protect against nuclear attack—to the laboratory. In February 1988, however, after Soviet scientists convinced him that SDI would not be a major threat, Gorbachev indicated to the US that he could sign an INF treaty without linking it to SDI restrictions. In a sentiment similar to that expressed by Reagan in the internationally-televised address--excerpted below--that followed the signing, Gorbachev told the Politburo on his return to Moscow that he felt “maybe for the first time . . . the importance of the human factor in international politics.” He reported that “the friendly atmosphere, even enthusiasm to some degree, with which straight-laced Washington met us, was a sign of the changes that have begun to transpire in the West, and which meant that the ‘enemy image’ had begun to erode, and that the myth of the ‘Soviet military threat’ was undermined. It was very special for us. And it was noticed in the entire world.”


Ronald Reagan, "Address to the American and Soviet Peoples on the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting," speech, The White House, Washington, D.C., December 8, 1987, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, The Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, Reagan Library, (accessed March 19, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

... The American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote that there is properly no history, only biography. He meant by this that it is not enough to talk about history as simply forces and factors. History is ultimately a record of human will, human spirit, human aspirations of Earth's men and women, each with the precious soul and free will that the Lord bestows.

Today I, for the United States, and the General Secretary, for the Soviet Union, have signed the first agreement ever to eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. We have made history. And yet many so-called wise men once predicted that this agreement would be impossible to achieve—too many forces and factors stood against it. Well, still we persevered. We kept at it....

In the next few days, we will discuss further arms reductions and other issues, and again it will take time and patience to reach agreements. But as we begin these talks, let us remember that genuine international confidence and security are inconceivable without open societies with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, and the right to travel. So, yes, we will address human rights and regional conflicts, for surely the salvation of all mankind lies only in making everything the concern of all. With time, patience, and willpower, I believe we will resolve these issues. We must if we're to achieve a true, secure, and enduring peace.

As different as our systems are, there is a great bond that draws the American and Soviet peoples together. It is the common dream of peace....

Only those who don't know us believe that America is a materialistic land. But the true America is not supermarkets filled with meats, milk, and goods of all descriptions. It is not highways filled with cars. No, true America is a land of faith and family. You can find it in our churches, synagogues, and mosques—in our homes and schools.... We want a peace that fulfills the dream of all peoples to raise their families in freedom and safety. And I believe that if both of our countries have courage and the patience, we will build such a peace.

How to Cite this Source

President Ronald Reagan, "President Reagan Discusses Summit Meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1987," Making the History of 1989, Item #57, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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