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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 38: Letter from George H.W. Bush to Mikhail Gorbachev January 17, 1989

Traduction de Svetlana Savranskaya

Texte intégral

1Henry Kissinger hand-delivered this personal letter from President-elect George H.W. Bush to Gorbachev just days before the inauguration. According to Chernyaev’s notes (the letter remains classified at the George Bush Presidential Library), it is interesting for what it says and what it does not say. In Chernyaev’s account, the letter reads: “my advisers responsible for national security and I will need some time to think through the entire range of issues.” But there is no mention, much less an endorsement, of Kissinger’s condominium efforts. Bush and his closest aides, particularly Brent Scowcroft, are looking for a “pause” in the US-Soviet rapprochement that had proceeded very rapidly in the last year of the Reagan presidency. They believe Reagan went too fast, and that Gorbachev’s reforms are actually aimed at reinvigorating the Soviet Union in order to resume the strategic competition with the United States. The “pause” would produce no policy revelations as the months went by in the first half of 1989, but it would generate increasing frustration among the Soviet leadership (see Document No. 64, for example), U.S. allies and even some American foreign policy officials such as Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, who in his account of the collapse of the Soviet Union titles the relevant chapter “Washington Fumbles.” On the Soviet side, Chernyaev’s memoirs use the chapter title “The Lost Year,” referring to Gorbachev’s belief that the change of U.S. administrations cost a precious year in moving toward their objective—the end of the Cold War.


Handed by Henry Kissinger to Mikhail Gorbachev

3Dear President Gorbachev,

4I am using the opportunity of Henry Kissinger’s visit to Moscow to send you a short personal letter.

5First of all, I would like to tell you that I very much appreciate the attention given to my son and grandson during their recent trip to Armenia. They both are deeply shocked by this terrible tragedy, which they witnessed on the spot. They came back with a feeling of deep respect for the strength and devotion of the people who are repairing and rebuilding all that was destroyed in the catastrophe.

6Also, I would like to reiterate what I said to you last year, when you came to the United Nations. As I explained then, my advisers responsible for national security and I will need some time to think through the entire range of issues, especially those concerning arms control, which occupy a central place in our bilateral relations, and to formulate our position in the interests of further developing these relations. Our goal is to formulate a solid and consistent American approach. We are not talking about slowing down or reversing the positive process that has marked the last two years.

7I am very serious about moving our relationship forward in the interests of our two countries and peace itself. I believe that we should elevate the dialogue, especially between you and me, above the details of arms control proposals, and discuss more general issues of more extensive political relations to which we should aspire.

8I am ready to do everything possible in order to build and improve a reliable and solid relationship. I hope that we will continue our personal contacts in the process of solving the common problems our countries are faced with.

George Bush

10[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 1. opis 1. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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