Geneva Summit
Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva Summit
Host country  Switzerland
DateNovember 19–20, 1985
Venue(s)Villa Fleur d'Eau
ParticipantsSoviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
United States Ronald Reagan
FollowsVienna Summit (1979)
PrecedesReykjavík Summit
The closing joint-press conference of the Geneva Summit on November 21, 1985
The United States Strategic Defense Initiative was high on Gorbachev's agenda at the Geneva Summit

The Geneva Summit of 1985 was a Cold War-era meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. It was held on November 19 and 20, 1985, between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. The two leaders met for the first time to hold talks on international diplomatic relations and the arms race.


In the mid-1980s, both the Soviet Union and the United States were engaged in a Cold War struggle, but both nations sought to reduce the total number of nuclear weapons. The Soviets sought to halve the number of nuclear-equipped bombers and missiles, and the U.S. sought to ensure that neither side gained a first-strike advantage, and that the protect rights of defensive systems were not endangered.[1] Diplomats struggled to come up with planned results in advance, with Soviets rejecting the vast majority of the items that U.S. negotiators proposed.[2]

The Geneva Summit was planned months in advance, so both superpowers had the opportunity to posture and to stake their positions in the court of public opinion. Reagan's security advisor Robert McFarlane said that the United States was having "real trouble establishing a dialogue" with the Soviets, and announced that the U.S. would be conducting its test of the missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The Soviets, in turn, announced a unilateral moratorium on underground nuclear tests and invited the Americans to also cease such testing, a request that was rebuffed.[3]


On November 19, 1985, U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time, in Geneva, to hold talks on international diplomatic relations and the arms race. The meeting was held at Fleur d'Eau, a villa in Versoix.[4] Gorbachev later said: "We viewed the Geneva meeting realistically, without grand expectations, yet we hoped to lay the foundations for a serious dialogue in the future."[5] Similar to former president Eisenhower in 1955, Reagan believed that a personal relationship among leaders was the necessary first step to breaking down the barriers of tension that existed between the two countries. Reagan's goal was to convince Gorbachev that America desired peace above all else.[6] Reagan described his hopes for the summit as a "mission for peace". The first thing Reagan said to Gorbachev was "The United States and the Soviet Union are the two greatest countries on Earth, the superpowers. They are the only ones who can start World War 3, but also the only two countries that could bring peace to the world". He then emphasized the personal similarities between the two leaders, with both being born in similar "rural hamlets in the middle of their respective countries" and the great responsibilities they held.[citation needed] In a 2009 interview Gorbachev revealed that during a private walk with only their interpreters present, Reagan asked if the Soviet Union would help if the U.S. was invaded by aliens from space. Gorbachev said yes, and that Reagan said, "we would too".[7][8]

Their first meeting exceeded their time limit by over a half an hour. A Reagan assistant asked Secretary of State George Shultz whether he should interrupt the meeting to end it by its allotted time. Shultz responded, "If you think so, then you shouldn't have this job."[9] The first day, Mikhail Gorbachev argued that the United States did not trust them and that its ruling class was trying to keep the people uneasy. Ronald Reagan countered that the Soviets had been acting aggressively and suggested the Soviets were overly paranoid about the United States (The Soviets had refused to allow American planes to use Soviet airfields in post-World War II Germany). They broke for lunch and Reagan promised Gorbachev he'd have a chance to rebut. They talked outside for about two hours on the Strategic Defense Initiative, but both stood firm. Gorbachev accepted Reagan's invitation to the United States in a year, and Reagan was invited to do the same in 1987. On the second day, Reagan went after human rights, saying that he did not want to tell Gorbachev how to run his country, but that he should ease up on emigration restrictions. Gorbachev claimed that the Soviets were comparable to the United States and quoted some feminists. The next session started with arguments about the arms race, then went into SDI. They agreed to a joint statement.[10]


The two leaders held similar meetings over the next few years to further discuss the topics. Gorbachev then held summits with George H. W. Bush after the latter became president, starting with the Malta Summit in 1989.

Key statements related to the summit

No. Name of the document United Nations
Documents symbol
(General Assembly)
United Nations
Documents symbol
(Security Council)
1 Interview given by the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, to Izvestia Newspaper, published with reductions[11] on November 4, 1985 (Moscow evening issue) and on November 5, 1985 (USSR national issue) no data no data
2 Address to the nation given by the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, on the upcoming Soviet-United States summit meeting in Geneva on 14 November 1985 no data no data
3 U.S.-Soviet joint statement issued in Geneva on 21 November 1985 A/40/1070
4 Press conference given by the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva on November 21, 1985 no data no data
5 Address given by the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, before a joint session of the Congress following the Soviet-United States summit meeting in Geneva on 21 November 1985 no data no data
6 Radio address to the nation given by the President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, on the Soviet-United States summit meeting in Geneva on 23 November 1985 no data no data
7 Report given by deputy Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, at the session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on November 27, 1985 A/40/987 S/17670

See also


  1. ^ "Proposals bode well for Geneva Summit". The Milwaukee Sentinel. November 2, 1985.
  2. ^ "Geneva summit could turn into bare-knuckles confrontation", Raymond Coffey, The Evening Independent, August 28, 1985
  3. ^ "The Evening Independent - Google News Archive Search".
  4. ^ "L'accueil de Reagan", RTS, (retrieved May 27, 2021)
  5. ^ Matlock, Jack (2005). Reagan and Gorbachev. Random House. p. 149. ISBN 9780812974898.
  6. ^ Anderson and Anderson, Reagan: A Life in Letters, p. 288.
  7. ^ Mikhail Gorbachev, George Shultz (April 21, 2009). The Berlin Wall: 20 Years Later (Television production). Charlie Rose. Event occurs at 15:50.
  8. ^ "Reagan and Gorbachev Agreed to Pause the Cold War in Case of an Alien Invasion". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. November 25, 2015.
  9. ^ "A conversation with George Shultz". Charlie Rose. Archived from the original on November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  10. ^ The Reagan Diaries, 11/19/85-11/20/85, pp. 369–371
  11. ^ William J. Eaton. "Soviets Publish Edited Interview With Reagan : Izvestia Cuts Harsher Criticism of Kremlin, Offers Point-by-Point Rebuttal of 'Distortion'". Los Angeles Times., LA Times