President Reagan and General Secretary Romanov held a short discussion not long after midnight. At the request of the US and Soviet embassies in Bern, the Swiss government established a secure, neutral communications link for the talk.
Romanov spoke first and wasted no time laying the blame for events in the past twelve hours directly on the shoulders of the United States. Gorki and Madrid had been destroyed. Potentially over one million Spanish and Soviet civilians had perished in the blasts and the immediate aftermaths. The mood of the Soviet people was presently one of sorrow and mourning, but it would soon turn to anger, Romanov warned. He informed his American counterpart that the Soviet Union will react to any future attacks upon its territory with a proportionate nuclear response. Next, he lays the foundation of a peace proposal that heavily favors the Soviet Union and its allies. An immediate ceasefire is proposed, to be followed by an initial round of talks within twenty-four hours. Whether by design or blunder, the General Secretary provides a glimpse of the position his government will take in future talks: Cessation of hostilities with no concession or forfeiture of any territory now under the control of Soviet or Warsaw Pact land forces.
Reagan rejected the Soviet proposal immediately. He informs Romanov there will be no negotiations or talks until either the pre-war national borders are restored in Central Europe or until the Soviet Union agrees to withdraw its forces behind these borders and agree to end hostilities. The United States and her allies, Reagan tells the Soviet leader, are prepared to continue using force to eject the Red Army from West Germany and Denmark if necessary, though he would prefer to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion. Reagan points out that the United States did not hesitate in retaliating to the Madrid and Alert strikes and urges Romanov to rethink his terms for negotiations. The two leaders agree to talk again in eight hours and the conversation came to an end.
Romanov was encouraged by the US leader’s reaction. He’d anticipated that Reagan would adopt a hard line at first. That was going to change in the coming hours, he confidently predicted. As it became apparent the Soviet Union was not interested in there being any changes to the current situation on the Central Front, NATO resolve would soften. Unlike Romanov, the US leader had to take the wishes and positions of the other major alliance members into account. He saw no conceivable way for the leaders of West Germany, Great Britain and France to agree with a strategy that guaranteed a continuation of the war and ran a high risk of escalation. Especially given Madrid and Gorki.
His American counterpart was more practical in his analysis. The Soviet Union was running out of time. Eastern Europe was coming apart at the seams. Conditions at home were likely deteriorating and the destruction of Gorki was only going to add to the unrest. Bowing out of the war at this point was impossible for Moscow, Reagan understood. It would mean the end of Romanov’s government and possibly the end of Communism and the Soviet Union. The decision to use nuclear weapons on a NATO capital city was not a warning as much as it was a desperate attempt to end the war now while Moscow still had some chips that could be cashed in.
“We need to come up with a plan to end the war quickly,” Reagan informed the other men seated around the conference table. “And on our terms.”