Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on the Death of Major Arthur D. Nicholson, Jr., in the German Democratic Republic

April 23, 1985

The statement provided by the Soviet Embassy on April 22 concerning the murder of Maj. Arthur Nicholson is a distortion of the facts and unacceptable to us.

On April 22, Soviet Embassy Charge d' Affaires Sokolov called on Assistant Secretary of State Burt to present a statement on the Soviet Union's assessment of the April 12 meeting between Generals Otis and Zaytsev. Mr. Burt informed Mr. Sokolov that he found the Soviet statement totally unacceptable. After reviewing the Soviet statement with Secretary Shultz and other senior officials, Acting Assistant Secretary Kelly, in Mr. Burt's absence, called Mr. Sokolov into the Department that afternoon and reiterated in the Secretary's name that we found the Soviet statement totally unacceptable. We understand that prior to that meeting the Soviet Embassy had released the substance of its statement to the press, although Mr. Sokolov did not mention this fact at the meeting.

The description of Major Nicholson's killing released by the Department of State is accurate. The Soviet attempt to excuse the killing by stating that Major Nicholson was an ``unknown intruder who did not comply with the warnings of the sentry'' is not at all acceptable.

Major Nicholson was acting in accordance with procedures and practices which have been completely normal and accepted for many years. He was acting in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Huebner-Malinin Agreement of 1947, which governs the activities of the military liaison missions (MLM) on both sides. Soviet military missions operating in the Federal Republic of Germany under this agreement function in exactly the same way. That is an essential point, which the Soviet account unacceptably distorts.

While performing the normal and accepted duties of a member of our military liaison mission, using a clearly identified MLM vehicle and wearing an insignia clearly identifying him as a member of the U.S. military liaison mission, Major Nicholson was shot and killed by a Soviet sentry. No verbal warning was issued. The shot or shots which the sentry fired before killing him did not constitute warning in any accepted or acceptable sense of the word.

The Soviet military at the scene prevented Sergeant Schatz, Major Nicholson's driver, from providing first aid and left Major Nicholson lying without medical aid for approximately an hour. We do not know why they did this. We cannot imagine that they did it in keeping with the instructions of the ``military manual'' referred to in the Soviet statement. Like the shooting itself, it was and remains unacceptable to us.

There is another essential point: What we find appalling about the Soviet statement of April 22 is the apparent inability of Soviet officials to understand the human issue involved in Major Nicholson's death. In the wake of this tragedy, we agreed to discuss changes in procedures to ensure that such a tragedy could never happen again. We note that yesterday's Soviet statement reiterates this commitment on the Soviet side. But by again repeating their restrictive interpretation of the procedures in force at the time, the Soviet authorities demonstrate that they do not grasp the unacceptability of continued use of force and violence as a first reaction against even the most minor issue.

Major Nicholson constituted no threat either to Soviet forces or to the security of the Soviet Union. He was unarmed, as all military liaison mission members are unarmed. The task of the U.S. military mission is to build confidence by openly observing the placement of Soviet forces. The use of lethal force against a member of a military mission was contrary to the practices for dealing with respective military missions which have been in effect for over 35 years. We have not used and will not use lethal force in dealing with such practices on the part of Soviet MLM personnel in the Federal Republic of Germany. Members of the U.S. forces in Germany have written instructions to this effect. The use of lethal force against Major Nicholson was not only a violation of normal practice under an agreement in force, it was an outrage.

Major Nicholson's death was a senseless, unnecessary act which raises serious questions about orders provided to Soviet military personnel throughout the world. The Soviet statement again expresses regret. We believe that this is not enough. What is needed is some sense that they recognize the enormity of this outrage.

It is for this reason that we have from the beginning expressed our belief that the Soviets owe us and Major Nicholson's family an apology and compensation for Major Nicholson's widow and for his child. In his meeting with General Zaytsev, General Otis set forth these considerations fully and clearly. General Zaytsev did not accept them. Instead, he referred them to higher authority as was accurately stated in our account of the meeting. The Soviets subsequently have so far refused to respond to these requests. For our part, we will continue to point out that they are matters of elementary justice. Continued Soviet refusal to address this matter in a responsible and reciprocal fashion can not fail to have adverse consequences on future relations.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters in the Briefing Room at the White House during his daily press briefing, which began at 12:15 p.m.