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Reagan Officials Reflect on KAL 007

With the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, many are recalling KAL 007, the Korean passenger plane that the Soviet Union shot down on Sept. 1, 1983 after it strayed off course and flew into Soviet territory. 269 people were killed. President Reagan addressed the nation on Sept. 5, saying, "This crime against humanity must never be forgotten, here or throughout the world." You can watch his remarks at http://bit.ly/1p2dHKV.

Administration officals reflected on KAL 007 in interviews for Reagan's oral history. Below are some excerpts.

George Shultz, Secretary of State

[Reagan’s] initial reaction was outrage, as mine was, anybody’s was. Reagan was in California; I have a family farm in the Berkshires. I was there… When I got to Washington I found this intercepted tape that we had. It’s a pretty chilling tape. It seemed to me that was a critical thing to get out. With the President’s support I managed to get the intelligence people to release it. It was hard because they didn’t want to release it. So as I remember, I had a press conference and I said, We’re not speculating about how this plane got shot down. Here is the tape of the fighter pilot talking to the ground control. It’s a 747 with a very distinctive profile, can’t miss it. Those were pretty brutal times. But we were very strong in condemning that. I had one of the wildest meetings with [Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei] Gromyko that I think anybody ever had. Afterwards the interpreter told me, I’ve been interpreting in these meetings for 20 years; I never had one like that. But we kept our arms negotiations going.

Frank Carlucci, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

We were riding through the Ukraine in the back seat of the car. We’d been silent for a long time. All of a sudden [Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri] Yazov turned to me and said, Why did you send that Korean airliner to spy on us? I said, Jesus, I didn’t. We didn’t send an airliner to spy on you. Why the hell did you shoot it down? It was a stupid thing to do. You know we don’t use airliners to spy. We can get all the spying we need from satellites. He said, Yes. That’s why I don’t understand why you sent the airliner to spy on us. It was one of these circular arguments.

  

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