The documents make clear that Europe's leaders were desperate for Reagan's attention at a time of high Cold War tensions. A memo from U.K. Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong on Feb. 5 expresses concern that a gala, summit-closing dinner at the palace of Versailles outside Paris could delay Reagan's arrival in London. But he warns against pressuring the Reagan entourage to skip the meal at Versailles' Hall of Mirrors because "that would not please the President of the French Republic."
Reagan's aides also worried the British by suggesting the president might have to skip the stop in London because accepting it might anger the Germans, who had offered a similar invitation. The Americans express concern about "the German problem" — the prospect that if the president visited London he might also have to add a stop in Germany, as well.
But feelings are smoothed when the Americans assure the British contingent that the Germans are not America's top priority.
"Eagleburger emphasized how much the president himself wanted to go to London," stresses one confidential memo from the British ambassador, referring to senior U.S. diplomat Lawrence Eagleburger. "There should be no doubt about that. Eagleburger also said that at the moment the Germans were not America's favorite allies."
There are confidential memos back and forth about whether the London stopover should be officially called a "state visit" — the White House is reluctant to use that phrase for fear of offending the Italians, since a visit to Rome was not designated a state visit.
The prospect of a chance to relax from international summitry with a bit of horseback riding with the queen seems to have helped carry the day for the Brits. Asked for the president's favorite type of horse, British planners are told simply that he wants a thoroughbred. He ended up riding Centennial, one of the queen's favorites, and wearing a perfectly fitted sports jacket above his sweater, going for an old-time Hollywood look he carried off with ease.
Much of the actual visit was devoted to pomp and pageantry, or to relaxation, but Reagan did make one speech of consequence. He became the first American president to address a meeting of both houses of Parliament and used the occasion to trumpet his distaste for the Soviet Union, calling it an economic catastrophe.
He said Marxism-Leninism would be left on the ash heap of history — a prediction that would come to pass in the following decade.