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Summit meeting in Helsinki begins

Thirty-five nations, called together by the United States and the Soviet Union, begin a summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss some pressing international issues. The meeting temporarily revived the spirit of detente between the United States and Russia.

By 1975, the policy of detente–the lessening of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union–was slowly deteriorating. Richard Nixon, under whose administration detente began, had resigned from office in disgrace in August 1974. The collapse of South Vietnam in April 1975 left many Americans worried that the U.S. was losing the Cold War. In an effort to reawaken the policy of detente, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger joined with the Soviet Union in calling for a multination summit in Helsinki in July 1975. Officially known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the meeting was attended by the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, and all European nations (except Albania, which continued to plot its own very independent, and confusing, foreign policy). On August 1, 1975, the summit attendees issued a “Final Act,” outlining the broad agreements that had been reached at the conference. All signatories to the Final Act agreed to respect the state boundaries established after World War II and abide by the rule of international law. In addition, human rights were emphasized and all states agreed to protect the basic rights of their people. Finally, all nations agreed to pursue arms reduction treaties in the future.

The agreements reached at Helsinki gave a temporary jumpstart to the idea of detente, but in the years to come most aspects of the Final Act were disregarded or forgotten. Although the Soviet Union agreed to respect human rights, it savagely attacked human rights groups in Russia (known informally as the “Helsinki groups”). And discussion about arms reduction treaties disappeared and was not revived until the mid-1980s. On a positive note, however, the Helsinki agreements did establish a foundation for more fruitful U.S.-Soviet relations in later years. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev used the basic premises of the Final Act to pursue a number of diplomatic initiatives in the mid- and late-1980s, including dramatic breakthroughs in nuclear arms control.

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