Reagan is sworn in for a second term. At 73 years of age, he is the oldest president ever to be sworn in. In surprise announcement he says he will meet with Konstantin Chernenko.
The U.S. space shuttle "Challenger" explodes only 73 seconds after takeoff. The shuttle had launched to great ceremony; in addition to the six astronauts onboard, teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian to go into space, also perished.
Gallup poll shows Reagan's approval rating 62%, disapproval 29%.
Konstantin Chernenko dies and is succeeded by Mikhail Gorbachev, 54 years old, and referred to by Andrei Gromyko as "decisive, intelligent and capable in foreign affairs."
Reagan visits Bitburg Cemetery and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The visit is intended to honor the victims of World War II and the Holocaust, and to celebrate the reconciliation between the U.S. and West Germany. A great deal of controversy surrounds Reagan's visit to the German military camp at Bitburg, which contains graves of Nazi soldiers of the Waffen SS. On the same day, the Reagan Administration admits policy of sponsoring armed insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in the Third World, which is called the "Reagan doctrine."
William Buckley, who has been held hostage in Lebanon since March of 1984, dies of medical neglect. His death is kept secret.
The Senate authorizes nonmilitary aid to Contras. A 55-42 vote authorizes $38 million over two years.
TWA Flight 847 from Athens is hijacked by terrorists. There are 153 passengers aboard, including 135 Americans. The pilot is forced to fly to Beirut, where hijackers beat and kill Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, then dump his body on the tarmac. The plane is flown back to Algiers then back to Beirut again. Most passengers are released; 39 are held captive in Lebanon.
At a press conference dominated by the hostage crisis, Reagan vows that the U.S. will never give in to terrorists' demands.
The 39 hostages who were aboard the hijacked TWA jet are freed after 17 days.
Gorbachev agrees to meet with Ronald Reagan at a summit. Reagan had issued the invitation earlier in the year to Konstantin Chernenko.
Reagan has cancer surgery on large intestine.
From his hospital bed, Reagan approves National Security Advisor William McFarlane's plan to reach out to Iranian Foreign Minister Ghorbanifar. MacFarlane is interested in an opening with Iran through influence with moderates by helping Iran in war against Iraq. Reagan is more interested in using any influence gained through better relations to free hostages being held in Beirut by extremist Iranian terrorists.
Reagan checks out of Bethesda Navy Medical Center.
Israeli representatives meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Ghorbanifar for first time on arms deal. Israel will sell arms to Iran, U.S. will replace Israeli stocks.
96 anti-tank missiles are sent to Iran by Israel. No hostages are released in return.
Israel ships 508 anti-tank missiles to Iran.
Rock Hudson, a friend of the Reagans, dies of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Since the virus was first identified in 1983, Reagan has largely ignored the growing epidemic. After Hudson's death, Reagan called AIDS research a "top priority" for his administration; however, he immediately proposed spending levels that would cut funds for this research.
"The Washington Post" prints a letter by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to Reagan urging him not to compromise SDI at the upcoming Geneva Summit with Gorbachev. The letter exposes a growing rift between "moderates" and "hardliners" in the Reagan Administration.
Reagan arrives in Geneva for summit with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Colonel Oliver North is put in charge of the shipment of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
Geneva Summit. A scheduled 15-minute private meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan turns into a one-hour conversation, a "fireside chat" by the lake. In the afternoon, the two leaders argued about SDI -- Reagan reassured Gorbachev that SDI would not be used to launch a first strike against the U.S.S.R. Gorbachev responds, "It's not convincing.... It opens up an arms race in space." The meeting ends with disagreement on SDI, but with mutual invitations to Washington and Moscow, a pledge to seek a 50% reduction in nuclear arms, and a statement that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought."
Reagan receives a hero's welcome in Congress when he comes to report about Geneva.
McFarlane quits his post as National Security Advisor. His deputy, John Poindexter, steps up to the position.
Shultz, Weinberger, and Donald Regan advise Reagan to stop Iran arms sales.
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a coalition of Soviet and American doctors, wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reagan signs legislation making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, birthday a national holiday to be celebrated on the third Monday of January.
Reagan undergoes surgery for three "very small polyps" on his colon.
Reagan submits his 1987 budget -- deficit of $143.6b. Cumulative deficits reach one trillion.
Reagan defends his budget, and says he will veto any tax increase.
The U.S. ships 1000 anti-tank missiles to Iran.
Reagan asks Congress for $100 million in aid for Contras. The House rejects appeal; the Senate approves his request. Bill returns to the House.
In retaliation for the bombing of a West Berlin night club where a U.S. serviceman was killed, U.S. Air Force Navy bombers hit Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya.
Explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power station in Kiev, U.S.S.R.
Colonel Oliver North tells McFarlane that profits of weapons sales to Iran are being diverted to the Contras.
The House finally passes the Contra aid package by 12 votes. Reagan calls it "a step forward in bipartisan consensus in American foreign policy."
Liberty Weekend. $80 million extravaganza celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. With a 68% approval rating, he is at the height of his popularity. The economy is booming and Americans feel prosperous and strong.
Father Jenco, one of the hostages held by Muslim extremists, is released in Damascus.
Reagan signs an anti-terrorism law that bans arms sales to nations that support terrorism, and strengthens U.S. anti-terrorist measures.
Former National Security Advisor William McFarlane takes 23 tons of weapons to Iran.
Frank Reed is kidnapped in Beirut.
Reagan announces the he will meet Gorbachev at another summit in Iceland.
Reykjavik Summit opens. Gorbachev proposes drastic cuts in all classes of nuclear weapons. Reagan agrees. Then Gorbachev tells Reagan this is provided U.S. confines SDI to the laboratory. Reagan walks away from Summit. At the time Reykjavik is considered a failure.
American writer Edward Tracy is taken hostage.
500 anti-tank missiles shipped to Iran.
American hostage David Jacobsen is released in Beirut.
Lebanese magazine "Al Shiraa" reports that the U.S. has sold arms to Iran. The Iranian government confirms the story. This marks the beginning of Iran-Contra.
In a nationally televised speech to defend against charges concerning arms sales to Iran, Reagan admits sending some defensive weapons and spare parts to Iran, but denies it was part of an arms for hostages deal. "Our government has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands.... We did not -- repeat, did not -- trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we." Polls show that the American people do not believe Reagan.
Attorney General Meese is asked to conduct an inquiry of the Iran affair to get facts straight.
Meese's office discovers the Iran-Contra connection. When searching North’s office, they found a memo dated 4/4/86 from North to Poindexter, which included an amount that was to be sent to the Contras from the profits of the Iran sales. North, who had spent the night shredding papers, later called the diversion of funds, "a neat idea."
My American Experience
Who was your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Kennedy? Reagan? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?