153. Memorandum of Conversation1



  • Non-Proliferation (Part I of II)2


  • US Participants
    • Secretary Dean Rusk
    • Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg
    • Ambassador Foy D. Kohler
    • Ambassador William C. Foster
    • Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson
    • Mr. William D. Krimer (Interpreter)
  • USSR Participants
    • Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko
    • Ambassador Nikolai T. Fedorenko
    • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
    • Mr. Lev I. Mendelevitch
    • Mr. Alexei A. Roschin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev (Interpreter)


Foreign Minister Gromyko said that he would like to take the present opportunity to express his thoughts on non-proliferation in the most precise words and asked that both sides be outspoken in order to clarify as accurately as possible whether or not a sound foundation for a non-proliferation treaty existed. Personally, he did note a certain rapprochement between the two positions. If this was indeed the case, he suggested that both sides join in a concerted effort to work out appropriate language for a treaty. After the discussion which had been held during the past two days his representatives had informed him of such rapprochement, but it still remained unclear how to express this in mutually acceptable language. He wanted to repeat what he had said many times, [Page 376]namely that we should not sign a treaty which could be open to misinterpretation, for, after all, after its signing the principals would go their separate ways to Washington and Moscow and would not be in a position to resolve differing interpretations. For this reason it was not enough to word the treaty in general language only, we had to be more precise so as to avoid misinterpretations. In addition, it seemed to him that both sides must try to put aside purely diplomatic formulations; the interests of both countries as well as of others, indeed of the entire world were involved, and this in itself precluded the signing of a non-proliferation treaty which was not worded precisely and accurately. He emphasized once again that he hoped both sides would be frank and outspoken in their search for agreement.

The Secretary wanted to comment briefly on the problem as he saw it. He was going to be frank and would rely on the Soviet side’s complete discretion. First, he wanted the Foreign Minister to understand that if we would be able to find mutually acceptable language, we would have to consult our allies before we said finally that we agreed. The Secretary therefore reserved the right to carry on such consultations. Secondly, he felt that Mr. Gromyko was seriously underestimating the depth and the strength of our interest in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and also the depth and the strength of the opposition of certain countries to such a treaty. Yet, it was a matter of quite harsh and selfish American policy, our purely national policy, that caused us utterly to oppose any arrangement which would involve our providing nuclear weapons to other countries. Further, within NATO there was strong opposition to providing the FRG with an independent nuclear capability. We knew very well that Soviet policy was frequently affected by memories of World War II as far as the Germans were concerned. But, Mr. Gromyko must also realize that in the NATO alliance many other countries also have dark memories of World War II—France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain and others. Thus there were strong reasons in NATO against the FRG receiving nuclear weapons. Thirdly, the Secretary wanted Mr. Gromyko to know that President Johnson was utterly serious in his determination to resolve this question. We had no doubt that US and Soviet policy on non-proliferation was truly identical. In the past the Soviet Union had raised some issues in connection with non-proliferation, which really were quite extraneous and had nothing to do with non-proliferation. But he thought that if we now concentrated on the heart of the matter it should not be impossible to find the language which would express the common policy of the two sides. He quite agreed that it was important not to use language which would conceal the true points of view; on our side a treaty would be open to examination by the Senate, indeed it would be open to very broad public examination, so that all our agreements with the Soviet Union would inevitably become public. The Secretary did [Page 377]believe that some progress had been made during the past days and weeks, undoubtedly because both sides recognized the urgency of the time factor. The longer we delayed the more difficult it would become to get other countries to join in the treaty. The Secretary was not thinking so much of the FRG in this respect as of other non-nuclear-weapon states such as Japan, India, Israel and others. It was important and urgent to act now, before the horse escaped the stable; then it would be too late to close the door.

The Secretary urged Mr. Gromyko not to worry about the ghosts of the future but rather to help us now draft a treaty. We were opposed to furnishing nuclear weapons or nuclear information to any country which was not now a nuclear-weapon state. We thought that the Soviet side was equally opposed to this. The Secretary hoped that we could find simple language to express this serious interest of both sides without trying to write into the treaty provisions that would cover every possible future contingency, however remote. He thought that during the last two days we had exchanged language which would help us move closer together. He had had no chance to consult with the President since his last meeting with Mr. Gromyko because the President was in Texas. But he knew of the President’s serious concern with the urgency of the matter. He was concerned that it might be too late unless we took quick action to induce other governments which were active in a nuclear direction to join in the treaty, governments which neither we nor the USSR could control. He therefore hoped that we could work this out while Mr. Gromyko was still here. Each of us would probably have some difficulties with our respective allies, and both of us with countries not in either alliance; but, the very first step had to be for both of us to reach agreement. If we concentrated on the essence of the matter and left aside considerations which were not realistic we could move ahead. We should deal with this essence without any delay because of theoretical considerations.

Mr. Gromyko referred to the three alternative versions worked out by the negotiators this afternoon and asked for clarification in answer to one specific question. Could we have agreement that no nuclear-weapon power would transfer nuclear weapons, etc., directly or indirectly to any non-nuclear-weapon state individually or by virtue of such non-nuclear-weapon state’s membership or partnership in a grouping of states, alliance or bloc? This question, in his view, had not been answered so far, although if he understood the Secretary correctly both countries were thinking in the same direction. How could it then be possible that we could not reach agreement? There should be no possibility of a 50-50 chance of misinterpretation. He proposed that we now discuss the situation from this angle. If we agreed on the content of the treaty, then our representatives could put this down on paper; after all, the purpose of [Page 378]language was to express thoughts and ideas and agreements precisely. It did not matter for the purpose of this discussion whether or not the Soviet Union underestimated one thing or another; we should not be concerned with the past. As for his side, he took careful note of the Secretary’s statement concerning the determination of the United States to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Secretary said that it seemed to him that we did not have agreement on 99% of the problem. This concerned three very simple propositions: 1) that we not transfer nuclear weapons to any non-nuclear country directly or indirectly; 2) that we not assist any non-nuclear-weapon state become a nuclear power in any possible way; 3) that we never delegate the right to fire US nuclear weapons to anyone else. It seemed to the Secretary that the controversy over the remaining 1% was really just a controversy over concepts. For example, the notion of ownership seemed to cause some difficulty. The non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO were, after all, the targets of Soviet nuclear weapons; it could very well be that some non-nuclear state in the alliance would make a financial contribution toward the maintenance of American nuclear weapons on its territory. The Soviet Union might well object to this, but in reality this had nothing to do with non-proliferation. Another such concept was represented by the word “control.” We could not tell our allies that they would have no voice in any decision to go to war. The concept of access was another difficulty. If, however, we would concentrate on these three simple ideas: not to transfer nuclear weapons, not to provide nuclear-weapon technology to any non-nuclear state, not to delegate the firing of nuclear weapons, then we did really have 99% agreement.

Mr. Gromyko said he had two remarks to make concerning the Secretary’s statement. When the Secretary said that allies must participate in any decision to go to war he raised a question which would lead the discussion very far afield. Mr. Gromyko had not raised this question, although he might well return to it later. Secondly, he, Mr. Gromyko, had asked the question concerning access of non-nuclear-weapon states to nuclear weapons in their capacity of participants or members in a group of states or an alliance. This was not just a question he was raising by himself, rather it was a question posed by life itself. Suppose that agreement were reached concerning transfer of nuclear weapons into the national hands of a non-nuclear-weapon state, the question concerning transfer to an alliance which included both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states still remained unanswered. Would in such a case non-nuclear-weapon states participate in the decisions of the alliance, in ownership, control and use of nuclear weapons, as members of the alliance? Mr. Gromyko thought they should not so participate. This was what he meant by using the word “indirect.”

[Page 379]

The Secretary asked Ambassador Foster to clarify the three alternative drafts of Article I of the proposed treaty. Was the first alternative based upon the suggestion of the Russian colleagues?

Ambassador Foster said that both sides had contributed to it. Inasmuch as the concept of “right to fire” required further qualification from the American point of view (i.e. “except at the direct orders of the President of the United States”) and the concept of “access” had raised difficulties, both concepts had been struck from the draft of Article I. The Soviet side had suggested adding the words “control over” and we had accepted this as useful. This afternoon the Soviet negotiators had presented a second alternative which included a prohibition against transfer of nuclear weapons to military alliances or groups of states, instead of the former formulation “through military alliances or groups of states.” We had taken the position that, while this provision would be in full accord with our national legislation, which we had no intention of amending, it would at this moment in history be politically unwise to word it just that way. A third alternative draft had then been suggested, which would not specify the possible recipient, but would merely use the words “to any recipient whatsoever.” Ambassador Foster thought that this alternative answered everything.

Mr. Gromyko said that he had seen all three alternative drafts and that what he had just said had been in answer to them. To Ambassador Goldberg’s question as to what he objected to specifically in alternative three, he replied that all the American versions spoke of groups and alliances as mere transmitters of nuclear weapons or nuclear technology instead of prohibiting ownership, control and disposal of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear-weapon states individually as well as in their capacity of participants in groups or alliances. Supposing that the American side did not attach any great importance to these points; it should, however, consider the fact that the Soviet side did think them important and therefore attempt to find language to close the door to all possible loopholes as they were seen by the Soviet side.

Ambassador Foster replied that he thought the third alternative draft accomplished exactly that by speaking of “any recipient whatsoever.”

Secretary Rusk pointed out that we were discussing a situation in the absence of a state of war. If war did occur, then, of course, all bets were off. We were therefore only speaking of conditions in times of peace, up to the beginning of a war which he sincerely hoped would never occur. Secondly, we were not discussing the question of decisions to go to war. We could not in our alliances reserve this right exclusively to ourselves. It would have to be a decision in which all allies would participate, including, of course, the United States.

[Page 380]

Mr. Gromyko said that these were political considerations, while we were here discussing nuclear weapons as such.

The Secretary pointed out that the more we were talking about the heart of the matter, that is the physical weapons themselves, the more it became evident that we were in agreement.

Mr. Gromyko added that the formulation “to any recipient whatsoever” would also be unacceptable because it appeared to prohibit transfer to oneself. It would certainly be open to at least two interpretations.

The Secretary asked for clarification by asking the question whether, in the Soviet view, the three Polaris submarines we had assigned to NATO would constitute a violation of a non-proliferation treaty if such treaty were now in force.

Mr. Gromyko said he did not know and would ask the same question of the Secretary. In any case this concerned existing arrangements and the present was not yet the time to discuss such existing arrangements. It seemed to him that this begged the question as to whether these subs were an American force or part of a joint force. He restated his question concerning nuclear weapons in national hands of non-nuclear-weapon states, either directly or because of their participation in an alliance. He felt this was a simple question. If the United States intended to create a joint force, then it should say so now and he would know where he stood; the US position would then be clear to him. If no such intention existed, and it was his impression that it did not exist, then there should be no obstacle to working out a treaty.

The Secretary said Mr. Gromyko was quite right in believing that we had no intention to give nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states, either directly or indirectly through their membership in alliances. However, we could not say to our allies that the question of war was none of their business; after all, they were sitting on the targets, they were very much involved. We had never had the slightest idea of transferring nuclear weapons and do not now intend to do so.

Mr. Gromyko still felt that there was a serious misunderstanding. It was not only a question of transferring nuclear weapons into the national hands of non-nuclear-weapon states, directly or through alliances, but also a question of not granting access to nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states in their capacity of participants in groups or alliances. The United States was a nuclear-weapon power and would remain a nuclear-weapon power regardless of a non-proliferation treaty, but the question of access remained unsolved. At this point Mr. Gromyko used three teacups to illustrate this point visually.

The Secretary reminded Mr. Gromyko that he had intended to comment on the question of consultation.

[Page 381]

Mr. Gromyko said that he was not raising the question of consultation in connection with a non-proliferation treaty. In the Soviet view the treaty should state that which is to be prohibited rather than that which is to be allowed; although he could draw certain conclusions from the Secretary’s statement concerning the participation of the FRG in any decision to go to war.

The Secretary said that considering the problem for the physical weapons point of view only seemed to simplify it. Here we were dealing with the question of who had such weapons, who could fire them, who could manufacture them, who had nuclear technology, etc. He could not see why it should be so difficult to find appropriate expressions to cover these points. When we said “directly or indirectly,” in our minds we were 100% clear as to what this meant. Somehow we ought to be able to put this down on paper.

Mr. Gromyko replied once again that this was open to a 50-50 interpretation. Each side would place its own interpretation on such wording. He could not dispute the right of the United States to interpret such language in its own interests, and naturally other countries would be guided by their particular interests as well. We were dealing with two kinds of entities—national entities and groups or alliances or blocs.

The Secretary reminded Mr. Gromyko that he had asked for a frank discussion. He therefore hoped Mr. Gromyko would not mind the following. We assumed that in the Warsaw Pact the Soviet Union retained for itself the decision to use nuclear weapons, although non-nuclear-weapon members of the Warsaw Pact had received nuclear vehicles.

Mr. Gromyko wanted to know if this was a question. The Soviet Union had not in the past and is not now taking any steps leading to a proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Secretary said that in the NATO alliance we retained complete control over the firing of U.S. nuclear weapons. He wanted to ask the Foreign Minister a frank question. We do say to our allies that even though we retain the final decision they must be consulted in any group discussion in which we are, of course, a party. Perhaps Mr. Gromyko did not care for this arrangement to become known to his Warsaw Pact partners, who then might ask him for the same kind of thing.

Mr. Gromyko said the Secretary had raised two questions. One of these is political. We had agreed to discuss only the question of the physical nuclear weapons themselves. He preferred not to discuss the other question. Secondly, it seemed to him that the Secretary had implied that the question of proliferation and the question of the right to fire were not related. And yet, when plans for mixed manned ships, the MLF and the ANF, were considered in the past, the Secretary had made that distinction. He suggested that question be set aside. If the Secretary was opposed to proliferation to non-nuclear-weapon states as national entities [Page 382]and as members of groups and alliances, then there should be no difficulty. Reservation of the right to fire appeared to point in this direction.

The Secretary remarked that this reservation applied to American nuclear weapons only; General De Gaulle had said that he would not give us control over his nuclear weapons. The Secretary said it seemed to him that we had usefully excluded three questions: 1) the situation in the event that war occurs; 2) political decision as to whether or not war does occur; and 3) political relationships among states. Concerning the physical nuclear weapons themselves it appeared to him we were in agreement. The problem was to find the right language to express this agreement without involving extraneous matters. The three latest drafts seemed to have narrowed the gap. Apparently the formulations tried in the last 48 hours had come fairly close but had not as yet satisfied both sides completely. He hoped that the answer could be found while the Minister was still in this country. We did not envisage and had never discussed a situation in which American nuclear weapons ceased to be American nuclear weapons.

Mr. Gromyko suggested that the representatives of the two sides get together again to continue their search tomorrow or Monday.3

The Secretary said he had instructions from President Johnson to make a maximum effort to reach agreement and he assumed Mr. Gromyko’s instructions were the same. After Mr. Gromyko confirmed this fact the Secretary again stressed the importance of finding a solution while Mr. Gromyko was still here.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 84. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by William D. Krimer (OPR/LS (Interpreter)) and approved by Thompson (S/AL) and by S on September 26. This conversation was held during Foreign Minister Gromyko’s dinner for Secretary Rusk at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. Rusk visited New York September 19-25 and October 4-8 during the general debate at the U.N. General Assembly. (Johnson Library, Rusk’s Appointment Book)
  2. Vietnam was the subject of Part II. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 84)
  3. No record of conversation on September 25 or Monday, September 26, has been found, but a memorandum of Foster’s September 28 conversation with Roschin in New York reports that Roschin “felt that considerable progress had been made and a common understanding reached on the most substantive article of the draft treaty, although the Soviet side had not gotten all it wanted and was not really satisfied.” (Ibid., Central Files, DEF 18-6)