158. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Non-Proliferation


  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • William C. FosterACDA
    • Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson
    • Governor Harriman
    • John M. LeddyEUR
    • Malcolm Toon—SOV
  • USSR
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
    • Alexander I. Zinchuk, Minister-Counselor, Soviet Embassy
    • Counselor of Embassy Vorontsov
    • Ivan I. Ippolitov, Aide to Gromyko

The Secretary began the conversation by pointing out that each side has a legitimate interest in insuring that nuclear powers do not transfer nuclear weapons to non-nuclear powers. This is the heart of the proliferation problem. If we are prepared to commit ourselves not to transfer nuclear weapons into the hands of non-nuclear powers—as we are—then the Secretary felt that this should meet the Soviet concern. What we cannot agree to is the proposition that we consent to an arrangement which in effect would amount to our telling our allies that the nuclear problem is none of their business. Mr. Gromyko must understand that this would be an absolutely untenable position for us and one which would not be understood or supported by our allies since they, after all, are targeted by Soviet nuclear weapons.

Gromyko said that the Soviet position on non-proliferation is to provide for an agreement which would insure that nuclear powers not transfer nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states or to an alliance to which such states belong.

The Secretary said that he wishes to be very frank with Gromyko so that each side would understand clearly what was in the other’s mind. We know and we can assure the Soviets that we will not transfer nuclear weapons to any non-nuclear state—ever—or to any group of non-nuclear states. By his insistence on language which would cover the alliance concept, Gromyko seemed to take a position which would result in the erection of a barrier between ourselves and our allies. It was this that we could not accept.

[Page 389]

Gromyko said that this was not the Soviet intention.

The Secretary went on to say that we have never discussed any nuclear sharing arrangements in NATO that we would not be happy to see applied to the Warsaw Pact. Gromyko must understand that we are obliged in our nuclear planning to take into account the views of our allies just as the Soviets would take into account the views of their allies.2

The Secretary felt that we are perhaps not far apart on basic policy and that the problem might be simply a matter of language. One answer to the problem might be simply to state that we would not transfer nuclear weapons out of our hands without concerning ourselves with the question of “to whom.” An alternative solution might be to adopt Mr. Foster’s suggestion of adding “to any recipient whatsoever.”

Gromyko said this would not be adequate since the formula did not preclude the possibility of transfer into “collective” hands. To meet this point the wording should provide for a ban on transfer “individually or collectively.” While the Soviets are prepared to accept the proposition that the United Stares intends to retain control and possession of its nuclear weapons there is always the possibility that such control and possession might be shared with others. It is this point that concerns the Soviets.

The Secretary said that if the Soviets should be worried about the possibility that some day a United States nuclear weapon might be fired by a German soldier on order of a German government, and without U.S. consent, he could assure Gromyko that this would and could never happen. We are of course not talking about a condition of war.

Gromyko assured the Secretary that the Soviet Union is prepared to accept that this is the intention of the United States Government. The Soviet view is, however, that the guarantee should be absolute; the Soviets may be sure of United States intentions but they do not have the same confidence with regard to the intentions of others.

The Secretary said that we seemed to be agreed on the heart of the matter—on the basic concept of non-proliferation. Our trouble is that we can’t seem to find language that does not involve what we regard as extraneous matters. It is important to recognize that the psychological and political implications of language we should adopt must be taken into account if we are not to jeopardize our alliance relationships. We [Page 390] cannot agree to any wording which would amount to informing our allies that their nuclear defense is none of their business.

Mr. Leddy pointed out that the West Germans have never asked us to transfer possession of or surrender our authority to fire nuclear weapons.

Gromyko said this may be true but there has been much talk in the past of plans for the creation of joint nuclear forces such as MLF and ANF. Such plans if realized would accord a participating role to the West Germans, and it is this that concerns the Soviets. It is not the prospect of a German “voice” or other “voices” in nuclear defense planning which bothers the Soviets.

The Secretary commented that if this were the case then there should be no problem. We should be able to resolve our differences by agreed language so long as we steer clear of the metaphysical and concentrate on the concrete. The Secretary asked if Roshchin would remain in New York after Gromyko’s departure. When Mr. Gromyko confirmed that this would be the case, the Secretary suggested that Messrs. Foster and Roshchin continue their efforts to work out language which would satisfy the concerns of both sides. He himself would wish to discuss precise language with the President. The Secretary’s view at the moment is that the problem could be met by language which would commit us not to give our nuclear weapons to anybody and not permit anyone else to use our nuclear weapons without our permission.

Gromyko said that this was not the whole problem. If, in fact, the United States does not intend to share control with others he failed to see why this could not be reflected in treaty language.

The Secretary felt that some way could be found to get around the problem. Gromyko must realize, however, that we cannot accept any language which would be tantamount to our saying to our allies that nuclear defense arrangements are not their business.

Mr. Gromyko commented that at times he has the feeling that our positions are similar. He would point out, however, that the views of the United States on the problem are not always expressed in the same terms and occasionally are even somewhat contradictory.

The Secretary said that he felt we could make progress if Gromyko would cease to be preoccupied with what seems to be philosophical problem. We did seem to be agreed on the “gut” aspect of the non-proliferation problem and he felt that Roshchin and Foster should be able to work out acceptable language.

Gromyko agreed that Foster and Roshchin should continue their efforts in New York. Foster said that he would be in New York Tuesday afternoon and would contact the Soviet Mission at that time.

In parting Gromyko said that he wished to thank the Secretary and through him the President for their warm and gracious hospitality while [Page 391] he was in Washington. The Secretary said that he was glad Gromyko could fit the Washington trip into his schedule since it was always pleasant and useful to talk with him. He wished to reiterate the President’s thought that our two countries have a special responsibility for the peace of the world and that for our part we are prepared to go more than half way in an effort to resolve the problems which are of vital concern to both of us.

Since Mr. Gromyko would face a battery of reporters on his exit from the building, it was agreed that he would take the following line in response to queries:

The discussion at dinner focused on disarmament matters including the non-proliferation problem. Both sides agreed that this was a problem of great urgency and that discussions should continue in an effort to reach agreement.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-I Files: Lot 79 D 246, US-USSR Officials, Memoranda of Conversation, 1966. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Malcolm Toon (EUR/SOV) on October 11 and approved by S on October 13. This conversation took place in the Department of State, probably at an informal dinner that the Secretary hosted in the Madison Room. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book)
  2. At this point the EUR Bureau typist of this memorandum inadvertently omitted the following paragraph: “Gromyko pointed out that the Soviets do not suggest that a treaty should include a provision banning consultation. This was a separate matter to which he might wish to return, but he did not intend to discuss it in connection with the treaty.” (Memorandum from Malcolm Toon (EUR/SOV) to John Walsh (S/S), October 18, cleared by Thompson (S/AL); Department of State, S/S-I Files: Lot 79 D 246, US-USSR Officials, Memoranda of Conversation, 1966)