86. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • USSR
    • Premier Kosygin
    • M.N. Smirnovsky, Chief, American Section, Foreign Ministry
    • O.A. Troyanovsky, Foreign Ministry
    • V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • US
    • Governor Averell Harriman
    • Ambassador Foy D. Kohler
    • Marshall Brement, Second Secretary

[Here follows a discussion on agricultural matters.]

The Governor stated that he was glad to inform Chairman Kosygin that President Johnson had read with great care his report of their previous conversation.2 The President, he said, shares Chairman Kosygin’s view that the U.S. and USSR have heavy responsibilities for the maintenance of peace. “You may be assured,” the Governor continued, “that U.S. action in Vietnam will be what is necessary—but only what is necessary—to stop the armed attacks which have been mounted, under the direction of Hanoi, against the people and government of South Vietnam. The President agrees with your emphasis on (1) the tasks of disarmament; (2) the importance of bilateral relations between our two countries and (3) the advantage of personal contact in appropriate circumstances. [Page 220] The President is now making a final review of our disarmament position for the meeting in Geneva. He hopes very much that the Soviet Union will join in a constructive approach to these problems and he agrees with the Chairman as to the special importance of non-proliferation.” In this connection, Governor Harriman told Kosygin that Mr. Foster would head the U.S. Delegation at Geneva and asked him who would head the Soviet Delegation.

Kosygin replied that a final decision on this had not yet been reached. However, he assured Governor Harriman that the head of the Soviet Delegation will be a responsible official fully empowered to act, report, make decisions and not just “sit on the fence.” When asked by Governor Harriman as to whether he had any comments on the Governor’s previous statement, Kosygin replied that he was pleased to learn that the President is concerned about the same problems which bothered him. He was personally convinced that progress could be made on the questions which had been discussed and to which the President had reacted, if it were not for Vietnam. The Vietnamese problem is an impediment to the solution of many important problems such as disarmament, nuclear weapons and the like. The reasons why progress cannot be made in these fields, he said, now boils down to a lack of confidence between us. “I would like to venture my personal opinion that if it were not for the Vietnam issue we could find a new approach to the disarmament problem, a different angle to view it from than that which we have used in the past. One possibility would be for a meeting to be held—not necessarily in the USSR or U.S., it doesn’t matter where—prior to a disarmament conference where a fundamental understanding could be reached on these important issues. A meeting of two or more heads of state or government might reach a prior understanding in principle and make a disarmament conference more productive. Such a meeting could in a matter of hours make important decisions in principle, which might require years of discussion at a formal conference. On questions relating to nuclear arms and disarmament no side can be dishonest since, sooner or later, lies must come to the surface and destroy mutual confidence. Naturally, progress could be made by conventional methods as well, but faster progress might be made by adopting unconventional ones. However, nothing can be done today because of the Vietnamese problem. Thus, the Vietnamese problem—which is a small problem—becomes large and influences all other important issues.”

Governor Harriman asked whether this meant that Chairman Kosygin would be willing to meet President Johnson to discuss these issues. He also inquired as to whether Chairman Kosygin was thinking in terms of a bilateral meeting, or one which would include other heads of state.

Kosygin replied that his ideas on this subject had not yet been worked out, but that he did not exclude either bilateral or multilateral [Page 221] high-level meetings. For example, in connection with such an important problem as non-proliferation both forums could be useful. Kosygin emphasized the real relief throughout the world if agreement in these fields could be reached.

Governor Harriman said that he knows the wisdom of Chairman Kosygin’s words from personal experience. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which he had signed in 1963 was only a small step, but it had been greeted with great relief all over the world. Wherever he went, the Governor said, people still talk about it. If we could move further toward disarmament, any such steps would, of course, be greeted with even greater relief by the people of the world. The Governor referred to the fact that the UK, France and unfortunately Peiping are now involved in nuclear issues and asked Kosygin whether the problem of dealing with the Chinese might be discussed bilaterally between the U.S. and USSR.

Kosygin replied that the Chinese were not a major issue. The U.S. and USSR are the only real owners of nuclear weapons. Others have some capability, he said, but are not now of any importance. However, science is making great strides and is the property of all states. Cheaper bombs, which do not require the present tremendous amount of electric power for their manufacture, will be developed, Kosygin said. Many states will thus be able to possess nuclear weapons and when this happens, there will be no guarantees as to who might take these weapons into their hands. Hitler existed in the past. What guarantees are there that another Hitler will not arise tomorrow? he asked. “These weapons are terrible. We must do all in our power to prevent proliferation of these weapons. This is why the American proposal to pool nuclear weapons—which amounts to giving weapons to the Germans—arouses such emotional opposition in the USSR.” The Soviet Union, he said, would be forced to respond by sharing nuclear weapons with its own allies.

Governor Harriman said that President Johnson fully shares the first part of Chairman Kosygin’s statement. Regarding MLF, Secretary Rusk had previously pointed out to Gromyko that the USSR should sign the non-proliferation treaty and thus prevent forever the possibility of independent possession of nuclear weapons in Germany. Governor Harriman told Kosygin that the U.S., like the Soviets, had suffered twice from aggressive German leadership and was mindful of the possibility that such leadership could arise in the future. Mr. Kosygin must believe that the U.S. does not want the Germans to possess nuclear weapons independently. The Governor stressed that he was speaking very frankly and that it would be most unfortunate if what he had just said were discussed with others. He stated that he was encouraged to speak in an open manner because of the frankness which Kosygin had displayed in their last conversation in speaking of Soviet problems with the Chinese.

[Here follows a discussion on Germany.]

[Page 222]

Governor Harriman offered to bring back any message on Germany which Premier Kosygin would like to send to the President. He then inquired as to when Chairman Kosygin thought a high level meeting could be held on nuclear questions.

Kosygin replied that such a meeting was both possible and necessary but that it could only take place when the Vietnam issue leaves the scene. Such a meeting would not be possible earlier since, if it took place, everybody would think that the meeting was only to discuss Vietnam. What is immediately necessary, he said, is to end the war in Vietnam as soon as possible.

[Here follows a discussion on Vietnam.]

Governor Harriman stressed the hope that everything will be done to minimize the influence of the Vietnam issue on bilateral relations. He referred to Kosygin’s observations in his previous talk that the U.S. had violated a commitment to reduce its military budget by making a supplementary allocation of $700 million to deal with the Vietnam situation, and presented Kosygin with the following memorandum (based on Deptel 190).3 Governor Harriman said that this memorandum demonstrates that the statement made by Secretary Rusk to Gromyko on this subject was still valid.

U.S. Military Expenditures and Budget

(Billions of Dollars)

Comparative totals for United States Department of Defense military functions plus military assistance are as follows for fiscal year 1964 (July 1, 1963 through June 30, 1964) and 1965 (July 1, 1964 through June 30, 1965):

Expenditures New Obligational Authority
FY 1964 51.2 (Actual) 50.9
FY 1965 47.4 (Tentative Final Estimate) 50.4

Fiscal year 1965 expenditures were $3.8 billion less than in 1964. New obligational authority, including the supplemental of $700 million for Southeast Asia for fiscal year 1965 was $500 million below fiscal year 1964.

For fiscal year 1966 (July 1, 1965 through June 30, 1966) new obligational authority requested by the President in January 1965 for the Department of Defense was $48.6 billion and expenditures were then estimated to be $49. billion.4

[Page 223]

It is thus presently estimated that United States military expenditures for fiscal year 1966 will be considerably lower than estimated in a statement given to Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko by Secretary of State Rusk on December 5, 1964, which indicated that “military expenditures in fiscal year 1966 will be at least $1.25 billion below the level of fiscal year 1964.”5

Whether and when supplemental appropriations will be requested for fiscal year 1966 depends upon developments in Southeast Asia.

Kosygin, after glancing at the memorandum (which was in English), repeated that according to U.S. statements, it is planning to increase its budgetary appropriation by $700 million. He hit on the figure of $50.4 billion (for FY 1965) in the memo, stating that this was a figure which had been published previously and that the $700 million must, therefore, increase that figure. “My memory is very good. I remember figures,” he said.

Governor Harriman noted that we may have to increase our military expenditures if the situation in Southeast Asia worsens.

Kosygin said that if faced with a similar situation, the Soviet Union would have given very serious thought as to whether it would increase its own military expenditures; and that if it found it necessary to do so, would only take such action after informing the other side.

Ambassador Kohler explained that the figures given in the memo clearly show that the savings, even including the $700 million appropriation for Southeast Asia, were much greater than previously anticipated and considerably below the figure which Secretary Rusk had quoted to Gromyko. Governor Harriman added that 1965 expenditures, including those for Vietnam, are $3.8 billion less than those for 1964. Savings in other directions have more than offset additional expenditures for Vietnam.

Kosygin stated that another point which bothers the Soviets is that in the USSR funds not expended by the end of the fiscal year are terminated, whereas in the U.S. such funds continue to be available to the Defense Department.

Governor Harriman quickly responded that Secretary McNamara was ready to appoint an expert to meet either in Moscow or Washington to consult with a Soviet expert on mutual budgetary structure and practices in order that there could be understanding of each other’s methods. Kosygin responded that if this issue were connected with disarmament [Page 224] measures, then a need might indeed arise to examine each other’s procedures.

[Here follows discussion of commercial and other bilateral relations, Vietnam, and China.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 US-USSR. Secret; Exdis. The source text is enclosure 1 to Airgram A-151 from Moscow, July 26. Drafted by Marshall Brement on July 26. Ambassador at Large Harriman visited the Soviet Union July 12-21, during his July 10-August 3 trip to Europe to seek European support for a peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese war.
  2. The substance of Harriman’s July 15 conversation with Kosygin was transmitted in enclosure 1 to A-120 from Moscow, July 22. (Ibid.)
  3. Telegram 190 to Moscow, July 17, is ibid., POL 7 US/Harriman.
  4. For the Annual Budget Message to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1966, January 25, 1965, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 82-99.
  5. The quotation is an excerpt from Secretary of Defense McNamara’s press conference in Texas on November 10, 1964, which Secretary Rusk gave to Gromyko at the outset of their December 5, 1964, meeting. (Secto 28 from USUN, December 5, 1964; Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 US-USSR)