97. Memorandum of Conversation1



New York, September-October 1965


  • USSR Foreign Minister Gromyko’s Dinner for Secretary Rusk


  • U.S.
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Amb. Goldberg
    • Amb. Thompson
    • Amb. Kohler
    • Wm. D. Krimer (Interpreter)
  • U.S.S.R.
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Amb. Fedorenko
    • Amb. Dobrynin
    • Amb. Novikoff
    • Mr. Sukhodrev (Interpreter)

[Here follows discussion of issues other than arms control.]

[Page 246]

Referring to their previous discussion of disarmament and a World Disarmament Conference2 Mr. Gromyko then asked the Secretary if there were any real possibilities of resolving some other matters during the present UNGA Session.

The Secretary said that while he did not now want to make an official statement, he did want to express a few thoughts. One of the things that particularly disturbed him in the Disarmament question was the fact that countries other than the US and USSR appeared to have very little interest in resolving Disarmament problems among themselves. He recalled that at the very same moment, a few years ago, when the General Assembly unanimously adopted a Resolution for General and Complete Disarmament, some 70 countries were asking us for military assistance and some 20 countries were asking the USSR for such aid. He noted an almost complete lack of effort on the part of other countries in putting an end to the arms race in the Near East, in Latin America and in other areas of the world. He was hopeful that a limitation of armaments in other parts of the world would eventually be achieved, but was struck by the others’ great indifference towards this problem. He had pointed this fact out to some other world leaders in private discussions; it was clear to him that Disarmament was of primary interest to the two great powers only. Did the Foreign Minister, for example, see any possibility of discussing the level of armaments as between Israel and Egypt; would he care to carry on a very private conversation concerning the possibility of limiting the quantities of arms being supplied to other nations by the US and by the USSR?

Mr. Gromyko stated his views as to the reason for other nations’ lack of interest in Disarmament. He ascribed this to the fact that while many good resolutions had been adopted in the past and many fine speeches delivered, nothing much had been practically accomplished. He was therefore not surprised at the fact that others had little faith in the effectiveness of the various resolutions.

The Secretary said that we had, for example, tried to get Egypt and Israel to accept the Vienna safeguards on atomic energy. We had spoken to representatives of each country privately, but it was hard to get one to act before the other, or even together. He thought that if the US and the Soviet Union were to undertake joint efforts in this direction, it might prove to be more encouraging to the countries involved.

Mr. Gromyko replied that even if this were so, it would still be difficult for the countries involved to reach the proper decisions since they could see that at the same time everyone else was continuing arms accumulation. [Page 247] He made a distinction between the regional and the partial approach to Disarmament. He did see merits in a partial approach provided it applied to all the countries which were relevant to the problem. As to a regional approach, what possibilities did the Secretary see in that?

Secretary Rusk replied that the regional approach might be effective for entire continents, such as Africa and Latin America for example. He informed Mr. Gromyko that since their last conversation the Foreign Minister of Mexico had informed him that he intended to discuss the question of a nuclear-free Latin America with Cuba. He thought a similar approach could be taken with reference to a nuclear-free Africa, provided Israel were included in this region for this purpose, inasmuch as it would involve Egypt. He also thought that the US and the USSR could be of considerable assistance in pressing these countries to agree to a renunciation of nuclear arms acquisition.

Mr. Gromyko informed the Secretary that since their last conversation he had tried to ascertain if there were any change in Cuba’s attitude toward a nuclear-free Latin America, but that he had not been able to detect any new elements in this attitude.

Mr. Gromyko recalled that the General Assembly had adopted a resolution calling for nuclear-free Africa a few years ago, with support of all the great powers.3 Why should we not now take some steps in the direction of giving judicial force to this resolution; he thought it would have a good effect in improving the international atmosphere.

Secretary Rusk agreed that we would be interested in this undertaking. He wanted to talk to Mr. Gromyko privately concerning a strong effort to keep Cairo and Israel from going too far in the arms race, not only in the nuclear field, but also in the matter of other sophisticated weapons. He thought it might be possible to reach an informal understanding to bring pressure to bear upon Israel and Egypt in this respect to limit their arms buildup to certain levels; for the more sophisticated the weapons at their disposal, the more trouble could be anticipated. The Secretary cited the fact that just one squadron of supersonic planes involved costs equal to those of building and maintaining an entire university.

Ambassador Dobrynin inquired as to the possible reaction of the two countries.

The Secretary cited the suspicion and distrust between the two countries involved; they were unwilling to reach any agreement with each other. He could imagine that some day it might be possible for both the US and the USSR to jointly lay down the status quo in the Near East— [Page 248] to say to the countries involved “here are the borders, here is the settlement, and we will not tolerate the use of force to resolve disputes in the Near East.” If the Soviet Union and the United States both made it clear to these countries that we would not accept force, we could establish a real peace in the Near East, so that these countries would no longer be burdened by the arms race. He realized that because of broader questions, there were some difficulties now involved in joint action.

Mr. Gromyko inquired as to when this could be brought about. He thought the great powers themselves should first find a way to lessen their arms burdens. The Secretary replied that once we agreed upon what the status quo in the Near East should be, we could make such a policy effective.

Ambassador Goldberg referred to the proposal of diverting a quantity of fissionable material to peaceful uses, which he had made in his UN speech at the suggestion of Mr. Foster.4 Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that the procedure had not been made clear. Ambassador Goldberg said that while he had made the proposal officially, it would be up to the experts to work out the details. He pointed out that the diversion of necessity implied halting the further production of nuclear materials, the transfer of some of the existing stocks to peaceful uses and also the destruction of an appropriate amount of nuclear weapon carriers, although this latter aspect would also of necessity be limited. He assumed that both sides had more than enough weapons at present.

Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that before his country could agree to the transfer of 40 tons of U-235, the major question of control, including control over industrial installations would have to be resolved.

Mr. Gromyko said that he did not consider this proposal to be practical under present circumstances, in fact he considered it to be impossible of implementation. Unavoidably this proposal raised a number of other difficult questions of control; what was to be the scope of control, its depth and techniques? In fact many of the already familiar post World War II questions were being raised by this proposal.

The Secretary said he wanted to ask a naive question. Was it possible that the word “control” had somewhat different meanings in the two languages? To us the word did not imply management, direction and the making of decisions. The Secretary mentioned that there was a subtle difference between the meanings of the word “control” as between the English and the French languages; could it be possible that misunderstandings [Page 249] arose because of a difference in meaning between English and Russian?

The Foreign Minister did not attach any significance to the linguistic problem. There was practically no difference in meaning. The very earliest discussions on control had made it clear that the problem was not linguistic, but rather fundamental. For this reason he again pointed out that Ambassador Goldberg’s proposal touched upon a great many difficult problems. Under present circumstances he could see no possibilities of getting it adopted. Still he thought it would be good if understanding on other practical matters could be reached.

Ambassador Thompson remarked that the amount of control required could be relatively small.

Mr. Gromyko continued his argument by pointing out that in the event the proposed quantities of fissionable material were diverted and such diversion verified, but due to the impossibility of reaching an understanding on control production of new nuclear weapons were to be continued, nothing would have been accomplished. This proposal was similar to the proposal made by the US several years ago regarding demolition of certain types of military planes. He did not think that the security of his country and indeed that of the rest of the world would have been enhanced by such demolition.

Secretary Rusk thought that, on the contrary, in his opinion both countries would have gained something by carrying out the proposed plane demolitions. He reminded Mr. Gromyko of the fact that many weapons, which were obsolete for the US and the USSR were not by any means obsolete for other countries. It would be better to destroy them than to spread them throughout the rest of the world. Both the US and the USSR were often under great pressure to supply other countries with supersonic aircraft which had become obsolete for them, but were quite sophisticated for other countries. He therefore could see an advantage in their destruction.

Mr. Gromyko thought it would be simpler not to furnish such aircraft to other countries, if we did not want them to be spread throughout the world. The Secretary pointed out that this question had not been thoroughly discussed and that there were some other considerations. For example, if Egypt were furnished supersonic aircraft, the Israelis would feel they too must have such planes, even though their country was almost too small for a supersonic plane to turn around without violating someone else’s border; Israel would then proceed to acquire such planes from France, for example. In other words, there was a certain snowball effect in operation. Perhaps here was a subject—ceilings on sophistication—on which the US and the USSR could reach an understanding. Did Mr. Gromyko think this might be possible, in view of the beneficial effect this would have upon the budgets of other countries.

[Page 250]

Mr. Gromyko pointed out that the other countries involved would inevitably point to the military budgets of the great powers. He asked the Secretary if the United States estimated that there is any real danger of other countries producing nuclear weapons, that is countries which did not possess such weapons today. He meant not only capabilities, but also intentions and practical steps.

The Secretary said it might be useful to exchange impressions on this subject with each other. He was prepared to do so in some detail. As to Egypt, at present that country did not have the scientific, technical and industrial capability of producing nuclear weapons. He thought that Israel did have such capability in view of the advanced state of science and technology in that country. For this reason we had insisted on inspecting their installations periodically. While they were not at present engaged in the production of nuclear weapons, they could do so in the future. As the Secretary had mentioned in his last conversation with the Foreign Minister, he thought Israel was “three months pregnant.” The Israelis had assured us that they would not be the first country in the Near East to produce such weapons. It was conceivable, however, that Israel would some day announce that it had developed nuclear weapons, even without having first tested them. We do observe their activities closely. Sweden has the capability of producing nuclear weapons. At the time of signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Sweden had reserved its right to withdraw from the Treaty in the future if it thought its interests demanded such action. We do not believe, however, that they are producing today. They could move rather quickly, however. India probably had the necessary scientific and industrial base for nuclear capability. The Chinese detonations provided a stimulus for India’s interest in the subject. Without pointing a finger at anyone, the Secretary wanted to mention that we had been informed that some Indians felt that they had been encouraged by some Soviets to develop nuclear weapons. Our policy has consistently been to discourage this and the Secretary hoped that this was the Soviet policy, as well. He did not believe Indonesia had any nuclear capability; if an explosion did occur in that area, we must conclude that it was of Chinese origin. The Secretary was not fully informed on what had happened in Djakarta today, but he did think it possible that the Chinese would detonate a nuclear bomb in Indonesia. As to Germany, it did possess the necessary industrial and scientific base.

Mr. Gromyko interjected that the Secretary must have meant the FRG. He pointed out that there were two Germanys today.

The Secretary went on to say that he thought this was true of both Germanys. But he could very frankly assure the Foreign Minister that this would not be permitted to happen, as far as Western Germany was concerned, for if it did, it would break up NATO. We did not see any political possibilities in this direction. These then were the key countries. [Page 251] For reasons of prestige a few other countries had stated their reservations at the time of signing the Test Ban Treaty, Brazil and Switzerland, for example. As to Czechoslovakia, perhaps the Minister knew the situation there. This, then, was the Secretary’s assessment of the situation.

Mr. Gromyko thanked the Secretary for the information. He said that he completely excluded the possibility that anyone from the Soviet Union had advised India to develop nuclear weapons. If such rumors were indeed current, he would think that they originated from countries which had had relations with India, and perhaps also with the Soviet Union. He did not think that the Secretary really believed such rumors. Such action on the part of the Soviet Union would have been completely contrary to its position on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He thought that if the position of the US on proliferation was identical with that of the USSR, it would be best to close all channels and all possible ways for other countries to acquire nuclear weapons. He emphasized this point again with reference to an international treaty on non-proliferation.

The Secretary said in his opinion it was in the nature of nuclear weapons themselves that the country, which possesses them is opposed to other countries acquiring such weapons. As for the United States, we had thought that even one nuclear power was one too many as evidenced by our position in the Baruch Plan in the forties.5 Certainly, two, three, four or five were also too many. This is a Pandora’s Box—we had tried to close the lid. We therefore concluded that in this matter our positions were identical. The Secretary appreciated the Minister’s remarks about India and accepted his statement. Recently we had heard the doctrine of proliferation proclaimed from Peiping and Djakarta—statements to the effect that other developing nations in Asia and Africa should be encouraged to acquire nuclear weapons. The Secretary thought it would be useful to clear the decks of lesser problems by putting together a draft of a non-proliferation treaty containing provisions even now acceptable to both sides, and then to see if the Minister’s doubts of possible nuclear arrangements in NATO could be cleared away in private discussions, before presenting a proposed treaty to the UN, a draft, in other words, agreed on all points except Articles 1 and 2 of the Soviet draft. We could in this manner get rid of the underbrush before proceeding to the trees.

Mr. Gromyko pointed out that in his view these two articles contained the crucial provisions of an effective treaty, but that he would leave this matter up to the Secretary. The Secretary continued by saying [Page 252] that he had in mind an effort to reduce and clarify the issues. For example, how many nuclear powers at a minimum would have to be a party to such a treaty; we had already informed the Minister that we thought three powers to be essential.

Mr. Gromyko appreciated the Secretary’s explanation, but he did see a real difference in the respective positions on the crucial issue. [Here follows discussion of European security.]

The Secretary was particularly interested in general disarmament. Ambassador Dobrynin would notice this clearly next January and February when the Budget is discussed in Congress. We have embarked on a broad program of many social reforms; this means that disarmament has become even more important to us than it was earlier, since we want to be able to push more of our resources into taking better care of our own people. The Secretary therefore could assure Mr. Gromyko of the seriousness of his interest. While he could not speak for France, Great Britain or the FRG, he thought that perhaps there was some advantage in private, quite informal and relaxed conversations without any specific agenda. We would like to see some movement on these problems so as to lighten the tremendous burdens borne by the two countries at present. We would like to see a permanent settlement in Central Europe, which was fully guaranteed by the Soviet Union and the United States, so as to preclude the possibility of war.

Mr. Gromyko noted that the Secretary had several times referred to military budgets; he concluded that this was of major importance to the US; why not then consider once again the possibilities of reducing military budgets?

The Secretary pointed out that our two countries were not the only ones involved. We had recently heard some references to the advantages of a foreign policy conducted by the end of a rifle barrel—they come from another part of the world. There was no point in discussing budget reductions with the Soviet Union, to include reductions in the military budget of the country from where these statements came, since the Soviet Union could not deliver. We were of course referring to Peiping.

Mr. Gromyko inquired if we would not agree that the US was far more powerful than China. The Secretary replied that in general this was of course true. However, we did have a specific problem on the ground, which had cost us a lot of money—Southeast Asia. We would have much preferred to use this money for peaceful development of many areas of the world, including North Vietnam, as the President had stated in his Baltimore speech.6

[Page 253]

Mr. Gromyko remarked that the sooner the Southeast Asia situation was normalized, the better. In a sense he could see that the US Government was rather pessimistic regarding disarmament, reduction of military budgets and a secure European settlement. He recalled that President Roosevelt had once said we had nothing to fear but fear itself. He wondered whether our pessimism in itself did not now constitute a serious obstacle.

The Secretary had two comments to make, one of which did not involve the Soviet Union and another, which did. In the largest historical and geographical sense the US had a compelling interest in peace in the Atlantic and Pacific. During World War II we had agreed with the Soviet Union that our first priority was the defeat of Hitler, but he wanted to remind the Minister that the second priority had involved a very large military effort. Therefore the portion of our present defense budget which pertains to the Pacific does not involve the Soviet Union. If Peiping pursued a policy of peaceful coexistence, this would be a different matter, but we are now unable to agree with the Soviet Union on reducing our defense budget without regard to events in the Pacific and without regard to the policies of Peiping. The other problem is one in which the Minister could make a contribution. We realize that when we ask the Soviet Union for verification and control, we are asking the USSR to make a unilateral concession; this is due to the nature of our open society. Verification, control and information needs of the Soviet Union are answered by the very fact that our society is open to the extent of 97 percent of these needs. An additional 2 percent are contributed by the fact that people in our government cannot keep their mouths shut. The final 1 percent is accounted for by Soviet espionage, so that there is nothing unknown about us to the USSR. It is quite a different matter in the opposite direction. The General Staff of the USSR considers secrecy to be a strategic weapon, and people in the Soviet government do know how to keep their mouths shut. As a result, it is exceedingly difficult to gather intelligence about the USSR. The Secretary suggested that the Foreign Minister appoint someone in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study ways of how the USSR could provide us with the necessary assurances on verification, etc. The Minister should not ask us to accept this on good faith. It was too soon to expect us to rely on good faith alone—we did need verification, inspection and other assurance. The Secretary wanted to leave this problem with the Minister. We are not trying to pry or control; all we needed was to find some basis of confidence that when we sign an agreement, the result will be what we anticipated when we signed it.

Mr. Gromyko referred to the Secretary’s references to the policies of China. Did he not think that to a great extent these policies were merely a reaction to the policies of the United States in the Pacific? He, the Minister, [Page 254] was sure this was the case. Another thing was the Secretary’s reference to confidence and mutual trust. A minimum of these between the US and the USSR were essential—i.e. a minimum of trust which was not the result of physical checkups, control and verification. For example, in the handling of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty confidence and trust were most important. The Minister thought the Secretary had confidence in the Soviet Union’s observance of its provisions and he, for his part, did not believe we were violating the Treaty. He wanted to take up the possibility of extending the Treaty to underground tests as well. A like attitude of trust and confidence would be needed, for example, to implement nuclear-free zones in Africa, Europe and other parts of the world. He did not think that control in itself was an absolute. It related to the specifics of each situation and he did not think this question had been sufficiently explored in relation to specific measures.

Secretary Rusk replied that Mr. Gromyko’s comment about Chinese policy being a reaction to US policy might be a possible explanation if only Washington had trouble with Peiping. But, there was also trouble between Peiping and Moscow. Ten days ago we had held our 127th meeting with Peiping in Warsaw. For the 127th time Peiping had rejected any kind of discussions with us unless we first were prepared to surrender Formosa. We replied we could not surrender 11 million people. If we were to offer recognition to Peiping tomorrow morning, without Formosa, they would say no. As concerns verification—our need for this is easily explained by the differences in our political system: we must be able to assure our own people that we are confident that certain things are or are not happening. In the case of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty extending to underground tests, we are certain that someone will say “those damned Russians are cheating.” We have to be able to say to them: “No, we are sure of our own knowledge that they are not.” From our point of view this question of verification is solely a matter of technology. Our policy will follow scientific and technical capabilities in this field. They have been and will be increasing, but they are not as yet adequate to place us in a position to extend the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to underground testing without verification. For this reason we would be very glad to have American and Soviet scientists cooperate on improving the applicable technology.

Ambassador Goldberg added that with reference to underground testing he had stated that our position was flexible and that we had therefore invited Soviet representatives to come and see our latest scientific advances in detection, which made it possible to distinguish earthquakes from other explosions within a certain range.

The Secretary inquired of the Minister whether he had understood the Soviet position with reference to underground testing correctly, that is that test of a level of 4.75 and above to be added to the Nuclear Test Ban [Page 255] Treaty and that a moratorium without time limitation be placed upon tests below the threshold. Mr. Gromyko replied that the proposal mentioned in his UNGA speech7 was that originally made by the UAR representative in the ENDC.8 To a further question he replied that the two were of necessity connected. The Secretary stated that we could not agree to a moratorium below the threshold. Mr. Gromyko thought that if anyone would benefit by such a moratorium, it would be the United States, because it had a number of bases on the territory of countries surrounding the Soviet Union, from which any violation of the moratorium could be detected—for example Japan and other countries. The Soviet Union had no such possibilities, hence the moratorium could still be verified by the US.

The Secretary pointed out that when we spoke of national capabilities, we were in fact talking of “international capabilities.” These facilities were provided by other countries and if we were to lose some of them our capabilities would be accordingly reduced.

Mr. Gromyko suggested that the proposed treaty could include a provision like that in the present Test Ban Treaty, which would make it possible for any signatory state to withdraw if it considered that its highest interests required it to do so. He did not want the Secretary to think that the Soviet Union’s interest in this proposed treaty was any greater than that of the US. If we could not reach an understanding, we could go on as before. The reason that he could not separate the moratorium provision from the threshold band was that other nations would minimize the importance of the treaty if below threshold tests were to be continued. The nature of observance of the moratorium would be similar to that of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A certain amount of trust and confidence was needed and unavoidable.

The Secretary stated that we were not concerned over the existing Nuclear Test Ban, since we could assure our people that it was being observed. But, if all testing were to be banned, the element of assurance would become extremely important.

Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that a separation of the two provisions could lead to arguments, such as 4.6 versus 4.75.

The Secretary repeated that assurance for our people was indispensable and that we had no reason or intention to be picayune about the magnitude of an explosion.

[Page 256]

Mr. Gromyko suggested his comment about FDR’s statement on fear be reexamined. Ambassador Fedorenko remarked that they were ready to trust us, but that we evidently were not ready to trust them.

The Secretary ended the discussion by saying that we needed something to eliminate some of the fear, so that we could tell our people to relax.

It was agreed between the Secretary and the Minister to tell the press that they had discussed problems of European security and United Nations problems, including disarmament.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL US-USSR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by William D. Krimer (LS) and Alfred Puhan (EUR/GER) and approved by S on October 2. The meeting was held at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. Secretary of State Rusk and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko headed their countries’ delegations to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s twentieth session in New York, September-October 1965. Rusk was in New York, September 26-October 5, 1965.
  2. A memorandum of their conversation at Secretary Rusk’s dinner for Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko in New York, September 29, is in Department of State, Central Files, POL US-USSR.
  3. Reference is to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1652 (XVI), adopted November 24, 1961; text in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1961, pp. 29-30.
  4. Reference is to the statement by U.S. Representative to the United Nations, Arthur J. Goldberg, to the U.N. General Assembly, September 23; text in Department of State Bulletin, October 11, 1965, pp. 578-587.
  5. Reference is to U.S. proposals for the international control of atomic energy made by Bernard M. Baruch, U.S. Representative on the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946. For text, see A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-1949, pp. 865-871.
  6. Reference is to President Johnson’s address at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, April 7. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 394-399.
  7. Reference is to Gromyko’s address to the U.N. General Assembly, September 24. (Documents on Disarmament, 1965, pp. 436-441)
  8. Reference is to the statement by Abdel F. Hassan, United Arab Republic Representative to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, August 17, 1965. (Ibid., pp. 340-347)