279. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Relations with the Soviet Union


  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • Assistant Secretary Leddy, EUR
    • Mr. E. J. Beigel, Acting Country Director for France
  • France
    • Ambassador Lucet
    • Mr. Jean-Pierre Cabouat, Counselor, French Embassy

The French Ambassador called at his request to discuss the current French trade measures (reported in State 195609),2 and to indicate that he would soon return to Paris to consult with his government and take his summer vacation. He was interested in having the Secretary’s views on current relations with the Soviet Union.

[Page 658]

The Ambassador referred to the memorandum published by the Soviet Government on July 1,3 following the signing of the non-proliferation treaty, and asked what our reaction was to it. The Secretary said that in publishing their list of nine measures “on an end to the arms race and on disarmament in the near future” the Russians had merely cleaned out the refrigerator—full of proposals they had tabled at one time or another in the past. He said we also will have a list of proposals, but the concrete development at present will be the missile talks. The heart of this matter will be in bilateral talks, focusing on the U.S. and Soviet military establishments, in the first instance. He anticipated that there would also be discussion on this subject at Geneva, and NATO would be consulted as we move along.

The Secretary said that the missile question is both very complicated and very simple. The problem is one of avoiding tremendous new expenditures on both sides, which could only have, as an end result, the effect of maintaining the existing balance of nuclear deterrence. How to solve this simple problem, on the other hand, is a highly complicated technical question. We have wondered why the Soviets responded to our initiative; in the best case, they may have reached the same conclusion we did, that no significant advantage is possible for either side; in the worst case, they may feel that a gesture, without real substance, would help influence hesitant countries to sign the non-proliferation treaty. The Secretary said that we will proceed on the basis that the Soviets are prepared to deal with the problem seriously.

The Ambassador wondered whether this development indicated the possibility of a general improvement in relations with the Soviet Union. The Secretary replied that improvements had taken place on an eclectic basis, not across-the-board. While we have moved ahead with the non-proliferation treaty, two space treaties, a civil air agreement and a consular convention, our relations have not improved regarding Berlin and Viet-Nam, and our ideologies remain far apart. The Soviets appear to be suspicious of “bridge-building.” We are trying to move ahead on a pragmatic basis, on matters that we believe will be of mutual advantage to both countries. We remain hopeful that in due course we will secure Congressional agreement in the area of trade expansion with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, with authority to extend most-favored-nation treatment to those countries.

With regard to the Berlin situation, the Secretary said that he found a preoccupation in Germany, during his brief visit there, over what might come next rather than over the measures already taken. The Soviets tell us that the measures undertaken by the East Germans constitute [Page 659] only a change in form, not a challenge to Allied access, and that they do not wish to increase tensions over Berlin. The Secretary said that the measures are not consistent with Soviet understandings with the Allies, and that we must make clear to the Soviets that this is getting into dangerous country. Both we and the Soviets could do without another Berlin crisis. The impression we have is that the present measures were instituted in part because of concern over developments in Czechoslovakia. In this connection, the Secretary noted that in his public statement in Bonn on June 264 he had suggested that the Soviets and Eastern Europeans are becoming a little frightened of peaceful coexistence, which in the long run could undermine the economic, social and political systems of the Communist states.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL USUSSR. Confidential. Drafted by Beigel and approved in S on July 7.
  2. Dated July 2. (Ibid., FT 1/1/FR)
  3. For text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, July 24, 1968, pp. 3–4.
  4. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, July 15, 1968, pp. 74–75.