314. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

6409. Subject: McNamaraKosygin Conversation.

Kornienko, Chief USA Section MFA, called me early November 11 to say that Kosygin, informed of McNamara’s brief visit to Moscow en route Afghanistan and recalling their meeting at Glassboro, would be pleased to receive him at Kremlin office same afternoon. Kornienko indicated he aware McNamara on strictly private visit as tourist.2
Although this unsolicited invitation came as a surprise, it was evident that it could not be rejected without serious diplomatic repercussions. Meeting took place in Kosygin’s office and lasted for one hour and forty–five minutes. Besides principals, an interpreter, a Soviet note–taker, Kornienko and I attended.
After pleasantries, Kosygin, who appeared relaxed and considerably more at ease than McNamara had remembered him at Glassboro, introduced subject of Vietnam. McNamara, disclaiming competence on this question since his departure from government, countered by introducing as topic his continuing interest in moving toward meaningful negotiations on limitation and reduction of strategic and other arms. At least half of subsequent conversation revolved about this topic.
Kosygin immediately inquired as to position of President–elect Nixon on missile talks. He then went on to say that USSR adheres to its former (read pre–Czechoslovakia) position that military budgets have reached impossible levels and that increasing them further could have unpredictable consequences. He said that USSR will cooperate in seeking further disarmament measures, will try to secure general adherence to NPT, and will follow course of “general lessening of tension.”
McNamara replied that American people share these objectives. There followed a discursive analysis of whether mutual trust—a phrase introduced by Kosygin—need precede negotiations on limiting and reducing strategic delivery systems. McNamara pointed out that suspicions arising from differences in philosophy, political systems, power relationships, and history cannot be eliminated at once but that these need not hinder initiation of talks. He said he would have preferred [Page 747] talks to start two years ago. However complicated, difficult, and extensive they might prove to be, they were worth the effort.
Kosygin interjected that “both sides have enough.” He described alternatives to disarmament as “insanity and war” and asserted that serious negotiations are essential. He then asked McNamara why US so suspicious of Soviet motives. US now spending 75 to 80 billion dollars per year on armaments and defense. This he described a “colossal” figure. McNamara said his military advisers had asked for more, to which Kosygin replied, with a smile, “military will usually ask for everything.”
On US suspicions of Soviet motives, McNamara pointed out that philosophic and pragmatic differences between US and USSR are so great decades will be required to eliminate them. He said he saw no need to suspend arms talks in interim since mutual advantages, first in lessening dangers of nuclear conflagration and of mutual destruction, second in budgetary savings, underline need to proceed with talks as soon as possible.
After alleging that US Government had set first link in chain of mutual suspicions by intervening against newly emerged Soviet Russia 48 years ago, Kosygin struck a more serious note. He admitted existence of deep philosophic and pragmatic differences between our nations and said that “these exist and will continue to exist: they are irreconcilable.” Despite these fundamental differences, he continued, USSR proceeds from policy of peaceful coexistence, “as old as Lenin.” Our nations should proceed on this principle, irrespective of differing philosophies. Disarmament is an “imperative necessity,” not because USSR is weak or that “we need it more than you.” Soviet “humanistic society” favors disarmament as matter of principle. USSR adheres to position favoring a “gradual” solution of disarmament problems. McNamara responded by rejecting thesis that Soviet society more humanistic than American and by emphasizing risks in further accumulation means of mutual destruction and political and economic advantages of arms reductions.
During remainder of conversation Kosygin (a) inquired into financial policies and resources of IBRD without indicating more than polite interest; and (b) asked McNamara whether he believed US truck manufacturers would have some interest in USSR as market for production technology (Kosygin said USSR requires a sharp increase in truck production and highly evaluates US experience in this field). Full memcon on these topics and on conversation on disarmament summarized above will be pouched.3
Comment: McNamara’s impression is that Kosygin displayed infinitely more interest in disarmament generally and in talks on limitation and reduction of strategic delivery systems in particular than at Glassboro eighteen months ago. Despite Kosygin’s disclaimer, McNamara believes that cost of escalating strategic arms and consequent impact on other essential problems is vital ingredient of Kosygin’s very apparent interest in getting talks under way.
For man whose face easily reflects tension and fatigue, Kosygin looked relatively relaxed and composed, he nevertheless frequently seemed at once assertive and defensive about Soviet accomplishments, noting that “even Tashkent wants a subway now,” recalling Soviet aid to Afghanistan (“marvelous engineering of mountain roads, natural gas lines, irrigation projects, etc.”), and asserting that despite expected rise in auto production USSR will avoid congestion of New York, Paris Rome and London. Despite these boastful interludes, he was amiable throughout conversation.
Without reading more into conversation than it merits, we nevertheless think it noteworthy that Kosygin took initiative for this meeting. He obviously had missile talks and Soviet truck production on his mind, but he was probably also prepared to hold forth on Vietnam had McNamara led conversation in that direction. It seems to me that primary significance of meeting may lie in fact Kosygin was making gesture of friendship to first distinguished American of his acquaintance who has come through Moscow since August invasion of Czechoslovakia. That subject, incidentally, did not arise during conversation.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL USUSSR. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. McNamara was President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; he stepped down as Secretary of Defense on February 28, 1968.
  3. A memorandum of conversation, drafted by Swank, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL USUSSR.
  4. On November 14 Rostow forwarded to the President a November 12 Intelligence Note from Thomas Hughes of INR to Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach that analyzed Kosygin’s talk with McNamara. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt Rostow, Vol. 105)