81. Memorandum of Conversation1



New York, September, 1969

  • U.S. Participants
    • Secretary William P. Rogers
    • Ambassador Charles W. Yost
    • Mr. Gerard Smith
    • Mr. Richard F. Pedersen
    • Assistant Secretary Martin J. Hillenbrand
    • Assistant Secretary Joseph J. Sisco
    • Assistant Secretary Samuel DePalma
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Emory C. Swank
    • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • U.S.S.R. Participants
    • Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey A. Gromyko
    • Ambassador Yakov A. Malik
    • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
    • Ambassador Lev I. Mendelevich
    • Mr. Yuly M. Vorontsov, Counselor of Embassy in Washington
    • Mr. Valentin M. Falin, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Mr. Yevgeniy D. Pyrlin, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Mr. Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
[Page 244]


Following a private talk with Foreign Minister Gromyko Secretary Rogers stated that Mr. Gromyko had expressed the wish to be able to talk to us in confidence on this subject. The Secretary had assured Mr. Gromyko that what he had to say would be kept confidential within the limitations of our free press. The Secretary then introduced Mr. Gerard Smith as the Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and pointed out Mr. Smith’s particular interest in this subject.

Foreign Minister Gromyko said that he recognized the importance of this problem; it was under thorough study in the Soviet Union and, he assumed, in the United States as well. The Soviet Union would soon reply to the last U.S. proposals concerning the time and place for preliminary discussions and would also inform us of the composition of the Soviet delegation. The reply will, of course, be positive, since the desirability of holding arms limitation talks follows logically from the position of the Soviet Government.

The Secretary took this occasion to indicate to Mr. Gromyko that our review of the situation in Helsinki had shown that it would be difficult for us to hold the talks there. We would consider Vienna or Geneva to be more suitable for the purpose; we were also receptive to the suggestion of holding the talks in two places on an alternating basis, for example three months in one place to be followed by a like period in another. We did not, however, suggest that Washington and Moscow would be suitable for this purpose.

Ambassador Dobrynin recalled that at the early stages the possibility of preliminary procedural talks in Washington and Moscow has been mentioned.

The Secretary said that in view of the delay which had occurred he did not think it advisable for the preliminary discussions to be held in Moscow or in Washington. As for a permanent site for the talks, we would be happy to consider Soviet suggestions; we were not inflexible and were willing to talk about where the meetings should be held.

Mr. Gromyko repeated once again that for the time being the problem was under study by the Soviet Government and asked not to be prodded into replying to the United States proposal, since such prodding, especially in public, would neither speed nor slow the Soviet reply.

The Secretary replied that we had not intended to prod the Soviet Government into replying, but that we had indicated to the press that we were willing to start the discussions; we were, however, quite relaxed in our position.

[Page 245]


Foreign Minister Gromyko said that some time ago the United States Government had proposed an exchange of views with the Soviet Government on ways of improving the situation relating to West Berlin. He also thought the present situation there was not normal as a result of certain steps taken by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany. There was no need at this time to delve deeply into the history of this problem, since this would merely prolong discussion needlessly. In principle he agreed that it would be useful to conduct an exchange of views on this problem between the Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union, but wanted to inquire as to what the U.S. Government had in mind with respect to the results of such an exchange of views. Did the United States intend to have these results reflected in a formal document, as was customary in international practice, or did we merely want to improve the situation de facto on the basis of mutual example; in other words, what did we conceive as possible ways of reflecting the results of the future exchange of views. He suggested that if the Secretary was not ready to reply at the present moment, he might give the problem some thought and return to it at the time of their next meeting on Friday. If this was acceptable, he did want to take this opportunity to suggest Moscow as the place for holding this exchange of opinions.

The Secretary said that he understood that East Germany and West Germany had already entered into discussions on possible ways of improving relations between them, especially with respect to transportation, communications and similar matters. We would be glad if these discussions resulted in better relations between East Germany and West Germany. As for the question of Berlin, both East Berlin and West Berlin, the Secretary believed this to be of concern to the Four Powers and thought that any discussions for improving the situation there should include all four.

Mr. Gromyko emphasized that his remarks were intended to deal with the situation in West Berlin and not with the situation in Germany in general. This did indeed touch upon the interests of the other allies. Some time ago, however, the United States had raised the question of conducting an exchange of views between the Governments of the Soviet Union and the United States; today the Secretary talked about Berlin in terms of the Four Powers. Did this mean that we were withdrawing our suggestion for bilateral discussions? He was simply asking this question in an attempt to understand the Secretary’s thinking on the subject and not in order to raise any objections.

The Secretary replied that he thought any discussions concerning the future of Berlin would have to include the other two powers. He would be happy to talk about how this could be brought about. In this connection, however, he was not quite sure what Mr. Gromyko had in [Page 246] mind as to the objectives that might be achieved in talks. The Soviet reply had not been entirely clear to us and we wondered what their ideas were.

Mr. Gromyko said that this was precisely the question he was addressing to the Secretary as representative of the Government which had proposed these discussions. It was he who was asking for clarification. What did the Secretary consider to be the best way of reflecting the results of such an exchange of views? He repeated his earlier suggestion that if the Secretary needed time to consult on this problem, they could return to it at their next meeting. If the Secretary’s thinking was in terms of Four Power talks, he did not object in principle and would consider it useful to discuss ways of putting the machinery for such an exchange in motion. He thought this was something both sides should have a chance to consider and return to it later.

The Secretary agreed that this was a good suggestion and said he would be willing to discuss it further next Friday.2

Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand remarked that the specific form of any possible agreement, that is, whether it should be a written document or a de facto improvement, would, no doubt, depend upon the course of the discussions and could be considered as we went along.

Mr. Gromyko said that whether the talks were held on a bilateral or on a Four Power basis, inasmuch as communications to and from West Berlin passed through the territory of the German Democratic Republic, his Government would, of course, have to be in consultation with the Government of the GDR. He was just mentioning this “by the way,” as it were.

The Secretary agreed to return to this question next Friday.

Middle East

The Secretary said that he and Foreign Minister Gromyko had already had some preliminary discussions on the Middle East, in which the position of each Government had been set forth, and now wanted to talk about what could be done to move the matter forward a bit. He knew that we could not resolve the matter tonight or for some time to come. He wanted to suggest that Ambassador Dobrynin and Assistant Secretary Sisco get together again starting tomorrow to examine the U.S. document submitted in July,3 in order to identify areas of agreement and areas of disagreement. He and the Foreign Minister could discuss it further on Friday. When we came to points which we could not resolve, the points of agreement and disagreement might be passed [Page 247] on to Jarring to see if negotiations between the parties could eliminate the areas of difficulty.

Mr. Gromyko replied he did not mind; the Ambassador would be ready to start working tomorrow. The Soviet Government was doing everything it could to facilitate a solution of the Middle East problem. He thought that unfortunately Israel was not doing anything to make a solution possible. He also thought the United States was underestimating its possibilities with respect to its ability to influence Israel.

The Secretary remarked that they had discussed the matter earlier. The Foreign Minister had originally said he did not think we were doing enough to influence Israel; now he had put it in a more friendly manner—that we were underestimating our possibilities in that direction. He did think it was urgent to move toward a solution of the Middle East problem and it would be good if Ambassador Dobrynin and Assistant Secretary Sisco could work out something that could be used by a four-power meeting in mid-October. He did not think there was any other way to proceed at present and was glad to see that the Foreign Minister was willing to try.

Soviet Proposals to UN General Assembly

Foreign Minister Gromyko wanted to draw the Secretary’s attention to the proposals he had laid before the UN General Assembly. These consisted of two main parts. The first concerns a ban on chemical and biological weapons.4 This was not a matter of special interest to the Soviet Union alone, but he thought it was in the interests of all powers and states. He would like to have the Secretary study the proposal and approach it objectively to see if some common language could be worked out. The second proposal concerned the maintenance of peace and international security.5 Although the second proposal was worded in very general language, it did contain some specific provisions. In a word, he wanted to ask the Secretary to study it and he would be very glad if we could find some common language. If our [Page 248] two powers could do anything to lessen international tensions, a great deal would have been accomplished. He thought this was indeed possible.

With respect to the first proposal the Secretary inquired of Mr. Smith if he did not think that this was a matter for the Disarmament Committee in Geneva. Mr. Smith said that would normally be the case. The Secretary went on to say that we were in accord with the objectives stated, but that he, too, was of the opinion that this was a matter normally to be taken up in Geneva. As for the second proposal, he would give it some attention.

Mr. Gromyko said that he did not know what was “normal” with respect to submitting such proposals. There was nothing in the UN Charter to direct any particular approach. He thought the “shortest” way was to lay the proposals directly before the General Assembly. He would like to speed a resolution of this problem, since the passage of time would make its solution more difficult. That was the only consideration the USSR had in putting the matter before the General Assembly.

The Secretary said maybe he had used the wrong word. He felt the CBW issue could be handled more quickly in Geneva. In the GA the proposals were likely to develop into a propaganda exercise.

Mr. Gromyko said that in fact the proposal was already before the Geneva Committee. In any case, he appreciated the Secretary’s remarks.

U.S.–U.S.S.R. Maritime Agreement

Foreign Minister Gromyko inquired if the Secretary thought it would be possible to work out a maritime agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. His country had such agreements with many other nations; in spite of the fact that both our countries were maritime powers there was no specific maritime agreement between us. Ambassador Dobrynin amplified that what they had in mind was an agreement providing for port facilities, entry of merchant vessels and similar questions. Mr. Gromyko said that it would be desirable for our two countries to work out an agreement regulating the question of receiving each other’s merchant ships. He was not talking about a trade agreement at this time.

The Secretary replied that he thought we would indeed be very interested in this matter and promised to reply in detail on Friday. He thought that anything we could do in the way of such agreements would be helpful for both our countries.


The Secretary inquired as to the status of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and asked if the Soviet Union was ready to proceed with simultaneous ratification and deposit of the Treaty.

Foreign Minister Gromyko replied that his Government had [Page 249] started the process of ratification. The Foreign Affairs Commissions of the Supreme Soviet had considered the Treaty and had recommended that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet take final action on it. The Treaty was now before the Presidium for this final act in the ratification process.

The Secretary said that we had completed all necessary steps short of actual ratification. We felt it would be useful if U.S. and Soviet ratification and deposit of the Treaty took place simultaneously. Putting these final acts on international television would send the Treaty off to a good start.

Mr. Gromyko said his Government would consider this possibility and take appropriate measures to move ratification along. In this connection he wanted to inquire as to the position of the Government of the FRG with respect to accession to the NPT. He had discussed this question with FRG Foreign Minister Brandt. Mr. Brandt had told him he thought the new Government of the FRG, to be formed after the German elections, would take action to sign and ratify the Treaty.

The Secretary said he believed that if the United States and the Soviet Union ratified the NPT, other Governments, including that of the FRG, would do so also. If, on the other hand, our two countries were to continue to hold back, there was the danger that others would lose interest.

Mr. Gromyko said that in his talk with Mr. Brandt the latter had not referred to Soviet ratification as a condition for FRG accession to the Treaty. In any case, he thought the FRG must understand that the NPT was not a matter to be played with, and suggested that the Secretary and he remain in touch to speed completion of ratification and deposit.

The Secretary agreed and remarked that it would be particularly desirable if the Treaty were ratified by both countries before the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began, in order to spur progress in the direction of control over nuclear weapons. Mr. Gromyko said that this argument had some “reason.”

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–USSR. Secret; Exdis. The conversation was held at the Waldorf Towers. Drafted by Krimer and approved by Brown on September 24. On September 17, Sonnenfeldt drafted a letter for Kissinger that Nixon could send to Rogers covering talking points for his upcoming meetings with Gromyko. A covering note reads: “Ed does not have a copy of this letter in his file—nor is it in Dr. K’s chron. I don’t believe it was ever sent out.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VII)
  2. September 26.
  3. See Document 67.
  4. On September 19, in an address before the UN General Assembly, Gromyko proposed an international convention that would prohibit the development, production, and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons and of their destruction. For a full text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1969, pp. 457–459.
  5. In his speech at a plenary meeting of the 24th session of the UN General Assembly on September 19, Gromyko introduced a proposal for “The Strengthening of International Security.” A text of Gromyko’s speech in which he made this proposal is in United Nations, General Assembly, Twenty-fourth Session, Official Records, 1756th Plenary Meeting, September 19, 1969, pp. 7–14. Gromyko’s proposal, which was placed on the agenda for the UN General Assembly, is ibid., Annexes, Agenda Item 103, Document A/7654 and A/7903, pp. 1–6. International reaction to Gromyko’s proposal was tepid. See, for example, Richard Holloran, “Nations Show Little Interest in Pact on A-Arms,” The New York Times, September 20, 1969, p. 10.