302. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

5367. Subj: Meeting with Gromyko.2

Summary: During general review of our relations July 28, Gromyko described Soviet policy toward US as based on peaceful coexistence and willingness cooperate wherever possible. He noted divergence between expressed US desire to improve relations and our practical policies. On specific issues, he said resolution of Vietnam war would provide basis for better US-Soviet relations. In ME, US no longer seemed to want normalized relations among countries of region and questioned Soviet desire for peace. In Europe, he regretted continuing US reservations [Page 889] on CES but spoke optimistically of progress achieved on Berlin. He described Brezhnev as uncertain regarding nature of US policy toward Soviet Union and asked for clarification. In closing, Gromyko expressed desire for regular exchange of views. End summary.
I spent hour and three quarters with Gromyko July 28, during which he provided general review of our relations plus specific comments on number of subjects (his remarks on attendance at UNGA, Indian Ocean and MBFR reported septels).3 He was in relaxed and congenial mood, and tone of conversation was generally positive. While he expressed well known views on various aspects our relationship, I was particularly struck by his optimistic tone on Berlin and his emphasis on Soviet desire cooperate with US wherever possible. While subject of China did not arise, he clearly had it in mind in describing Brezhnev’s uncertainty over current drift of US policy toward Soviet Union. He did not mention Radio Liberty.
I began by noting that Secretary had seen Dobrynin on July 20,4 during which he emphasized importance we attach to talks and discussions between our two countries. We were gratified by serious constructive approach of both sides. As examples of areas where talks were producing progress in our bilateral relations, I mentioned PNE (joint communiqué was published in Pravda this morning),5 space docking, and our Consulates in Leningrad and San Francisco. Despite our differences we were happy that we were making progress on a broad front. I asked Gromyko if he had any observations he could make on our general relations and the talks between us, adding that there were also certain specific matters I hoped to raise.
In response, Gromyko said Soviet political line toward US was long-established and consistent, unlike “zig zags” in US line toward USSR. This line most recently defined by Brezhnev at 24th CPSU Congress. In general terms, this meant Soviets were guided in their relations with US by principle of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems. They are ready to cooperate with us wherever possible and are prepared to show good will in seeking solutions. He wished to emphasize this in the context of my question. He felt this was a suitable time to mention this. Of course there were other aspects to Soviet position, but he did not need to go into these.
Moving to specific subjects, Gromyko said Soviets had reacted positively to President Nixon’s statements before and after his election concerning importance of negotiations between our two countries. It would be no surprise for him to say, however, that Soviets have frequently noted divergence between US statements of desire improve relations and practical US policies. Nevertheless, this did not lessen Soviet preparedness to search for points of agreement with us.
Gromyko touched very briefly on Vietnam, noting only that end of war would assist in resolving many problems and would provide basis for better US-Soviet relations.
On ME situation, Gromyko said Soviet evaluation is that for various reasons unknown to Soviets US does not want to assist in settlement of ME crisis on basis of independence every state in region, including Israel. Soviets want peace, but US seems not to believe this and questions Soviet motives. Soviets have noted some lessening in US interest seek ME settlement as compared with two years ago, when US said it wanted to seek solutions with USSR. This wish is not visible at present, at least not as expressed before.
On Europe, Gromyko noted there were whole series of problems, including force reduction, CES, West Berlin, disarmament, and others. Each problem has its own “face” (i.e. is distinct in its own right). Re CES, Soviets are disappointed US still has reservations. Gromyko said Soviets know US position well. It had been covered in his meeting with President Nixon last year.6 Soviets think US could take more positive position without hurting its own interests. CES is not only in Soviet and European interest.
Gromyko expressed satisfaction that some progress had been achieved in Berlin talks. Recalling his conversation with President last year, he said he had reported to Soviet Government and leadership at that time that the President seemed to feel there were prospects for Berlin agreement providing mutual satisfaction. Now signs of progress have indeed appeared. It would be good if agreement acceptable to US, USSR, and other parties could be reached on this very important question. Soviets are working for it. Every positive aspect of US position on Berlin is noted by Soviets in appropriate fashion.
On SALT, Gromyko noted talks were in progress in Helsinki but it was still difficult to forecast results. Soviet desire to find common language with US on central points, if not on all points, is not lessening.
In winding up general review, Gromyko said he had spoken with Brezhnev short time ago on various questions of interest. He added at this point that these remarks could be reported to President. Brezhnev had posed difficult question for him: where is USG policy [Page 891] toward relations with USSR leading? Gromyko said he replied that there was much not clear in current US position toward USSR. Nevertheless, perhaps in near future—not in day or week but soon—answers would be provided on certain questions which would clarify to certain degree whether USG values relations with USSR, and if so, to what extent. Gromyko said this was essence of his response. His impression was that in asking this question, Brezhnev was indicating that he felt there was lack of clarity in US policy toward Soviet Union. This puzzled Soviets. On other hand, he stressed that Brezhnev was fully aware of favorable aspects of Berlin talks and evaluated them positively. He said this analysis of US policy was shared by Soviet Government, including Kosygin, Podgorny and entire leadership.
Returning to my original question, Gromyko said that on question of concrete talks, including SALT, Berlin, PNE and others, Soviets want to continue them and seek for common point of view. Having answered my question (which he called very difficult one), he wanted to pose same question to me. There were many problems in Europe, Asia, Africa, and ME, plus non-geographic problems such as SALT. What could I tell him in this connection re political line of USG toward Soviet Union.
I said that first I wished to clarify his final remarks. Brezhnev had asked him question on US policy toward Soviet Union and he had replied that in near future answer would be clearer. He concluded from nature of question that Brezhnev feels there is much unclear in US policy which puzzles him. At same time, he appreciates positive aspects. Gromyko said this was correct.
I said his question was broad one which we would wish to consider carefully. We were gratified at this indication that Brezhnev gives personal attention to our bilateral relations. I would report this question had been asked. Our reply would be furnished in appropriate manner and by our specific actions. In meantime, we are responding through search for constructive solutions by negotiations.7
On specific issues touched on by Gromyko, I noted we were seeking to end our involvement in Vietnam and wind down war. Thus far our efforts do so via negotiations have not been successful but this did not invalidate importance attached by President to this means. We are still searching for solution by this route but have not yet found answer.
Turning to ME, I said our interest in solution had not lessened. No one gained from current situation. We intended continue our efforts to resolve crisis. Cease fire had been in effect for nearly one year. Discussions had started that were making it possible to get clearer picture of both party’s views concerning final and interim settlement. Soviets are aware of these efforts, that could help find solution. These steps have understanding and support both ME parties, even though they realize difficult decisions must be made.
On CES, I noted we are not only country with reservations. Nevertheless, it was less question of reservations than of proper timing. Relationship of Berlin to CES was obviously important political problem for FRG. Absence of date for CES should not mean we cannot proceed with discussion of other European problems, as we are now doing. We see prospects of facilitating Berlin solution. We intend to exploit these and give them our support.
In closing, Gromyko observed that need would arise from time to time for us to exchange views, discuss problems, and clarify certain viewpoints. He hoped we would keep to this practice. I said I would be glad to do so at any time.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 USUSSR. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Instructions for this meeting were sent to Beam in telegram 135527, Document 296. For his memoir account of the meeting, see Beam, Multiple Exposure, pp. 261–263.
  3. Telegram 5366 from Moscow, July 28, on MBFR is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 66.
  4. See Document 291.
  5. American and Soviet officials met in Washington July 12–23 for the third stage of technical talks on the peaceful uses on nuclear explosions. For the English text of the joint communiqué—published in Pravda on July 28 and in Izvestia on July 29—see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 30 (August 24, 1971), p. 17.
  6. See Document 23.
  7. In telegram 5368 from Moscow, July 28, Beam added the following “personal” comment for the Secretary: “I found it particularly interesting that in his survey of US-Soviet relations Gromyko this morning went out of his way to involve President Nixon personally (not always unfavorably) as well as General Secretary Brezhnev. Rather than give comprehensive answer on the spot to question put by Brezhnev to Gromyko about US intentions, I replied indirectly by reference to seriousness of our intent to proceed with negotiations with Sov Government. It seems significant Brezhnev asked President be informed and Soviets may be seeking opening for contact at highest political level. Should you and the President think this worth exploring, reply could be made through Gromyko to ‘Mr. Brezhnev’s question’ without attribution but clear implication regarding its source. If made, I suggest reply be short and to the point and, while also raising question of intent on their side, be generally reassuring. Unfortunately reaction to President’s letter which I presented to Kosygin on arrival in 1969 was disappointing but opportunity perhaps being offered to try higher channel with Foreign Ministry approval.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 USUSSR)