334. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • Your Meeting with Foreign Minister Gromyko, Wednesday, September 29, at 3:00 p.m.

Ninety minutes have been set aside for your conversation with Gromyko. The first part will include Secretary Rogers and the interpreters. For the last twenty minutes or so, you will want to talk to Gromyko alone without other participants. I am sending you a separate memo on this private session.2

While the other participants are present you should avoid referring to the recent exchange of letters with Brezhnev,3 in order to preserve the strict confidentiality of this channel.

You may wish to adopt the same procedure as last year’s meeting with Gromyko:4

a general review of Soviet-American relations and the prospects;
followed by a discussion of specific issues—primarily SALT, European questions, the Middle East, South Asia and Vietnam;
any discussion of China could be reserved for the end; Gromyko is not likely to mention it, but you may want to bring it up.

The Setting

The circumstances of this meeting contrast with those surrounding your meeting with him last October. At that time our relations with the USSR were beclouded and uncertain. We had passed through the Middle East cease-fire crisis; there had been the flare-up over the missile submarines in Cuba; the issues under negotiation seemed to be stalled; bilateral relations were aggravated by small irritating matters. [Page 1013] All of this was reflected to some degree in your discussion with the Foreign Minister.

Since then

  • —We have concluded the Berlin agreement.
  • —There has been a breakthrough in SALT in the May 20 announcement.
  • —The Middle East cease-fire has held, even if the prospects for a settlement are not bright.
  • —In our bilateral relations there has been some clearing of secondary issues (e.g., the question of regulations on Soviet shipping, and recent trade decisions).
  • —We will hold bilateral discussions on incidents at sea.
  • —In Geneva we have agreed with the USSR on a treaty banning biological warfare.
  • —In SALT the issues have been sharpened for major decision.

In short, in the interval since you last saw Gromyko there has been encouraging movement. Looking back on this period, we can see an apparent pattern of offer and acceptance beginning with your UN speech of last year and the Foreign Policy message, and the favorable response made by Brezhnev in his address to the Party Congress in late March. Thus, it seems that we are dealing with a commitment by Brezhnev to an active “peace program” as his Party Congress performance is now described by the Soviets—a commitment to better relations with the West in general, and the US in particular. There is no doubt that our China policy has provided an additional incentive for Brezhnev to demonstrate that he, too, can do business with the US, and that your visit to Peking is not, in fact, a setback to his policies.

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that a decisive qualitative change in relations has occurred. This remains the major political decision to be taken in the Kremlin. There are aspects of Soviet policy that are cause for concern. Their military programs continue to move forward at a pace that is disturbing if contrasted with the pace of SALT. They have started about 90 new ICBMs since late last year; they are filling out the Moscow ABM system, and enlarging ballistic submarine production. Tensions within Eastern Europe are rising because of Soviet policies. You are aware of the concern of the Romanians.5 It is quite conceivable that the [Page 1014] Soviets will use European “détente” to settle scores with their Romanian, and even Yugoslav, adversaries.

In sum, we still do not know whether the Soviet leaders have been engaged in some tactical maneuvers to regulate their Western flanks while they prepare to deal with their dissident allies and with China, or whether a deeper trend in East-West relations is evolving.

Gromyko’s Purpose and Line

Gromyko’s most important task will be to take back to the top leaders a personal assessment of the prospects for further movement in Soviet-American relations in light of our China policy. There is bound to be some apprehension in Moscow over your visit to Peking and uncertainties over our intentions toward the USSR. Gromyko’s line, judging from the recent letter from Brezhnev will be that it is up to us, not the USSR, to demonstrate a continuing interest in constructive bilateral relations.

  • —His position will be that both the Middle East and Vietnam are tests for our policies, and as long as they remain unsettled they will cast a shadow over US-Soviet relations.
  • —In addition, he will probably exert some mild pressure on European issues—a European Conference and force reductions—as further tests in the wake of the Berlin settlement.
  • —Finally, he may complain of some disappointment over progress in SALT because of our alleged unwillingness to accept their definition of equality.

Your Purpose and Basic Message

Your basic aim will be to impress on Gromyko that now—the next several months—is the time to take another major step to turn our relations clearly onto a new course.

  • —The achievements of the past year, since you last saw him are impressive: Berlin and the May 20 SALT agreement, and clearing away some of the irritants in bilateral relations.
  • —We should not allow this momentum to be lost, and we can continue to reinforce the progress already achieved only if we continue to take account of each other’s interest in a spirit of reciprocity.
  • In your view the areas for further progress are those where the US and USSR are most immediately involved and this means first of all the SALT talks.


Our offer at Helsinki is still on the table: we are proposing that (1) we retain our two Safeguard ABM sites (Grand Forks and Malmstrom) that are under construction (200 missiles total), (2) the Soviets can retain their Moscow ABM system and add to it to the level of 100 missiles, (3) a general freeze on ICBMs, allowing them to complete missiles under construction, except for the 25 new SS–9 silos, and (4) a [Page 1015] freeze on submarine-launched missiles, again, however, allowing the Soviets to complete those under construction.6 The net result would be that the Soviets would have about a 500 edge in number of ICBMs, we would have the same number of nuclear ballistic submarines (41), but the Soviets would have a slight advantage in older models that they could retain, and we both retain ABMs at current locations.

Gromyko will argue that the May 20 agreement meant strict quality [equality?] in ABMs—which they translate to mean identical systems and the same numbers. Thus, we would be forced either to build a system around Washington, or, alternatively, allow the Soviets to build ABM defenses of ICBM sites while retaining the Moscow defense, thus giving them the advantage.

You may wish to stress the following points:

  • —We are offering, in essence, that both sides stay where they are on both offensive and defensive forces.
  • —But the Soviets argue for absolute homogeneity in ABM sites, while at the very same time propose an ICBM freeze based not on equality but the status quo, where they have an advantage in numbers.
  • —We are saying let us freeze the rough status quo on both sides of the equation—we keep our two ABM sites, they keep the Moscow ABM system, and both sides freeze on ICBMs and the new class of ballistic nuclear submarines.
  • —This approach cannot possibly damage the USSR, and seems eminently fair. It is in fact what both sides are living with without an agreement.
  • —We have little bargaining room left—especially on the ABMs.

European Issues

You may wish to say:

  • —You are encouraged by the Berlin agreement, particularly if one considers the role Berlin has played in tensions between the US and the USSR. It is a good example of what the US and USSR can achieve when they work cooperatively. We want to see the process completed. It would be unfortunate if what we have already achieved is degraded by squabbling over marginal issues.
  • We have favored mutual force reductions as an issue that deals specifically with areas of tension. We will want to discuss some broad principles and issues before moving to translate them into more concrete propositions. We have studied this question and we find it quite complex, perhaps even more so than SALT because of the number of countries involved, the differences in armaments, the geography, and so forth.
  • —We have never opposed a European conference in principle. Our problem has always been what a conference would deal with in concrete terms. This is the subject to which we should now give attention.

Middle East

Since the US initiative to reestablish the cease-fire last summer, the Soviets have seemed uneasy that the US might produce Egyptian-Israeli agreement. The USUSSR contest for position is still finely enough balanced that they would not want us to appear able single-handedly to arrange the area’s affairs.

We have no evidence of Soviet inclination to contribute to diplomatic efforts on the present track. They may have urged the Egyptians to restrain their military activity, but at the price of building up the Egyptian forces. So far, they have not been brought into the exchanges on an interim settlement. Secretary Rogers tentatively plans to say only that we would expect Moscow to become involved at an appropriate time. The Soviets may feel that Sadat has been led to hope for more than the US could sell Israel.

You may wish to make the following points:

  • —You continue to give very serious personal attention to starting a process which could lead to an Arab-Israeli peace. This remains a major danger zone for the US and USSR.
  • Discussion of a first step toward a settlement through an interim disengagement on the Suez Canal has seemed worth pursuing because both Israel and the UAR suggested it. This has promise because it would set the settlement process in motion without prejudicing final positions. Secretary Rogers in his talks in New York will hope to produce further movement on an interim agreement.
  • —Should Gromyko respond that the US is trying to do everything itself, you might respond that the Administration negotiated through 1969 in good faith. The US launched out alone only after five months of Soviet rejection and silence in our bilateral talks during which the USSR introduced its own combat forces into Egypt.
  • —You are concerned that the USSR continues to build Egyptian hopes for a military solution. Egyptian military adventurism would only produce another setback.

South Asia

In signing the Soviet-Indian Friendship Treaty, the Soviets seem to have taken advantage of the situation to consolidate their position in India, but without seriously trying to lessen basic dangers. The USSR reportedly restrained India from recognizing the exile government from East Pakistan then. But it may be giving tacit support to the Indian help for the East Bengali guerrillas. Although they too might face difficult decisions if China intervened, they could reason that India would win easily and both China and the US, as friends of Pakistan, would suffer a setback.

[Page 1017]

They have told Secretary Rogers and Ambassador Beam that the Soviet government is giving no encouragement to a separatist movement in East Pakistan and that the Soviets “do not like to be involved in such things” as the guerrilla movement. Their protestations are not fully convincing.

The pace of high-level consultations between the Indians and Soviets has increased markedly, and Mrs. Gandhi will be in Moscow September 27–30. Pressures on her to take military action are mounting and the degree of Soviet support will affect her calculations.

You may wish to make the following points:

  • —The US is concentrating on averting famine. Food shortages would generate a new flood of refugees. That could increase chances of war.
  • —It will take time for the necessary political process to work itself out in East Pakistan. A prolonged guerrilla war in East Pakistan would delay rather than speed up that political process. That cannot serve India’s interests or anybody else’s.
  • —A prolonged guerrilla war would also accelerate the refugee flow.
  • —A war between India and Pakistan would have unpredictable consequences with a significant risk of spreading to other countries. The US and USSR have an obligation to prevent this.
  • The USSR has a responsibility not to take actions, or encourage others, in a direction that could cause hostilities. A war in South Asia would only produce greater tragedy there and would dislocate broader efforts to enhance international stability. The Soviets have played a peace-making role in the past. What is the Soviet position now?


In Vietnam the Soviets find themselves for the first time in a tactically strong position in Hanoi. Buttressing their posture as the Great Power protector of Hanoi—in contrast to alleged Chinese betrayal—is important to the Soviet image. At the same time, the Soviets fear that they may be dealt out of the Indochina settlement and out of Southeast Asia altogether. While they cannot go beyond the current line in Hanoi, they clearly want to be kept in the diplomatic game.

You may say:

  • —There is no doubt that Vietnam continues to cause distortions in our relations with the USSR.
  • —We are disappointed in the Paris talks, and also disappointed with the role of the USSR.
  • —The Soviets have often said that they want the “speediest political settlement,” that we must withdraw, accept the seven points of the PRG, etc. The Soviet Government exerts great influence in Hanoi, perhaps more now than in previous periods. It is in a position to use that influence.
  • —But the Paris talks cannot be merely a process in which we accept the terms of the other side. Our willingness to negotiate is [Page 1018] quite clear. This is the message that the Soviet leaders should take to Hanoi.
  • —If the negotiating option remains closed, we will continue to move unilaterally. The choice is not ours, but Hanoi’s.


Gromyko will probably avoid the subject, but you may wish to close the conversation by noting your visit.

You could say:

  • You are realistic enough to know that the USSR is a Great Power and that it would be fruitless to try to create pressures on the Soviet leaders. This is not your intention in visiting China, whatever interpretation may be put on the visit by others including the Chinese.
  • —Your aim is to end the hostility that has existed between the two countries for over twenty years and to lay the basis for relations which will be mutually beneficial and contribute to international stability.
  • —The Soviet leaders should appreciate our motives and share our aims. You have reason to believe that this message has been received and understood in Moscow.

(Note: You should not discuss the Chinese representation issue with Gromyko; he might try to claim to Peking that we sought Soviet support and that they rebuffed us.)

In summary, your basic points to Gromyko should be:

  • —Our relations have taken a favorable turn in the past year.
  • —We cannot rest on past accomplishment; we should capitalize on the momentum and achieve a qualitative change in our relationship.
  • SALT shapes up as a test for both sides; you remain committed to the May 20 agreement.
  • —The other issues may not be ripe for a breakthrough, but the chance for progress will continue to be influenced by a mutual willingness to respect each other’s interest.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko, 1971–1972. Secret; Sensitive; Outside System. Sent for information. According to Richard Kennedy, Hyland drafted the memorandum, presumably before the meeting between Rogers and Gromyko in New York on September 24. (Memorandum from Kennedy to Kissinger, September 24; ibid.) A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. Rogers also submitted talking points on September 28 for Nixon’s meeting with Gromyko. According to Sonnenfeldt, however, there was “virtually no substance in the memo.” Haig apparently decided not to forward the Secretary’s talking points to the President. (Memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, September 29; ibid.)
  2. Document 335.
  3. Documents 309 and 324.
  4. See Document 23.
  5. Nixon and Kissinger met Corneliu Bogdan, the Romanian Ambassador, in the Oval Office at 11 a.m. on September 17. During the meeting, Bogdan reported that the Romanian Government was very concerned about Soviet “threats and pressures.” When Nixon asked “[w]hat can we do,” Bogdan replied: “In short, anything that lets the Soviets know that détente with the U.S. was dependent on their restraint vis-à-vis Romania.” Kissinger assured Bogdan that the “United States will make clear in its way to the Soviet Union that unilateral pressures or military actions are not consistent with a relaxation of tensions.” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIX, Eastern Europe; Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, Document 207.
  6. The U.S. SALT Delegation tabled a draft package, which included the texts of an ABM treaty and an interim agreement on offensive weapons, at the fifth round of the SALT talks in Helsinki on July 27. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 183.