257. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU
  • The President
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Soviet Interpreter (notetaker)

General Secretary Brezhnev: I should like first of all to greet you, Mr. President, on the occasion of this visit to our country and to express gratification that as a result of protracted preparatory work the summit talks between our two countries have begun.2

Before setting out several considerations on the substance of the questions that we will be discussing with you, I should like to ask you how you feel. Are you tired?

The President: I am fine. The hardest thing in these trips is the time difference. The first says you simply don’t know when to get up and when to go to bed.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I certainly know what that feeling is. I have experienced it on many occasions too. For that matter, I don’t even have to leave the Soviet Union to experience it. After all the time difference between say Moscow and Khabarovsk is seven hours.

The President: We experience that in our own country when we fly from Washington to California, though there the time difference is only five hours.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I should like to observe that I have known you for a long time, Mr. President, ever since your visit to the [Page 983] Soviet Union in connection with the U.S. exhibit. There is even a photograph that shows me among others during your conversation with Khrushchev.

The President: I have seen that photograph. I must say the General Secretary has not changed at all since then. But on that occasion you didn’t have a chance to speak.

General Secretary Brezhnev: That’s right. On that occasion I took no part in the conversation at all. But of course even apart from that meeting you and I know one another as politicians. And politicians usually know one another through the policies they pursue.

Let me now tell you, Mr. President, that we attach great importance to our talks with you and we intend to conduct these talks regardless of the questions that come up for discussion in a spirit of complete frankness, of an open and honest expression of our position and our views. We are hoping that you for your part will respond in kind. Only this, only such mutual frankness can create the necessary prerequisites for mutual understanding and a favorable atmosphere for the development of our cooperation.

As regards the substance of our talks, I believe we should bring to the fore those questions which would serve the cause of improving relations between our countries. I believe that it is this that both the American and the Soviet peoples are expecting of us. Moreover, the achievement between us of agreements which would promote the improvement of Soviet-American relations would undoubtedly be welcomed not only by your own peoples but also by the peoples of other countries.

I should like further to say the following. Obviously, Mr. President, you know as well as we do that there is in the world no small number of opponents of the strengthening of cooperation between the USSR and the USA. There is no need for me to name them—this is easily understood even without that. They are acting under various guises and pretexts—but they are acting vigorously. The fact that we are conducting negotiations with you and the very fact of our meeting is a worthy rebuff to such circles.

We attach great importance to our discussions also by virtue of the fact that objectively the Soviet Union and the United States hold a very prominent place in the world. We procede from the assumption that the achievement of a certain measure of accord between us in the case of these negotiations would have a most serious significance for the shaping of the international situation and for determining the direction which the development of international relations will take toward a lasting peace or toward a new war. I should like to say outright (and you probably know this perfectly well yourself) that the organizing of such a meeting as the one that has now commenced between us was not an easy thing.

[Page 984]

I do not wish to be insincere: For us, the organizing of such a meeting was greatly complicated by the actions of the United States in Vietnam. The war which the United States has for many years now been waging in Vietnam has left a deep imprint in the soul of our people and in the hearts of all Soviet people. To take in these circumstances serious steps to develop Soviet-American relations was for us not at all an easy thing.

However, I do not intend, at this time especially, to dwell on the Vietnam issue. We will probably have some more time for this later.

A great deal of complexity is also brought in by the situation in the Middle East in connection with the Israeli aggression against the Arab countries, the unwillingness of Israel to carry out the decisions of the United Nations and to vacate the captured Arab territory, and in connection with the extensive assistance rendered to Israel by the United States in the form of supplies of offensive weapons and through other means.

But this question also has another side to it. The preliminary contacts and discussions that we have had on this problem give certain grounds to believe that we can reach some kind of common approach and even now to formalize some kind of understanding relating to the Middle East.

And it is necessary to achieve such understanding, for the situation in the Middle East is an explosive one. If we let the events run their course war may start anew. And all of the good work that we want to do with you may turn out to be thrown far back. Do you or we need that? Obviously we don’t. That means we have to reach agreement.

But this question too is not one on which I should like at this time to dwell in a concrete manner. For this too we shall probably have some time later.

At this moment we can state with gratification that in spite of everything, thanks to the constructive efforts made by both sides—the Soviet and the American—and thanks to the certain restraint and realism in these situations (and there have been such situations) we have succeeded in preparing this meeting and the Soviet-American summit talks have begun.

On the whole, summarizing the above, I should like to tell you, Mr. President, that without cancelling our sharply critical attitude to several points in the present American policy, we do see nonetheless in our talks with you a possibility to exert fruitful influence on the entire international situation, a possibility to clear a road leading to the settlement of several complex problems and to strengthen the peace that all nations require so much.

Turning now to the concrete content and probable results of our talks as they appear to us at this time, I should like first of all to say [Page 985] how highly we value the great, many-sided, and fruitful work that has been done by both sides and the course of a long period of time in order to elaborate and reach agreement on Soviet-American relations in many important questions.

Rarely has it been the case in the past that summit talks of this kind have been so carefully prepared in advance.

And here I want first of all to say that a very great achievement has been the elaboration of the document on “The Basic Principles of Relations Between the USSR and the USA.”3 This is a principled and fundamental document. If it is treated not as a formal piece of paper but as the basic document regulating the development of our relations (and we conceive of no other approach) this document can become, as it were, a foundation of a new era in relations between the USSR and the USA.

In my conversations with Dr. Kissinger I have already said, and I should like to repeat this to you, that the name of President Roosevelt who was linked with the normalization of relations between the United States and the Soviet state in 1934 and with the fighting collaboration of our peoples in the struggle against the Nazi aggressors in World War II is warmly cherished in the memory of Soviet people. I believe that no less appreciation among the peoples would be enjoyed also by statesmen who in the present complex situation mustered sufficient courage, realism and good will to lead Soviet-American relations into the channel of broad and many-sided cooperation to the good of the Soviet and the American peoples, to the good of all peoples, to the good of universal peace.

It is not to be ruled out that in the future when we shall have passed on to the practical implementation of the good principles and good intentions set out in our joint document on “The Basic Principles of Relations” there may arise a need for more frequent and regular contacts and exchanges of views on one level or another—particularly in the event of some accute or crisis-like situations. Maybe it would be worthwhile thinking over the form that such regular contacts could assume.

Out of the remaining and quite impressive list of elaborated bilateral agreements, I think we should emphasize the agreements relating to the limitation of strategic arms. We are both fully aware, Mr. President, of the immense effort that was required in order to prepare these agreements. I am sure that we are both fully aware of how useful it has been from the standpoint of the direct national interests of [Page 986] our two states and in terms of their influence on the general international climate.

I have received a report to the effect that two or three specific points now remain unresolved. Our delegates in Helsinki have not succeeded in keeping with them. I should like to express confidence that you and we will be able to bring this matter to a logical and successful outcome.

The President: This is something that you and I have to do, Mr. General Secretary. It is we who should settle the really difficult questions.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I believe that perhaps it is simply a case of some misunderstanding arising between our representatives in Helsinki. All that has already been done should enable us to successfully complete the job. Perhaps indeed you and we should look into the matter.

The President: The positions seem to be very close right now. As for those two or three points that remain outstanding, we should try and see whether we can find a way of breaking the deadlock.

I have studied the history of the relationships between Stalin and Roosevelt, and also to a lesser extent, between Stalin and Churchill, and I have found that during the war differences would arise between their subordinates, but then at top level these differences were usually overcome. It is that kind of relationship that I should like to establish with the General Secretary.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I would be only too happy and I am perfectly ready on my side.

The President: If we leave all the decisions to the bureaucrats we will never achieve any progress.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Then we would simply perish.

The President: They would simply bury us in paper.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I should now like, so to say, in a particularly confidential way, to express one thought. Despite all the positive significance of the agreements achieved on ABM systems and on offensive types of arms, we have to admit that by themselves such agreements do not lessen the danger of the outbreak of nuclear war. And such a danger cannot fail to cause concern in the minds of many millions of people both in your country and in ours. In the agreements that have now been elaborated by us jointly and will be signed people will not find an answer to this question which is causing them concern. I am now giving you these observations so to say as food for thought, and not for public discussion.

The President: Even with those limitations that we are assuming we still have enough arms to kill one another many times over.

[Page 987]

General Secretary Brezhnev: Exactly. That is why when we looked into the meaning of all that we have already done, we came to the conclusion that although all this is very useful we ought to raise before you the question of achieving agreement on the non-use against one another of nuclear arms. We placed this question before you in a preliminary way hoping that you would give us your view on this matter. I should like to hope for a positive attitude on your part. I believe that an obligation of this kind could serve as a good example for others and promote the invigoration of the international situation.

You may of course say that the situation is complicated by the fact that you and we have our allies. But I believe that all this can be settled for the sake of delivering our peoples from the threat of nuclear war. An agreement of this kind would have an important and indeed an epoch-making significance. Naturally, I am not asking you to reply to my question right now. I merely wanted to emphasize the importance of an agreement of this kind. Such an agreement would provide an impetus for the further advance along the road on the physical reduction of the volumes of armaments. I trust you will agree Mr. President that only a radical solution of the problem—the destruction of nuclear weapons—can really rid the peoples of the threat of nuclear war. This would be a tremendous achievement. Our position is that this is what we should strive for.

The President: I think you told Kissinger that this would be a peaceful bomb.4 As you admit, there does exist a very serious problem concerning consultations with our allies. But after recently receiving a personal message from you at Camp David, I asked Kissinger quietly to work on this problem with some of my White House staff so that a little later we could discuss the matter to see where we could go. For the time being we do not want to put this question into the hands of our bureaucracy who would immediately find lots of difficulties and obstacles in it. In the early stages we would like to study the matter quietly. I would like to take up this matter a little later but not at a plenary meeting.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Very well. We have almost a full week at our disposal. During the forthcoming negotiations which I trust will procede normally and in a good way we shall certainly be able to come back to this matter.

The President: I do not mean that you and I should waste our time on various words and phrases; that is something that Kissinger, Dobrynin and Gromyko can do. We could give them some general ideas to work on. This applies both to this particular matter and to others.

[Page 988]

General Secretary Brezhnev: We shall seek to achieve agreement in principle and then we could entrust the concrete formulations to others.

I should like further to say a few words about Europe. I would very much like you to be very clear in your mind, Mr. President, that the Europe policy of the Soviet Union pursues the most honest and constructive goals and is devoid of any subterfuges—even though there is certainly no lack in the wide world of people who want to muddy the water and propound all sorts of pernicious fabrications. The Russian people and all the other peoples of the Soviet Union have suffered quite enough from wars that have originated on the European soil. We do not want this to be repeated anew. We want to rule out such a possibility. That is the objective of our Europe policy. I believe that the United States too cannot be interested in a repetition of all that has happened in the past. We believe that the United States is in sympathy with the achievement of détente in Europe and the strengthening of European peace. If that is so then you and we have before us a vast scope for cooperation to these ends. And we are hoping that it will be carried into effect under the hallmark of good will and a constructive approach. This hope of ours rests on a certain degree of practical experience. We do genuinely value the cooperation that we had with you at the time of the preparation of the agreement on West Berlin. We also value the steps taken by the American side to promote the ratification of the treaties signed by the Federal Republic of Germany with the Soviet Union and Poland. Permit me to express the hope that you and we will continue that good practice in matters including the preparation of the all-Europe conference.

As regards that conference I should like to say the following. This question too we seek to approach as realists. It is obvious that it will not prove possible to solve all the complex problems existing in Europe at one go. But we would think that such a conference if it passes successfully can lay a good foundation for cooperation between all European states.

I believe there is nothing in this that could be opposed by the United States or Canada.

We have on many occasions spoke publicly on this matter and I should not like to take up your time with a repetition of what has already been said. I believe we could discuss this matter in greater detail later and find mutual understanding.

I believe it would be a good thing to register our common positive attitude to the conference in the joint communiqué which will reflect the results of our talks. Such mutual understanding would have great meaning and significance.

The President: This is more a matter of form than substance. I was discussing this question on my way to Moscow with Kissinger and [Page 989] Rogers. I think we could reach understanding and that includes the question of timing. The other European countries will certainly be expecting us to mention this subject in our communiqué so we have to find a way of doing it.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I believe they will certainly be expecting us to do so. I also feel that we could agree without any public announcement to begin consultations on matters relating to the all-Europe conference on a bilateral basis.

I will not now go into the details of other matters of interest to us. There are many of them and of course they all have great significance for the development of cooperation between us. I want to say that I highly appreciate the fact that the President has agreed personally to sign many of the bilateral agreements that have been prepared. This will be of very great significance.

The President: I think the most important agreements are the ones relating to SALT. I feel they should be signed by the two of us. Also important will be the agreements on space, the environment and trade. I would be prepared to sign all of them. But I understand that you may want some of them to be signed by Kosygin or Podgorny.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I would say that the most important document will be “The Basic Principles of Relations between the USSR and the USA.”

The President: Yes, of course. And that’s a document that should also be signed by us both. As for the SALT agreements, as I see it, you have the same responsibility in your country for military matters as I have in mine as Commander-in-Chief.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Some agreements on our side will be signed by Comrade Podgorny and Comrade Kosygin.

Permit me in conclusion to say a few words on the procedure of our further talks. On our side the plenary meetings will be conducted by myself, Podgorny and Kosygin. Naturally, if the President should wish to meet separately with Podgorny, Kosygin, or myself, such meetings can be arranged.

The President: I feel it would be important for me to have an early meeting with the General Secretary to consider unresolved issues such as, for instance, the outstanding points relating to the SALT agreements and also to have a confidential talk on the Vietnam problem. That question is one that you and I should discuss between the two of us. But on the whole, I am ready to follow your advice.

We would not like the question of “The Basic Principles” to be brought up at a plenary meeting because many of our side have simply not been informed of it. I trust we can make to appear as if this question arose and was settled in the course of the discussions during this week. I hope you will help us play this out in this way. We would [Page 990] not like to say openly tomorrow that you and we have arranged everything in advance.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Then perhaps tomorrow we could mention the questions of limiting strategic armaments and several others. As regards the question of “The Basic Principles” it would be a bit awkward for me to discuss it without Podgorny and Kosygin.

The President: No, you can certainly feel free to discuss it with your colleagues any time. I was merely mentioning the difficulties on your side. We’ve not said anything yet to our Secretary of State for instance.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Maybe we could then start out by saying that it would be a good thing to find some form of registering our common desire to achieve an improvement in our relations. In other words, we could sort of raise the matter in general terms.

The President: I agree. On the whole, I would say that where we face the most difficult questions it’s best to have a discussion between two people and where the questions are easy to take in a broader group. I would suggest that kind of division of labor.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I will consult with my comrades and give you a reply tomorrow.

I would now like to express the hope that your visit to Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev will be interesting, pleasant and useful.

The President: We appreciate very much the wonderful welcome and the beautiful quarters we have been given.5

Like you, Mr. General Secretary, I have met with the leaders of many states. But like you I too am aware that this meeting is of the greatest importance because you and I represent the two most powerful nations of the world. Of course, we have our differences, but the important thing in terms of the future of our two peoples and the future of the world is for the leaders of the two most powerful nations to be able to meet one another face to face. If we achieve a situation where such meetings become possible we shall be able to move forward toward mutual understanding on important issues. And then even if we still have differences on some other matters they will not lead to violence. This will be a great achievement. I believe it is true that peace is at least as important as war, and if the leaders of our two [Page 991] countries could cooperate in time of war it is surely even more important for us to cooperate in time of peace.

General Secretary Brezhnev: We must not only cooperate, we must act in such a way as to prevent the possibility of war breaking out anywhere and not just between us.

The President: I believe the greatest danger is not in a war directly between our two countries, but in a situation where we would be dragged against our will into wars breaking out in completely different areas of the world. That is what we should try to avoid.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I think we should try and avoid all that is linked with war.

[The meeting then adjourned.]6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President Trip Files, The President’s Conversations in Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran, and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 1. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the General Secretary’s Office in the Kremlin. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was from 6:18 to 8:18 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Haldeman’s diary recorded that the Presidential party’s first surprise after arriving in Moscow was the same kind that they had in China. “As soon as we got into the Kremlin and settled down, P was whisked off to meet with Brezhnev in his office.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 462) Nixon described this first meeting in his memoirs, saying that he and Brezhnev sat down on opposite sides of a long table with the Soviet translator Viktor Sukhodrev at the end. The President recalled: “There had been concern expressed that I should have a State Department translator present also. But I knew that Sukhodrev was a superb linguist who spoke English as well as he did Russian, and I felt Brezhnev would speak more freely if only one other person was present.” He noted that Brezhnev had “warmed perceptibly” during the meeting as he had begun to talk about the advantages of developing a personal relationship between the two of them. ( RN: Memoirs, p. 610)
  3. See Document 233.
  4. See footnote 11, Document 234.
  5. After describing the President’s “grandiose” suite in the palace of the Tsars’ Apartments in his memoirs, Kissinger wrote: “Alas, the splendid Presidential apartment proved unsuited to the conduct of business. Our security experts were certain it was bugged by sophisticated equipment, Nixon refused to use the babbler; its noise drove him crazy. Thus, the President and I were reduced to using his American limousine parked outside for really private conversations, hoping that its bulletproof windows would inhibit any electronic equipment aimed at it.” (White House Years, p. 1207)
  6. Brackets in the source text. Haldeman’s diary recorded that the dinner, which the meeting delayed for 2 hours, went very well, although the “toasts were mediocre.” He wrote that after he got back from the dinner, the President called him to his room at about 11:30 and reviewed the day, especially the meeting with Brezhnev and the way it was set up. Nixon told him that they had “to carry the line on these, there’s no problem by this kind of thing and not [to] let Rogers create one.” Haldeman complained that they had a terrible time getting the American press to the right place at the right time—for instance, they had not gotten to the “Brezhnev thing” in time to get a photo. He noted that the Soviets were not cooperative in these areas and apparently did not understand “the problem we have in dealing with our press.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 462)