259. Memorandum of Conversation1

FIRST PLENARY SESSION

PARTICIPANTS

  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Beam
    • Dr. Kissinger
    • Mr. Flanigan
    • Mr. Hillenbrand
    • Mr. Ziegler
    • Mr. Sonnenfeldt
    • Mr. Hyland
    • Mr. Matlock
    • Mr. Krimer, interpreter
  • USSR
    • Leonid T. Brezhnev, Secretary General, Communist Party of the Soviet Union
    • Nikolai V. Podgorny, Chairman, Presidium of USSR Supreme Soviet
    • Aleksei N. Kosygin, Chairman, USSR Council of Ministers
    • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Vasily V. Kuznetsov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Anatoly F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the US
    • Leonid M. Zamyatin, Director General, TASS
    • Andrei M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Aide to Brezhnev
    • Georgy M. Korniyenko, Chief, USA Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
    • German Gventsadze, Note taker

Brezhnev welcomed the President and his colleagues to the Kremlin for the first plenary meeting and expressed the hope that the talks, which he had begun with the President the day before,2 would be successful.

The range of questions for discussion during the President’s official visit to the Soviet Union had been set forth generally in the President’s and Podgorny’s speeches at dinner the evening before,3 and also during the private talk he had with the President. Brezhnev wished to emphasize again that the Soviet Union attaches great importance to this meeting and is deeply aware of the responsibility both sides bear. The meeting is being held under very complicated circumstances, at a time when many issues between us have not been resolved. This imposes a very great responsibility on all participants. Bilateral relations will be an important, even dominant, part of the talks. The preparatory work has been well done. However, he wished to emphasize that we cannot conduct the talks without regard for the present international situation, and indeed have no right to do so. The whole world, and above all the peoples of the two countries, expect tangible results from these talks, results which will produce not increased tension but a real détente, not only between our nations, but also throughout the world. Both sides are duty-bound to take this into account.

In touching upon the international situation, Brezhnev recalled his conversation with the President the day before, in which he had emphasized that in the present situation, which had been particularly complicated in recent weeks, it had not been easy for the Soviet Union to make the decision to proceed with the summit meeting. However, proceeding from its desire to settle all matters by negotiation rather than [Page 994]by confrontation, the Soviet Union had decided to go ahead with the summit meeting and is prepared to engage in businesslike discussions leading to successful results.

Podgorny’s speech at the May 22 dinner in the President’s honor and also the President’s response provide grounds for hope—and indeed for confidence—that the talks will be constructive and will result in mutually acceptable decisions. The Soviet Union is approaching these talks prepared to discuss all problems—even the most acute ones—in a frank and honest way in order to achieve a better understanding and move ahead to appropriate solutions. He hopes the President will follow the same approach.

The Soviet Union values highly the cooporation of the two countries exhibited recently in a number of fields, which has enabled us to settle several important issues. He believes this provides a good example for our future relations. He has in mind the cooperation of the two countries in working out an agreement on West Berlin. He appreciates the help rendered in support of West German ratification of its treaties with the Soviet Union and Poland. These are indeed good examples of cooperation between us. Brezhnev also emphasized that this kind of cooperation was greatly appreciated not only by his colleagues present at the table, but also by his Party and by the Soviet people.

In addition, he paid tribute to the President and to those on both sides who have taken part in preparing this meeting. A great deal of work has already been done to bring our positions closer to final agreement on such important matters as strategic arms limitations, which have been the subject of negotiations for more than two years, and also on other questions which will probably be completed at these talks. Finally, he again urged an effort to find satisfactory solutions to outstanding problems in order to justify the hopes for this meeting held by the Soviet people, the American people, and the people of the whole world. The eyes of the whole world are on these discussions.

Proceeding to practical matters, Brezhnev suggested that he and the President each agree to instruct a representative to draw up a working plan for the rest of the discussions, indicating the questions to be discussed each day, and thus providing a schedule for each meeting. There are many questions to be discussed, some of which are already at a final stage, while others require additional discussion and clarification. Therefore, he proposed that a representative of each side meet to draw up a working plan. Brezhnev had in mind not simply an agenda, but also such matters as scheduling the signing of documents.

Brezhnev then asked the President for his views on the forthcoming talks and the questions he had raised.

The President said he first wished to express appreciation for the hospitality we have received, and for the cooperative spirit of the people [Page 995]on both sides in preparing for the present meeting. The President approved the idea of breaking into smaller groups, since some problems require a great deal of additional discussion and finally hard decisions. As he had told the General Secretary the day before, it will be much easier for two or three or four people to hold these discussions and arrive at decisions, than for a group of, say, twenty. The President added that both Brezhnev and he would doubtless wish to consult with their colleagues before making decisions.

Regarding procedure, the President suggested that Dr. Kissinger meet with whomever the General Secretary selected to set up an agenda for the talks and then submit it for final approval to the General Secretary and himself.

Brezhnev said that he would appoint Foreign Minister Gromyko to meet with Dr. Kissinger.

The President said that he considered it a good idea to get the various proposals ready for signing or announcement. We can proceed to sign those agreements which have been reached and announce them day by day as they are concluded.

Brezhnev agreed that it would be good to take these matters in turn.

The President said they might then be able to announce at the end of each day that the sides had met and had completed certain agreements. This could be reported in the morning papers here and would also fit the press situation in our country.

Brezhnev said he agreed in principle to this procedure.

The President said that if the General Secretary could designate appropriate persons for signing the various documents, he would also do the same for the U.S.

Brezhnev agreed, saying that this can be worked out in the meetings as they proceed.

The President said that he would sign some agreements and some would be appropriate for Secretary Rogers to sign. As he had told the General Secretary, he was particularly interested in signing some of the agreements himself.

The President reviewed where we stand. As the General Secretary had indicated yesterday and had said again today, we are fortunate in that a great deal of progress has been made in a number of fields. There are still some questions, however, requiring discussion, and that will take time. Sometimes these final decisions are the most time consuming. Therefore, the idea of dividing into smaller groups is a good one. Then in another full session we can sum up for all concerned what has been discussed in the smaller groups.

The President thought it worth noting that in most meetings between heads of government or heads of state it was difficult to get [Page 996]enough substance to agree on and to announce at the conclusion. That is why those who work on communiqués have difficulty finding enough words to say nothing. But, in our case here, we are fortunate to have matters of great substance not only to discuss but also to decide. That is as it should be between Great Powers.

If it is possible at the summit meeting to work out and announce agreements on cooperation in space, cooperation in improving the environment, a commercial agreement, and one on arms limitation, these alone will make the meeting quite successful. We have the possibility of reaching all of these agreements and more, provided it is possible to work out differences in some other areas.

The President recalled the point made by the General Secretary during their talk the previous day that this meeting is only a beginning, a beginning of reaching agreements on important matters, but still only a beginning. Important as these agreements are, they are only a foundation. Are we to build a great room like the one we are sitting in, or only a foundation? For example, as he and the General Secretary had agreed yesterday, an arms limitation agreement between our two countries will be of historic significance for the entire world, because it will be the first time in history that the two strongest nations in the world have made an agreement limiting their arms. However, even after an arms limitation agreement each of us would still have enough weapons left to destroy each other many times over.

Brezhnev remarked that yesterday the President had said seven or ten times over.

The President then mentioned a field in which Kosygin is particularly expert. We are talking about trade between our countries amounting to several hundred million dollars. But the GNP’s of our countries total one and a half trillion dollars. Our trade should be in the billions. The President urged that we not think only in limited terms of what we may negotiate here this week, but also in terms of where we go from here to build on the foundation we have laid.

The President wished to put in a proper framework the reason he believes we have come together and the reason he sees real chances of progress. First, he believes we are fortunate that our representatives have established good personal relations. For example, Ambassador Dobrynin and Foreign Minister Gromyko, Secretary Rogers and Dr. Kissinger all know each other well and have a friendly relationship. Even though the President does not know the three major leaders of the Soviet Union as well, he believes he has friendly and respectful relations with each of them. In addition, other people in our government, such as the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Science Advisor and the Director of NASA have established a good working relationship with their Soviet counterparts. This is good and [Page 997]will help us work out our problems, even though it is not the heart of the matter.

The second important factor is that whatever agreements we work out will be of much greater importance than agreements with smaller countries. Without meaning in any way to disparage smaller countries, he would point out that we have good relations with the leaders of, say, Bolivia. Yet the agreements we work out with that country will not make much difference to the peoples of the world. What brings us here is the fact that we are both strong, have mutual respect, and recognize on both sides that neither will allow the other to get an advantage in terms of military power. There will be times when one country will move ahead of the other in a particular field, when one will make a breakthrough before the other does. But two peoples as strong and large as ours are destined to deal with each other on an equal basis in the years to come.

The President said he would like to think that each person at the table is a sentimental man to a certain degree, but we are meeting here not because of sentiment, but because we are pragmatic men. As practical and honest men we recognize that our systems are different and that in many parts of the world our interests conflict. But as practical men, we have learned the lessons of history and will not allow ourselves to be dragged into conflict in areas peripheral to our interests. These problems may seem important at the time, but cannot compare in importance with the need to have good relations between the two most powerful countries in the world.

So we see that the time has come when our two nations have an opportunity which perhaps has not come to nations in history up to this point. That time means that we must find ways to work together to limit arms, to expand our economic relations for our mutual benefit and also to work together in other fields such as improvement of the environment, cooperation in outer space and others. We would continue to compete, but it can be a friendly competition in which each side would gain rather than lose, and we can both work for the mutual good.

This does not mean that settlement of differences will always be easy. Differences are settled easily only under the dictation of the strong to the weak. We had reached the stage in our relations—and the President believes this was fortunate—where we consider ourselves to be equally strong. Therefore, we feel this opportunity is one which is unique, not only because of what we do here on these agreements which are important in themselves, but even more so because of the way we view the future.

Good relations between the Soviet Union and the United States can have an enormous effect for the good of the people of the whole [Page 998]world and above all for the good of the people of our two countries. It is his hope that this week the personal relationships between us will become better. We can begin the process of exploring future progress which could make these agreements seem small in terms of what can be accomplished in the future.

The President said he wished to close his remarks by saying what his Soviet friends may be too polite to say. He said his reputation is of being very hard-line and cold-war oriented.4

Kosygin remarked that he had heard this sometime back.

The President said that he has a strong belief in our system but at the same time he respects those who believe just as strongly in their system. There must be room in this world for two great nations with different systems to live together and work together. We cannot do this however, by mushy sentimentality or by glossing over differences which exist. We can do it only by working out real problems in a concrete fashion, determined to place our common interests above our differences.

For example, the President wished to see the discussions on trade produce some options for the future. The results of the talks should not be limited to what he would call nit-picking agreements with limited objectives. They should look ahead to long-range goals.

Brezhnev said that in general on all the questions that would be discussed here, he anticipates far-reaching decisions worthy of the stature of our two nations, and not just short-term arrangements. He hopes that we will be able to sign some agreements here that would be tangible and really be felt by the peoples of our two countries. For example, if we can talk in terms of a 3–4 billion dollar credit for 25 years at 2 percent per annum, things will move along very rapidly indeed. This will also make it possible to solve major problems for the US in terms of large supplies of gas and oil, timber and other products.

Kosygin interjected “not to mention vodka.”

Brezhnev concluded by saying that an agreement for 20–25 years on gas, for example, would really constitute a major long-term step.

Podgorny took up the vodka theme, remarking that as for vodka, the US produces an ersatz product. Smirnoff may have been a Russian vodka years ago, but now it is an imitation.

[Page 999]

Brezhnev remarked that America is indeed backward in vodka. Perhaps someone in America could be given a monopoly right to sell Russian vodka and suggested that perhaps he and Dr. Kissinger could found a company for that purpose.

The President said Dr. Kissinger already makes enough money at his job.

The President then raised a matter on which he wished Secretary Rogers to comment since he meets with Congress a great deal. The President said, in regard to commercial relations, there must be a beginning and such questions as interest rates and credit terms must be discussed. But this is a matter for specialists. The SALT negotiations going on for more than two years have shown how hard it is to negotiate. However, the very reputation to which he had alluded earlier—and which Kosygin had confirmed—would help him get support of Congress for mutually beneficial matters, assuming there is progress in other areas.

The President added that the reputation which Kosygin had confirmed had certainly no basis in fact since he became President.

Kosygin said that each agreement, particularly an economic agreement, is just a frame for the canvas on which the painting would have to be filled in subsequently. This would require mutual trust and an unswerving desire to implement the provisions of these agreements. He would emphasize that everyone here and especially himself, Brezhnev, and Podgorny, adhered to the firm policy of always strictly observing the terms of any agreement signed by the Soviet Union. This is an important factor in the relations between our countries and this is also why it is at the same time difficult and very easy to negotiate with the USSR.

The President said that he knows that and respects the Soviet leaders for it.

Brezhnev said that the fact that our countries do not trade with each other represents an enormous loss for each of us and he cannot understand why this waste has been permitted to continue. In terms of commerce, the Soviet Union is not a country like Norway or Sweden or Finland or Holland or even Bolivia. It is the Soviet Union, a country with a vast territory and enormous economic wealth, a stable market and a steadily developing economy. It always has something to buy and sell. It is hard to say why we have wasted opportunities and not traded with each other more. He is gratified to hear what the President said on these matters and thinks that we should discuss the subject further.

Podgorny referred to the President’s remark that in two years of SALT we had learned how difficult it is to negotiate. He believes there is no comparison between SALT and the other matters under discussion. SALT deals with a very special set of problems which are considerably more complicated and of greater importance for the US and the Soviet [Page 1000]Union, and for other countries, than the problems involved in working out agreements on cooperation in space or on improving the environment or on trade. For this reason these questions can be resolved more easily. Yet at the same time, they too are issues of importance and he mentions this only to put SALT into proper perspective.

Brezhnev remarked that while they are less important than the security issues involved in SALT, they are very close to the hearts of our people.

Podgorny repeated that SALT involved questions of national security and therefore it is more difficult to deal with.

The President agreed that any matter which involves national survival must come first. That is why SALT must be approached with care.

Secretary Rogers referred to Podgorny’s suggestion that trade is an easy problem. Actually trade is not such an easy matter since the approval of Congress is necessary. Here, a general improvement of the political climate is necessary. In some ways an increase in trade in large amounts is almost as difficult as arms limitation. If, as a result of this meeting, the political climate could change in such a way that the US people and the Congress understood this, the Congress would follow the President’s leadership and act. In the absence of political improvement, this would be difficult.

Podgorny agreed with the Secretary that increasing trade is also an important problem and will not be easy. However, trade is a bilateral matter of mutual benefit. It promises advantages to both countries. It is not as vital and important as the issues involved in SALT, which affect not just our two countries but all countries.

Kosygin said that on the question of limiting strategic arms and more generally, nuclear arms, he felt that we are under an obligation to resolve the issues between us. It is easier to do so now rather than later, for the simple reason that so far our two countries have a practical monopoly in the nuclear field. Also, there is really no other alternative to a positive and radical solution of this problem. If we cannot find it now, it is inevitable that others after us will find the solution. If, however, our two countries dump in the ocean the results of the enormous efforts of our peoples—and this is what would be involved in another spurt of the arms race—history and our peoples will never forgive us. On the other hand, if we do find the right solution, this will be a great achievement for our countries and indeed for the whole world. Therefore, no matter what difficulties we are facing, we must and can overcome them. If both sides genuinely desire, we can overcome these difficulties and it is imperative to do so now while our two countries have a monopoly on nuclear weapons for all practical purposes. Imagine the situation in the future if dozens of countries have nuclear weapons in their arsenals.

[Page 1001]

The President observed that there are potential great powers who, if they decide to produce nuclear weapons, can do so. Within 20 or 25 years they could make such advances in nuclear weaponry as to be a threat to both the US and the Soviet Union. He has in mind powers in the East, particularly China and Japan. When we view this prospect, the importance of reaching agreement now becomes even more obvious.

There are those in our country—as well as some critics in the world—who say that the US should renounce its Mutual Defense Treaty with Japan in the interests of peace. This is a fashionable argument. But let us be realistic. If we consider what Japan would do in the absence of a defense commitment from the US, we come to a different conclusion. If Japan, a country with the third largest economy in the world, with all its frustrations, with the memory of defeat and with its drive, is left alone, it is unlikely to go neutral—it would go nuclear. This is a practical consideration we must bear in mind, although what we say in public has to be different.

The President raised another issue, which so far neither he nor the General Secretary had mentioned as a subject for our agenda: European questions generally, and particularly European security. He suggested that Secretary Rogers and Gromyko discuss these matters, possibly with some others. Mr. Gromyko touched on this subject when he talked with the President in Washington, and, incidentally, Chancellor Kreisky of Austria also raised it.

Brezhnev said that at this beginning stage of the talks it has become quite clear what great and important questions required discussion in the next few days, and how this could change the political climate for the better in the entire world. It therefore seems to him that the instructions to Dr. Kissinger and Minister Gromyko be reiterated to start promptly working out some of the things we had agreed on, to complete the work on the Freeze Agreement and the Treaty on the Limitation of ABM Systems. It would also be necessary to give some thought to the general principles which should lie at the basis of the relations between our two countries. All this would contribute to changing the political climate for the better. As the President has quite correctly said, much in the future depends upon such a change.

Brezhnev pointed out that in addition we already have a number of agreed positions on several questions which will also serve to improve the general climate. There is the agreement on improving the environment. This is an issue very close to the hearts of people everywhere. People in Europe, in the US, in Latin America and elsewhere have devoted a great deal of attention and attached importance to this issue. The same could be said about cooperation in medical sciences and public health—joint efforts to combat such diseases as cancer—this, too, is close to the people and well understood by them. The same [Page 1002]applies to cooperation in space. Perhaps even though Gromyko and Kissinger have not yet prepared the agenda, we can proceed to signing agreements on these matters. If we can begin by signing these agreements, it will gladden the hearts of the public in the Soviet Union, in the US and in fact the world over. Something can be signed today, something else tomorrow, and announcing these agreements in the press will provide additional impetus to get on to larger issues.

The President concurred and repeated that there were some agreements which he wishes to sign personally, like the agreement on the environment and that some others, such as the agreements on public health and maritime matters, will be signed by the Secretary of State.

Brezhnev welcomed the President’s desire to sign the environmental agreement personally. Turning to another matter, he said it appears that our colleagues in Helsinki are unable to reach agreement on two or three points. Perhaps he and the President should take up these matters here, then possibly call in their colleagues from Helsinki to resolve the difficulties.

The President said that he would prefer to discuss this in a very small forum, directly with the General Secretary and with anyone he would designate. It must be the kind of an agreement that not only preserves security, but also can be justified to Congress. Thus this is not only a question of security, but a political question as well. Brezhnev agreed.

The President said that he had not meant that he and Brezhnev would actually write the agreement. Specialists must do the drafting since the subject is highly technical and in such an agreement even the position of commas are important. He recalled Brezhnev’s story about the King who intended to pardon a condemned man. He wrote the words “Execution Impossible Pardon” on a slip of paper and handed it to his Aide. The Aide, however, placed the comma between Execution and Impossible rather than between Impossible and Pardon, and the man was executed.

Brezhnev said it was clear that the leaders should agree on principles and leave drafting to the specialists. Kissinger and Gromyko will arrange the program.

The President asked which day the signing of the SALT agreements has been scheduled.

Gromyko said that SALT is scheduled tentatively for Friday.5

Kosygin said that there had been so much talk about SALT all over the world that if a final settlement is not achieved during this visit, people everywhere will have an unfavorable impression.

[Page 1003]

The President suggested that this question be discussed this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Kosygin thought it should be today. Brezhnev suggested that he and the President meet at 4:00 p.m. and then arrange a signing ceremony for the health and environment agreements for 6:00 p.m. The President agreed and thought it would be good if photographers were admitted to the signing ceremony. Brezhnev assured him that there would be full media coverage.

The meeting ended about 1:00 p.m.

  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. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting was held in St. Catherine’s Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was from 11:04 a.m. to 1:04 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 257.
  3. For text of the speeches, see Public Papers: Nixon , 1972, pp. 619–623.
  4. In his memoirs Nixon quotes this sentence, saying that he had decided to establish the “straight-forward tone” he planned to adopt during the entire summit. He commented that the Soviets probably “would have much preferred a continuation of the mushy sentimentality that had characterized so much of our approach to the Soviets in the past.” ( RN: Memoirs, p. 611)
  5. May 26.