262. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU
  • Andrei M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • The President
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs


  • SALT
[Page 1008]

Gen Secy Brezhnev: What do you consider to be the outstanding issues?

Dr. Kissinger: There are four areas: (1) the location of the second Soviet ABM site, (2) the definition of “heavy” ICBM, (3) the SLBM limits, and (4) mobile land-based ICBMs.

Gen Secy Brezhnev: Then Dr. Kissinger is behind events. They have already been settled.

Dr. Kissinger: Only on the external dimensions of the silos, not what is inside.

Gen Secy Brezhnev: [very irritably].2 You cannot put large missiles into small holes.

Dr. Kissinger: It is more complicated than that. It is nevertheless possible.

Gen Secy Brezhnev: No. Any change does not involve modification of the size of the silos. Thickening the walls may look like a change of the character of the missile but it isn’t. All the changes are within existing procedures. Why do you raise this issue?

Dr. Kissinger: With new launch procedures it is possible to increase the size of the missile inside the existing silos.

Gen Secy Brezhnev: [drawing diagrams] This is impossible. There are no prospects in the foreseeable future that we will engage in activities of this kind. We will not change the diameter of the missile. But we change the weight/yield ratio.3

We are prepared to drop the word “significant” from the phrase “no significant increase” [in the interpretive statement on Article II].4

[Page 1009]

The President: Our concern is not the provision of silos but modernization leading to a change in the volume of these missiles. Anyway, a change in volume cannot be verified.

Gen Secy Brezhnev: If we are trying to trick one another, why do we need a piece of paper? We are playing clean.5 Of course, any modification involves improvement. Therefore, why do you raise the issue? The approach of “catching each other out” is quite inadmissible. The best they can do is improve the efficiency of existing missiles.

I will make another proposal. We will accept the 1500-kilometer distance provision [the requirement that the second Soviet ABM site be at least 1500 kilometers from the national capital]. We will have the same number of sites. But ours will cover few ICBMs. We can also move it elsewhere. We had wanted to move it to European Russia. We have the same kind of ICBM centers as you have.

On submarines, because of the territorial differences between the two sides, we have asked for a larger figure. If you promise not to build new submarines, we accept your right to do so [right to convert Titans to SLBMs].

Dr. Kissinger: I propose counting at least the number of H-Class submarines in the Soviet figure. [He recites the figures.]

Gen Secy Brezhnev: [irritated] So you have the information on the number of submarines we have. The U.S. proposal means that you can build submarines to replace your old ones. You want complete freedom to reconstruct your entire fleet, and substitute Poseidons for Polaris. But we cannot accept replacement of your entire fleet.

I would agree to the following version: not to name 48 in the agreement but to agree that the replacement figure is 48. It is hard to explain to our military men if we don’t get a 7-number advantage. If you want me to say our military men are very pleased by this method, then we can only say that they are not.

[Page 1010]

Speaking man to man, since we know the implications of these armaments and since we are both civilized men, we know these weapons must never be used. Perhaps we shall not be able to achieve agreement here on the non-use of nuclear weapons; we can reach accord when Dr. Kissinger comes back to Moscow in September. This would overlap all other considerations. How can I contemplate it [the use of nuclear weapons]? We are now conducting negotiations with the present as well as the future President of the United States.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Conversations in Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran, and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 1. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Transcribed from Kissinger’s notes. The meeting was held in St. Catherine’s Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was from 4:05 to 5:39 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. All brackets in the source text.
  3. In his memoirs Kissinger commented that the Moscow meetings on SALT demonstrated that heads of government should not negotiate complex subjects, and that neither Nixon nor Brezhnev had mastered the technical details. This meeting took the leaders into “the bog of seeking to define ‘heavy’ missiles.” Kissinger wrote: “To my amazement, Brezhnev adopted a view constantly rejected by the Soviet delegation, to the effect that there was no need to change the dimensions of Soviet silos and that the Soviets had no intention of increasing the diameter of their missiles; this implied that they would accept a freeze on silo dimensions as well as on missile volume. In other words, he seemed to lean to our original proposal of months earlier, heretofore adamantly rejected by the Soviet SALT delegation. Moreover, Brezhnev seemed to be favoring a proposal incompatible with the weapons the Soviets were actually building. His disclaimer of Soviet intentions to increase the diameter of Soviet missiles also turned out to be contrary to the facts.” (White House Years, p. 1220)
  4. In backchannel message Hakto 20 to Smith in Helsinki, May 23, Kissinger reported that the President had talked to Brezhnev about SALT that afternoon and that this cable was being sent during a break in the talks. Brezhnev had said that regarding the light/heavy missile definition issue, the Soviets were prepared to drop the “significant” between “no” and “increase” in the interpretative statement relating to Article II. He asserted that the Soviets had no intention of increasing the size of their missiles. Kissinger asked Smith to comment by Flash reply regarding the acceptability of Brezhnev’s proposal. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 480, President’s Trip Files, The Situation Room—President’s USSR, Iran, Austria, Poland Trip, May–Jun 1972, HAKTO File) In his memoirs Kissinger called Brezhnev’s suggestion “a gesture of good faith” which would have prevented any silo increase. (White House Years, p. 1220) In his memoirs Smith called it “a rather confusing concession” and said “it appeared that the Moscow negotiators were mixing up the silo dimensions and the missile volume issues.” Smith wrote that he replied to Kissinger that the missile volume issue was related to but separate from the silo dimensions issue, and that a solution on the latter in the form of an agreed interpretative statement had been reached in a package arrangement previously reported to the Moscow White House. (Doubletalk, p. 413) See footnote 2, Document 261.
  5. In his memoirs Nixon recalled this exchange somewhat differently. He wrote: “When I said we felt that specific provisions for verifying that each side was fulfilling its obligations would give necessary reassurance to both sides, [Brezhnev] turned to me and in an injured tone of voice said, ‘If we are trying to trick one another, why do we need a piece of paper? We are playing clean on our side.’” ( RN: Memoirs, p. 611)
  6. Kissinger recalled that by the end of this session their minds were “boggling at all the numbers on the table” so both sides agreed to a recess of an hour—time which he used to cable Smith “an account of the surprising turn of events.” (White House Years, p. 1221) Commenting on this session in his memoirs, Smith wrote: “that the President of the United States would get into such technicalities, important though they were, struck me as peculiar, if not dangerous. These first discussions of SALT appeared based on unawareness by our boss of the Helsinki record. Evidently one or both sides did not understand the differences in substance and status between the heavy missile and the silo dimension issues. The ‘no significant increase’ interpretative statement was for silo dimensions, not missile volume.” He noted that the SALT delegation in Helsinki had sent three cables reporting the status of the silo dimension and the heavy missile definition issue, but said that “the President and Kissinger perhaps had been too busy to read these reports.” Smith concluded: “This fumbling start did not bode well for the summit.” (Doubletalk, p. 414)