273. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Leonid V. Smirnov, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • Soviet Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Senior Staff Member
  • William G. Hyland, NSC Staff Member

Mr. Gromyko: The President and General Secretary Brezhnev discussed a number of SALT questions yesterday. There are still a number of questions to resolve and we have some formulas to hand over. The first formula is a joint statement on Article III [of the ABM treaty].2 [Hands over to Dr. Kissinger an English and Russian text—Tab A.]3

Dr. Kissinger: [After looking at the document] I thought that we had agreed [with Brezhnev] on 1500 kilometers, not 1300.

Mr. Gromyko: Let us give you all of the formulas first before you attack. Next we have a joint statement on the problem of conversion of light and heavy missiles [hands over a document—Tab B]. Next is a text of the joint statement on dismantling in connection with replacement of submarine launchers [hands over document—Tab C]. Next is the text of Article III of the Interim Agreement, and the text of the Protocol to this Article [hands over documents—Tabs D and E].

Dr. Kissinger: Let us take them one by one, although we did not discuss dismantling with Brezhnev.

Mr. Gromyko: You should have your way—let us proceed.

Dr. Kissinger: The best way to proceed is for you to submit documents to our delegation and they can accept them if we agree.

Mr. Gromyko: If we reach agreement here they can finalize it and we will call Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: (Referring to the dismantling proposal) It is best to do it in Helsinki, if this is the proposal of our delegation.

Mr. Gromyko: And we will instruct our delegation accordingly.

Mr. Smirnov: The original Soviet position was dismantling would begin when submarines become operational but we have now changed this to when submarines begin sea-going trials, as you proposed.

Dr. Kissinger: I would want our delegation to take a look at it. You should get Semyonov to submit it to them. On the ABM article I thought we had agreed yesterday on 1500 kilometers, but now you propose 1300 kilometers.

Mr. Smirnov: In the working group in Helsinki—the Soviet-American working group—yesterday we reached agreement on 1300 kilometers.

[Page 1069]

Dr. Kissinger: You should resubmit it in Helsinki and they will solve the problem. It looks all right for now.

Mr. Gromyko: We accepted what the American delegation proposed in Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: We can regard these two—dismantling and ABM—as settled. But now we come to the proposal concerning silo launchers. I don’t understand the Soviet position. It deals with silo dimensions only. The discussions yesterday between the President and Brezhnev dealt with missile volumes as well.4

Mr. Smirnov (interrupting): But this is the accepted formula.

Dr. Kissinger: But you dropped out the word “significantly” from the agreement in Helsinki.

Mr. Smirnov: Yes we did that.

Dr. Kissinger: There were two discussions at the highest level—one on the size of the silo launchers, and the other on the volume of the missiles. My impression of that conversation was there was agreement that neither should be increased or at least agreement that the silo launcher size should not be increased. My impression was that Brezhnev had agreed to deal with both subjects.

Mr. Smirnov: Comrade Brezhnev has informed me of the substance of these talks. He said that in these discussions he had said the Soviet side would not depart from what had been proposed (in Helsinki) not to increase the size of silo launchers.

Dr. Kissinger: Our understanding was he would discuss the issue with the Politburo—he mentioned it was too late to discuss it last evening, but this proposal you have given me tonight represents no change. This is not my understanding of what had been agreed.

Mr. Gromyko: Today we discussed it and came to the conclusion that we should accept your proposal on no increase (in silo dimensions).

Dr. Kissinger: This has already been agreed. There was no reason to call a meeting for this purpose. What is the new point here?

Mr. Gromyko: We had to weigh all the considerations and come to a final conclusion.

Dr. Kissinger: So what you are saying is that after full consideration you came to the conclusion that regardless of what had been discussed between General Secretary Brezhnev and President Nixon you decided to return to the original dropping the word “significantly.” Otherwise there is no change on the question of missile volume.

Mr. Smirnov: I would like it plain from the outset we proposed a limit only on the silos. We never proposed anything on limitation of [Page 1070]the size of the missiles. It was the U.S. side that made various proposals, for example, 70 cubic meters or 10 to 15 percent. And the latest information from Helsinki is that the substance concerns only silo launchers. This is the information we got the 22nd of May. And in view of the previous discussions here and in Helsinki we proceeded from the former position.

Dr. Kissinger: But we want to combine the two issues, the restrictions on silo launchers and the restrictions on missile size.

Mr. Smirnov (interrupting): But this is the latest from Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: Nevertheless our delegation will take its ideas from the President. We have to go by what the President said to Brezhnev and what was discussed at that level. We are not satisfied with what you have given us this evening. Despite the fact that the leaders spent over three hours on this subject you do not seem to be bound by these discussions.

Mr. Gromyko: I would like to say that we will take into account what has been said, but that we attach significance to this issue and want an understanding. It goes without saying that we will gain no unilateral advantage.

Dr. Kissinger: You will gain a unilateral advantage if you put a bigger missile into the silos. If you are not planning to do so you would agree to our proposal for a separate limit on missile volume.

Mr. Smirnov: The question arises whether we have the right to modernize. From what has been agreed in the past, both sides agree that there is the right of modernization. But now you raise a question. What about your replacing the Minuteman I with the Minuteman III? Up to now we have not questioned this. And then there is the other question of not converting light to heavy missiles. The question is how to be certain that light missiles will not be turned into heavy missiles and it seems that we have agreed on May 22 in Helsinki not to increase the size of silos. This is a good enough criteria. But if you go back to the question of what missile can be put in a silo then many items already agreed will drop out. Your right to convert Minuteman I to Minuteman III would be in question. We would have the right to go back on this understanding. So far you have the right to replace Minuteman I with Minuteman III and Polaris with Poseidon. If this is justifiable why are you now raising the question of a limit on the increase of missile volume?

Dr. Kissinger: Our problem is not with modernization but with the limitation on the increase in missile volumes.

Mr. Smirnov (interrupting): I know quite well the sections.

Dr. Kissinger (continuing): We have discussed with Brezhnev

Mr. Smirnov (interrupting): He told you that we had agreed in Helsinki as far as the substance of the issue is concerned. You will [Page 1071]be able to know if silo launchers are changed or not. It is good enough to …

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Deputy Minister, you are a scientist and you know well it is possible to put a heavier missile in an existing silo. Since you know this is possible the question is whether we are going to establish some control over this process.

Mr. Smirnov: The question you are addressing is what criteria to set for establishing that light missiles not become heavy ones. You have the Titan and the Minuteman and we have discussed this in Helsinki and we have agreed on how to proceed. If you take up now the question of putting what missile in the silo you are then putting a limit on modernization.

Dr. Kissinger: No, we are making the right to modernization an even more effective provision by defining it precisely.

Mr. Gromyko: I have one question. Do you think we are trying to gain a unilateral advantage? You can do the same as we.

Dr. Kissinger: But there is a big difference. We have no intention of putting a heavy missile into our silos and we suspect that you are going to.

Mr. Gromyko: But the same could be said of many items in the agreements.

Dr. Kissinger: I do not want to waste any more time on this because I have far more important items to raise. I do not yield easily and never gracefully [motioning to Dobrynin] and particularly when I think that there has already been an agreement. You know that the SS–11 is bigger than the Minuteman III so your approach to the issue is more useful to your side. The Minuteman III is already a further modification and this is limited in terms of what can be done in the future. So in this regard, you can gain a unilateral advantage. We are trying to solve the SALT issues. We are not dealing with you frivolously and the President was not wasting the General Secretary’s time when he raised this issue.

Mr. Smirnov: We do not think it worthwhile discussing this issue in detail and in specifics it is one that should be solved by scientists. We have an agreement in principle and there is no limit on modernization. You already used this right when you converted Minuteman I to Minuteman III and now we want the same right for our side to put in the kind of missiles they (meaning the scientists) want. You already have this right. Do you now propose to stop Minuteman III conversion?

Dr. Kissinger: Let me put your proposal to the President, but let me say this first. I am not sure whether to drop the word “significantly” or not and I will check this with the President. If we decide to retain [Page 1072]the phrase “not significantly increased” then what Brezhnev said is that we need to define it as meaning about 10%–15% as discussed with Brezhnev.

Mr. Smirnov: You want to call attention to your concern that light ICBMs not become heavy ICBMs. On the other hand, because the word “significantly” has no meaning we suggest dropping it as agreed in Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: You cannot invoke Helsinki when it serves your purposes and disregard Helsinki when it does not. I frankly do not know whether we intend to make some small changes in our missiles. I will need technical advice on this. If we decide to go back to the previous statement which includes “significantly” in the text then we would want to define it as being between 10% and 15% as was discussed with Brezhnev. We want to have the right to think this over. We will either accept it as written or add the word “significantly” and then define “significantly” to mean between 10% and 15% but we cannot decide this without technical advice.

Mr. Gromyko: Will you give the answer here or through your delegation? They (the delegation) would need to know at 10 o’clock tomorrow.

Dr. Kissinger: Will you accept either formula?

Mr. Gromyko: As I said we discussed this today and we have only this conclusion (pointing to text).

Dr. Kissinger: Are you then withdrawing the old proposal?

Mr. Gromyko: No, no, no. But we have expressed our position here today.

Dr. Kissinger: You are giving up the prior agreement in Helsinki and the agreement between Brezhnev and the President.

Mr. Smirnov: There is some misunderstanding. I discussed this with Comrade Brezhnev but there was no agreement to change our position.

Dr. Kissinger: Our impression was not the same. Are you now withdrawing from the agreement of the day before?

Mr. Gromyko: Our position is that our proposal of today goes even further. This is now happening so you should not check for ulterior motives. We both have the same position.

Dr. Kissinger: This would be extremely difficult for me to explain this point. I have to explain something that was discussed and agreed between the President and Brezhnev yet is not reflected in your proposal and second why you have dropped the word “significantly.” If we do not accept what you have now proposed then we should go back to the agreement already made. It seems as if we would have been better off had the discussion with Brezhnev never taken place.

Mr. Smirnov: What is your understanding of the discussion?

[Page 1073]

Dr. Kissinger: My understanding is the following: First, it was agreed that there would be no significant increase in the silo dimensions and second there would be no significant increase in the volume of the largest light missile on either side. Brezhnev said he wanted to wait to discuss these issues and others with the Politburo but it was too late to do so that evening. Therefore, if for whatever reason we decide to drop the issue of missile volume we still must decide how to define what is meant by the word significantly.

Mr. Smirnov: I understand. Let me clarify our position. Brezhnev told me that he responded to questions put by you on both the silo size and the missile volume but as a result of those discussions he did not agree to make any limitations as regards missiles because that would entail certain problems for modernization on our side. Therefore our position is if you consider it necessary to make proposals on limitations on silo launchers we could consider them, but not the missiles themselves and then we could go back to the delegations in Helsinki with our agreement. But they have already decided in Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: It makes no sense to quote subordinates against the President. The President was not satisfied or he would not have raised the issue with General Secretary Brezhnev. We are now at this point that we either accept this formula you have given us which drops the word “significantly” or we add “significantly” and provide a figure to explain what it means. In this case we would make a unilateral statement about silo volume.

Mr. Gromyko: So you will take the initiative?

Dr. Kissinger: Now that we have settled the easy work, we will not be so accommodating. We can go on to the next problem.

Mr. Gromyko: Submarines? Meeting our position?

Dr. Kissinger: I will tell you frankly what our problem is. We have no interest nor would it make any sense, in making a treaty it takes two years to ratify. We have had major consultations in Washington in the Congress and in the Defense Department with our military leaders and with those academic figures who would be likely to testify on these agreements. We have their reactions to our propositions. Let me read to you some cables so you will know what the reaction is. This cable is from my Deputy who has been making calls on my behalf, an unusual procedure. He has just received a call from Admiral Moorer, the Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Admiral said the Joint Chiefs could not support an agreement that would not require some replacement of older submarines.5 Secretary Laird and the academic [Page 1074]figures he mentioned take the same position. Now under your present proposal our estimate is that you do not have 48 modern submarines. Under your proposal you would not have to begin destroying older missiles a year from now (goes back to cable). Senator Goldwater has said the treaty could be a disaster and he will fight it. Representative Wayne Hayes said that he would be opposed. Senator Jackson said that he will go into all-out opposition. What we are trying to do is avoid a situation similar to the one that confronted you in Germany with your treaty. As you know, the ABM Treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate so we are facing a difficult and serious problem.

Mr. Gromyko: (Makes a long presentation in English and Russian combined and not fully translated.) What would be Goldwater’s position? We showed them our position. The position which really exists which must be taken into account is the overall position. How would that make Goldwater feel? You must evaluate it but it is inadmissible. You allow differences to strike out three years of painstaking efforts. All factors must be calculated. You have your overseas bases. Gold-water cannot close his eyes to them.

Dr. Kissinger: You must understand that the internal position inside the Administration is the important one.

Mr. Gromyko: But we have interests that are unchecked. You must take into account our interests because there is the geographical factor and your bases so there is no equal footing. Nevertheless we are prepared to sign during the President’s visit.

Ambassador Dobrynin: The figures involved were not the ones we proposed. We did not mention 48 submarines in our proposal. You remember how this was derived in my conversations with you.

Dr. Kissinger: At any rate there is no question of 950 missiles and 62 modern submarines. This has been accepted. What we are talking about is the base point of 48 submarines.

Mr. Gromyko: Could you sum up your position?

Dr. Kissinger: In terms of deriving 48 we understood at that time that you had about 41–43 Y-Class submarines plus some H-Class submarines. You would raise yours to 48 and then you could add 14 more to reach 62 but you would have to replace ICBMs to do this.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Do you have a proposal to make?

[Page 1075]

Dr. Kissinger: You should accept our delegation’s proposal of a base line of 740 SLBMs. On the other hand you could count the H-Class submarines. So I have two proposals. First to forget the base line of 48 modern submarines and use the 740 missile base line our delegation proposed. My second proposal is to keep the number 48, if you prefer, but to define it as including H-Class submarines, say 6 H-Class since there are some test submarines in this category and to reach the 950 ceiling you will then have to replace the H-Class. In the United States we could sell such a position as formal equivalence otherwise it is going to be difficult to convince the Congress that you do not have an advantage.6

Mr. Smirnov: We agreed to the proposal that really is the President’s proposal. You said to compensate for geographic factors you would concede 6–7 submarines to us.

Dr. Kissinger: I admire the Deputy Minister’s ingenuity in taking two separate proposals and combining them into one. The first proposal was that you must convert all H-Class into modern. This would explain the 48. We thought you had 90 or so missiles on G and H-Class which you could convert into Y-Class equivalents and add to the 42 or 43 you may have. In this way we came to a figure of 48.

Ambassador Dobrynin(interrupting): But you remember when I asked you why you were giving us an advantage in 48 you said it was to compensate for geography.

[Page 1076]

Dr. Kissinger: I do not recall answering in that way. I said if in addition you convert land-based missiles you could reach the level of 62 but you have taken the numbers 48 and 62 together and dropped both the G and H-Class missiles. My present suggestion would be somewhat more favorable to you because it includes only the H-Class missiles.

Mr. Gromyko: We may have some questions but I suggest a 4 or 5 minute break.

(The meeting broke for a brief period and resumed at 3:12.)

Mr. Gromyko: We cannot go on much longer. It is either too early or too late. I have a question to put to you. If you are prepared to accept our remaining proposals without reservations we could consider favorably your proposal for 740 missiles.

Dr. Kissinger: We have already made concessions in dropping the question of limitations in volume of light missiles. I would be prepared to confirm that except for our SLBM proposal.7 Even though I don’t trust the intentions of the Deputy Minister (jocularly). My second point is with respect to the silos. We will need to take technical advice to determine whether it is acceptable. If it is not, I would return to the formula that includes “significantly” and define it as 10%–15% which should be more favorable to your position since such a definition is closer to zero. We could drop the reservation about volume and make a unilateral statement.

Ambassador Dobrynin: When will you give an answer on the silos?

Dr. Kissinger: We are not bargaining. We need technical advice.

Mr. Gromyko: On the first one—dismantling?

Dr. Kissinger: I am practically certain my answer will be positive. We will give you an answer on the 1300 km. We can accept what the [Page 1077]delegation agreed to. On the 1300 we accept. On the second issue we may drop our reservation. On the third we need to get an answer. I think we may be able to accept.

Mr. Gromyko: And the fourth one, Article III?

Dr. Kissinger: This is no problem especially since it is our delegation’s text, I believe, but it depends on your answer on the numbers. Article III is meaningless without a definition of the procedure.

Mr. Gromyko: And on the next? (Confusion and simultaneous talking. It appeared that Gromyko had in front of him another piece of paper which he was referring to. Dr. Kissinger said that these documents were all he had been given. Gromyko said “No, you have another,” but looking at his papers, Gromyko realized that he had not handed one document over. He then handed it to Dr. Kissinger.)

Mr. Gromyko: I will read it out to you. It says there will be no definition of ballistic missile launches on submarines under construction given in the document. (Tab F)

Mr. Smirnov: This is only connected with the mentioning of 48 submarines and 768 launchers.

(Dr. Kissinger asked when we would meet next. Gromyko suggested 10 o’clock.)8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger’s Office Files, Box 73, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Mr. Kissinger’s Conversations in Moscow, May 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Conference Room of the Foreign Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow. Kissinger recalled in his memoirs that when Brezhnev told him at the dacha that Gromyko and another senior Soviet official were waiting for him in Moscow to resume SALT negotiations, he was “not eager, after the motorcade, the hydrofoil ride, the brutal Vietnam discussion, and the heavy meal, to meet a fresh Soviet team headed by the indefatigable Gromyko.” He recalled that he made up his mind to stall during the session unless the Soviets unexpectedly accepted the U.S. terms. (White House Years, pp. 1228–1229)
  2. All brackets in the source text.
  3. The tabs are attached but not printed.
  4. See Documents 262 and 263.
  5. In telegram Tohak 127 to Kissinger, May 24, Haig reported that Moorer and JCS would not support an offensive agreement including SLBMs unless the Soviets were required to replace older SLBMs in order to reach their ceiling. Haig added that his talks with “key hawks” confirmed that “any arrangement that lets the Soviets build some numbers of additional submarines without replacement would be very hard to explain.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 480, President’s Trip Files, President’s Moscow, Iran, Poland, Austria Trip, The Situation Room, May–Jun 72, TOHAK (File No. 1) [Part 2])
  6. On May 25 Haig telephoned Moorer and Rush, telling them that the Soviets had come up with a “compromise”—suggesting that they return to the 740 limit and include Y and H class submarines (but not G class) at the starting point. At Kissinger’s request he asked Moorer whether the U.S. position taken that morning could be modified. Rush said he thought they had already reached the limit of what they could compromise. (HaigRush telcon, May 25, 1:45 p.m. and HaigMoorer telcon, May 25, 1:50 p.m.; ibid.; Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons, 1972 [2 of 2]) In his memoirs Kissinger described the SLBM proposal he put before Nixon during the trip back to the Kremlin on May 24, which was to establish the baseline at 740 “modern” SLBMs, beyond which the Soviets would have to start trading in old missiles and destroy all of their older ICBMs if they wanted to reach the agreed SLBM total of 950. Kissinger also described receiving news of a conservative revolt back home against conceding “numerical inequality” to the Soviets. He noted that this argument was false, and that the administration was in a bind in early 1970s with an inequality stemming from decisions made by its predecessors. Thus, DOD had first proposed an offensive weapon freeze in 1970 to keep the existing numerical gap from growing; without SALT, the gap would widen. Nixon, consulted on a massage table, took what Kissinger called “a heroic position from a decidedly unheroic posture” and ordered him to proceed along the lines he had previously outlined. (White House Years, pp. 1232–1233) In Nixon’s account of this incident, he recalled that he said: “The hell with the political consequences. We are going to make an agreement on our terms regardless of the political consequences if the Pentagon won’t go along.” Nixon wrote that he had been determined not to allow either the Pentagon on the right or the Soviets on the left to drive him away from the position he believed was in the best interests of the United States. (RN: Memoirs, p. 615)
  7. In his memoirs Smith wrote that by the afternoon of May 24, the only SALT issue left at Moscow involved the SLBM freeze details—when would decommissioning begin and would older Soviet submarines be included in the freeze. Smith said that he had previously expressed concern to the Verification Panel and to the President in the NSC regarding the SLBM terms Kissinger had brought back from Moscow—not because their implementation would affect the military balance significantly, but because it seemed unwise to formally recognize such a large potential submarine numbers differential in the Soviets’ favor. He added that he gathered that his views had not been welcomed by the President, but noted that as the summit approached, he had continued to urge Kissinger to consider a less formal way than an agreement to try to get some restraint on the Soviet SLBM program. (Doubletalk, p. 419) Kissinger wrote that his major concern during the SLBM negotiations had been to get the Soviets to dismantle the largest possible number of launchers as part of the SLBM freeze. Kissinger noted that Brezhnev, “much more than Nixon, who had achieved his triumph simply by arriving in Moscow, needed a success.” He himself was armed by Nixon’s comment—provided he really meant it—that he was prepared to leave Moscow without a SALT agreement. (White House Years, p. 1235)
  8. Immediately following this meeting (at 3:45 a.m.), in backchannel telegram Hakto 29, May 25, Kissinger wired Smith in Helsinki asking for an immediate reply. He listed the Soviet proposals: 1) The second ABM site would be located no less than 1300 kilometers from national capital defense site. He noted that this was acceptable if the delegation agreed. 2) The Soviets would also table a text in Helsinki on dismantling or destruction of older ICBMs. Kissinger said to answer them there. 3) The United States could choose between an interpretative statement on article III stating that during the process of modernization and replacement, the size of land-based ICBM silo launchers would not be increased, and the previously agreed formula including the word “significant,” which would be defined as 10–15 percent. Kissinger said Nixon needed the delegation’s immediate comment on this for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. 4) There had been no give on missile volume and it was left that United States would make a unilateral statement. Finally, he told Smith he had promised the Soviets an answer by 10 a.m. on the figure of 740 SLBMs which the delegation had given them as a base, and asked for an immediate response as to how the 740 figure achieved immediate replacement. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 480, President’s Trip Files, USSR, Iran, Austria, Poland, May–June 1972, HAKTO File) Smith wrote in his memoirs that he had replied at 6:45 a.m. that morning, stating that the U.S. delegation endorsed the figure of 1300, and regarding allowed increases in silo dimensions, chose the version which did not include “significantly.” He advised Kissinger that the delegation now planned to make the unilateral statement about heavy missiles previously forwarded to the Moscow White House. Finally, he explained that in view of the already agreed ceiling of 950 launchers, a 740 launcher threshold would require the Soviets to decommission all 209 older ICBMs as well as all older submarines if they were to build up to the 950 ceiling. (Doubletalk, pp. 422–423) In his memoirs Kissinger recalled that Gromyko did not appear as scheduled to negotiate SALT at 10 a.m. that morning, and that Dobrynin had informed them that the Soviet leadership was reviewing its SALT position once again. (White House Years, p. 1236)