281. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid V. Smirnov, Deputy Chairman, Council of Ministers of the USSR
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Chief of USA Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. Bratchikov, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • William G. Hyland, NSC Staff Member
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff (notetaker)


  • SALT; Communiqué


Foreign Minister Gromyko: The Ambassador must have informed you that we have proposed a top-level meeting for 3 o’clock today.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, that’s accepted.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Now we are to continue with yesterday’s talks. Let us try, both of us, to be still more concrete, without all the cables. There are two questions left open from yesterday on which I would like to comment.

First is your formula, “Deployment of modern submarine-launched ballistic missiles on any submarine, regardless of type, will be counted against the total submarine-launched ballistic missiles permitted for the U.S. and the USSR.” That is accepted. Hooray!

Ambassador Dobrynin: Hooray!

Dr. Kissinger: We are finished then with this section.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Second, on the wording of the joint statement, “The parties understand that in the process of modernization and replacement, the size of land-based ICBM silo launchers will not be substantially increased,” we accept your proposal on 10–15%.2

[Page 1117]

Dr. Kissinger: Good.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: What should be the exact wording? Do you have a text?

Dr. Kissinger: We use the word “significantly,” not “substantially,” but it’s not important.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It’s the same word in Russian [znachitel’no].3

Dr. Kissinger: we’ll have a sentence for you in a minute.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We are prepared and believe it advisable to proceed to signature of the treaty and agreement today, that is, this evening as it was scheduled.4

Dr. Kissinger: Today? We will have to call Smith.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: If for any reason you believe it advisable to meet your delegation first, you can call Smith and bring him here. We can do the same with Semenov.5

[Page 1118]

Dr. Kissinger: No, we have to get the delegations to get the final text. We don’t have the facilities here. But that’s not a problem. We had proceeded on the assumption of Sunday, and we will have to …

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Sunday is not very convenient for us.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me talk to the President first. We have to have a press briefing on this.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We thought of 7:00, but if it can’t be at 7:00, we can do it at 8:00 or 8:30. You can postpone your dinner.

Dr. Kissinger: I will first talk to the President, then call Smith. How will we get them here? Do you have a plane there?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: There is an American plane there.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, why don’t we do this? First, I will talk to the President. I am sure he will agree. Second, we have to decide whether they should finish the paper work in Helsinki or here. I recommend that they finish the paper work there, not here. I am tired of hearing complaints from experts.

[Dr. Kissinger leaves the room, at 11:30 a.m., and returns at 11:47.]

Dr. Kissinger: The President agrees. He is delaying the dinner for an hour to allow more time. Dinner will be at 8:30, the signing at around 8:00, 7:30 to 8:00.

You will instruct your delegation immediately and we will instruct our delegation immediately.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Immediately.

Dr. Kissinger: On the protocol, we are accepting this in substance but we want the two delegations to work out the precise language and editorial language.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: But we proceed on the basis that only language is involved.

Dr. Kissinger: We agree on the substance.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I think we are going to instruct our delegations in the same manner. We will cable the texts to our delegations with the understanding that the texts are agreed and only language is to be considered. I think there should be a time limit. What time limit do you propose? Will you call Smith?

Dr. Kissinger: I have called Smith. He is crying bitterly, but he will do what he is told.6

[Page 1119]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: About what is he crying?

Dr. Kissinger: About all the work he has to do and about other things. But we will take care of it.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: What time should it be?

Dr. Kissinger: Tell them to be here at 6:30 with a completed text.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Two texts, in English and Russian.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I would like to draw your attention that there should be a statement on your part on the three submarines [that you will not build].

Dr. Kissinger: I was going to raise this with you. I want to make two points. First, we have no plans to build these submarines. Second, if we make this a part of the agreement, even as a separate statement, it will present us with major … it will compound our difficulties of selling this in Congress. I am therefore suggesting that the President write a letter to the General Secretary outside of the agreement and not as part of the negotiations. And this is the proposed text. We would keep a copy of it in the White House. [Hands over draft at Tab A (identical to letter as sent May 28).]7

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I will report this to Mr. Brezhnev, since it involves his conversations with the President.

Dr. Kissinger: We will instruct our delegation to forget about this assurance, and we will handle it here.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I think all will go well.

Dr. Kissinger: And tell your delegation not to press for it.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Let us just review what we have to communicate to our delegations, so there will be no misunderstanding.

We will communicate to them your Protocol and Article III, the Protocol with the addition of the sentence we gave you yesterday on [Page 1120] the modern ballistic missiles. We will accept your definition of your phrase on silo launchers, plus the word “significantly,” plus this agreed interpretation of the word “significantly.” [Hands over text at Tab B.]8

Is that all right?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: We will prepare the letter, but not at the ceremony.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: At the risk of being pedantic, let me check with you all the texts we are sending to Helsinki [Tab C]. It will save us trouble later.

First is the Joint Statement on Article III of the Treaty on Limitation of ABM Systems, containing the 1300 kilometers—always subject to editorial changes.

Number two, the statement that was in effect agreed upon by the delegations on the dimensions of silo launchers, plus the joint interpretive statement we have here (“will not be significantly increased”).

Number three, your text on dismantling, which you gave me the other day.

Number four, your Article III plus the Protocol with the addition of the sentence we agreed last night. Could I delete in your Protocol the last paragraph which speaks of our agreement not to build the three submarines? I don’t want the delegations to discuss it.

[The Russian side indicates no objection.]

I have only one other thing I want to raise. As I told you before, we will have a very difficult time selling this in the U.S., and it is therefore absolutely essential that I give a press briefing this evening, either before or after the signing.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Afterwards.

Dr. Kissinger: I think it will be better to do it just before, with an embargo.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We have no objections. Preferably afterwards, though, and Zamyatin or Korniyenko will do it too.

Dr. Kissinger: We should do it before, because otherwise the press will be so impatient they won’t wait for the briefing.

[Foreign Minister Gromyko goes out at 12:07.]

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: It is up to Minister Gromyko to decide.

[Page 1121]

[Foreign Minister Gromyko returns at 12:12.]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Can our delegation return here in your plane?

Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes, I should have offered it to you. Certainly.

Ambassador Dobrynin: A concession!

Dr. Kissinger: If the plane is not big enough, we’ll leave Smith in Helsinki.

Now, I have to ask your understanding. When I give this briefing, I have to give arguments that make it look like a good agreement for us, arguments that will appeal to our conservatives, hard-headed and unsentimental.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: No comments.

Dr. Kissinger: I just want your leaders to understand.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We approach this with understanding.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s all I ask.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: There should be no definitions in the document of modern SLBM launchers.

Dr. Kissinger: Your proposal was withdrawn.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Yes, that’s right.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: There are so many cables, sometimes I don’t keep up.

Dr. Kissinger: It is a good conclusion.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I don’t know about Smith, but Semenov sends five-to-ten cables a day. I think they’re spending all their time writing instead of thinking.

Dr. Kissinger: On the signature, should there be remarks, or no remarks like the other signings? When the President, and I assume Mr. Brezhnev sign it, should there be remarks?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It was not provided.

Dr. Kissinger: All right, no remarks.

I do want to say I think this is a very important milestone in the relations between our two countries, and I am very proud to have had the opportunity to work with you gentlemen on it.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We are satisfied with the manner in which business was conducted on your part, and we tried to reciprocate. They were really difficult and delicate matters we were working on; specialist delegations have spent almost three years, as of this August, on it. It is really a good end, a real milestone. [In English:] We are substantially satisfied, even more than 15%!

Dr. Kissinger: [laughs] A really important milestone in international relations, and in relations between our two countries.

[Page 1122]


Dr. Kissinger: On the communiqué, we have two new formulations, one on Europe and one on world disarmament; we have tried to meet your concerns.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Can we meet this afternoon on this, before 3 o’clock?

Dr. Kissinger: Let’s say 2:15, or 2:00.

Here is your formulation on Europe. [Tab D]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: “Among the states of East and West in Europe”? Better to say “among the European states.”

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. I am free all day tomorrow to work on the communiqué. I will have Hillenbrand here with me tomorrow.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Good.

[Everyone gets up and shakes hands.]

Dr. Kissinger: When I get run out of Washington, I will want to know whether I can get an advisory position in your Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: In our government? Of course!

Ambassador Dobrynin: He can be our American specialist!

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 73, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Mr. Kissinger’s Conversations in Moscow. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in St. Catherine’s Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace.
  2. Kissinger recalled that the Soviet SALT decision “came with stunning suddenness. Around 10:00 a.m. Dobrynin came to my room in the Kremlin to tell me that the Politburo had been in session since 8:00; there was no telling how long it would last. At 11:00 a.m. We were informed that Gromyko and Smirnov wanted to meet me urgently in St. Catherine’s Hall. We assembled at 11:15. Without further ado Gromyko accepted not only our position on the G-class and silo dimension problem; he also agreed to our formulation of it. The Soviets would go along with a common definition of ‘significant.’” (White House Years, p. 1241) Nixon recalled that he and Kissinger were meeting in his apartment when “Dobrynin arrived with the news that the Politburo had held a special session and agreed to accept our final position.” (RN: Memoirs, p. 616) Smith recalled Kissinger as agreeing to the “Gromyko provisions” that day, and wrote: “Perhaps Kissinger was right in saying later that every concession at Moscow was made by the Soviets. But the report given to us hardly supports that conclusion.” (Doubletalk, pp. 430–431)
  3. All brackets in the source text.
  4. Kissinger wrote that “Gromyko then stunned us even more by insisting on a signing ceremony that very evening as originally scheduled.” He added that he still did not understand the reason for this Soviet haste. “It may have been due to the characteristic of Soviet negotiators that no matter how much they may have haggled, once an agreement is in sight they seem panicked that the results of their labors might be hazarded by some last-minute accident or trick of the inscrutable capitalists … Probably the Soviets simply wanted to humor Brezhnev, who earlier in the week had staked his prestige on a Friday ceremony.” (White House Years, p. 1241)
  5. In his memoirs Kissinger recalled that after he and Gromyko agreed on joint instructions, he had Sonnenfeldt call Smith on an open line to inform him that instructions were on their way. He said they thought that the delegations could conclude their work and come to Moscow on the U.S. plane in time for a signing ceremony at 8:30 that night, but didn’t realize that the plane with its piston engines would take 2½ hours nor did they calculate the delay in transmission due to routing the instructions through the White House Situation Room. Thus the Soviet delegation received its instructions in 40 minutes, but the U.S. delegation had received nothing 2 hours later. “Smith, now thoroughly aroused, rightly refused to work from the Soviet text, though assured by Sonnenfeldt that the instructions were joint. Nevertheless, after repeated phone conversations … and the final unsnarling of communications, the two delegations set to work and completed a joint document on the American delegation’s plane to Moscow. It was a Herculean effort crowning years of dedicated labor.” (Ibid., p. 1242)
  6. Smith’s version of this exchange stated that Kissinger reported about noon that “tentative agreement had been reached on outstanding issues, subject to editing by the delegations in Helsinki” and that he should arrive in Moscow by 6:30 p.m. “If any substantive points still deeply concerned him, he was to contact Kissinger at once.” Smith commented: “I wonder what would have happened if, with about seven hours left to do the editing, hold a final meeting of the delegates, and make the flight to Moscow, I had taken up this suggestion and proposed substantive changes. The expression ‘You must be kidding’ came to mind when I read this contrived record of how Kissinger valued the delegation’s judgment. And after two and a half years of SALT, this unreasonable speed was made necessary because the Soviet leadership was now insisting that the agreements had to be signed that day.” (Doubletalk, pp. 429–430)
  7. The tabs are attached but not printed. Reference is a signed letter from Nixon to Brezhnev stating that he would like to confirm what he had already told the General Secretary: that the United States had no plans during the period of the 5-year freeze to add to its present fleet of ballistic missile submarines. The President said he was referring specifically to the U.S. right under the agreement to replace its old Titan ICBMs with SLBM submarines.
  8. See Document 277.