123. Conversation Between President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnevv1

[Omitted here is discussion with the members of the press and introductory comments. Ronald L. Ziegler and members of the press exited the Oval Office at 11:37 a.m., leaving Leonid I. Brezhnev and interpreter Viktor Sukhodrev alone with President Nixon.]

Brezhnev: But we have an omen in Russia that when it rains as you are leaving on a trip it’s a good sign. And it was raining by chance at the airport. It happened. But that, too—but that, too, is according to the Russian folk tradition a good omen. And especially since it was raining both in Moscow and in Washington, that makes it a double, extra good omen.

[Page 487]

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Brezhnev: Mr. President, because of the ceremonies and all the protocol, I didn’t get a chance to say, and I want to do this right from the start, to extend to you the very good, the best wishes, greetings, and good feelings of all my comrades, all my associates who saw me off at Moscow airport.

It’s ok if I may talk?

Nixon: Oh, absolutely.

Sukhodrev: [unclear] Is that ok? I’ll try it.

Nixon: Try it. Ok.

Sukhodrev: Good.

Brezhnev: You see, I have a cigarette box there. It has a special timing mechanism and I can’t—I won’t be able to open it for an hour.

Nixon: Oh, how’s it open?

Brezhnev: See, the mechanism, the timing mechanism is now working and I won’t be able to open that for another hour. In one hour it will unlock itself.

Nixon: [laughs] That’s a way to discipline yourself.

Brezhnev: That’s right. Mr. President, on a personal level [unclear] I need to just say that as I was being seen off at the airport in Moscow, and all my colleagues and my comrades were there, and I had a few words with them, and, well, I just said, “I thank you all for your trust that you vested in me for this visit for my talks with President Nixon, and I only hope that you will support me in all that we do together with the President of the United States.” And all of my colleagues who were there at the airport said they were absolutely confident that these new talks, at summit-level, between the Soviet Union and the United States, would yield new and truly historic results. And with those words, with that send-off, I climbed the steps up to the plane and flew off to Washington.

That was really a word-for-word—that was a word-for-word description of what went on at the airport, and how the world may be changed.

And, also, last Thursday, when we had our regular meeting of our leadership, the Politburo of the Party, where we had a free discussion, a long discussion about Soviet-American relations, about all that has been achieved already, and all that we want to achieve in the future, and the prospects that we are aiming at, there was complete unanimity of views as regards the basic principles of the development of our relations and of the main questions on which we have achieved already a preliminary agreement and on those that we still have to discuss. Of course, there are certain matters that I have not raised in that forum before having had a chance to ask for your advice, consult with you on.

[Page 488]

With all this hope, purely, personally, and at this meeting permit me to say that I have certainly come to this country with very good feelings, with good intentions, and with high hopes for these forthcoming negotiations.

Although doubtless certain problems are complex, and they may be difficult of solution for both yourself and myself, but I always believe that there are no—there are no situations out of which a way cannot be found, and there are no problems for which a solution cannot be found.

And if I might just make two personal points before we go over to official discussions—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Brezhnev: When you called it—the first thought I had [unclear] certain doubts about the San Clemente visit—

Nixon: Sure.

Brezhnev: —and that’s why I came to you, to contact you through the Ambassador, but then when I learned that, Mr. Nixon, that you were very anxious for me to be there and go there. I am now—

And I immediately responded. And I am—let me say that I am now really happy that I have revised my initial decision and I—and it was a personal decision on my part, and I do believe now, especially when I know that you—the symbolic—the symbolism that you put into the name of that house in San Clemente—

Nixon: House of Peace.

Brezhnev: House of Peace [unclear]. Exactly, and I do believe—I’m, as I say, I’m happy that I am going there, and I do believe that that symbolism will turn into reality. And that is something that I [unclear]—

Nixon: [unclear]

Brezhnev: And the second point is a family—is a family one. Everything seemed to be going very well and I had hoped to come here with some of the members of my family, but, well, you see, my wife was not well anyway. She got a little worse and she was put to bed. And for a short time I hoped, but, anyway, that’s the way it happened. And then, I also wanted to bring my son along, but then he has his own kid. Now, the trouble is that his—my grandson, his son that is, is finishing his high school this year.

Nixon: Uh-huh.

Brezhnev: And so he’s got his examinations, his graduation examination, and then his entrance examination to Moscow University. And so you know how parents are. I mean in our country, especially, they insist on going, [unclear] to the school [unclear] or to the university, and they insist on pacing the corridors, waiting for the results of the ex[Page 489]aminations. I keep saying that you can’t help them, anyway, but that’s what they do. So, well, those are the circumstances that prevented me from bringing any of the members of my family along.

Nixon: That’s ok.

Brezhnev: So, there was really nothing I could do about it. But I—but I will say that Tricia [unclear] and made a very big impression on my children, and they still remember every minute of their meeting and the way they went along together.

Well, I assured them that I will let them come to Washington to be able to spend some time with Tricia, the other of your—younger—and your other children. I will come. My son, my daughter, and my daughter-in-law wrote a collective letter and asked that it be given to Tricia, so I don’t want to give it to anybody else. I want you, as a father, to give it to Tricia.

Nixon: Well, I would like, Mr. Brezhnev, to extend from me, and from Tricia and Julie, an invitation for the members of his family to come here as our special guests. [That] we would like, and we appreciate the very warm welcome that was given to Tricia and her husband when she was in Moscow. We look forward to having them here as our personal guests.

Thank you. And at any time. Any time.

Brezhnev: Thank you. Maybe some time in the fall.

Nixon: Sure.

Brezhnev: It is advised—

Nixon: Tell him the weather is good. It’s good anytime.

Brezhnev: They’ll be happy to hear that.

Nixon: Right. Also, I want to say before the others come in is that I very much appreciated the personal remarks that Mr. Brezhnev has made.2

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: We, we both—we must recognize, the two of us, that I for 3½ more years in this office and the General Secretary, I hope, for that long or longer, we head the two most powerful nations and, while we will naturally in negotiations have some differences, it is essential that those two nations, where possible, work together. And the key really is in the relationship between Mr. Brezhnev and myself. If we decide to work together, we can change the world. That’s what—that’s my attitude as we enter these talks.

[Page 490]

Thank you.

[unclear; laughter] I know it’s all right.

Brezhnev: Well, thank you very much. And, in fact, I did indeed have two opportunities fairly recently to speak of you, Mr. President. Once was during my meeting with a group of American Senators,3 and I was speaking really from my heart—

And, incidentally, let me proceed here to say that when I did meet the Senators, I was struck by the fact that they all, all of them regardless of party affiliation, evinced sincere—what I felt to be a sincere respect for you, Mr. President. And there was no attempt in any way to kind of, to sort of needle you through—in their—in the way they talked about you or in their general attitude.

And in fact, after the—After the meeting, Senator Hartke,4 who led the delegation, he came up to me separately, and he said that he had never had, just at the beginning of that conversation, and he had never before had such hopes for a better atmosphere in relations between our two countries as he now has after the foundation made jointly by the President and by myself. Now, he spoke really so highly, I was moved, I was deeply touched. Say, is he a Republican or a Democrat?

Nixon: Democrat. Very partisan.

[laughter; unclear exchange]

Brezhnev: But, you know, Mr. President, if he spoke that highly of you always, well I’d live for nothing better. [unclear]

And I was just recalling that I was asked once, during my meeting with President Pompidou at Zaslavl, one of the correspondents there, and I met some of them at the airport, they were asking me about my forthcoming trip to the United States and whether that was still on. I said—at that time I said, “Of course it is, certainly.” And then in Bonn, out walking with Chancellor Brandt, there was also—we came across a group of correspondents and one of them asked me, “Is your trip to the United States still on?” I said, “Well,” I said, “what are you expecting? A great big earthquake in the United States that will prevent me from going and meet with the President?” [unclear] And of course I would go, and, well, that made a big hit with them.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Brezhnev: So, and—well, for the first time, as I say, that I spoke to a group of Americans about my paying my respect for you was with this group of Senators, and I really spoke from my heart. And the second time was during my interview with the biggest group of American correspondents that I’ve ever received. There were eleven of them.

[Page 491]

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Brezhnev: And I—in fact, I can—I spent a lot of time with them. I can send you a full transcript of my discussion and my interview with them.5 And in that conversation I—twice in different sorts of settings and different circumstances I mentioned and emphasized what I see as the role and the significance of President Nixon and his policies in the—in changing relationships and improving relationships between the Soviet Union and the United States. But you know, come to think of it, 12 or so years ago one former very—formerly very prominent Soviet diplomat and statesman told me that, “Now you”—and I was then—“you are just a sort of a newly-initiated statesman. You’re an up-and-coming statesman,” he said to me—

Nixon: Yes.

Brezhnev: —at that time, and—

Nixon: Absolutely.

Brezhnev: —and he said, “Now, and I want to give you some advice.” He told me, “Now, you’re new in politics but believe me that personal, good relationships, even in grand politics, are at times the most important thing for progress at any time.” And, you know, I remember those words and I, personally, I agree with them. And I do believe that personal confidence and loyalty to even a gentleman’s agreement without setting down anything on paper are the best thing for any relationships at any time. And it’s with that hope that I come here, and in that spirit I want to shake you hand.

Nixon: Uh-huh.

Brezhnev: Now, I believe that our personal relationships and the respect which I certainly harbor, very sincerest regard for you and I know it’s reciprocal, can be confirmed by two events and that is: your arrival to Moscow last year, and mine in Washington this year.

This is not in any way to remember the bad past or to emphasize anything out of the present, but, simply, I’m giving an answer in substance and what is, I think, is realistic.

Yesterday, I had a very pleasant conversation with Dr. Kissinger and I guess he must have told you at least about it in general terms, but I want to say now—I said this to him yesterday, and I do want to say it now—that it is certainly my very earnest desire that you should pay another visit to the Soviet Union some time next year, in 1974. I think that would be very good—

Nixon: For the election?

[Page 492]

Sukhodrev: Yeah, pretty much.

Brezhnev: [unclear]

Nixon: You’ll come back in ’75 here.

Sukhodrev: That’s what he’s talking about now—

Nixon: Oh, go ahead. Please go on—

Brezhnev: Let me say here that this is not something I just say in a personal—only in a personal capacity. At the last meeting of the Politburo, I suggested—made the suggestion that I should make an official visit to—I should extend an official invitation to you to come to the Soviet Union in 1974. That suggestion received unanimous support by the entire Politburo, so it’s both a personal and a unanimously-supported decision, and a considered decision by our leadership. And then, you see, I think that new meeting between us would a give new impulse to what has already been done and it would be fully in accord with the arrangement—the agreement, actually, that we entered into last year that these meetings should be a regular, annual event. So, today, I’m here with you in the United States, and I shall be hoping that you will accept our invitation to visit us in 1974, and then, if we get an invitation, we can come back to the United States in ‘75.

Nixon: Thank you. That’s right.

Brezhnev: And then, in 1976, you come and pay us another visit. And that will, I’m sure, that this series of meetings of this sort will give continued—will give new and continuous impulses to the development of a real, lasting relationship between our two countries.

Now, of course, I don’t have with me any brief or any official or formal proposals as to the problems we could take up for discussion next year or the agreements that we could sign next year, but this is something that we could some day at a point have a general discussion about, exchange views, consult one another, but I believe that our experience, the experience of preparing for last year’s meeting, and of preparing for this one, shows that we can do some very fruitful work, preparatory work together, and then, if we do that prior to the visit, there is—there can be more, time can be spent on seeing, traveling more through the country. You could go down south, see something in the Caucasus, for instance, some other part of the country. And, in short, we can prepare all of the business part of the trip so well, in advance, as to leave the minimal time for formal discussions and the settlement of various problems. So—but we certainly seek to insure that the next visit is at least as important as—each next visit is at least as important as each preceding one. But we can talk about that a little later.

Nixon: Well, I want to say before the others come in that I have the same feeling of respect for and a very personal basis, for the General Secretary, and of friendship on a personal basis. He’s a very—as I have [Page 493]told people in this office, I’ve indicated this: he is a strong man, and he represents a very strong country. And my greatest desire is to have this personal relationship, so that our two very strong countries can be a force that’s working together, rather than like that. If they work together, then the whole world benefits. If they work like that, the whole world is greatly endangered. And Mr. Brezhnev and I have the key, and I think that our personal relationship will unlock the door for the continuing relationship between our two countries, which will contribute to peace in the world.

Brezhnev: Oh, thank you. And I should like in that connection to say that I, for one, take pride in the fact that my country is a very big and powerful one, that it’s got, has many millions—250 million-strong population. It’s got the vast mineral resources, and agricultural and industrial potential. And all this is something that heartens us. It cannot fail to do so. But, on the other hand, I have never said that I regret the fact that the United States is also a big, important, a very powerful and a very strong, economically strong, country. And as, in fact, I told the last plenary meeting of our Central Committee, the ruling body of the—for our party and of the country, that the United States is worthy of the greatest respect as a major, as a big world power. And I spoke of the role that our two countries can play in strengthening world peace and in working together on a basis of cooperation. Now, there are some people who keep throwing in this idea of there being two superpowers in the world who are out to dictate their, as they say, dictate their will, to foist their will upon others, and so forth. Now, but, are we to blame for being big? Are we to blame for being strong? What can we do about it? That is the way it is. I mean, what do these people want us to do, become countries—?

I am praising those who have made their nations strong. What are we to be? What are we to do? To turn ourselves into some kind of Guinea, or a country like that? And, surely, the main thing is the fact that we have—we are strong, but we don’t intend to use that strength against either one another or against any other third parties. Now—and there are—and people—except there are some people who keep reproaching us that we—that that is exactly what we allegedly want to do. But those—I think that is a deliberate attempt to spoil relations thrown in by certain people on the side. Now—but, and doubtless, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can turn themselves into a Luxembourg where the entire army is made up of 78 policemen.

Well, so far I’m taking a kind of tolerant, patient attitude towards those who propagate that theory, the superpower theory, but I think that some time later I will make a big, serious speech and deal with that theory, I mean the so-called superpower theory, and really strike out [Page 494]against it, so as to crush that theory. And in that speech I’d certainly emphasize the constructive role that our two countries can make.

And, finally, that we should take up for discussion and endeavor to solve not only various current problems, but, also, we should endeavor to look far ahead, because if we can look ahead we can really create a basis of stable relationships and peace. And, as they say, if you don’t look ahead, you will inevitably lag behind and fall back, and I want us both to look forward together to a peaceful—a more peaceful, and a stronger future.

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: Well, I think the key is personal friendship plus respect for each other’s peoples. Those two added together mean a constructive and positive relationship. And we have that.

Brezhnev: Now, as regards the schedule and the general protocol of our meetings, I’m happy to go along with any suggestions that you might make, with all those that you have made already, and any that you might make—wish to make in the future with regard to any minor changes or adaptations, or alterations, or anything—

Nixon: I realize that—

Brezhnev: Anything you suggest, I’m happy to go along with.

I like the gaiety of Camp David.

Nixon: We’ll have a good meeting up there.

Brezhnev: It’s quiet, peaceful.

Nixon: And he’ll like San Clemente, too. That’s very quiet. All you hear there is the ocean waves. You’ll like that.

Brezhnev: The same goes for me. I like them—I like hearing the sound of the sea.

Nixon: Well, should we invite—would you like to invite Gromyko? [unclear]

Brezhnev: As—as you wish, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah?

Brezhnev: —as protocol dictates [unclear] protocol [unclear].

Nixon: Right. I think the—I think that we should have Gromyko, Rogers and Kissinger, and [unclear] Soviet Union, sort of—we can have a sort of, as we did in Moscow, a plenary session.

Brezhnev: Well, yeah, for this sort of plenary meeting I’d like to have Gromyko in, certainly, and it’s natural if our two other Ministers, Patolichev and Bugayev,6 just for the first one.

Nixon: Would you like them, too, today?

[Page 495]

We were going to have—I thought that tomorrow we’d have an economic meeting.

[unclear] today—

Brezhnev: And then—I fully agree—and then, the—our—we have most of our other meeting times, I guess, could be held in [unclear].

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Brezhnev: If you will take Gromyko on our side, and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Brezhnev: —or—and some of them might be just personal.

Nixon: Yeah, that’s right. I’d like to have that, too. We can talk on the plane, we can talk at Camp David.

That’s all right.

Brezhnev: Now, I wanted to consult you on this—

Nixon: Sure.

Brezhnev: On the question of the prevention of nuclear war, this plenary session we say that, “well, so”—we call it the first question, so we have—we say something like, “Well, we have reached an understanding on this first question of ours,” and then [unclear]. Things like that now.

Nixon: Going into it?

Brezhnev: So as to prevent any leaks to the press in advance. [unclear] Right from the start.

Nixon: We don’t want anything said about that, no.

Brezhnev: And—well, Mr. President, what’s your—do you have any ideas as to how we should conduct this first—

Nixon: I think we—

[unclear exchange]

Brezhnev: —[unclear] session, how do we start out—?

Nixon: What I would suggest is that I will ask—that Mr. Brezhnev being the guest—I will ask him to talk first, and he can talk generally about our relations.

[unclear] And I will respond.

By that time it’ll probably be about—we’ll run a little over, but [unclear]—

Brezhnev: That’ll be fine. I’ll use the lunch break to have a little nap—

Nixon: Good.

Brezhnev: —because I’m still a little weak.

Nixon: That’s good that [unclear].

Brezhnev: [unclear] our time difference.

[Page 496]

Nixon: That’s very important.

Brezhnev: Because if we take Moscow time, tonight’s dinner will end at something like 5 a.m. [laughs]

Nixon: Well, we’ll break him of that. I would suggest—

Brezhnev: I’m now happy to go on with any of you—

Nixon: —we meet now for maybe 45 minutes.

[Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State William Rogers, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, and Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin entered the Oval Office at 12:32 p.m. Omitted here is the larger group conversation; see Document 124.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 943–8. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. Brezhnev spoke in Russian, and Viktor Sukhodrev translated for both Brezhnev and Nixon. Paragraph breaks denote pauses for translation. No written record of this conversation was found. Kissinger wrote in his memoirs that the President did not tell him what transpired at this meeting. (Years of Upheaval, p. 291)
  2. Both President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev spoke at the welcoming ceremony at the White House just before this conversation. The ceremony was broadcast live on TV and radio in the United States and the USSR. For the text of Nixon’s remarks and a translation of Brezhnev’s remarks, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 594–595.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 111.
  4. Vance Hartke, Democratic Senator from Indiana.
  5. Brezhnev met with the American journalists on June 14 in Moscow. For a report on the meeting, see “Brezhnev Praises Nixon For ‘Realistic’ Approach,” The New York Times, June 15, 1973, p. 1.
  6. Boris Pavlovich Bugayev, Soviet Minister of Civil Aviation.