124. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff
  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU
  • Andrey Andreyevich Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter


  • Agenda; U.S.-Soviet Relations

The private meeting between the President and the General Secretary ended at 12:30 p.m.2 at which time the other participants entered the Oval Office. As the photographers were brought in Gromyko remarked that the President and Brezhnev must have settled everything in the previous hour.

[Page 497]

Brezhnev: In reply to what Gromyko just said a few minutes ago, that we must have settled everything, I just want to say that out of respect to all of you gentlemen we thought we better bring you all in.

President: Well, we had a very good talk. We were setting the tone. As the General Secretary said a year ago, personal relations are very important in relations between great powers. Together with careful preparations and good personal relations we should have a very good summit meeting. That doesn’t mean that good personal relations solve hard problems. But we learned in Moscow last year that our two countries can make agreements and that is the goal this time.

Brezhnev: That is very true. As I said a while ago, there are no situations that you can’t find a way out of. You always can if you don’t seek an advantage and if you are ready to make compromises. Now we have your State Department and our Foreign Ministry . . . [At this point coffee was served and the interpretation of Brezhnev’s remarks into English ended.]

President: I was going to suggest that we talk about the agenda. The General Secretary should make an opening statement and then I will follow with an opening statement. Tomorrow we will have a signing ceremony. Then we will have a plenary meeting on economic matters in the Cabinet Room. You can bring whomever you wish. One other point that may be helpful in making the schedule: the Communiqué language on the Middle East is not yet agreed; if the General Secretary agrees, Secretary Rogers and Foreign Minister Gromyko could settle this point and also the one on CSCE and maybe any others.3 Perhaps they can do this at Camp David while we talk about other things. I hadn’t mentioned this yet to the General Secretary and I just want to make sure he agrees.

Brezhnev: We should instruct both of them that they have to come to an agreement. Otherwise it will be said that they tried and tried and tried, and couldn’t get their work done.

The two points you mentioned are certainly important. Without going into details now, I am not too familiar with the exact differences between us but we can discuss them as we go along.

President: All right. You have the floor.

Brezhnev: It would not be expedient for us to return to the ancient history of our relations or to things we already covered in Moscow last year. This is not because it would not be worth having such a discussion but because we should reduce the time devoted to the past and [Page 498] concentrate on the future. So I’ll keep the general review as brief as possible and also try to be as accurate as possible as far as substance is concerned.

I must just say two words on past history and then I’ll switch to the present and the future. In the past, relations between us developed very unevenly. There was much that was good, especially in our joint struggle against fascism. But then much happened that was uneven. All that was done in Moscow and that we have to do here therefore acquires unusual significance and importance. As you know, we Russians have an adage—life is always the best teacher. I believe that the life of our two great peoples and of our leaders had led us to the conclusion that we must build a new relationship between us now and in the future. Therefore, I am deeply gratified to emphasize that human reason led us both at the same time to recognize this and that is what led us to the successful meeting last year in Moscow. I very firmly believe, and will go on believing, that what was done in Moscow took place in the profound awareness of the importance of our joint ventures for the future and for peace. We met in Moscow last year not to compare our strength or to compete but to adopt important decisions. And I know that they won the unamimous support of our people and of yours.

I know our people and those of the U.S., and in fact of most of the countries, refer to last year’s meeting as historic and that underlines the fact that indeed it was historic. Our people are very satisfied.

That is the assessment made by people who live today. But for historians of the future the meeting will be a subject for study and I am sure it will be highly judged. This is not a matter of vanity because peace is not just between the two of us but with many others and that is what gives such great significance to last year’s meeting and to this year’s meeting as well. And this will lay the basis for the forthcoming visit of the President to the Soviet Union next year.

Let me just tell the others here that I already invited you and that the President already accepted. We will find a way to make the invitation official.

It is indeed important that not only the people of our two countries but others should welcome our meeting. We can say that the vast majority of people did welcome it and also the achievements since then. Maybe there were some exceptions, but that is not an overriding factor because the majority of people do.

In relations between any two nations confidence is a factor of no small importance. In that context, I must say that a major factor in relations between our two countries is the confidence factor. This can be manifested in various ways. But the important thing is that we have the trust of those we represent, whether it is the party or the whole people. [Page 499] A year has passed since Moscow. It is very important that people in all walks of life have written to the Central Committee and to me personally to say how they view the summit. I do not recall the exact number but it would not be far wrong to say that I received over a hundred thousand letters wholeheartedly supporting the aims of the summit. I consider this most important because in this way I can be sure of the peoples’ support. Some have even written their letters as poems. I’ll show it to you at your house. One person had not even ever written poetry before. Anyway no poet could ever do it, or he would ask for six months vacation to write it. It really was a very curious letter. I was really amazed when I got it. In a brief letter he said lucidly and succinctly what it sometimes takes us to say in months.

We have now put an end to old history. And we have made a start to new history. That is why this meeting is so important. Maybe people will even call it epoch making. As I said alone to you, if we really can lead nations from war it will be seen as epoch making. We have all studied history. All it was was a history of war—this or that prince or king or queen; the Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary . . . all there was was war. But today we want peace. And future historians will see it that way. My support rests on 15 millions of members of the party and the Konsomols4 and on the whole people. So, when I sign documents with the United States I am not doing it alone but on behalf of all my people. During this visit we will be signing several agreements. Twelve years hence it will be regarded as truly epoch making.

We will be discussing such questions as European security, etc. But right now we are talking just about our two countries. As you said, we are very strong, economically, scientifically, technologically, militarily. And big and strong as we are we can’t, as you said, help but influence the rest of the world. We can also see that last year’s meeting was supported by European states—France, Germany, and so on.

[Brezhnev looked at his watch: I have two watches, one on Moscow time and one on Washington time. President: It is the only way you can tell when to go to the bathroom. Brezhnev: When I arrived I was trying to adjust. I was told the difference was 7 hours but my watch showed 6 hours. It turned out that I had turned the hands the wrong way.]

There are also many countries in Western Europe and all the socialist parties and labor parties and certainly the communist parties—they all supported the Moscow summit. I am sure you agree that all [Page 500] countries want to see a tranquil life in peace. So the Moscow meeting last year represented a new phase. But we did not stop at the documents that were signed then. We went forward to prepare for this meeting. We have travelled a great and important road. So this visit will be followed by the people of all the world, as you said in your welcoming speech.

Every epoch leaves an imprint on the nature of relations between nations. But you and I live in an epoch where questions of politics have special importance; but they cannot be divorced from economic and cultural questions, in short, from all the other aspects of life. And this is only natural because the world has achieved so much in the last century in those fields. This is true especially of the U.S., the Soviet Union and such countries as France and West Europe. And then there was the special imprint left by the last war, when the threat of fascism loomed over the world. The progress that has been made could not fail to have an effect on the settlements of the peoples concerning how relations should develop. All nations want to thrive on progressive ideas, not retrogressive ones. If that is taken into account, I want to emphasize once again that the meeting last year and the one this year will be judged by people of all professions as events of peace. The only exception are those who make a profession of war. But I am speaking of the hundreds of millions who support us. We have moved a long way forward politically, and economically too. Perhaps not everything has been accomplished yet and we can talk about that later. But we can say that we have moved substantially forward.

I will not speak of the basic principles of our policy. We talked about them last year and I also spoke of this subject earlier. But I felt recently that it was desirable to tell our people again of our general policy line. And so we had a Central Committee plenum where I delivered a detailed report on developments since last year. We changed the rules for the first half by not just having a brief statement of approval but putting out a statement, which for us was a long one, setting forth our policy since last May and the line we intend to follow. We have full grounds for saying that your line last year and since and our line are indeed correct. And this fully accords with your welcoming words today. I too feel that the present visit will enable us to take new steps in our relations and I agree that if the two great powers do this and pursue an agreed peaceful policy hardly anyone will dare to breach the peace of the world. We can talk in more detail later. We joked before about superpowers. True, there is Luxembourg with 85 policemen.

[Brezhnev interrupts interpretation and says to Secretary Rogers: Are you looking at your watch? Rogers: No, I was fascinated by your remarks. Brezhnev: Well then, Kissinger was looking at his watch. Kissinger: I was just sitting here minding my own business.]

[Page 501]

Brezhnev: But what can we do about it if we are big powers? We should take pride in it and not reproach each other. Lenin understood this even though it was then a very difficult time in our history.

Before the others came in we talked about the importance and need for confidence. Confidence is a most important factor. The last war and the subsequent events generated distrust. We know all about that but shouldn’t go into it. It is a matter of confidence not only between our two leaders but between all others too. What we did last year and will do this year will promote greater trust. If it is possible for these two powerful great nations to live in peace and cooperate, that will strengthen confidence all over the world and contribute to peace.

Recently I was in Bonn. You know I fought in World War II from the beginning to the end and West Germany is a country where many people who fought in the war are still alive. Yet I got a very good reception. This was how much confidence there is already. And that is the underlying spirit of all the documents we will sign. We can say that President Richard Nixon and Comrade Brezhnev and all the people and all the children will live a tranquil life. But that is not enough. We have to make sure that future generations also live a tranquil life.

We talked about the forthcoming visit of the President to the USSR. Perhaps we can prepare some new agreements, perhaps fewer in number, perhaps more, I can’t say. But if we do the preparatory work we will save time at the meeting and that will permit a more extensive tour of the country. So we will have visits in ’72/73 and ’74/75. And then ’76 will again be the turn of the President to visit the Soviet Union. That is the way to make progress.

[To the President: I am not tiring you too much? President: No. Rogers: We have only one watch.]

Brezhnev: May I thank you for all the work I know you have been doing on the agreements we reached in Moscow in principle and to get more favored nation treatment. Of course economic relations are very important. I am not raising new points because I am sure this will be settled as we agreed earlier. In fact, many economic arrangements are already in effect, such as the U.S. Trade Center in Moscow.

In connection with the recent Central Committee meeting I changed the rules. We did not used to publish reports on such meetings. But I had the report read out to regional and even district party organizations. And after that was done I got further support for our line toward the U.S. I say this to you so that you should not have any doubt that we are pursuing a steadfast policy, not just a temporary one. After this has been done; outside the whole of the party, the young and the working people are fully familiar with the main lines of our policy and I come with their support for what we are doing for peace, especially with the United States. I am very pleased that there are now [Page 502] more frequent and concrete contacts between the economic agencies of our two countries.

I agree we cannot and should not set the goal of transforming the entirety of international politics in just one year. I am reminded of the story of how Newton formed the law of gravity by looking at an apple on a tree and seeing it fall and concluded it must be gravity. We also are formulating a new law of gravity when we formulate a policy of peace and friendship. It will make others gravitate toward peace. That factor will be as important for the whole world as Newton’s law was in its time.

Hardly anyone could come out against our joint line. Is there still anyone who would not want the two of us to be an example for peace? In my country I enjoy the trust of the people. I could not agree to make any concessions to those who oppose peace, détente, and cooperation because in the struggle against those kinds of people I will never make concessions because that would be weakness. Why should one be weak in the struggle for peace? Strength for peace—yes; strength for cooperation—yes; strength for economic relations—yes; strength for science—yes. That is how one should act, without concessions.

[Brezhnev asks Gromyko whether the interpreter had translated these remarks too strongly. Gromyko said the translation had been fine.]

[Brezhnev interrupting interpretation: You, Mr. President, and I are going to do the most difficult job and leave to others easy jobs like the Middle East. We’ll do the Communiqué and find you—Gromyko, Kissinger, Rogers, Dobrynin—something else to do when you have finished your first task.]

There are several matters that should be in the final communiqué including the Middle East and CSCE and maybe others. We hope we can find common language.

Ending this general review, I am very pleased with all our cooperation and with the finalizing of all the documents that are to be signed. With that done, this should be a good visit. I want to extend thanks to all of those who last year and this year prepared everything and all the documents—Dr. Kissinger, Secretary Rogers, Sonnenfeldt, and all my own colleagues here. Incidentally, I do agree that perhaps more can be done on the two points you mentioned, Mr. President. But this is what I wanted to say by way of introduction.

Now just a word about our country. The situation in our country is pretty good after a bad situation last year. We have planted a lot of grains and other crops. Industry is now making progress. The main problem as always is the correct allocation of capital investments. This year it will be 501 billion rubles. But it is always a problem.

[Page 503]

Our Minister for Land Amelioration, Alekseyev,5 gave us a good report of his visit to your country. I read it and he had a very good impression. I want to thank all of you for making his visit possible. I mention this because agriculture in our country is a very complex problem because of the different climatic zones. I was sorry to hear about certain technical difficulties in the agricultural shipments we are receiving from you but I am glad that all has been taken care of. So the general picture is good. There are many negotiations going on on natural gas, oil, and so on. If we give instructions and you give instructions and blessings all will go well. After all, I am a mechanical engineer so why should I care about oil? I just give the blessing. So this completes the introductory remarks I wanted to make. Incidentally, Alekseyev was not the only minister who visited you. Our food minister also came.6

President: Yes, I saw him in San Clemente. He is a big man.

Brezhnev: Yes, an Estonian. He signed the deal with Pepsi Cola. There are quite a few examples of such deals. For example, the one with Hammer and Occidental and others.7 Trade has really grown, although it is a bit one-sided. But I will talk about this later. Also, we are using U.S. credits—I think about 300 billion rubles so far. These are graphic results of our meeting last year and of the policy we have been pursuing.

In my report to the Central Committee Plenum I made direct and forthright statements about the need for long term trade so that we don’t just trade watches and ties, just peanuts. What we need is large scale and long term trade. I spoke to your Senators. I told them about our reserves of over 3 trillion tons of natural gas and asked them why not have a long term deal.

I just want to pay tribute to all of those on your side and our side who made this visit possible. On our side in the first place it is Gromyko and also Dobrynin, both of whom I mentioned in my report to the Central Committee. They merit appreciation.

Do you have any questions, Mr. President?

President: All on our side appreciate your candid and warm statements on the new relationship that has developed. I approach the [Page 504] meeting with the same spirit Mr. Brezhnev described. You put this in historic perspective. I was thinking that it had been just 13 years ago when a President of the United States—Eisenhower—met with a Soviet leader in this room and as we consider present problems we should keep them in perspective by recognizing how far we have come from the mood that existed at that time, and the tensions. There is also an historic point to be made. Then the U.S. had a significant advantage in nuclear weapons over the Soviet Union; today we are equal. I do not believe that this is bad because relations between the most powerful nations in the world can best be built on the basis of mutual respect and equal strength. There are, of course, delicate problems which we have to bear in mind. There is concern, even in France, where the General Secretary will be visiting, by those who do not want to see some kind of U.S.-Soviet condominium dictating to them. While we as practical men know what our strength is, we also, as strong nations, can afford and should follow a policy of respect for the rights of other nations. That is how we can best serve the cause of peace. I think the General Secretary has made a very significant contribution to this concept with the agreement that we will be signing Friday which recognizes the rights of all countries and at the same time the responsibility of the two of us to develop methods that will avoid nuclear and other confrontations between us. I remember very well when Mr. Brezhnev first broached this by letter in April of 1972 and then we talked about it in Moscow.8 And now it will be consummated here in Washington. It will be a great tribute to your wise leadership.

Brezhnev: Thank you.

President: We will talk later about Europe, about CSCE and MBFR. And also about the Middle East, where frankly, none of us have any easy solutions but where we hope our meetings will help to move the negotiations off dead center.

Brezhnev: I fully agree that all these questions exist and that we cannot bypass them.

President: We must address all those problem areas in the world that might draw us into confrontation. When we think of problems, Mr. General Secretary, remember that just a year ago you and your colleagues had a very vigorous discussion with me about Vietnam.9 We have moved very far since then.

Brezhnev: I hear “Vietnam.” I didn’t raise it. But if you want we can have a discussion later. I remember we talked about it at the Dacha. [Laughs]

[Page 505]

President: Yes, it was a late dinner.

Brezhnev: We had a very good time. Mr. President, indeed all the world reacted very positively to the Paris accords and the need now is to get them strictly implemented but we can talk about all this later.

President: We will use our influence to see that the most recent communiqué is adhered to. The most serious problem now is Cambodia. To the extent that North Vietnam shows restraint the chance for permanent peace is greatly increased. We can talk about it later.

Brezhnev: That is one of the questions.

President: I mention these three areas because it shows that our two nations have enormous influence not only on whether there is conflict between us, which I am confident we can avoid, but whether there is conflict between others.

I would say finally that tomorrow at the economic meeting I will express some views. But I will say now that the growing economic relationship is good for you and good for both of us. I fully support it, including MFN. It is necessary to get state and free enterprise economies to cooperate. My goal is just as Mr. Brezhnev indicated. I fully support it.

Brezhnev: Mr. President, I already thanked you for all your efforts. What you just said again evoked heartfelt thanks. It fully corresponds to our attitude. It would be strange for two such great powers to confine their trade to ties and buttons as I like to say. In this field it is also a matter of inertia and of adapting the systems to each other. I know we gave our approval for negotiations with Boeing on aircraft. We should think in a solid way on matters dealing with economic cooperation and both will gain. It is for experts to figure out the pluses and minuses.

[There was then more talk about the time difference between Moscow and Washington. Brezhnev said he still did not know whether his second watch was ahead or behind. Dobrynin and Gromyko explained that it was 7 hours ahead. Brezhnev then shows the President his cigarette case with its timer.]

Brezhnev: I hope there will also be further cooperation on commercial air relations. I am disappointed to hear that there are some difficulties. I merely mention it. I am not raising the issue.

Kissinger: It is being settled.

President: Let me close with two brief points. One is the very historic agreement that we will sign on Friday.10 It will be seen as more words than substance unless we can move along on SALT. I hope we can talk about moving SALT along. The other point is that the General [Page 506] Secretary several times mentioned support for better Soviet-American relations in this country. I want to assure him that even though some in our somewhat undisciplined country oppose the trend, the vast majority of Congress and of the people support it, like the people you saw out there this morning. I would not be here without that support. Pay no attention to the few who are in opposition, like Senator Jackson. They don’t want it, but the vast majority does.

Brezhnev: [laughing] Don’t even remind me of that man—Jackson. Mr. President, Jackson is a name I used 30 times, as Dr. Kissinger knows, in Zavidovo.

Take the idea of nationalism. In the good sense of the term, a nationalist is solicitous of his own people. But if you add qualities that have no bearing to that then it is different. I don’t want to be insulting but I really don’t think that a man like Jackson reflects the aspirations of the American people. If the policies you and I want to pursue are in the direction we charted last year—the direction of peace, friendship, and cooperation—it transcends national limits. Ninety-nine percent of the people cherish it. Therein lies the difference between you and me and Jackson. All his words regarding MFN are like using a fan on a tightrope to keep himself from falling. Pardon me for being so direct. It is my Russian nature.

President: It is 10:00 in Moscow and it is time to go to bed. You still have to come to dinner later.

Brezhnev: I tried to find my schedule yesterday to prepare for the work and to adapt myself to the time difference. Then I had a very pleasant talk with Kissinger and then I talked to the Ambassador and I told him that when we make our speeches tonight at the dinner it will be 5:00 a.m. in Moscow.11

[The President escorted Brezhnev and the Soviet group to the car.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 75, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Brezhnev Visit Memcons, June 18–25, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 123.
  3. The communiqué was agreed on June 23 and released on June 25. See Document 130.
  4. An acronym for the Russian name for the “Communist Union of Youth,” the CPSU’s official youth movement.
  5. Yevgeniy Yevgenyevich Alekseyevskiy.
  6. Voldemar Petrovich Lein.
  7. Telegram 111312 to Moscow and Tokyo, June 8, requested information about the reported signature by Occidental Petroleum Chairman Armand Hammer and El Paso Natural Gas Company Chairman Howard Boyd with the Soviet Foreign Trade Ministry of a letter of intent to import into the United States more than $10 billion worth of natural gas from the USSR via Vladivostok over a 25-year period. Hammer indicated that Japanese firms, which had been negotiating with the Soviets, expressed interest in taking a portion of the gas. Telegram 6770 from Moscow, June 9, confirmed the report. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  8. See Document 121 and footnote 2 thereto.
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 271.
  10. June 22. A reference to the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War. See Document 129.
  11. Nixon’s and Brezhnev’s dinner toasts are printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 595–598.