137. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter

After pictures were taken, the conversation began at 10:07 a.m.

The President: It seems our meetings have become annual events. And our summits have also become annual events. I think this is a constructive development. Since on this occasion I am the host, why don’t you lead off.

Gromyko: [In English] Thank you very much Mr. President for receiving me again. [Translated from the Russian] I would like, if it is acceptable, to talk through Viktor. It is easier that way and I will go sentence by sentence. If I forget myself and go too fast, stop me.

First, I wish to convey very warm greetings from L. I. Brezhnev to you, personally, and also from Chairman Podgorny and Chairman Kosygin, who asked that I extend very good wishes to you.

Several months have passed since the General Secretary’s visit and there has been time to appraise it. This is even truer of the earlier summit, that is, your visit to the Soviet Union. Looking back we can say, and indeed this is our feeling, that the turn in Soviet-American relations has been of immense significance. We say this outright. Brezhnev said it to the people and to our Party and it is, in fact, the general assessment in the world of the two meetings.

In our leadership and in our country as a whole immense significance is ascribed to the forthcoming meeting on which you and L. I. Brezhnev reached agreement.

[At this point, coffee and tea was served.]

On the eve of my departure from Moscow, I talked to L. I. Brezhnev—I had of course talked to him earlier also—and he asked me to emphasize the truly great significance that he ascribes to the forthcoming meeting. He asked me to mention some ideas regarding timing. [Page 556] Specifically, he thought that if it were acceptable to you, the next visit and summit meeting could occur somewhere near the end of May or the first half of June of 1974.

[The President commented to Dr. Kissinger that we could aim for that. Dr. Kissinger noted the relationship to a SALT agreement.]

Let me explain why these times are most convenient for us. The fact is that later on domestic affairs, economic affairs, agriculture and the like, will require the undivided attention of the leadership as a whole, and of L. I. Brezhnev. That is why we thought the dates I mentioned most appropriate.

Now let me return once again to the outcome of the meetings that have already been held.

The most discernible and palpable turn has been in the field of political relations, and this is quite understandable. Here the very special role of the relevant agreements has to be emphasized. If we take the agreements signed this year, special emphasis should be placed on the agreement on the prevention of nuclear war. The forecast you made and the General Secretary made, regarding the consequences and influence on our relations and on international relations generally of this agreement—this forecast has been completely justified.

While pointing out the enormous changes for the better in the political field, we also have to note that insofar as economic and commercial relations are concerned, there have been no steps forward. To use a term from our own language, this is the area of Virgin Land. In this connection, I would like to emphasize first of all that the agreement to place relations on a stable basis has not yet been implemented. You will realize, Mr. President, that this is something for which we are by no means to blame. It is not due to us. We are surprised by the slowness in your country in considering the relevant matters and by the problems that have arisen in the development of trade and in bringing the relevant legislation to completion for this purpose. This is bound to make us wary and put us on our guard. As I said to Dr. Kissinger in New York, we feel that the US side has not so far fulfilled the relevant promises and obligations it undertook.2 You will agree that it is one thing to see relations develop in the political field but quite another when those relations are buttressed by commercial relations.

We condemn most vigorously actions by people like Jackson to obstruct things so farsightedly agreed to by you, L. I. Brezhnev and our leadership.

[Page 557]

Now I should like to adduce several arguments to show the unfoundedness and the absurdity of the allegations by those who want to obstruct our relations. I am doing this so you might have additional arguments that you can use both in and out of the Congress.

First, there is the argument that the Soviet Union stands in such need of aid, of assistance and technology, etc., that it will give any concession to get this aid. But this is utterly ridiculous, and our entire history speaks against this argument and those who make it.

Now and again the so-called Jewish emigration problem is activated. The General Secretary gave exhaustive replies while he was in the United States and before his visit we transmitted certain information for you. The fact is that we do not require any tax; we ended it. But the people who make themselves shouters say true enough, but the law has not been repealed. Now of course if we took a mercantile approach, we could rescind the law and then restore it again when circumstances changed. But what we did was much stronger. We gave you an assurance, almost a solemn assurance, as information regarding our intentions, that our law permits us not to charge the tax and we had no intention to charge it. So it would seem that this should satisfy honest people. But still there are the shouters who want to activate this so-called problem.

You will have noted that these shouters frequently refer to two or three individuals and say that they want the Soviet Union to change its attitude toward them and to change its laws. But if they are actually so concerned, they should be applauding what we do, because these people freely air their views, and receive and make telephone calls from and to abroad. The shouters should be saying that these individuals are just as free as here. But what they really want is for us to do certain things and this all relates to domestic affairs. We will never make changes and all of this shows that these people have no elementary decency.

In all of these matters we are not begging with hands outstretched for assistance. We believe all these things, like MFN, accord with our mutual interests and secure the further development of our relations. In short, it is a reciprocal matter and should be so regarded.

In connection with the consideration of these matters in the Congress, we cannot take part in various combinations and drafts and projects. All these reservations that are being talked about, if I correctly understand them, we cannot accept. We can only accept a pure and clear decision. But if a decision is taken that has political overtones and says that it is provisional and will be looked at again in two years or so, this approach would be wholly unworthy of the noble goals for which you and the General Secretary have been working.

[Page 558]

If you wish, Mr. President, you are at liberty to refer to our discussion here in your dealings with Congress. We, and this includes the General Secretary, highly appreciate your efforts in securing fulfillment of obligations in the solution of all problems relating to economic ties. Whether everything has been done by the US Administration is hard for us to judge. You would know better.

I dwelt in some detail on these matters to adduce the arguments that might help you to better understand our position.

Now, with your permission, may I briefly turn to other matters, having in view the forthcoming summit. We would like very much to have the arrangements and understandings reached on European affairs to be carried into effect as they were talked about at the summit. We appreciate your efforts toward securing positive results for the CSCE. We believe there exists every opportunity for the Conference to achieve good and positive results. It all boils down to the policy of the countries concerned. They could, of course, just sit endlessly and talk. It follows from your discussions with the General Secretary that we have no intentions to prejudice your position in Europe and we feel it will be in both countries’ interests to have a positive outcome in the Conference. We should not pay too much attention to talk about US-Soviet deals. We must be above that and we should not be distracted from our policies, because the outcome will be in the interests of all countries regardless of what the shouters may say. After you took office, you yourself pointed to the importance of relations between our two countries.

Another European question is the agreement to reduce armed forces and armaments. We would like to see a positive outcome. There was a general discussion during the General Secretary’s visit and he advanced certain views. I have nothing in particular to add now, but it would be in the best interests of all concerned to make progress on this and the prospects are favorable.

I want to emphasize our appreciation that you kept your word regarding the admission of the two German states into the United Nations. This promotes better relations between them and increases détente, and indirectly helps our relations also.

Now, about SALT and the agreements already achieved. There is no need to talk about their significance. All of this is very obvious and we must now look to the future. We want to find ways to convert the provisional to a permanent agreement, and reach understandings on additional matters of interest. I am familiar in a general way with the views given at your instruction to Dobrynin by Dr. Kissinger. I should add that this is a subject we are studying with the greatest attention, and in all of its aspects. We want to find points of contact and a basis for agreement. So far we have not completed our studies on a number of possible variants, but we will do so soon. The General Secretary and I [Page 559] are only just back from our vacation—although for him it was not much of a vacation. But he has not yet studied it from the point of view of the next stage, but he is now doing so and giving it all the attention the subject merits. As regards the ideas put forward by Dr. Kissinger, we are studying them with all due attention, as they should be studied, in the context referred to above.

I should add one point, one we feel you also have in mind, as we understood from Dr. Kissinger. We have to take into account certain special features in our own situation, which for the time being are not as important for you as they are for us. I am referring to the Far Eastern factor. There are certain other factors relevant to the specific nature of our own situation, but I want to emphasize that particular factor and ask you to keep it in mind in formulating an agreement with us. What I have said on this score fully conforms to the principle of not inflicting any harm on the security interests of either contracting party.

Now just a few words on the Middle East. Your assessment and ours do not fully coincide, even if at first sight it seems that we do since both sides feel the situation is complicated and dangerous. But we have a different assessment of the danger because we feel the possibility could not be excluded that we could all wake up one day and find there is a real conflagration in that area. That has to be kept in mind. Is it worth the risk? A serious effort has to be made for a solution because a solution will not just fall down from the sky. I recall the conversations you had with General Secretary Brezhnev here and then in San Clemente on this and your words that you considered the problem of the Middle East most important, and that you would take it up. I certainly would be interested in what you might say.

Now, very briefly, on the Far East. Our relations with China are familiar to you. The General Secretary told you a lot about this. Since then, nothing noteworthy has happened. The situation is tense, but there have been no border clashes and we trust the Chinese leaders will not resort to such incidents. As regards the future—and we believe and feel you raise questions about this also in your mind—can one continue to rely on the common sense of the Chinese leadership? It is hard to forecast the makeup of the future leadership. But this is something we have to think of in both our interests. As we see it, our assessments do not diverge too much. But I am interested in your assessment and in the bearing of that factor on the relations between us. You have advanced the idea in confidence that you gave priority to US-Soviet relations and we cannot point a finger at anything that you have done that runs counter to what you said. But it is a factor that cannot help but have a certain influence on our relations.

The General Secretary asked me to tell you specifically that we do not intend to depart one inch from our policy regarding relations with [Page 560] the United States, provided of course that you do not do so either. For us these relations are the question of questions, the question of war and peace in the world.

In conclusion, let me say the following. We feel, as we think you do too, that we should so conduct ourselves that the entire structure of relations will be built on a basis that no one can throw it back in the future, that is to say that our relations assume an irreversible character. I am now referring to the entire complex of relations, not just to the one aspect of the Far East.

There is one organizational question which is of significance for the forthcoming summit. We believe that for the preparatory work, Dr. Kissinger could visit the Soviet Union once or twice, perhaps the first time before the end of this year.

And, now, just a piece of geography. Perhaps during the next visit [of the President] to the Soviet Union, some time can be spent outside of Moscow. The Black Sea has a very long coastline. You will recall that the General Secretary flew 3000 miles across the United States, so maybe there should be the same thing for us.

Mr. President, thank you very much for your patience.

The President: First, Mr. Foreign Minister, please extend to the General Secretary and all his colleagues my good wishes. Second, with regard to my visit to the Soviet Union—as far as my own view is concerned, the timing could be the latter part of May or early June, but we should recognize that we want a major accomplishment and that is why SALT has such a high priority. I think that is what the General Secretary and I agreed to. So we should be sure that a permanent agreement will be on the way, plus anything else that your fertile minds can come up with. It should not just be symbolic.

Now I feel that the agreement on the prevention of nuclear war has not received enough attention in the United States. Henry, at the State Department, make sure in your speeches that it does.

Regarding travel, I will be completely in the hands of the hosts. I would like to go not just three but six thousand miles and I have never seen the Black Sea coast. It is good to change places for the talks, as we did here. Here we were in Washington and Camp David and San Clemente. It helps to change the place. But it is up to General Secretary Brezhnev and I appoint Secretary Kissinger to work this all out.

Regarding Secretary Kissinger’s trip, I have not discussed this with him. I would say he has considerable problems reorganizing the State Department—something the Foreign Minister does not have. He also has great problems in the Congress where Secretary Kissinger is indispensable. But as soon as progress in the private channel merits, and the Congressional problems are exhausted, I would like the Secretary of [Page 561] State to make his first visit to the USSR in that position. We can work it out later.

Regarding SALT, the KissingerDobrynin discussions were very helpful for the first two times. We should proceed the same way but we have a problem because we have to bring the bureaucracy into line, especially the military.

On MBFR, I am pleased to say we are not too far apart.

On CSCE, as I told the General Secretary, we would be pleased to finish by the end of the year and, if others agree, to have a summit for the conclusion, but it is not easy to get a conglomerate of nations together to agree. I happened to be reading a biography of Wellington last night. There were only four countries at the Congress of Vienna, Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain, and four at the Congress of Paris after the defeat at Waterloo. But it was very difficult. On CSCE, there are very many views but you and we have no particular problems.

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, we now have to get down to concrete issues on this.

The President: We must agree where we want to come out—I don’t mean condominium—otherwise it will be a shambles. I will leave it to the Secretary of State to work out. I made that commitment.

Regarding the Middle East, it is a very important priority as I said in my press conference.3 You say we must realize the danger of waking up one morning and finding a war. But there is also the energy problem. The Secretary has it as a direct assignment from me and we will push it, whatever the surface appearances may be. While we may have differences on how it comes out, we want progress on an interim basis certainly, or perhaps on principles.

Now on MFN, I listened to you with interest. Yesterday, Dr. Kissinger and I met with the leaders and gave them hell.4 He and I said just what you said. We made a commitment and a bargain. And you have delivered on it. For example, on lend-lease. We have an unholy alliance at the moment. First the classical anti-Soviet people—what I was supposed to be; second, labor, though not all of them. But George Meany and one advisor, Lovestone, are strongly opposed.5

Secretary Kissinger: Lovestone is a former communist.

[Page 562]

The President: Third, there are as you say the shouters who shed crocodile tears, and ten years ago said hands off, let us have nothing to do with the Soviet Union. Now they have switched.

Any future progress depends on agreement that neither side will interfere in the internal affairs of the other. That is why we came as far as we did. The State Department is going to go right down the line. There will be no rebellion.

Secretary Kissinger: The age of rebellion is over.

The President: We believe the block to MFN should be removed, but it is a very difficult legislative situation. You must trust us. We will wrangle with different amendments and so on, but the goal is to carry out our commitment. But I won’t promise what Congress will do. We will work in private and public. We will get it in the end, but the question is when. At least, when they passed the amendment, they knocked out the provision that would have stopped credit. You may have noticed that after Don Kendall talked to The New York Times they did a pretty good editorial. You can see what an influential man he is. But then on the same day The New York Times reported that an award to Kendall from a Jewish group had been withdrawn.6

You should assure the General Secretary that I made a commitment and will keep it. But we have a difficult situation and can’t control things. There is a lot of shouting. Meanwhile, we should proceed with other matters.

Now, finally, China. The General Secretary spoke very candidly here and again at San Clemente. Our relations with the Soviet Union are on quite a different basis than with the PRC. We have diplomatic relations and trade agreements and arms reduction. So we are talking about a different relationship than with the PRC and it has a high priority because our objective is for a peaceful world. On the other hand, it is important for the peace of the world to maintain relations with the PRC. You actually have an Ambassador, we have Bruce.7 The important thing to bear in mind is that we in our relations with anyone—PRC, Europe, anyone—will do nothing that will impair relations with the Soviet Union. I don’t want to leave a false impression that we will cool it with the PRC because of you. We will continue discussions. [Page 563] It is very important that in Asia we don’t have a force to which we are not talking. Henry, do you want to add anything?

Secretary Kissinger: In the spirit of what you said, we will conduct no policy directed against the Soviet Union.

The President: Right. That is what I told the General Secretary.

Secretary Kissinger: We have not taken any position on the border dispute or on any bilateral issues. We won’t.

The President: You have a border, we do too in a sense because we are in the same ocean. We will be candid with you if you are with us.

Secretary Kissinger: We will keep up the information exchange.

The President: That doesn’t mean we will go to China with this conversation.

Somebody will say that the meeting the President had with the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union today was more important than the meeting with the Prime Minister of New Zealand yesterday, and it is true because with our strength, our power, our science we two are the most important nations in the world, although maybe not forever. But that is why when the General Secretary comes we spend a week and when the British come we spend one and one-half days. I am not trying to play them down and we have to have in mind the sensitivity of others. But we need not apologize for our strength. We will respect the rights of others and the agreement on the prevention of nuclear war says just that. That is the way to a peaceful world.

Gromyko: Thank you Mr. President for putting forward your considerations on all these matters. Regarding the Middle East, when would you be ready to set forth specific ideas or plans to get down to specific arrangements for the area, having in mind of course the role of the parties?

The President: I have in mind that when Dr. Kissinger makes his trip to the Soviet Union this could be done. It seems far off but it really isn’t. The trip should have results. We would like it sooner but the Secretary has lots to do so this is the soonest we can do it; within 60 to 90 days.

Secretary Kissinger: I will stay in touch with Dobrynin.

Gromyko: I asked the question because experience has shown that you were not fully prepared on the questions I asked the last time. There was no desire on your side to talk.

In summarizing, you have confirmed in very definite terms the line you have taken in Soviet-American relations and will continue. If that is so, or since that is so, we intend to pursue the same line we have chosen.

The President: Let us think about the trip around the first of the year if you can prepare it. We are not talking of as late as February.

[Page 564]

Gromyko: Once again, thank you for the meeting.

The President: In developing the new relationship, the Foreign Minister has played an indispensable role. When we think of the great differences in our first meeting here, we can look back with some pride. We laid the groundwork for two summits.

Gromyko: Let us build the tunnel from both sides. The process is easier now because the tunnel is lit better.

The President: I will send Dr. Kissinger to Camp David with Dobrynin so they don’t just meet in the map room. I know the General Secretary likes Camp David. It will be very useful. They can spend some days and I will tell them not to come back until they get their work done.

Gromyko: As long as you had kind words about my part, let me emphasize the very important work done by Dr. Kissinger as Assistant to the President and now as Secretary of State with force and brilliance.

The President: Let me say in conclusion that the Foreign Minister referred to the fact that on trade we only have virgin land. Once Kissinger gets settled at State, there won’t be any virgins left there.

Secretary Kissinger: That is quite a challenge, Mr. President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 19, July 12–October 11, 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original.
  2. The record of the dinner conversation in New York between Kissinger and Gromyko, September 24, is ibid., Box 71, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Gromyko 1973.
  3. Presumably a reference to Nixon’s September 5 press conference. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 732–743.
  4. For the memorandum of conversation of the President’s September 27 meeting with the Republican Congressional leadership, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 187.
  5. See Document 100.
  6. The New York Times reported on September 20 that Kendall’s award for civic leadership from the American Jewish Committee had been retracted because of his efforts to increase trade with the USSR. Many Jewish organizations were calling for trade restrictions with the USSR until Jews were allowed to emigrate freely. See “Honor Retracted to Head of PepsiCo,” The New York Times, September 20, 1973, p. 93. The reference to an editorial may be to a news analysis by Bernard Gwertzman in the same edition of The New York Times entitled “Links With Soviet: Criticism Stings Administration.”
  7. David K.E. Bruce, chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing.