158. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet:
  • Andrey Gromyko, Soviet Foreign Minister
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to US
  • Yuri Vorontsov, Minister-Counselor, Soviet Embassy
  • Georgiy M. Kornienko, Chief, USA Division, Soviet Foreign Ministry
  • Viktar M. Sukhodrev, Soviet interpreter
  • Vasiliy G. Makarov, Senior Assistant to Mr. Gromyko
  • State:
  • The Secretary
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor
  • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Ambassador Walter Stoessel, American Ambassador-designate to the USSR

(There was an exchange of greetings, a discussion of art in the Secretary’s office and an exchange on how the Secretary was feeling.)

The Secretary: We are very pleased to have you here and to have a general discussion of some of the issues we face. After our general discussion, I would like to meet with you alone.

Mr. Gromyko: I wish to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your kind invitation. You must have noticed that I replied at once.

The Secretary: Yes and I thank you for that. This is a good time for us to meet.

Mr. Gromyko: What sort of matters do you want to discuss?

The Secretary: I think we should touch on our general bilateral relations, SALT, force reductions in Europe, and European security. We can cover the rest in private.

Mr. Gromyko: Do you want to begin or should I?

The Secretary: You’re more disciplined than I am. Why don’t you start?

Mr. Gromyko: I am not sure what that means in this case but since you have mentioned European security, I would like to make some observations. First, let me emphasize our appreciation of the extensive work that was done in the first phase and at Helsinki.2 There was in fact [Page 654] no small amount of work undertaken in the second stage, but I must say that we are not pleased by the current state of the conference.

The Secretary: I agree with you.

Mr. Gromyko: I would like to discuss several specific issues but also I would like to talk about the broader question which has an impact on our relations in the future.

The Secretary (As cookies were passed): I had always been told that there were cookie-pushers in the Department but I never saw the cookies before today that they are supposed to push.

Mr. Gromyko: The reason that we are not pleased by the progress in the All European Conference—and I will not express myself in diplomatic terms—is that I feel that all these representatives are beating the air without achieving any concrete advancement toward the aim of resolving the real issues. They are going around in circles. This could go on endlessly. It seems to me that issues are being invented out of virtually nothing. This is the impression I have. It seems to me that there are a series of artificial measures which are being put forward with the intent of preventing a solution.

The Secretary: Not by us.

Mr. Gromyko: I would not like to try to gauge how to share the blame among each of the Western Powers but the raising of these artificial issues is enough indication of the fact that some are misbehaving. It is a fact that these actions contradict the often-stated solemn, high-level declarations that we have agreed with most of these States on the necessity of achieving détente and peace. I question whether some of the political forces have forgotten or want to ignore what happened in World War II.

I ask myself is this a negligent attitude? All of us agreed after the conclusion of World War II that we must avoid the possibility of war. We had fought together as allies against a common enemy and we agreed that we must weed out the possibility of war. Can it have been forgotten?

I don’t want to specifically accuse the US of taking this position. As we see and assess the situation, however, we note that the US Representative displays a knowledge of our position and an understanding of our general agreements. Our representatives have numerous contacts and, I must say, that these are highly appreciated. What also strikes the eye, however, is the passivity with which you approach this conference. We appreciate the words but where is the US voice for all to hear? This is not being done. Perhaps this is strategy or tactics. What we can do is voice our own desires and to recall that our common agreements were made at the highest level during the visit of Mr. Brezhnev last year and the visit of the President to the Soviet Union. We hope that [Page 655] the US will accord greater weight and interest in more firmly setting out the position which has the aim of carrying out our agreements. It should not be beyond the means of the US to express its strong views. When the US wants to act it does so and in a loud voice. We hope that your view will come out in the open in the most appropriate way.

The Secretary: Mr. Foreign Minister, first of all, let me make a general remark and then address the details. We attach enormous importance to maintaining the peace of the world. We do this because it is in the interest of the well-being of all peoples. Since it makes sense for us to do that, it underlies all of our actions.

In Europe, there seems to be a desire to treat most issues in a totally frivolous fashion. People who have maintained their power in a country such as the Soviet Union for fifty years are not going to be unseated by a declaration. Therefore, I want you to know that I don’t attach much importance to the question of declarations as a solution to these problems. Leave aside any ulterior motives. There is just no way that one can proceed to undermine what exists in the Soviet Union.

On the question of the inviolability of frontiers, that is a question of German domestic politics. On human contacts—and I refer specifically to the letter to the President3—we favor a maximum increase in these contacts consistent with the domestic laws of the parties. The Allies go farther. They don’t like the reference, not only to “domestic laws,” but also to “customs.” This is a question of domestic politics among our Allies. I don’t want to say whether it is right or wrong. What we have to decide now is what price to pay to get the Allies to change their minds. I think that you overestimate our influence with the Allies. In our negotiations of the bilateral declarations we are faced with a series of idiotic, juridical positions. In other words, they don’t reserve their tactics for you. For one year, we have been engaged in trying to find a formula to describe our relations. It is not easy for us to get them to agree.

We would like to conclude the Conference. We recognize it will not have a world-shaking result. We will not support measures which go beyond our common understandings (at this point the Secretary said he wished to be sure that he sees Ambassador Sherer4 before he departs). What do you think Art? Is it possible to make some progress?

Mr. Hartman: We have already tried out several formulae for dealing with the question of encouraging human contact and yet making reference to the non-intervention in the domestic affairs of States party to the Agreement. We have not yet had success in convincing the Allies that there is a means to handle this point.

[Page 656]

The Secretary: I have stated and I will state again that we are in favor of an improved situation with respect to human contacts. But I will also say, as I have with many Congressional Committees, that we have trouble enough agreeing on our foreign policy problems without getting ourselves involved in each other’s domestic affairs. We have not after all demonstrated we can handle our own affairs much less those of others. This is our view.

Mr. Gromyko: I would now like to try to turn to the specific issues.

The Secretary: But before you do, let me just say that our representatives should remain in very close contact.

Mr. Gromyko: I certainly share fully and associate myself with the desire for close contact. Now, very briefly on the specific issues, with due regard to the general principles. The first issue has to do with the inviolability of frontiers. There has never been any doubt in our mind that the US position is consistent with our views. We feel, however, that the US should use its influence to prevent certain other countries from burdening this conference with issues and propositions which are unacceptable and, indeed, absurd. Second, we see that the same countries are attempting to raise unacceptable questions with respect to maneuvers, large-scale troop movements, and the exchange of observers. We have the question of what is large and what is small. As to observers, we ought to be able to find some mutual way to solve this problem by invitation. You have discussed this problem with Dobrynin.5 You have made certain statements with respect to maneuvers and large-scale movements. I understand those statements. But what we can see is that the appetites of the Europeans are growing. I can qualify some of their proposals as nothing short of ridiculous. I won’t even discuss these matters. For example, that all of the Soviet Union should be taken into account with respect to maneuvers taking place. We can’t agree. We can’t accept.

The Secretary: Who proposed this?

Mr. Gromyko: It was submitted by the FRG Delegation in the name of the Nine.6

The Secretary: That is becoming my favorite group of nations. However, I should say that we won’t reject that idea if you want to agree to it.

[Page 657]

Mr. Gromyko: We recall that at the outset there was no mention of this question. When the matter was raised by you, we agreed to consider it. We then made some agreements on how to handle maneuvers and observers. All those things have now been put aside and people are suggesting unacceptable solutions but I can tell you that, if anyone thinks that they can attempt to talk us into this position, they should know that it will fail. I hope for more realism. I hope you will try to persuade the others that it is groundless for them to pursue these unrealistic proposals. I have no doubt that your people are familiar with this problem in Geneva. Now my third point.

The Secretary: Let me say on troop movements that you have received a correct report of my conversation with Dobrynin. Your response was forthcoming but the proposals that were made in Geneva were not made at our instigation. They go well beyond our own intention. We will talk internally about how to approach this problem. The trouble is that you have a bunch of bureaucrats in Geneva who are trying to impress each other with their toughness. No one wants to admit that he is any less strong than the next fellow. On the other hand, I don’t want to discourage you from accepting it but you are right that the Ambassador reported our conversation correctly. We must find a way to end this sterile debate.

Mr. Gromyko: The third point for us is the very crux of the problem. How to reach agreement on the rule or principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

If that principle can be met, we can inscribe in the declaration that all States favor maximum ties of cultural, scientific and other kinds. We will do our utmost to promote human contact. We are not afraid of this. Physically we cannot receive as many tourists as you can in the West. What with the war and the subsequent housing problem, we cannot give priority to hotels over housing.

The main point is that we must rule out entirely outside interference in domestic affairs. We have enough to do in the international area without meddling in each other’s domestic affairs. This is a watershed that we must overcome. The crux of the problem is what solution can be found to deal with the third basket.7 I hope that the obstacles will be overcome and a common agreement found. We sometimes think that some circles underestimate the strength of our position. No one can hope that we will retreat from this principle and fling it to the floor so that others may meddle in our affairs.

[Page 658]

The Secretary: The least dangerous people in the West are the intellectuals.

Mr. Gromyko: You have expressed your sober thoughts in the past. I recognize that you have no interest in attempting to interfere in our domestic affairs. I would say this that if anyone tries, while they might not be medically certifiable, they are politically not normal. These people are divorced from reality. Perhaps you are right that bureaucrats are competing to see who is toughest but they should remember the strength of the diamond because that is how tough we feel on this issue. In short, we must get rid of these artificial problems and get on with the conference.

The Secretary: First, there is merit in this position. The US is in favor of maximum contacts but without the ability to interfere. We recognize that your system will not be transformed by negotiation but that is the limit of the progress we would like to see. Second, how do we move ahead from here. Everyone agrees that there should be contact. There is a question about the use of the phrase “not inconsistent with the laws and customs.” It is much harder to deal with this because it is a domestic political issue in each of our countries. I assume that the Soviets can prevent any contacts they don’t want regardless of what a declaration might say.

Mr. Gromyko: But we don’t want to be in violation of an agreement we have made.

The Secretary: I wonder if it is possible to find some phraseology.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The difficulty is that it is not in the mandate.

Mr. Gromyko: We must find a formula.

The Secretary: Art, can you get this thing going? What are the chances?

Mr. Hartman: We have already suggested several formulations to our Allies but they have been rejected. We have talked in terms of a preamble to Basket Three which would refer back to the principles in Basket One.8 Perhaps we could beef this one up.

The Secretary: This is all about words.

Mr. Gromyko: There is a principle behind the words (at this point the Secretary referred to Sonnenfeldt and Sisco—saying that if they ever got together he, the Secretary, would be evicted from his office.)

Mr. Gromyko: It all boils down to whether there will be an opening of the door or whether the principle of non-interference will be left intact. This is after all the basis of all our post-war agreements, including [Page 659] the charter of the United Nations. That is the basic issue. All the rest are words. To sum up, we have the question of frontiers, of maneuvers and what is meant by non-interference.

The Secretary: Can we build on the principle of non-interference as agreed at Helsinki and drop the reference to laws and customs? Then we might have something concrete. Which of the countries have guts enough to push us on this?

Mr. Gromyko: Let us try jointly in the next few days to work out an agreed formula. Then it can be brought to the conference. I think it would be better if you introduced it at the conference or are you overawed by the Nine?

The Secretary: You certainly know how to raise my ire on one of my favorite subjects. We should try to work out a formula but I think tactically it might be wiser if you introduced it. Otherwise, we will be accused of collusion.

Mr. Gromyko: But we ought to agree between us.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It might be better for you to introduce it. It would help psychologically.

The Secretary: I am not so sure. I would like to think about who introduces it. The Ambassador has the best idea. We will introduce it and the Soviets will oppose it and then everyone will agree. Why don’t Vorontsov, Art and Walt work on the problem this week and see if we can’t get a formula on non-interference.

Mr. Gromyko: I would now like to exchange views on Berlin. We feel that this question of Berlin is an alarming symptom that the agreements on West Berlin and the Quadripartite Agreement9 are not being adhered to. There was unanimous agreement that these accords were constructive and a very important step forward. Certain acts, however, by the signatories—the UK, France and the US—I don’t know who takes the initiative—have questioned in my mind where we are going. I don’t know how to distribute the responsibility. Perhaps it is 33⅓ percent for each but I want you to know that we consider recent actions by the Federal Republic to be in flagrant contradiction to the Quadripartite Agreement and that they are undermining this agreement. We cannot understand that you could sanction the creation in West Berlin by the FRG of a Federal agency dealing with environment. We believe that this is in direct contradiction to the relevant clauses of the Quadripartite Agreement which prohibited the establishment of Federal bodies in Berlin.

At first we thought that these actions were caused by the influence in the FRG of political forces opposed to the Quadripartite Agreement. [Page 660] We thought that these forces had raised the issue but we want you to know that, even if that is the case and even if promises have been made (that you will protect them), there can be no justification for this act. We thought that the three Western Powers would say no to this proposal. We were amazed when the West on two occasions gave their stamp of approval and attempted to justify this action. We cannot understand what is behind this—on the one hand, the agreements are signed, and then, on the other, they do not appear to have been signed in earnest. We cannot accept that sentiments or expediency justify this action. We reject any references by the FRG to these sentiments or to the fact that the three Western Powers then had to support the FRG action on the basis of these sentiments. I wish to raise this issue as an action which runs counter to the Quadripartite Agreement and leads to its being undermined to a certain degree in the relations among the big powers. It runs counter to our agreed line on Berlin. How can we remedy this situation?

The Secretary: Let me review our legal interpretation. The Quadripartite Agreements provide for new ties between the Federal Republic and Berlin but they prohibit actions which would make the FRG the Government of West Berlin. In the case of the environmental office, it does not operate in Berlin but rather in the Federal Republic even though it is located in Berlin. What should we do?

We are prepared to work out criteria of what is permissible. We would then undertake to veto actions which are contrary to these criteria but we cannot undo this action.

Mr. Gromyko: Whether we can agree on criteria is another matter. It would never be possible for us to agree on criteria when our agreement states flatly that West Berlin cannot be administered by the FRG. How can we deal with this problem?

The Secretary: The agreement doesn’t say that West Germany cannot be governed from West Berlin.

Mr. Gromyko: We have a system for calling special meetings to discuss the Quadripartite Agreements. There we can take steps to insure full implementation. Steps such as this taken by the FRG will certainly produce a reaction in the GDR. They cannot act as a bystander. I hope that the US will take this problem seriously and give it its full attention in order to find a remedy.

The Secretary: I will look into the situation but I must express my regret about any harassment continuing on the autobahn. I would urge you to urge the GDR not to continue this harassment.

Mr. Gromyko: I certainly cannot visualize a situation where the GDR would stand still as a casual bystander. They cannot be indifferent bystanders.

[Page 661]

The Secretary: We can talk further about this at dinner. (At the very end the Secretary and Mr. Gromyko met privately for three quarters of an hour.)10

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Gromyko 1974. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Hartman.
  2. For Rogers’ summary of phase I of the CSCE held in Helsinki July 3–7, 1973, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 169. The second stage of negotiations was held in Geneva September 18, 1974–July 21, 1975.
  3. See ibid., Document 182.
  4. Albert W. Sherer, Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, was the Chief of the U.S. Delegation to the CSCE from February 1974.
  5. Kissinger and Dobrynin met on January 17. No record of the meeting was found, but the paper that Kissinger gave Dobrynin is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 123.
  6. A reference to the European Community, whose members were Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
  7. Basket III of CSCE dealt with aspects of humanitarian cooperation between the nations, including cultural and educational exchanges, freer movement of people, freedom of information, and family reunification.
  8. Basket I dealt with European security, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, inviolability of frontiers, and freedom from the use of force.
  9. See footnote 11, Document 55.
  10. No record of either the discussion at dinner or the private meeting has been found.