159. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrey Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, USSR
  • Anatoly Dobrynin, USSR Ambassador
  • Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • The President
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department of State
  • Walter J. Stoessel, Ambassador to the USSR

During photographs, there was discussion between the President and Mr. Gromyko about the battle of Borodino and the question of who really won the battle. The President concluded that the battle had been a draw. The Secretary remarked that when Napoleon had gone into Russia, he thought the Czar would surrender after the first battle. This had been the pattern at Austerlitz.2 However, the Russians had not acted in this way.

Mr. Gromyko: Fulfilling my duty, I wish to convey to you, Mr. President, the best greetings from Secretary General Brezhnev and the Soviet leadership. I might say that I think there is some personal feeling in Mr. Brezhnev’s greetings.

How should we conduct our talks today? I have certain things to say on behalf of the Soviet Government and I, of course, would welcome your views.

[Page 662]

The President: I think the subjects for discussion are clear for both sides. I would like to hear your Government’s views on bilateral matters, European matters, the Middle East, and on any other matters you may wish to raise. The Foreign Minister, who has already had a chance to talk to the Secretary of State,3 might raise any of these matters, and I will then add whatever is necessary.

Mr. Gromyko: Good. The best would be if I take up one matter at a time and then hear your remarks on the subject. I will be as brief as possible.

First, I wish to underline that the entire Soviet leadership, the people of the Soviet Union, and General Secretary Brezhnev—whom I saw just yesterday—stand firmly on the positions which were stated in Moscow at the time of your visit in 1972 and here in this country when General Secretary Brezhnev visited in 1973. These positions are reflected in the appropriate treaties and agreements entered into by our two countries. We support both the spirit and the letter of these agreements. In this context and proceeding on this basis, I would like to set forth views on behalf of the Soviet Union. I would appreciate any views you might have as to these general observations.

The President: As I said recently to Ambassador Dobrynin,4 we on our part are just as thoroughly committed to the spirit and the letter of the agreements reached at the summit. In some areas, there has not been as much progress as we would have liked, but so far as our policy is concerned and the views of our Government, we want to continue to work for the implementation of all the agreements which we made at San Clemente, Camp David and here in Washington.

I am grateful for the good wishes of Secretary Brezhnev and I send my own greetings to him and to his colleagues. I look forward to seeing them at the beginning of the summer.

Mr. Gromyko: We certainly proceed on the assumption that the agreement about the next summit meeting remains valid: that it will be in Moscow, this year, and I can confirm that the month of June would be the most convenient time. We also think that considerable preparatory work is needed for this meeting. For this, we think it would be very useful for the Secretary of State to visit Moscow. I also believe that my own visit at this time to Washington has a direct bearing on the preparations. Both sides must work to prepare very carefully for the meeting in order to guarantee positive results at the summit. These results should at the least be no less positive and meaningful than the re[Page 663]sults from your visit to Moscow and Secretary Brezhnev’s visit to the United States.

Secretary Kissinger earlier had thought of coming during the first part of March, but today he suggested coming toward the middle of March. I have asked Mr. Brezhnev’s views about this, since it will have a bearing on his schedule, and I will inform Dr. Kissinger about what he says. I believe there should be no problem. If the reply comes after I leave, then our Chargé will inform Dr. Kissinger.

In talking about the summit, we have some ideas regarding items for the agenda. I made some observations on this subject when I was last in Washington on October 1 of last year [sic], and I also discussed this matter with Secretary Kissinger in Geneva.5

We have no specific and polished formulations to present, but the following represents our general ideas about topics:

1. Exchange of views on the main lines of further development of Soviet-American relations in general.

2. Further measures to limit strategic arms and the signature of an agreement or agreements on this subject, if they are ready.

(Dr. Kissinger interjected that first we will have to make an agreement with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

3. Agreement on the cessation of underground nuclear tests.

4. The prohibition of measures hostile to the environment, climate and human health.

5. The Middle East.

6. The question of European security and cooperation.

7. Reduction of forces and armaments in Central Europe.

8. The situation in Indo-China (with due regard to the situation as it may exist at the time) assuming discussion is justified.

9. The status and further prospects of trade relations between the US and the Soviet Union. Under this heading would be included the participation of US firms in large-scale projects in the Soviet Union on a compensatory basis. This concerns matters we agreed on but which have not yet been settled. Again, this discussion would be with due regard to the situation as it then exists.

10. The possibility of new arrangements in the field of scientific and technical cooperation.

We don’t consider this list exhaustive and perhaps the questions could be expressed differently. Maybe there are other questions mer[Page 664]iting discussion. Each side of course would be free to add what he would wish to discuss during the summit.

The President: All of the ideas on this general list are agreeable to me. We might wish to add subjects later. I hope we will have made progress on some of the items by then, but, at present, all of them deserve consideration.

Mr. Gromyko: I am pleased to hear your remarks. I therefore assume that in this list we have a basis on which we can work, a skeleton around which we can continue discussions with the view to signing agreements.

The President: I might add one thing. As you know, there have been bilateral discussions about energy. This is a very urgent question for us and for all advanced countries in varying degrees.

I think it would be appropriate, if we agree, to consider how we might cooperate concerning energy. After all, we are the two most advanced industrial countries and we have great needs.

Although the Soviet Union will not be at the meeting of the consumer countries here in Washington on February 11,6 I do not want to leave any impression that our two countries should not work together on energy. And here, of course, I do not mean just in the field of development of natural gas. We want to consider such things as peaceful uses of nuclear power and the conversion of coal to gas. Your scientists are working on these things and I think it would be a good signal to others if we studied these matters together. So I suggest adding this to your list of ten.

Mr. Gromyko: Your statement will be considered with the closest attention by the Soviet leadership. Personally, I feel your suggestion is very useful. Certainly it is a subject which merits exchanging views at the next summit. Thereafter, we could have further exchanges about it.

The President: To conclude on this, I don’t want the Soviet leadership to be under any impression that the United States, Western Europe and Japan will solve these problems themselves. After our conference in February, as we move toward the summit, we are prepared to move with the Soviets on the same basis and will not leave the Soviet Union outside. We will do this if you can agree to move in this direction, and we will proceed that way at the summit.

Mr. Gromyko: Regardless of various views about the direct reasons behind the energy crisis, the situation which now exists is of interest to all countries and certainly to the Soviet Union. We understand its importance.

[Page 665]

I would now like to go to the subject of arms limitation and the possibility of reaching agreement on this subject during the next summit. We are firmly in favor of an agreement being signed next summer. Our interest in a new agreement by no means has diminished—rather the contrary. We feel that both sides are in need of a new agreement.

[The President mentioned the Russian words for “tea” and “please,” saying “I know more Russian than you think.” Gromyko said: “I always suspected it.” Coffee and tea were served.]

General Secretary Brezhnev asked me to emphasize that we are now working energetically on this problem in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on political aspects, and in the military area. We are weighing various alternatives and possibilities. I know you are doing the same. You have already given us a few different ideas, and I also gave some to Secretary Kissinger in Geneva. All of this is very complicated but also very important. We must approach the stage where we can get together on a joint agreement and sign it.

I don’t feel I need to set out in detail our preliminary concepts. We don’t have as yet a final version of our approach, but we will move ahead and are close to completion.

Also, Secretary Brezhnev wanted me to tell you that recently he has not been able to get into the details of these problems since he was sick and had a little flu before he went to Cuba. Now, when he gets back to Moscow, he will get into the details.

The President: Dr. Kissinger also has not been feeling too well. That’s why I wanted him to delay his trip to Moscow.

We have been working hard on this question ourselves and it has been considered at the highest level here. We will have another meeting about it in the next two weeks. This is the most difficult subject of all since it goes to the heart of the security of both nations in limiting offensive weapons.

In the Congress, our Vietnam doves have become nuclear hawks about the Soviet Union. This is purely political, of course. We will handle this, just as we will handle our own military. I know that you, too, have a problem with the military, as Mr. Brezhnev said.

This is a matter of the highest priority and I will give it my personal attention.

Secretary Kissinger: It is important that we synchronize what is said in various forums. We will advance general ideas in Geneva, but these will not necessarily be our last word. We will pursue this through our usual channels or in Moscow when I come.

Mr. Gromyko: We will proceed from the assumption that the more delicate aspects of the problem will be handled as they were in the past, and of course this has been justified by practice.

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In short, you would be correct if you concluded that the Soviet Union is anxious to reach an agreement in this area and to sign it at the summit. This would be of importance on the international scale as well.

Only one condition needs to be met in our view, as it was met in the earlier agreement, and that is that neither side’s security interests should be harmed. Neither side should take a unilateral advantage at the expense of the other.

Now I would like to refer to another matter which is in a way linked to this question although it is mentioned separately in our list. That is the problem of ending underground atomic testing. As you know, we already have a treaty, but we have not considered this question for a long time. Let us look at it again. Obviously, it should be possible to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on this problem. If this could be done at the summit it would have great significance and positive repercussions throughout the world. It would confirm the line of policy which both countries have taken in our relations.

Of course, we are aware that some other nuclear countries continue nuclear testing and may not want to agree to such an accord between us. We also know that a series of questions would arise, including the possible duration of such an agreement.

Secretary Kissinger: As I understand from Ambassador Dobrynin the other evening,7 you might consider limiting the number of tests, not just stopping tests altogether.

Mr. Gromyko: We are open-minded.

Secretary Kissinger: This would help our preparations.

The President: We haven’t considered it yet, but it would give us some bargaining room.

Mr. Gromyko: On European affairs, I would like to recall the understanding reached in the relevant US-Soviet documents, and also in talks between you and Mr. Brezhnev on the theme of Europe and the CSCE.

I went into more detail about this with the Secretary this morning, but, briefly, I would like to say that we are not completely satisfied with the progress in Geneva. We feel that some countries are artificially dragging their heels. We don’t know the reason for this. Perhaps some countries want to find ways to interfere with the internal affairs of the Soviet Union—or perhaps it would be better to say of the Socialist countries in general and the Soviet Union especially. I don’t know how to explain this. Perhaps there are some naive people who think they could divert the Soviet Union from its course, or perhaps there are other reasons.

[Page 667]

I would like to underline that we feel that there are unjustified delays in the conference and we are not happy about it. We hope that the US can find ways of exerting its influence in Geneva on those who are dragging things out. We think you are able to do this, so as to achieve a positive outcome. We think this would be in the best interests of everyone and it would benefit US-Soviet relations. There is no need to go into detail.

Lastly, I would say that we hope that the possibility mentioned by you and Mr. Brezhnev regarding the holding of the final stage of the conference at the highest level could be realized. This would have enormous international significance. Secretary Brezhnev wanted me to underline this especially. We believe it would be a good thing to complete the agreements of the Conference at the highest level. This would be of historical importance for the world at large and especially for the US and the Soviet Union. I would appreciate your comment on SALT and the conference.

The President: I have already commented on SALT. As I said, our intentions are to reach agreement at the summit and this will have my personal attention.

About dragging feet at Geneva, this does not apply to the US. We are not doing this. I remember when Mr. Brezhnev pressed me at Camp David to agree to conclude the conference by the end of the year and I said this could be our goal but we can’t commit others. That is still true.

As at Camp David, I would say that we want agreement at the Conference and, if they merit it, they could be signed at the highest level. We remain committed to that.

Dr. Kissinger will look into the question of who is dragging feet at Geneva, and see what can be done.

I know there are language problems at Geneva. If you could be flexible, we would have a better chance of influencing our allies. However, our two countries are together in their approach at Geneva; the problem lies with some of the allies.

Secretary Kissinger: Exactly. As I explained, some of the allies want to use the Conference to reform the domestic system of the Soviet Union, which is unrealistic since they failed to do so in several wars.

We agreed this morning on a procedure and we will try to work out some language. Then it will be a question of tactics as to how this should be presented at Geneva. Stoessel, Sonnenfeldt and Hartman will work with Vorontsov and someone else from the Soviet Embassy. They should find a formula this week.

The President: We are not dragging our feet. You want us not to drag our feet but rather to kick someone else in the tail.

Mr. Gromyko: We just want you to nudge them.

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The President: When I think of the language worked out by Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt on world problems, it should be possible for us to get together on this matter.

Of course, we have our own ideas about your system and you have your ideas about ours, but we are not trying to change yours.

It is a question of how honest a person like Jackson is who seems to want to change the Soviet system—and here I speak as an old cold warrior myself.

Mr. Gromyko: If there are such people—and there must be, judging by the obstructions in Geneva—either they have lost all feeling of realism and are unable to see what is possible and what is not possible, or they are real opponents of détente. I was asking Secretary Kissinger can there really exist people who are oblivious to the results of WW II?

I agree with most of what you have said and I see you are against procrastinating. We need a little more coordination and we will work with Dr. Kissinger to see what can be done to speed things up.

Now, about the Middle East. Here I probably will say some things which are not too pleasant for you.

The President: The Middle East is not pleasant for anyone.

Secretary Kissinger: I would like to make a deal with our Soviet friends to turn over the Israelis to them.

Mr. Gromyko: In what form would you turn them over?

On the positive side, we can say there is no war in the Middle East at present. This is largely the result of our joint actions. However, many problems remain unsolved. The occupation of Arab lands by Israel still continues.

I would like to say the following: we reached agreement to have the Geneva conference and we felt everyone could heave a sigh of relief that a forum had been found by which the achievement of a solution became possible. But what happened: After the Ministers left the conference became paralyzed. And when the question arose about the separation of forces the US decided to act without the Soviet Union.

This is something which caused us great surprise. What happened to our agreement that the conference would be under the auspices of the US and the Soviet Union? In fact, it mattered not a bit; it turned out that this was an empty and meaningless gesture.

This throws a shadow on our agreement and on the prospects for the future. If this important agreement could be violated, there is no guarantee that this could not happen again on another subject.

We in the Soviet leadership ask why this step was taken. It was contrary to repeated assurances that we needed to work in a coordinated way in the Middle East in the interests of peace and guided by [Page 669] the long-term interests in peace of both our countries, and by the principle not to inflict harm to the other side’s interests and security. All this has been thrown aside and the US decided to take matters into its own hands and to act in circumvention of the agreement. This was breached and the US acted unilaterally.

If we had wanted to act in the same way to trip the US up on some Middle East matters, we could have done so. We could have found Arab leaders to work with us. But we did not take this course. This is plain speaking. It is for you to judge who gained and who lost. We feel that you lost.

If we acted together, the progress would have been better. It would have been better for you, for us, for Israel, Egypt, Syria, and for everyone.

We don’t understand why the US, for interim gains, decided to act in this way, why you sacrificed the long term for the short term.

We favor joint action with the US to ensure that all questions relating to the Middle East could be taken up jointly. This would include Syria. As to the forms, level, timing of action, these details could be agreed between us.

In short, the US action was a surprise. The situation can only be rectified by joint efforts by both sides.

Now, I would like to hear your views.

The President: First, a general comment. War in the Middle East is detrimental to the interests of both the US and the Soviet Union. Permanent peace is possible in the Middle East only if it is supported by the Soviet Union and the US.

This is a general observation. The Foreign Minister indicates that more progress could have been made if there had been more coordination between the Soviet Union and the US in the difficult negotiations for disengagement. Maybe so. But, we have disengagement now, which is the first time Israel has withdrawn from anything. This is important.

But there should be no impression we are trying for a big settlement in the Middle East with the Soviet Union on the outside looking in. I would go back to my earlier remarks—a permanent peace can only be obtained with the Soviet Union and the US. As you say, you could have blocked things.

I told the Ambassador previously that we had testing times in the Middle East. We should do better in the future. I talked with Dr. Kissinger this morning about this. We should have closer coordination on the talks in Geneva and in other ways.

The Soviets can play a role in other ways in addition to what they can do with the Syrians. We have one interest, and that is to bring about permanent peace.

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We don’t intend to have American domination in the Middle East. We believe both the US and the Soviet Union have interests in the Middle East and we do not need to be in conflict. Both should play a role.

I accept your criticism. There was an impression given in our press that the US was trying to make this a one-man show and cut the Soviets out.

My intent at least was to get the thing done. To achieve disengagement, the best way was to proceed as we did.

However, looking to the future, we don’t want to jeopardize our relations with the Soviet Union on other things by any failure on our part to consult about the Middle East.

Secretary Kissinger: We had a brief discussion this morning. I will see the Foreign Minister again tomorrow and we will discuss this. The problem is how to relate strategy to tactics.

In Israel, where the Soviets have no representation, we can work more easily than the Soviets can. We should look concretely at who can do what in each case. We have no interest in proceeding unilaterally.

The President: The main thing is to get it done so that we both are not dragged by small and sometimes irresponsible powers into unnecessary conflict.

I know that the Soviets have a certain position about the Palestinians. This is a problem and in our opinion it would be like a loose cannon on the deck. It could blow up the possibilities which now exist.

In any case, I heard the Foreign Minister’s plain talk clearly and I will talk the same way. Our goal—unequivocally—is, first, to achieve a settlement. Second, we recognize that the Soviet Union’s cooperation in this and other areas is vital. It is essential if it is to last. But, as Dr. Kissinger says, we must discuss tactics. Some areas we can get into where you can’t. Some you can get into where we can’t. We must consider this.

Mr. Gromyko: Mr. President, you emphasize that the main objective is to achieve a lasting settlement and not simply a partial one like disengagement.

Now, we agreed on convening the Geneva conference on the Middle East and if we act correctly all questions could be discussed and solved there. On some things, if we agree in advance, one side could talk with one of the parties. You could do this with Israel and we could do this with Egypt or Syria. But joint efforts are required by us both. Let us try to put this into effect.

Secretary Kissinger: I will follow up on this.

Mr. Gromyko: There are two other matters I would like to raise.

[Page 671]

First, I would like to know your views about economic relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. I am familiar in general with the factual situation. We talked about this with Dr. Kissinger in Geneva. We appreciate your personal efforts, Mr. President, especially about MFN. But I would be interested in your assessment.

Secondly—and this goes beyond the framework of bilateral matters—I would say that there is nothing new in our relations with China in any sense of improvement. You know about our statements of readiness to improve relations with China. They have been published. We received no positive response to them. So, our relations are in bad shape. But you mustn’t applaud this. Many US visitors go to China these days, and I am sure you are familiar with Chinese views. I would be interested in anything you might say on this subject as a continuation of your talk with Secretary Brezhnev about it.

(Secretary Kissinger left the room at this point.)

The President: Concerning MFN, I would be less than candid if I said there is no problem. We are continuing to work at it. I will indicate my support in a symbolic way by giving a dinner for Patolichev and Kendall when they are here in Washington.8

We are working on this, but without immediate hope for success in Congress. We are trying to keep the credits alive.

I know your interest in a long-term economic agreement and we are looking at this.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: Yes, Secretary Shultz will be prepared to move ahead on this with Patolichev.

The President: We want to do something that means something at the summit.

I am committed to MFN, but it is a sticky problem and we must continue to work at it until it is resolved.

About China, there is nothing much new to say. The idea that someone should applaud differences between the Soviet Union and China is really rather foolish. If one wanted differences, the most stupid way would be to applaud. About our own very young relationship with the PRC, it is primarily in the fields of trade and exchanges. We will continue this in the future. We can’t leave out a billion people, just as you can’t. I know that Mr. Brezhnev understands this.

I have given you assurances on all of this previously.

We won’t be so foolish when two superpowers are engaged in a constructive dialogue—and we have problems and lots of fish to fry—to let any other country jeopardize this dialogue. Just as you wouldn’t.

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The Soviet Union itself is a Pacific power and you understand why we should develop communication with the PRC. This is not done with any idea that it is at the expense of the Soviet Union. We recognize at this time in history that what the Soviet Union and the United States are able to do will determine the future. This is our first priority.

Mr. Gromyko: Thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity to talk with you and the time you have given and what you have said.

In accordance with your comment, Dr. Kissinger will be prepared to take up in more detail some of these questions with us. I will join him in such an exchange of views with pleasure.

May I ask if you have any message for Secretary Brezhnev? What should I tell him about things here when I enter his office?

The President: You can say that we remember his visit with pleasure and everywhere he traveled people remember it with great pleasure. Despite the fact that some people for political reasons, as in Western Europe, are trying to discount Soviet-US relations, I know what our best interests are just as Mr. Brezhnev does for the Soviet Union.

Our relations are strong now and they must be strengthened. This is vital for the peace of the world, despite what politicians and the press say.

Personally, I would tell the General Secretary he should not drive too fast. I remember at Camp David when he drove his new car with me in it down the one lane road. I was frightened to death we would meet a Marine in a jeep coming the other way and there would be an international incident. But I know that he is a very good driver.

I hope that when we meet again that we will have an opportunity not only for serious talk but also for easy talk. We like each other personally, but what really counts is the progress we can make on tough issues.

Mr. Gromyko: I agree. I will convey your words to the General Secretary. I would like to say that we appreciate the fact that you have appointed an Ambassador to the Soviet Union who knows our country so well. He will be welcome there.

The President: Yes, he is a good man, and he also has a very attractive wife.

The President accompanied Mr. Gromyko and his party to his car outside the West Lobby and wished him well. The Foreign Minister departed the White House at 6:35 p.m.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Gromyko 1974. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Borodino and Austerlitz were battles in the Napoleonic Wars, fought on September 7, 1812, and December 2, 1805, respectively.
  3. See Document 158.
  4. See Document 156.
  5. For the records of Gromyko’s September 28 and December 22, 1973, meetings with Kissinger, see Documents 137 and 155.
  6. A reference to the Washington Energy Conference held February 10–13. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Documents 318322.
  7. See Document 157.
  8. Kendall and Patolichev were the Directors of the U.S.–USSR Trade and Economic Council which met in Washington February 25–26. See footnote 10, Document 168.