163. Letter From President Nixon to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

Dear Mr. General Secretary:

In anticipation of Secretary Kissinger’s discussions in Moscow next week, I want to share with you my assessment of US–USSR relations and the prospects for further progress in their improvement.

As we prepare for another meeting at the highest level, both sides can take satisfaction in the durability of the achievements of our pre[Page 693]vious meetings. They have stood the test of time and events. To be sure, we have both encountered criticism of the value of improved US-Soviet relations. Nevertheless, I believe that history will show that we are on the right course. That we can and should make a relaxation of tensions irreversible, as you have so aptly described it, remains a goal to which I am personally committed.

Even though meetings at the highest level have become a regular feature of US-Soviet relations, adequate preparations prior to our discussions are still the best guarantee of successful results. In examining our various negotiations and projects, there are several that we might consider for decisions at the summit.

As in 1972 and 1973, I look forward this year to a general review of the international situation. I believe that questions of strategic arms limitations and issues related to European security will command a major share of our attention.

We have been conducting a most thorough review of the problems connected with the further limitation of strategic arms. I understand that the Soviet side has been similarly engaged. Against this background, I believe that we have reached a point where discussions at a higher level can provide an impetus to the Geneva negotiations.

In our review we have proceeded from the basic principles that you and I signed last year, which are the foundation for the agreements which we are committed to develop during 1974. As I see it, one of the most important tasks is to address qualitative limitations on strategic offensive arms, in particular the question of limiting multiple warheads. I recognize that this is a highly complicated technical issue; but in addition to an equitable solution of the technical problem, a political decision will be required if we are to place a ceiling on the unlimited proliferation of these weapons.

Secretary Kissinger will be prepared to elaborate on our ideas, following through on the general concept we have suggested in our confidential channel, and he will, of course, be authorized to consider proposals from the Soviet side.

The current situation is in some respects similar to May 1971, when we decided to proceed simultaneously along two paths: toward the ABM agreement and toward the interim agreement on offensive weapons. We might consider whether a similar decision should be taken at this stage: an agreement to work out the provisions of limitations on multiple warheads, plus an agreement to intensify negotiations to complete at least the main provisions of a permanent agreement dealing with all aspects of limitations of strategic offensive weapons including their subsequent reduction. Such a breakthrough, announced at the summit, would then allow our negotiators to accelerate their efforts to reach agreement this year.

[Page 694]

I know that we both agree on the continuing importance of strategic arms limitations for all aspects of US–USSR relations. Our ability to maintain and develop progress in this area cannot fail to have the most beneficial effect on both our peoples and on world opinion. The prospects for progress on other important issues would undoubtedly be improved if we could demonstrate our determination to limit our strategic offensive arsenals.

The relaxation of military tensions in Central Europe, for example, is one area that would be favorably influenced by further progress in limiting strategic armaments. Though the negotiations are separate, some of the issues are related in that a stable balance of strategic weapons will encourage reductions of conventional armaments.

The vital interests of many nations are involved in the Vienna talks,2 but I am convinced that the US and the USSR have a special political responsibility to take the lead in demonstrating our mutual willingness to reduce our forces in Central Europe. You have suggested that the first reductions might come in 1975, and I agree that this should be our goal. It should be possible for the US and USSR to agree to reduce our own forces in 1975, and simultaneously establish the political framework for subsequent reductions of forces of the other participants in the talks.

Mr. General Secretary, agreements in this area, coupled with SALT agreements, would be ample proof that the relaxation of tension between the two strongest nuclear powers is not a passing episode but a continuing process leading to a fundamental change in the character of our relations.

As for the other aspects of European security, I agree with you that the conversations concerning the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe have proceeded at a slow pace. You are aware that the US has been prepared to move more rapidly, and there are no disagreements of principle between our two sides. Yet, for this Conference to be successful, it is necessary that we take fully into account the interests of all the participants, so that the final result will be a truly significant contribution to international peace and security.

We have in fact made some progress since Minister Gromyko’s visit to Washington,3 and during your discussion with Secretary Kissinger we can make additional progress. As you know, the US will not stand in the way of concluding this Conference by a meeting at the highest level, but this decision will depend on the views of others.

Finally, I want to elaborate on the questions of securing a viable peace in the Middle East. Events in this area have taken some unex[Page 695]pected and complicated turns. One thing remains paramount. I am determined to make every effort to create the conditions that will lead to a permanent settlement. The sides involved have insisted on proceeding step-by-step, and we have tried to ensure that this process moves ahead. In this way some degree of mutual confidence will evolve. While the diplomatic forms and procedures may vary, the success of the current disengagement process will make it possible to address more basic questions of a lasting peace.

We do not lose sight of the fact that the situation is enormously complicated, that tensions still are quite high, and that if political momentum is lost, then an exceedingly dangerous situation would be created. This is why the United States has accepted, with some reluctance, the role of bringing the sides together in whatever form has been necessary to ensure progress. In this role we are counting heavily on the support and influence of the Soviet Union, because Mr. General Secretary, there is no doubt in my mind that you and I share the concern of all our peoples that peace is indivisible.

Our meetings in Moscow will also be a new opportunity to broaden the scale of bilateral cooperation. There are two areas of particular importance—a long term economic agreement and an agreement in the field of energy—that I have asked Secretary Kissinger to explain to you next week. He will also be prepared to discuss confidentially with you the status of the legislation before our Congress as it affects our economic agreements of October 1972 and the tactics we will pursue in fulfilling our commitments under those agreements.

We have reviewed the other questions of bilateral cooperation suggested by Minister Gromyko, and Secretary Kissinger will discuss a plan to bring several of these forward so that they can be concluded at our meeting in Moscow.

Mr. General Secretary, I have been reflecting on the course of US-Soviet relations during these past five years. In our first meeting, it was significant that we agreed that there was no alternative to peaceful coexistence. In our second meeting, we were able to go beyond this principle and agree on concrete measures to reduce the risks of nuclear war and to broaden the base of our cooperative efforts. In this coming meeting, we have opportunities of no lesser importance, in that we can demonstrate that a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship between our two peoples is, in fact, becoming a permanent factor for worldwide peace—the goal we set last year in San Clemente.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 69, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 22, January–April 1974. No classification marking. Kissinger forwarded the letter to Nixon under a covering March 18 memorandum with the recommendation that he sign it.
  2. A reference to the MBFR negotiations taking place in Vienna.
  3. See Documents 158, 159, and 160.
  4. Printed from an unsigned copy. Nixon added the following handwritten note: “I met your Cosmonauts in Houston yesterday. They are splendid men. I am proud that one of the results of our first summit in Moscow is that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are now going to go into space together in 1975. Let this be our goal in other areas as well. My best personal regards. RN