173. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, USA Department (Interpreter)

The President greeted the Foreign Minister in the Oval Office. As they were seated and waiting for photographers to enter, the President noted in jest that Gromyko had been called a right-wing deviationist. Gromyko said that he was a little bit to the right of center according to contemporary terminology. Pictures were then taken. Secretary Kissinger mentioned the current UN session and said that it would be the first time that he would give a longer speech than the Soviet Foreign Minister. Gromyko asked how much longer. Secretary Kissinger said “one page” but that the approach of the two speeches could be rather similar. The photographers then left the Oval Office.

Gromyko: Mr. President, thank you for receiving me again. Could we use the usual method in our talks and take up various questions one by one?

President: Yes. Good, good.

Gromyko: First, may I say that although in the last year or two we have on many occasions and at many levels had the opportunity to exchange views regarding the principles and basic lines of policy of the two sides, it would not be out of place to do so again. I will be brief about this but definitive. Leonid Brezhnev expressed the desire that I especially emphasize the fact that the Soviet Union is fully determined to observe completely the obligations assumed by us in the documents adopted at the two summit meetings. This thought also dominated our thinking—the General Secretary’s thinking—when he set out the Soviet position in the recent talks with Dr. Kissinger in Moscow. And the same [Page 822] thoughts were also set out by Nikolay Podgorny on behalf of the Soviet leadership in his recent meeting with you in Paris.2

We express our satisfaction at the fact that on every occasion on which you meet with representatives of the Soviet leadership, or when the Secretary of State does, you also stress the firm intentions of the US side in this respect and this gives, we feel, greater solidity to our policies and our relations. We sometimes read in the press, and especially in the US press, words to the effect that no one can say for sure whether the Soviet Union really favors détente or whether it is a tactical maneuver. Such guesswork is sheer nonsense because we do not base ourselves merely on considerations of the moment. Our line has been set out to you many times and is known to you and, therefore, such guesswork is nonsensical. We, of course, hope that the US line is the same.

President: Yes.

Gromyko: I am glad you understand correctly.

One can never get far with temporary considerations because one would get shipwrecked quickly. We have no desire for that and we think you don’t either. So on that point I could end what I had wanted to say. But, I do want to add that we in the Soviet leadership are most satisfied that you hold true to the line you have taken despite certain known difficulties—which I don’t want to go into—and we admire you for it on the human plane.

Now there are certain more specific issues which I would like to raise later but for now I will end on this question.

President: We are on the same course and neither of us must allow opponents of détente, in the press and in political circles, to deflect us from our course. You should know that I pay no attention to them and I just go on. We have problems like the European Security Conference and the Middle East and SALT and so on. Our intention, despite certain tactical differences that arise from time to time, is to work together. I have always kept my word on that to Mr. Brezhnev. We intend to go forward on the various agreements, the various bilateral agreements, and we will have a good summit of course, despite some difficulties on MFN and people like Jackson who are opposed to any SALT agreement and those who want us to be at each other’s throats.

Gromyko: Thank you Mr. President. The most valuable part of what you said is that you intend most firmly to follow the line in relations between our countries which we both agreed on. The development of relations between two major powers is like two ships at sea. If the captains determine on a course, say from north to south, they may have to circumnavigate certain islands or other obstacles, but they still [Page 823] end up on course. Let us hope that our ship does not get lost in a fog and that it will go forward in the right direction. Of course I am not calling our ship an aircraft carrier; let us call it a Corvette.

When Dr. Kissinger was in Moscow—and you discussed this briefly with Podgorny in Paris—we discussed in detail the possibility of a new SALT agreement. We also had an opportunity to discuss this matter when I was last in Washington about three months ago.3 As hitherto, we attach great importance to reaching agreement on this question. Our determination to search for agreement with you has not abated. At the conclusion of our discussions with Dr. Kissinger in Moscow we, that is Brezhnev, submitted a proposal4 and we are now awaiting the official reply to it. Toward the end of the discussions the General Secretary said that it is not all that easy for us to come to a formulation of a proposal. We had to weigh all factors very carefully before making the proposal and we hope that the US appreciates it. After all, there is considerable disparity in numbers of missiles to be allowed under the agreement—1000 to 1100, meaning an advantage of 100 for you—and considering that each missile, that is, each naval missile will have 10—at least 10—MIRVs, the US will have an advantage of 1000 warheads.

Kissinger: They don’t trust our information, Mr. President. We tested it once with 12 warheads but only used 10, but it doesn’t make any difference.

Gromyko: I would like to stress that if we reach agreement on this basis, it would mean in fact that the US would be ahead of the Soviet Union for the entire duration of the next agreement. Of course it is hard to say how the gap will progress, whether it will narrow or widen and how the “scissor” will move exactly; but the US will always be ahead. This really makes for a double inequality—formal and factual.

And I would like to mention one other point. Voices are sometimes heard in the US alleging that the US and the President should make every effort to “correct” the previous agreement and obtain a sizable advantage. Anyone can, of course, interpret an agreement as he wants. But we categorically reject that the Soviet Union was in a better position as a result of the last agreement. We categorically reject that. We should like to hope that you as Head of State and of the US Administration will take an objective approach to this question, proceeding from the assumption that the previous agreement places both sides in a position of equality. If there were any inequality, it would be the US who would be [Page 824] at an advantage because of one factor, your forward based systems. I hope all this will be weighed carefully and you will give an appropriate answer to those shouters who want to place difficulties in the way of understanding. I don’t know if they base themselves more on domestic or on foreign considerations but in any case they should be disabused of their false views.

President: Let me comment briefly on the entire area of strategic weapons. We have some areas for reaching an understanding. First, defensive weapons. Each side agrees not to construct site number two. Second, this is more technical—the question of not testing nuclear weapons above a certain threshold. This is very technical but I have instructed Dr. Kissinger to work with your people and we should be able to agree at least in principle. Third, this is more difficult still. We had hoped to get a permanent agreement but this is not possible. So we are talking about MIRVs because they most affect the balance. Now you mention numbers but you have enormous advantages in throw weight. Consequently, in the discussions of MIRVs we have to consider throw weight as well as numbers. And also whether MIRVs apply both to land and sea-based missiles or only to one or the other. But this is a difficult problem for us internally. There are those critical of the Interim Agreement because of the great Soviet advantage in throw weight. But we want agreement in SALT III—Summit III—as we had in SALT I and SALT II. Now we have already suggested a threshold test ban. On the MIRV agreement, having in mind the numbers problem, we should negotiate and attempt to reach agreement with you having in mind that we have a problem and we having in mind that you have a problem. We cannot negotiate ourselves into an inferior position. Nor can you. It is possible to reach agreement in that area provided there is an intention on both sides. And that is certainly true of Mr. Brezhnev and of you, and of me and Dr. Kissinger and others. I think you would agree, Secretary Kissinger.

Kissinger: Yes, it is very difficult but we should do it. On the test ban, we should have technical talks soon. On SALT, we have the problem that the two forces were designed in different ways and that now makes it difficult to establish equivalence. We each designed our forces independently not with each other’s advice, although our critics are trying to blame the Soviets for decisions we made years ago. We have to relate numbers in some way: how many of each category to MIRV and over what period of time. I will talk to Mr. Gromyko at lunch on the technical aspects and won’t hold you up with that now, Mr. President. We are now studying very carefully the Soviet proposal and we will submit our position first to you, Mr. President, and then to you and the General Secretary within about ten days. But I must say our press has really been unfair on this whole subject.

[Page 825]

President: We are determined that unless we come to some sort of impasse this is a problem that can be negotiated. Both sides have to approach it in this way: Mr. Brezhnev cannot make an agreement that gives us an advantage and I cannot make an agreement that gives you an advantage. That is the spirit we should conduct negotiations in.

Gromyko: Two things with respect to that. First, in all the combinations you talk about, the US will have an obvious advantage in the form of the forward based systems; nothing made out as a concession by the US can change that. It is hard to explain for us that there is not an advantage for the US and it cannot be eliminated by the Soviet Union’s merely having a few more missiles. This is a factor that has to be taken constantly into consideration. Our proposal does not place us in a position of equal security.

Second, Dr. Kissinger raised the question of an exchange of information in regard to fulfillment of an agreement so as to give a clearer picture regarding the intentions of the other side. We need not debate here the accuracy of such information. We do believe that some kind of information exchange would facilitate agreement and whatever arrangement is made regarding such an exchange, the assumption made would be that each side will give precise and accurate information. And that would facilitate agreement.

Now, I would like to take up the question of the underground test ban. I presume that on that question we do have an understanding in principle. That is, that an agreement should provide for a ceiling on the capacity of explosions. Experts could meet in Moscow or here for technical talks and prepare an appropriate draft for signature when you come to Moscow. Do you have any views on timing?

President: Oh, about two weeks at most. Perhaps one week.

Kissinger: About two weeks.

Gromyko: Where?

Kissinger: We have no preference.

Gromyko: Now if you permit me, I would like to go to the Middle East.

Kissinger: I thought you had forgotten about it.

Gromyko: That is what you hoped.

President: Let me just mention some other things. We are making progress on space, on heart disease, health, energy and a long-term economic agreement, which incidentally is very constructive potentially. On MFN—I have been working on it and so has Dr. Kissinger and Dent, all of us.

I really would like to be able to deliver it by the time I get to Moscow but I cannot promise it. I know that General Secretary [Page 826] Brezhnev told Dent5 that there are some problems, one or two, and I am kicking some pants on them. I have approved all the various cooperative projects personally and we will move ahead on them. Now, the Middle East.

Gromyko: I am certainly gratified by those words of yours. As I understand, you are expressing the hope that this matter [MFN] will be brought to a successful conclusion. I would prefer “confidence” as a word.

President: I will add with “confidence” for all the agreements I have mentioned. But on MFN—we are making progress and coming along. But I just cannot promise to deliver Congress. My prestige is behind it and Dr. Kissinger is working with Congress and the Jewish community.

Kissinger: Yes, but we may not have a compromise before you go to Moscow Mr. President. We are working on lining up support before we go back to Jackson. He is the most difficult.

Gromyko: Now to the “easy question” of the Middle East.

President: Okay.

Gromyko: Maybe my words won’t sound pleasant. But it is a reality that we do see US actions in the Middle East are in contradiction with the agreements between us and with your own words. I can recall that you said right here in this room that the US is in favor of joint action in the Middle East. And you said that if the US and the Soviet Union agree there will be peace and if they don’t agree then there will not be peace. That is what I remember you said to me. And you said the same thing in substance in San Clemente.6 But where are the concrete results to illustrate those words have been carried into action? One can only call US actions “separatist.” Maybe the US is seeking an advantage for itself by taking these separatist actions. The US is leaving the Soviet Union completely aside in the Middle East settlement. This was mentioned to Dr. Kissinger in Moscow.7 You know, if we wanted to frustrate peace we could easily do it because it is within our capability. So it would be good if you could weigh the consequences of separatist action because we had an agreement to act in a coordinated way to resolve the issue. And this doesn’t just boil down to the fact that we do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. After all, we sat next to them at Geneva, at the Geneva Conference, the one you have now blocked. We don’t regard them as untouchables or something like that. I hope you will look at the problem again and correct the situation.

[Page 827]

We want to act on a coordinated basis and we do not want to see Israel gobbled up. We want to see it as an independent, sovereign state. We want a just settlement. One can buy the condescending attitude of this or that Arab leader, but not peace by separate action. I am speaking very frankly on behalf of Leonid Brezhnev. We can have peace by acting together, if we both want peace.

President: I discussed this with Mr. Podgorny and I have also carefully read the accounts of the talks between Kissinger and Brezhnev. I saw Brezhnev worked him over pretty good for three hours.

You suggested that if it wanted to, the Soviet Union could frustrate peace. I am totally aware that if either of our governments decides that there should not be peace, then there won’t be peace. I stress if “either.” I have said there could be no peace if the Soviet Union is against it and there can be no peace unless we are for it. Because we have to influence Israel. I have said it publicly and I say to you that it is not an intention of ours or our policy to follow what you call a separatist course. We do not want to push the Soviet Union out because you have interests and you have many ties. In fact, in many cases you have closer ties than we. So there must be a recognition that there is a part for each of us to play there.

We now have the difficult problem of Syrian-Israeli disengagement. We have had discussions with Israel and we have had to reject their proposal regarding the Golan Heights. Now the Syrians are coming. Whether agreement is possible will depend on very hard negotiations on our part.

Why not do it in the larger forum in Geneva? It would not work. We broke out the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement. That was good. Now we are trying to break out Syrian-Israeli disengagement. Once those two issues have been broken out, then the Geneva forum comes into play to work out the broad areas of a settlement. That is even more difficult than disengagement because it will be a permanent settlement. Let me assure you: there must not be another war in the Middle East. Whenever there is war in the Middle East it drags us into potential confrontation. We do not want the situation of last October where we were airlifting to Israel and you to Egypt and Syria. It is ridiculous. The Soviet Union and the US should not let the Middle East destroy the progress we have made in other areas—Europe, SALT, etc.—important as the Middle East is. There is no intention on our part to go separate and cut the Soviet Union out. There is no intention that the US will be the major power in the Middle East. You should be there; we should be there. We each have a part to play. The immediate problem is the peace agreement. We believe we had to take a bite—Egyptian-Israeli disengagement, Syrian-Israeli disengagement—as we did. Maybe we consulted inadequately. I have talked to Dr. Kissinger about that. It serves [Page 828] no purpose to discuss who will be “Mr. Big.” We both have a role. If you could deliver the Israelis, we would be only too glad. I told Podgorny that. If you can deliver the Israelis, we will deliver the Syrians!

As I said to Mr. Podgorny and sometime ago to the Ambassador, Mr. Brezhnev would have had a legitimate beef if the US was trying to go alone. But that was not our intention. Our only purpose was to get an agreement which could then be negotiated on in Geneva.

It is good we had this talk. At the summit we will talk the same way. We do not have a policy of cutting you out, “separatist” policy as you called it. There can only be peace if both of us are for it. I said this to Mr. Brezhnev at San Clemente and to Mr. Podgorny and to everyone. That is my belief. It wouldn’t last otherwise. Now it is up to you and Kissinger to work out the consultative framework. There is no point giving the press an opportunity to talk of our two great powers eyeing each other suspiciously. We have no desire to derive advantage at the expense of Soviet participation. The US and Soviet Union must work together in the long run. Or it will not last. I hope you will tell Brezhnev not only what I said but how I said it.

Gromyko: I heard all you said and cannot but agree with much of it. It is correct that a peaceful settlement needs to be achieved. That is exactly what needs to be done.

[At this point Steve Bull8 came in to remind the President that Mr. Gromyko had a one o’clock luncheon engagement.]

You spoke of the need for both powers to act together to reach the goal. But the practical activities of the US in the Middle East run counter to those fine words. All that the US has done of late in the Middle East has been done in circumvention of the Soviet Union by separate measures.

Consultation is not the crux. The two sides can exchange information as long as they wish but their actions may never come together. The crux is for both sides to act together and that has not happened. I do not know what Dr. Kissinger will say to me in pursuance of what you have said, but we will see. Perhaps this is all we can say now in view of the shortness of time.

President: I hope you and Dr. Kissinger can work out some understanding so we can proceed to our goal, the peace settlement which we both pursue. I leave it to both of you and Dobrynin can be the referee.

Kissinger: The Foreign Minister is, of course, so flexible.

Gromyko: I would like to say a few words on Europe, especially on the all European Security Conference. In this area, we are happy to see [Page 829] the US taking a more constructive position. We said so to Dr. Kissinger in Moscow and also to you previously. In Moscow, Dr. Kissinger had certain interesting ideas. We told him we hoped the US Delegation would play a more vigorous role in Geneva. We are pleased to see that in recent days this has happened. We hope you and Dr. Kissinger will do everything to bring the Conference to a successful conclusion and to conduct the third stage at the highest level. You see, I have something pleasant to say.

President: Yes, we have made great progress. If the conferees can agree to important matters, then we will come to the summit. It is the same with you—you don’t want to come if there is no agreement. Of course, there are also the Europeans and they also have ideas. So it is not all that easy to get agreement.

Kissinger: We have worked with the Allies and you will have seen that there has been progress.

President: I have talked with the Italians, with Wilson and Brandt and they are all on track. Also with the Dane. We are using our influence; I am.

Kissinger: We have to do a little more with the British in regard to one item—confidence-building measures in the spirit we discussed in Moscow. These are the military things, Mr. President.

Gromyko: Well, thank you very much. Thank you for this conversation. I certainly appreciate it. It has been a very frank exchange of views. I express the hope that all that relates to the closeness of our positions will be brought to fruition. On those matters on which I had to say things that are not so pleasant for you to hear, I hope they can be worked out too. I would like you to instruct your Secretary of State that when he addresses the General Assembly he should not fire too many arrows at us. Because in my own speech I had to do some “fighting,” you know against whom.9

President: I would like you to discuss one question that you didn’t make much progress on—MBFR.

Gromyko: What is the question?

Dobrynin: Reduction of forces in Central Europe.

Gromyko: Yes.

President: I would like you to discuss it with Henry at lunch. It is very important for certain reasons here.

[Page 830]

Gromyko: That is indeed a very important matter, as was said by General Secretary Brezhnev in Moscow. But the Western position in Vienna is not objective. No agreement can be reached on that basis. And what is more, we think they think so too.

President: Well, we discussed with Mr. Brezhnev a five percent cut by both sides.

Gromyko: Well, thank you very much Mr. President.

President: We have had many meetings in this room. All of us should indicate that we are making positive progress on all items, we are preparing for the summit. The New York Times said Kissinger was gloomy in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.10 But before the other summits everyone was pessimistic.

Gromyko: We must surprise them again.

President: We must work hard and come out with results. We should say we are making good progress, although not everything is settled. We have to leave some things for Brezhnev and me to settle.

[As the President was escorting Gromyko to the door, Gromyko said “We trust you understand that we want you to come and have the meeting and that nothing should interfere with it.”]

[The President accompanied Mr. Gromyko to the West Lobby. They spoke about détente and the President said, in shaking Mr. Gromyko’s hand at the West Lobby door, “We will be cursed by future generations if we fail. We must succeed.”]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, 1955–1977, Lot 81 D 286, Box 8, Soviet Union, January–April 1974. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original. The original is incorrectly dated April 11. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Gromyko on April 12 from 11:02a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 171.
  3. See Documents 173175.
  4. See Document 165. A reference to Brezhnev’s proposal that the SALT Interim Agreement be prolonged until 1980 and the United States would be allowed 1,100 MIRVd missiles, while the Soviets would have only 1,000.
  5. See Document 172.
  6. See Document 132.
  7. See Document 167.
  8. Stephen Bull was the President’s Special Assistant.
  9. Both Kissinger and Gromyko addressed the Sixth Special Session of the General Assembly, which met to discuss the needs of developing countries and the international cooperation necessary to address them. Gromyko’s April 12 speech and Kissinger’s April 15 speech were reported in The New York Times, April 12 and 16, 1974, respectively.
  10. See “Kissinger Gloomy on 3 Major Issues,” ibid., April 12, 1974, p. 1.