10. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford 1

SUBJECT

  • Brezhnev’s First Message to You

Brezhnev’s response to the message you sent him2 immediately after you were sworn in is friendly and positive in tone. He picks up the theme of continuity contained in your message.

As was to have been expected in this first exchange, Brezhnev’s letter is couched in generalities. His most specific points relate to the continuation of personal contact; thus, he accepts again the previously extended invitation to him to visit the U.S. next year which you had confirmed, and he reaffirms his own interest in the idea of a working meeting on “neutral ground” before the end of this year. He also in effect invites you to the Soviet Union in 1976. In addition, he also endorses continued use of confidential communication channels. All these points reflect Brezhnev’s continued personal stake in the relationship with us.

While strongly affirming Soviet interest in continued improvements in our relations, Brezhnev on the whole avoids the millenial rhetoric he sometimes uses in this regard. There is, in fact, a note of realism in his letter: he notes that the road of détente is not simple and requires persistent effort.

There is no overtly contentious note—in recent communications to President Nixon, Brezhnev was quite polemical concerning Cyprus, and the Soviets displayed impatience over the delay in resuming the Geneva conference on the Middle East and in our extending them MFN. The closest he comes is to insist that our relations must be based on “full equality and mutual benefit.” These are standard terms but are sometimes used as euphemisms for Soviet complaints against us.

In referring to the idea of a working summit meeting, Brezhnev is evidently prepared to await developments. While he no doubt would welcome an early get-acquainted session, he probably does not want to crowd you so early in your term by making a specific proposal. He [Page 23] probably also anticipates that some of the issues now under negotiation, or in preparation for negotiation, will take some time to become ripe for summit-level consideration. Gromyko’s visit here for the UN General Assembly and my own projected visit to Moscow later in the fall would be part of this process. (I referred to both of these in a message I sent Gromyko immediately after you assumed office.)3

In sum, the initial written contact between you and Brezhnev, reinforced by the talks with Vorontsov and Dobrynin, leave US-Soviet relations essentially on course. Brezhnev seems reassured that the change here portends no change in policy and he himself is intent on reassuring you of continuity in Soviet policies. These themes are also evident in public Soviet comment. This in itself does not solve the knotty problems we confront on such issues as SALT and MBFR or even Cyprus, should that crisis erupt actively again. But it gives us a base for maintaining the momentum in dealing with these issues.

Attached at Tab A is Brezhnev’s message to you; at Tab B is a copy of your message to Brezhnev; and at Tab C is a copy of my letter to Gromyko.4

In your talk with Dobrynin, you should express gratification at the positive tone and content of Brezhnev’s message, note what Brezhnev says about the “road of détente” not being a “simple task” and stress your determination to pursue negotiations vigorously in the coming weeks while dealing with critical issues, like Cyprus, in a spirit of restraint and respect for each other’s interests.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 16, USSR (1). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Sonnenfeldt forwarded it to Kissinger for approval on August 13. (National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 8, Soviet Union, Aug–Sept 1974)
  2. Documents 7 and 4, respectively.
  3. Document 3.
  4. The tabs are attached but not printed.