105. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Ford 1


  • Brezhnev’s Letter of December 25

Brezhnev has written you a long letter commenting on the trade–emigration issues and their impact on the general state of US-Soviet relations.2

He makes the following points:

1. The US has failed to meet its commitment to end trade discrimination “unconditionally” (as provided for in the October 1972 agreements);

2. The USSR is thereby relieved of its obligations in a “comprehensive complex of agreements on trade and credit questions” (he is referring, first of all, to the lend lease agreement, which was conditioned on granting of MFN);

3. US actions raise questions about the validity of other agreements;

4. The USSR, however, intends to move forward in both bilateral relations and on international issues in light of common interests, and will not “retreat” from its responsibilities.

5. Brezhnev solicits your view on how to improve the “existing situation”, and expresses the hope that you share his intention not to become discouraged but to carry out “joint efforts” including the Vladivostok agreements.

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The letter has some polemical language:

—Economic relations are described as having been seriously damaged, and as being worse than “ever before”.

—He alludes to the possibility of the Soviet Union imposing conditions on trade—such as ending racial discrimination in the US or unemployment—but these are rhetorical points, which he dismisses.


Brezhnev is obviously required by his own domestic political situation to take a strong stand on the emigration question. Yet, he stops short of rejecting the previous agreement completely, and leaves open the question of how to proceed.

The main purpose of the letter seems to be to provide you with reassurance that he does not intend to let the MFN–emigration issue escalate into a major shift in Soviet policy:

—He is particularly careful to ask for your views, and emphasizes his intention to continue along constructive lines.

I have already discussed Brezhnev’s letter with Ambassador Dobrynin who assures me that no immediate reply is necessary.3 He will inform General Secretary Brezhnev that a reply will be forthcoming after you have had a chance to study the contents of the letter and consider the issues raised.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1974–1977, Box 27, USSR, The “D” File. Secret; Sensitive. Ford initialed the memorandum. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Hyland forwarded it to Kissinger on December 26. In his covering memorandum, Hyland commented: “Brezhnev is putting the ball back in our court: (1) by stopping short of a clear-cut denunciation of the trade/lend lease agreements (similar to the TASS statement of December 18); (2) by soliciting the President’s views on how to improve the ‘existing situation’; (3) by reaffirming his commitment not to retreat from the cause of relaxation of international tensions, and specifically, offering to build relations on the ‘degree of mutual understanding’ revealed in Vladivostok; and (4) by expressing the hope that the President shares Brezhnev’s approach. He would seem to be inviting a conciliatory reply, which he may need in his own internal debates; indeed, this overture of Brezhnev’s, despite some of its polemical points, is rather mild considering the circumstances.” (National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Soviet Union, Nov–Dec 1974)
  2. Document 104.
  3. No record of the discussion between Kissinger and Dobrynin has been found.