110. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The President: Here is a letter which emerged from the meeting with the Jewish leaders.2 [The President hands the letter to Secretary Kissinger.]

[Page 424]

Kissinger: In retrospect, I am sorry we ever negotiated with Jackson.

Domestically, we would be better off if the Soviet Union rejects it than if it accepts, because there is no way the Soviet Union can live up to the two letters.3 If it doesn’t work out, Jackson will say “I told you so”; if it does work, he will say that shows what you can get with toughness. You have seen the change in the Soviet press accounts of the U.S. Something is happening.

Here is my analysis: We have made foreign policy look so easy that the American people think you just go to Vladivostok and make a deal. They don’t know the work behind it, the precariousness of it. Of course, the Democrats would like both détente and anti-Communism.

From the Soviet standpoint: we bombed one of their allies4 to smithereens and they did nothing; we quieted Europe; they have been quiet in the Middle East—not cooperative, but quiet. We rebuffed the Soviets in the 1973 summit on the Middle East.

What have we gotten out of détente? We have de-fanged the left in Europe and their argument that friendship with the U.S. jeopardized the relaxation of tensions. The same in the U.S. The Left is belligerent now, but let détente fail and they will swing to the Left again.

What have the Soviets received? In SALT I they got only ratification of existing situation. We stopped their programs. In Vladivostok they fell off FBS, and they have to give up 100 systems to get down to 2,400. We have no restrictions on our programs.

They are now facing the prospect of same dramatic haggle on SALT as they had on trade. They wanted Vladivostok to be a big achievement to bolster you and they were taken aback. We have to defend Vladivostok by showing what the Soviets gave up, and that’s bad. In 1972 we were talking about large scale economic cooperation. We were thinking that Ex-Im was too small and maybe a special bank would be set up. Now the Trade Bill and the Ex-Im legislation is an insult to them. The authority to go back to Congress is a joke—you can always do that. So they are worse off in credits and only marginally better in trade.

The Politburo people are ambitious like anyone. They will tell Brezhnev, “Look what you told us would happen and look what happened.”

There are two things which have to happen: the exchange of notes with the Soviet Union cutting the length of the trade agreement. There is only a 50–50 chance they will agree to that. Then you must submit a [Page 425] letter assuring that the purposes of Vanik will be met. I doubt that the Soviets will let us say there are assurances.

In the State of the Union, you should talk about Congressional intrusion into foreign policy and go for relief from the OPEC and Ex-Im ceiling. I can give Dobrynin two choices: give up on trade or try to make it work. But honestly, I think we are better off if it fails than if it succeeds. Let the Jewish emigration get cut off. If they hit me with letters, I will say I fought for a year and then went to what I thought were the outer limits. It may have worked if Jackson hadn’t gloated; then with the Ex-Im piled on top, it is just too much.

Each time some Soviet Jew protests, you will get pressure to cut off trade. I don’t think it will work and I regret having gotten into negotiations with Jackson. If Jackson would have let it go without gloating, it may have worked. With your permission, I think this should be my strategy with the Soviet Union. But we may be in for a tough time with the Soviet Union. On the Middle East, they are now offering a joint guarantee of the ’67 borders. That means we push Israel to the ’67 borders. A U.S.-Soviet guarantee means Israel would have to want Soviet troops in; they could paralyze a joint action.

[Omitted here is discussion of negotiations in the Middle East, during which Kissinger commented: “If there is a war, we must keep the Soviets out at all costs and it is probably in our favor to have Israel win. But afterwards, we would have to impose ruthlessly a peace.”]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 8. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford met with American Jewish leaders in the Cabinet Room from 12:04 to 1:10 p.m. on December 20, 1974. (Ibid., White House Office Files) Neither the letter nor a record of the conversation has been found.
  3. Documents 60 and 61.
  4. North Vietnam.