129. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Amb. Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the United States
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Member of the Collegium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief of USA Division
  • Mikhail D. Sytenko, Member of the Collegium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief of Near East Division
  • Amb. Sergei Vinogradov, Chief of Soviet Delegation to Geneva Peace Conference on the Middle East
  • Vasili Makarov, Aide to Minister Gromyko
  • Andrei Vavilov, Interpreter
  • Oleg Krokhalev, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Joseph J. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Amb. Walter Stoessel, Jr., Ambassador to the USSR
  • Amb. Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador-at-Large and Chief of U.S. Delegation to Geneva Peace Conference on the Middle East
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor, Department of State
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • CSCE; Middle East
[Page 492]

[Photographers were admitted briefly and then dismissed. Dr. Kissinger and Minister Gromyko chatted privately from 10:15 a.m. on the sofa. The meeting then convened at the table.]

Kissinger: I just looked over the draft statement. I think we will come to an agreement on it. [See marked-up Soviet draft, Tab A]

Dobrynin: You didn’t accept it yet?

Kissinger: There will be minor modifications. I noticed Korniyeko managed to get “rights of Palestinians” in. We have never gone beyond “interests.”

Gromyko: It is much too short. It should be 10 to 15 pages.

Kissinger: I’m prepared to strengthen the reaffirmation of the trends of our policy.

Mr. Foreign Minister, I welcome you—I can’t say to our territory, but President Ford very much welcomes these exchanges. I want to reiterate before my colleagues what I said to you privately: We read a lot about difficulties in U.S.-Soviet relations. We regret what happened in the commercial field through actions of the Congress which we opposed. We reaffirm the agreements that were reached, especially the ones that were achieved in 1972 and 1973. We want to build on them and, to use the word of your leadership, to make them irreversible.

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Kissinger: We believe we made progress last night. We are prepared to speed up the work of the European Security Conference and already gave instruction to our Ambassador to stay in close touch, and who will today meet with your people.

I know we will start with the Middle East, but I wanted to make these few points.

Gromyko: I have listened with interest to your remarks and would like to say the following: With regard to the general trend of our relations, I would like to say on behalf of the Soviet leadership that we reaffirm the trend of U.S.-Soviet relations and will continue to pursue this course. And this is why I note with satisfaction that you have the same opinion.

We should look into the future and we should exert efforts to find on the basis of cooperation a resolution of outstanding problems. Some of these problems pertain to the situation in Europe and the European Security Conference. I agree our exchange yesterday was beneficial, but we should bring the exchange to a final end. All questions pertaining to normalization of the European Security Conference should be finalized. I believe it would be good to have another look at these formulas. After lunch.

I believe now we can pass over to the problem of the Middle East. It is one of the easiest. [Laughter]

[Page 493]

Kissinger: Well, we’ve both taken trips to the Middle East, and perhaps we should inform each other of these trips.2

Gromyko: I read in your eyes a message that you would like to make a statement. [Laughter]

Kissinger: I believe we should do it in the sequence of trips. [Laughter]

Gromyko: It is accepted. We will follow the same pattern. It is up to you.

Kissinger: To bring each other up to date on the sequence. Perhaps you will give your impression.

Gromyko: All right.

Kissinger: Whenever we bring Bunker you know we’re getting very serious.

Gromyko: I would like to start by saying we attach great importance to this problem, as before it was taken up by General Secretary Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev in the United States; there was an exchange on the subject in San Clemente and in Moscow and in Vladivostok.

As regards the general situation in the area, we believe the situation is fraught with grave dangers. It is true that guns are not firing and tanks are not firing now, but the situation is such that anything can happen. We continue to believe the main reason for this situation is the occupation by Israel of the Arab territories.

I would like to say our position at this stage we can formulate in the following way. There are three main considerations:

—First, the full liberation of Arab territories from Israeli occupation.

—Second, the maintenance of the legitimate rights of the Arab people of Palestine, up to the creation of an independent state formation.

—Third, guaranteeing to the fullest possible extent of the rights of each state in the area, including Israel, to independent existence and development.

And all these three provisions are parts of a unified whole. And without a settlement of any of those parts, there can never be a real settlement of the Middle East problem as a whole. There is much being said in the press, and not only in the press—perhaps you are better aware of that—on partial steps in the Middle East, for example, disengagement of forces. You know our attitude to this approach. We do not find it effective.

[Page 494]

Kissinger [to Sisco]: Sisco, you’ve been making statements again? [Laughter] [to Gromyko]: The Foreign Minister does not approve of this?

Gromyko: We do not know exactly what are these plans or projects—perhaps you are better aware—but our attitude to them is negative. We think it is a method of using sleeping pills and cannot be effective.

Now, regarding the conduct of these affairs, we are against separate actions by a country or group of countries in this affair. Time and again we underline the existence of joint interests of the Soviet Union and the United States in this matter. We think the most effective efforts are joint efforts—and we underline “joint efforts.” Not that we meet once or twice a year and have a good talk; even if it is a good talk, joint efforts should not be reduced to this.

We don’t see why such common actions should harm the United States. Can we imagine a situation where we act jointly and promote a final agreement and a final agreement will harm the United States? Nobody will take a decision through voting. We think no country, including the United States, has anything to fear from this. Frankly, we are at a loss and can’t understand the position of the United States government and cannot align it with the position of the Soviet Union and other countries.

This leads us to the question of the Geneva Conference. What is the Geneva Conference? Of course, it is not some icon in front of which one should pray; it’s a method of negotiation. Otherwise, in violation of what was agreed upon, everyone will act in different directions.

I don’t think by participating in the Geneva Conference harm could be produced for Israel or the United States. Every participant could move proposals he thinks are viable; it could be proposals which are broad or narrow or all-embracing—whatever one thinks are viable. It is a forum for international negotiations and no one could be harmed from such a procedure. And it would be consistent with the common line of U.S.-Soviet relations.

During our trips to the Middle East—and this was mentioned in statements by leaders of the Soviet Union and personally by Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev—we underlined that one of the main principles should be a guarantee of the right of independent existence of all states in the area, including Israel. Israel is aware of this and we believe there is no country which pursues this principle more than we do. We supported this principle outside of the Conference in other forums and will support it in the Conference when it resumes. In Egypt and Syria I spoke about this principle quite openly, everyplace, on behalf of the Soviet Union.

[Page 495]

Do you think that when we travel in the Middle East we don’t do anything except place mines everywhere and undermine proposals for partial and first steps to a settlement? No, we are trying to place everything in its place. We think every step should be part of the whole. It should not be a sleeping pill; it should be part of an effort for a stable settlement in the Middle East. And if you go to Egypt and Syria, you can ask them. I have said we are ready to discuss any proposal, whether a narrow or broad proposal. We are ready to discuss with Egypt, Syria, Jordan—but at a table. We place no taboo on this.

Kissinger [to Sisco]: We will let him handle the Israelis.

Gromyko: So we would like that what has been agreed in theory and proclaimed several times at summits should be practically implemented. Unfortunately it has not been carried out.

Kissinger: What agreement?

Gromyko: Understandings about common efforts. This affects us and creates a certain imprint on the relations between our two countries, in relation to the importance of the Middle East problem and maybe more. It is difficult to localize and have a clear idea of this harm—whether it is 15–20%, it’s hard to say—but it radiates in many directions and produces an imprint on them. There can be no harm to the interests of the United States—not one iota. This can be excluded.

This is our impression of the Middle East.

Kissinger: Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister. I’ll reply in one minute. But I understand you stayed in the same house in Damascus which I stayed in. I just wanted to know if that minaret is still going at 4 o’clock.

Gromyko: Certainly. I was enthusiastic to hear it!

Kissinger: Because I usually go to bed at 2:00 a.m. there, and I wondered.

Gromyko: They say it is a record.

Korniyenko: It’s at 5:00 a.m. now.

Kissinger: In the summer it was 4:30. Of course, your religious feeling may be more highly developed than mine. [Laughter]

Let me speak frankly about what our concerns are in the Middle East.

I want to congratulate your associate here [Sytenko] for giving such an illuminating presentation to our Ambassador.3 It was a masterpiece of diplomatic evasion.

[Page 496]

Let me give you our understanding. I’ve noticed statements made in recent days about sleeping pills or soporifics. I wonder who they could be talking about.

I must make clear our position. First, regarding the allegation that we are violating an agreement. What was our understanding? That we would bring together the Arabs and the Israelis, not that we would refuse to talk to either side if they asked us. The record will show that we have taken no initiative without, and everything has been done at the request of the parties.

The Foreign Minister says Soviet actions were not directed against the United States. Why should they be? Similarly, U.S. actions are not directed against the Soviet Union. Why should they be? Experience shows that gratitude for services rendered in the Middle East provides no motive for action in the future. We have no illusion about countries who have switched from side to side in the Middle East, that they will not continue to do so again. And it is not our intention. We have no intention to try to achieve a dominant position in the area, nor could we.

We recognize that every partial step is partial and no partial step could be a final one. Each partial one brings a more difficult problem. By definition it’s partial. No party can declare a partial step final. Nor do we have the intention of using a partial step as a substitute for a final one.

Nor is there any danger of anyone in the area falling asleep. The danger is the opposite one—that they’ll keep us all awake! On the airplane I was asked what was my dominant impression of my trip—I said that after I leave my job I’ll be qualified to run a lunatic asylum.

Regarding U.S.-Soviet relations, we have no desire to retain a permanent position—nor would any temporary visibility have any permanent effect. So this isn’t the issue. If the Foreign Minister would like to spend several days with the Israeli Cabinet and try to persuade them to withdraw from territory, I’ll gladly cede this to him. It’s no blessing.

What is the American position? The American position is to act in a manner consistent with the rights and interests of all states in the area. Second, the situation is so complicated that unless it is approached through whatever is achievable at any time, it will lead to another deadlock. And any deadlock will lead to a war, and history has demonstrated that any war in the Middle East has consequences for relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and regardless of the intentions of either side can lead to situations of confrontation.

So we would like to move carefully enough for our domestic requirements. If you look at the record, I am sure you cannot cite one instance where United States action did not result from the initiative of the parties.

[Page 497]

Frankly, certain recent Soviet statements do concern us. What is the result of statements about “sleeping pills” and “certain individuals traveling about the Middle East”? First, it hurts the feelings of the French Foreign Minister4 who’s just been traveling.

Gromyko: Prove it, what individuals are referred to.

Kissinger: That’s why I said it. The French Foreign Minister is very sensitive.

Gromyko: We did not call anybody a villain.

Kissinger: You just shoot a few across the bow. The next one will hit!

But the objective consequence of the statements is to prevent what can be done. For what benefit? If it succeeds, there are benefits for the peoples concerned; if it doesn’t succeed, it creates a bad feeling between whoever is mentioned and the Soviet leaders. And it is unnecessary. We recognize that the Soviet Union must participate in any final settlement. But we have never been given by the Soviet Union any proposal to ease the steps along the way. All we hear is Geneva. There are many in the United States who agree. Why? Because they want a stalemate. Many Jewish groups in America would like a stalemate. And a stalemate will create a war. What will be the first issue on the agenda? The PLO. What issue is Israel least able to deal with now? The PLO. Jordan won’t come. So we have Egypt, Syria and the PLO as candidates.

There is no particular interest of the United States to proceed alone and exclude the Soviet Union. And we believe it is even in the Soviet interest to help defuse the situation. If the Soviet statements are taken seriously and have their effect, Geneva will meet in a crisis atmosphere, with a high danger of explosion. That cannot be in the American or Soviet interest.

Many statements of the Foreign Minister we agree with. But the Soviet side has never made one concrete proposal to help something be achieved. This is our dilemma. I am speaking frankly. This is what happens when you make statements about sleeping pills.

Gromyko: I did not understand your statement that we have not been proposing any concrete proposals. I just said that in talks with your participation or our participation, any proposal could be proposed—broad or narrow. If you have any such proposal, make it, and we are prepared to cooperate. What kind of proposals? We are also free to move proposals; we have said we are prepared to sit at the table and discuss. You said the Soviet Union was not giving any proposals.

Kissinger: I said the three points of the Foreign Minister—with which in principle we do not disagree; well, on the Palestinian point, it [Page 498] requires some consideration—nevertheless are not attainable in one negotiation right now. And the endless repetition of them only defines a deadlock, and does not define progress.

Gromyko: It’s our policy.

Kissinger: I don’t object to the policy. The Soviet Union has every right to have a policy. As a policy, it is not one which presents unbridgeable difficulties with the United States. But to insist on immediate implementation of those three principles is to lead to difficulties.

Gromyko: This is the policy of the Soviet Union, but we’re willing to consider any proposal which you’re free to submit, or Egypt or Syria.

Kissinger: As you know—as I assume you know; we have urged every country in the area to keep you informed—at any rate, you know we don’t make any proposals. We don’t come in with American plans. We go to Israel to use our special influence to see what can be achieved, and we go to the Arabs to see if it can be reconciled. Always recognizing that partial steps won’t solve it and will only bring nearer the date when a final settlement will be necessary.

Gromyko: We are not aware of what you’re discussing in the Middle East. Perhaps certain variants are being discussed, maybe the essence of certain narrow partial solutions. If these proposals can be discussed between the participants, why can they not be discussed with the participation of other nations of the Geneva Conference? Perhaps it can be discussed at the negotiating table. We would not like to shut anyone’s mouth; everyone is free to move proposals—you, the Egyptians, Jordan, Syria. If you don’t, perhaps others do. Every country can move a proposal in the appropriate forum.

Kissinger: There are two questions—the forum and the content. On the forum, our concern is to achieve progress and reserve the general issues for the general forum. Given the complexity of the problem and of the domestic situations in various countries, the question is what is the most efficient. Our concern is to proceed in the most efficient way. And we fail to see why the Soviet Union is hurt by any progress in the Middle East. Why should it hurt the Soviet interests? We certainly aren’t going to sell arms to Syria.

Gromyko: If you assume and recognize our interests in maintaining peace in the area, you can’t say it doesn’t hurt the Soviet Union, because without the Soviet Union separate negotiations are being held.

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, you took a trip and I took a trip; that does not constitute a separate negotiation. At this stage, as far as my trip is concerned, its basic point was to convince the Israelis that some step had to be made. That is a step which unfortunately can only be taken by the United States, and that is a step we would gladly cede to the Soviet Union. No decision has been taken yet for moving. So we [Page 499] are at the stage that was quite preliminary, not yet a partial step. It seems to us that another step in the area would have a calming effect on a Conference. If the Conference meets in a crisis, everyone will pay for it. If it meets after there has been progress, there will be time for further considerations as the Foreign Minister pointed out.

Gromyko: You see the role of the Geneva Conference as some sort of front, a parade function, as a final stage once the job is done. But we see it as having a function at every stage. Why do you give the Geneva Conference the role of a front? We didn’t agree on this before; it was meant to be a forum for settlement. So we understand you are pursuing the line of separate negotiations and separate deals and you are against a solution by the participation of all sides including the Soviet Union. And I’d like to say again we deplore this deeply.

Kissinger: First, the Foreign Minister’s characterization is incorrect; therefore he deplores prematurely.

Gromyko: If it is prematurely, tell me why this is so.

Kissinger: It is premature because it is in no sense our intention to transform Geneva into a front organization. Second, it’s in no sense our intention to use Geneva only to ratify a final settlement. I think every Marxist knows that at some point quantitative changes turn into qualitative changes.

Gromyko: It is one of the laws of dialectics.

Kissinger: Qualitative changes will have to be achieved at the Conference. And it’s my judgment anyway that we are coming to the end of the possibilities of partial steps. And if the next partial step should succeed, the next phase must be a discussion of a final settlement. I have said so publicly. So there is no possibility of excluding the Soviet Union from what will be the major part of the settlement.

So why have we placed emphasis on the partial? As your Ambassador can testify, my domestic situation can be eased immediately by abandoning partial steps. Most of the opposition comes from certain religious groups who don’t want to see Israel withdrawing. We won’t have any lasting benefits. Experience shows the countries will shift back and forth. We wanted to get people used to the process of negotiating to get Israel used to the process of withdrawing. All of this will be seen to be in the common interest.

So it is incorrect we want a soporific that will stop progress. Second, it is incorrect that we want to exclude the Soviet Union. Third, even the next partial step will still leave four-fifths of the job to be done. Wherever the line is in the Sinai, two-thirds of it will still be in Israeli hands; wherever the line is in the Golan, three-fourths of it will still be in Israeli hands. And the issue of the Palestinians has not even been considered. So my judgment is that we’ve come to the end of the partial [Page 500] steps even if this partial step succeeds. But we feel another partial step will ease the atmosphere for a general one. And we have never supported any Israeli position that puts a terminal date on progress. And if the Israeli Defense Minister5 wants to go to Geneva, as he has said, it certainly isn’t to make progress.

Gromyko: Now we have a clearer view than before that the United States is against convocation of the Geneva Conference and consideration by this Conference of all the questions of the Middle East with the participation of the Soviet Union.

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, you know this isn’t true.

Gromyko: Syria has given its agreement to the immediate convocation of the Conference; Egypt has given its agreement to the immediate convocation of the Geneva Conference. Jordan will go and the Palestinians will go. You know the Soviet Union’s position. So we have to say the United States, for reasons that are not quite clear to us, is against consideration by the Conference with the participation of the Soviet Union of all the questions of the Middle East. Maybe you didn’t like the word “parade” or “front”. Perhaps the word “formal” is better, but this word doesn’t change the situation at all.

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, you know very well I’ve said just the opposite of what you’ve described. I have enough trouble defending the positions I do take. I have not said that we oppose the Geneva Conference. I have said we favor the Geneva Conference. I have said these issues make up 85% of all the issues in the Middle East. Perhaps the United States has contributed disproportionately to the solution of 15%, but all of them are consistent with your three principles and therefore are not contrary to any Soviet interest. If another 5% is now done, I have said we favor a discussion at the Geneva Conference; I have said we consider it a serious matter. If it leads to stalemate and confrontation, this cannot be in the interests of the Soviet Union and the United States.

Incidentally, our information is that Jordan is not willing to go to Geneva; the Palestinians may be willing to go but they are not ready to recognize the existence of Israel. While Israel’s readiness to make concessions is unlimited, they are not willing to negotiate about their existence. I’m being sarcastic when I say the Israeli willingness to make concessions is unlimited—I just want Moscow to know when it reads the record.

It is not true that we’re not ready to convene the Geneva Conference.

[Page 501]

Gromyko: What is the basis for your saying all questions of the Middle East settlement should be split? On one side there are the narrow and partial questions to be settled outside the framework of Geneva and without the participation of the Soviet Union. And the other questions are for Geneva. Who split these issues?

Kissinger: We didn’t do it. The parties did it.

Gromyko: No, because Syria and Egypt both said they favor the immediate reconvention of Geneva. The United States is opposing it.

Kissinger: The precision of Arab Foreign Ministers is not their most apparent characteristic. You think I went to Cairo and was faced with a President and Foreign Minister who pleaded and begged to go to Geneva and I said no? You really think this happened?

Gromyko: They favor it.

Kissinger: I thought I saw a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Minister6—who goes to Moscow more than to Washington—that Geneva will be—what?—June. In a Beirut newspaper.

Gromyko: We have a joint official document: the Soviet-Syrian statement. And an Egyptian document.7 We don’t know if they said any statement contrary to this later.

Kissinger: Why do you suppose, then, that they invited me to come and talk with them?

Gromyko: I don’t know; you didn’t inform us.

Kissinger: We gave you more advance notice than you gave about your trip.

Gromyko: We agreed with the Syrians to publish the announcement the next day and the Syrians went ahead the same day. That’s a fact. My telegram was ready to go to Washington.

Kissinger: We’re not complaining. Why should I be the only one to talk to the Syrians? It’s a pleasure I could share.

Gromyko: But you out-talk us! You’ve been there 18 times; I have been there only three times.

Kissinger: But you stay longer. We stay only a few hours, because of the minaret. And you stay overnight. I have two objectives—one, to avoid sleeping there, and the second is to avoid eating a meal there. [Laughter]

Gromyko: The Syrians violated the understanding and went ahead and announced it right away.

[Page 502]

Kissinger: We’re not complaining. The privilege of sitting in a room with green velvet curtains from which you can’t see outside is one I would share.

I did not debate with any of my Arab colleagues on the Geneva Conference. We discussed only their view of the next steps. If it fails, we’ll sustain a stalemate anywhere.

Gromyko: Could you touch upon the substance of your discussion with Egypt, Israel and Syria?

Kissinger: Yes. Could I take a five-minute break?

Gromyko: Yes.

[There was a break from 12:24 to 12:30 p.m. The meeting then resumed.]

Kissinger: For us, the best time for a communiqué is 7:30 London time, so we can give it to our press on the plane at 8:30 here.

Gromyko: We should avoid separate actions. [Laughter]

Kissinger: We agree completely.

As to where we stand in the Middle East, it’s not in our interest to operate behind your back. But we will sum up our position, so that if you deplore it you’ll deplore it precisely.

Gromyko: Did I say “deplore?” [The Russians argue about the translation and debate whether Gromyko said “deplore” or “regret.”]

Kissinger: “Regret” expresses sorrow; “deplore” expresses moral condemnation.

Gromyko: I said “regret.” [k sozhaleniyu]

Dobrynin: In this context, there is no difference. [Laughter]

Korniyenko: You may combine it and say “reg-lore.”

Kissinger: Let me sum up, because I don’t think there is such difference in our positions. First, in fairness to the Arabs, we didn’t discuss your communiqué. We didn’t criticize it or discuss it. We discussed their view—and came at their request—that if there was another step it would improve the atmosphere for the Conference. This was their view, including the Syrians.

We agree the Conference should be convened to consider all the issues. The only difference is our belief that another partial step would be desirable. But it is a question of only six weeks, not three months.

Third, we are prepared to keep you fully informed. If you wish, I would be prepared to meet you again before I go into the Middle East, or during, if you would like.

Therefore, the general principles you advanced we don’t quarrel with.

Now where do we stand on that partial step? My analysis—and we’ve told the Arabs the same thing—is we think it’s extremely impor[Page 503]tant to keep some momentum going, in order to prevent a situation again as in ’73 when the General Secretary was right and we were wrong, in which there developed such frustration and despair in the area that the war arose. Incidentally, I don’t subscribe to the view in America that you contributed to the war.

The Israeli Cabinet is extremely divided, as you can read. An additional difficulty is that any concrete proposal immediately gets into the papers. Washington is a haven of secrecy compared to Jerusalem. So they have developed an effective defense mechanism so that we’re afraid to offer a proposal. So I spent my time trying to convince them that another step is necessary and also told them that after the next partial step we go to Geneva.

Gromyko: Afterwards.

Kissinger: My view is if the next step is done, implementing steps can be done in Geneva, and everything else can be done at Geneva.

Gromyko: Implementing steps?

Kissinger: Let me explain. The Israelis—practically everything they’ve demanded they’ve stated publicly. They demand the end of belligerency. We believe it’s not possible for an Arab leader in honor to agree to an end of belligerency while Israel occupies his territory. But still there should be a quid pro quo because otherwise it is insupportable in the Israeli domestic situation—and in our domestic situation. We don’t want other Congressional resolutions preventing what we’ve negotiated. One reason I’m going home is to begin to organize our domestic situation so further progress is possible.

I have said to Asad and Sadat that the United States has no interest to split the Arab world or to stop the process. We are doing it to give momentum to the process. What we do for one side we are prepared to do for the other side.

In both places our talks were largely conceptual. There were no details or maps. But concretely what the Egyptians feel they must have is the oil fields and at least a substantial part of the passes. What the Syrians will settle for is Jordan and Israel. Seriously, what the Syrians say they want is impossible. They want the Israelis off the Golan, as a partial step.

Gromyko: What is the final?

Kissinger: That is a good question.

Gromyko: All the Arab territories.

Kissinger: The Israeli basic position is that if they really make peace, they could have an Israeli Ambassador in Damascus. The Syrians said even if they made peace, they would prefer to have the same relationship as they had with us between ’67 and ’73—no Ambas[Page 504]sador! But I think it’s as you say: They want all the Arab territories returned.

Gromyko: I don’t think they want Israel to be sunk into the sea.

Kissinger: But they won’t prevent it if it sinks by itself!

I pointed out to the Syrian Government that if they want that much, they must think of some quid pro quo. My experience is that the Syrians do not begin a negotiation with their minimum position. For a partial step, maybe they will settle for less. For a final settlement, I believe it is a principled position and they won’t settle for less than ’67.

As for content . . .

Gromyko: What do you mean by an agreement made? An agreement in principle? Or worked out?

Kissinger: Suppose there were an agreement that said—let me give it in the Egyptian case—

Gromyko: I raise it—what is the role of the Conference? It’s the same problem; you want to make it a parade.

Kissinger: I’m answering it.

Gromyko: Where do you see the borderline?

Kissinger: I’ve also said we’re talking about the last partial step.

Dobrynin: Supposing . . .

Kissinger: Supposing Israel said, “We’re willing to give up the oil fields in this and this manner, and sign this document.” Then there will have to be implementation, because it’s of great complexity.

Gromyko: What do you mean implementation?

Kissinger: To work out the details of the agreement.

Gromyko: I don’t think we would be present at the Conference to sign this.

Kissinger: I’m just telling you our judgment. You don’t have to attend. You have a perfect right to prevent anything and to bring a stalemate. We have lived with a stalemate before. It will make us very popular in America—particularly if we can blame you.

I’ve told you what we were doing. I’ve told you we see it as the last partial step. I’ve told you it’s moving in the direction of your principles. If it’s blocked, I have plenty of other subjects to occupy myself with.

Gromyko: I’d like to ask what is your impression? Are Syria and Egypt determined to go together in this question of considering partial steps, or do you assume the possibility of a partial agreement with Egypt which would be separate from an agreement with Syria?

Kissinger: I assume such a possibility. Having experience with the Syrians, I also know their negotiating tactics tend to be more prolonged than the Egyptians.

[Page 505]

Gromyko: Can you tell us now your position on the Palestinian issue? I assume you are aware of our position. We like to say this position remains the same as we’ve explained to you. On the question of the main rights of the Palestinian Arab people, we today had something to say, and on Geneva, we support the participation of the Palestinians in Geneva from the very beginning.

Kissinger: In the spirit of our warm conversation I can tell you that the United States will not prevent a partial settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.

Gromyko: We accept this remark as a joke, but speaking more seriously, what is your attitude in principle regarding the Geneva Conference? We would like to know your present view. The Palestinians debate this matter themselves, and the Arabs discuss. It seems to us their discussion is proceeding in a positive direction.

Kissinger: Positive towards participating?

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: But what will they propose when they participate?

Gromyko: I would like to know your own position. We think they should participate from the beginning. And the Arabs likewise.

Kissinger: Let me give you my psychoanalysis of the Israeli Defense Minister and the Jewish groups in America. They think that when Geneva convenes you will propose the immediate participation of the PLO, and they will therefore be able to combine the Jackson line—the anti-Soviet line—and the anti-terrorist line.

Gromyko: You think we should abandon a principled stand?

Kissinger: I’m telling you what their reasoning is. It requires an evolution, and it is not ripe on our side. My view is we should defer the resolution of that question to a later stage. We can discuss it at an early stage. That’s my view. But we can live with a stalemate.

Gromyko: What stage would it be?

Kissinger: I’ve not thought it through. But they have to state some goals vis-à-vis Israel that will make it possible. The position Arafat took in New York was not conducive to this.8

Gromyko: You really think the view of their leadership is against recognition?

Kissinger: My personal view—not an official view—is that they are moving toward a more moderate position and are divided, and can’t make a formal statement.

Gromyko: You’re right.

[Page 506]

Kissinger: But then we have to consider how it will be presented in America. I personally didn’t think Arafat’s statement was that extreme—but from the point of view of the propaganda that can be made, it was extreme enough.

Sisco: The two key points are the giving up of their policy of terrorism, and second, explicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist, which is, as a matter of fact, Soviet policy since the creation of the state.

Gromyko: I can explain my views.

Kissinger: You know them [the Palestinians] much better than we do.

Gromyko: Our position is . . . I talked with Arafat five times.

Kissinger: See? Separate endeavors! I’ve never talked with him.

Gromyko: That is not his fault. I talked with him three times last year and twice this year. My conviction—not only personally—is I think that he—and that means the majority trend—is definitely in favor of the rights of Israel. You’re right, they are divided. There are extremist groups, but the trend is in favor. The trend that determines it is in favor. If there is nothing in the future course of developments which would nourish these extremes.

Kissinger: In the context of Geneva, I recognize that you and the Syrians and the Egyptians have to demand the participation of the Palestinians. I recognize you have to. Incidentally, I don’t think the Jordanians will come, after talking with them.

Gromyko: Why not?

Kissinger: It’s the Rabat decision.9 They have nothing to get back.

Gromyko: For Arab solidarity they could go.

Kissinger: Then why not Iraq?

Gromyko: They are not directly involved.

Kissinger: And I’ve always wanted to meet Qaddafi. We will do nothing to discourage them. We’ll even send a joint invitation to them. We won’t discourage them.

Gromyko: The answer to my question of what stage . . .

Kissinger: Rather than let the whole Conference be hung up for months on that issue, we would then defer consideration for some months until we have a conclusion on frontiers. Because the question of the PLO won’t arise practically until there is a question of the authority on the West Bank.

Gromyko: It will arise.

Kissinger: It will unavoidably arise.

[Page 507]

We’re not asking the Soviet Union not to introduce it. We think that, after the initial resolutions are introduced, there might be some merit in deferring it.

Gromyko: Our position is in favor of their participation from the beginning. To irritate them on the question of participation is to nourish the extreme groups. Why do this? If Egypt and Syria, and maybe Israel and the US—if they don’t take a position different from you . . .

Kissinger: You should meet the Israeli Cabinet!

Gromyko: We’ve always said we were for the strongest guarantee possible for the existence of all states in the area. If they join the Conference, it presupposes they’ll take this position.

Kissinger: What exactly is the “strongest guarantee”?

We did that in Vietnam, and haven’t even received a reply. We wrote to thirteen countries [of the International Conference] and only five have replied.

Gromyko: That’s very different. It’s a different matter, about which opinions divide.

Kissinger: Where? In Russia?

Gromyko: On both sides, North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

The guarantee can be by the US and Soviet Union, or the US and Soviet Union plus the Security Council. If there are other possibilities, we are open.

Kissinger: If one visualizes the situation after a settlement, the danger is not likely to be Arab armies across the border, but the fedayeen across the border. Given how the Security Council has operated in the past . . .

Gromyko: After a settlement?

Kissinger: Yes.

Gromyko: You exclude the possibility of having a provision on this matter?

Kissinger: That’s an interesting point.

Gromyko: When I spoke with Nasser, he said that for Egypt it was not a problem.

Kissinger: But for the Palestinians it may be a problem.

Gromyko: But if it’s a complete solution and the Palestinian national aspirations are fulfilled, they won’t happen.

Kissinger: Suppose they happen anyway?

Gromyko: You’re talking about provocations from thousands of miles away. Remember the Japanese came to Israel and shot several people and killed some and wounded many.

[Page 508]

Kissinger: They will kill every one of us yet.

Gromyko: They were not friends of the Arabs.

Kissinger: The problem of guarantees has two aspects—we should think about it. One is the sort of political endorsement you indicated, to give political and legal status to a settlement. The second conception of guarantees is who protects the parties against a violation? How do we discourage those who would violate it?

Gromyko: Perhaps a detailed agreement could be worked out to cover this.

Kissinger: When Dobrynin comes back, could he and Sisco have a discussion of how guarantees could be worked out?

Gromyko: Good.

Kissinger: And I will participate, in our luncheons.

Gromyko: Good.

Kissinger: It might help when Geneva convenes.

And I want to make clear it’s a guarantee of a final settlement.

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: Not of the status quo. I just want to make sure it’s clear.

Why don’t we go to my room for a drink while they set up for lunch?

[At 1:15 the group breaks up. Dr. Kissinger and Minister Gromyko sit down again and discuss a new formula for the “peaceful change” provision for CSCE. Then everyone leaves the room and proceeds down the corridor to the Secretary’s suite for drinks. There was intermittent discussion of the CSCE formulas and the final communiqué. At 2:00 p.m., the party returned to the meeting room for luncheon. Excerpts from the conversation follow.]

Gromyko: I just learned that three documents were signed in Moscow with the British.10 There was a short joint statement, then the document we mentioned yesterday about nonproliferation; and the statement on consultations.

Kissinger: What did the statement on consultations say?

Gromyko: It was like the Soviet-Canadian.

Kissinger: On preventing nuclear war? [Laughter]

Gromyko: On questions of mutual concern.

Kissinger: One Arab Foreign Minister said to me, “We know you are lying to us.” I said, “How do you know that?” He said, “We compared the letter you wrote to us with the letter you wrote to all the other [Page 509] Arabs. It was identical. So we know you couldn’t be telling the truth.” [Laughter]

In Saudi Arabia, Saqqaf once told me it was the best meeting with the King. I said I thought the opposite. He said, “He told you he would lift the oil embargo.” I said he told me the opposite. He said, “That is proof! He couldn’t tell you because he didn’t want you to leak it.” [Laughter]

Gromyko: I knew the Saudi King when he was a prince. I met him in 1946, I think it was.

Kissinger: Did he talk to you?

Gromyko: Yes. I met him at the first General Assembly.

Kissinger: When did he discover that your foreign policy comes from Jerusalem? He said it to me again—there is a combination of Zionists and Communists.

Sisco: And who wants Geneva? “It is certain that it’s the Israelis and Soviets,” he said.

Kissinger: That’s right.

He has a huge reception hall, almost as big as St. George’s. The first time I came, 150 princes were there.

Dobrynin: All his sons?

Kissinger: Many of them. He takes a half step forward; then I had to take 99 steps. We moved through the whole hall.

He gave me his 45-minute speech about how the Jews first took over Russia, then sent them to Israel, and are now taking over key positions everywhere else. I figured I better change the subject. [Laughter] So I spotted a picture on the opposite wall. I forgot that for Moslems it’s forbidden to use pictures for a decoration. I asked him, “Is that the Arabian Desert?” He said, “It’s the holy oasis”—and he sat morosely for the rest of the meal. It’s like asking a devout Catholic if the picture of the Virgin Mary is a picture of his maiden aunt. [Laughter] That’s why the oil embargo stayed on.

May I at this informal occasion say that these meetings are always important. These meetings between the Soviet Union and the United States are of extreme importance. On our side, we on our side will never forget that these relations are a central aspect of our foreign policy.

This meeting has been positive. We are now in a position to move forward in all areas, including the Middle East.

Gromyko: You know better.

Kissinger: That is why I say it. So I would like to propose a toast to the friendship between the Soviet Union and the United States. [All toast.]

[Page 510]

Gromyko: If speeches are to be delivered, then two will be delivered. It is good that we have met and explained to one another on a number of questions. I agree that on a number of questions on which we had an exchange of views, our positions to a large extent coincide. It would be a good thing if on those questions on which there are differences, these differences would narrow. We believe objectively it is possible if the two sides work in this direction. It is possible if the United States and the Soviet Union are guided by supreme interests on which there are appropriate understandings and agreements and which have been put forward in the appropriate Soviet-American documents.

I would like to conclude by saying that the position of the Soviet Union and of the Soviet leadership is absolutely firm, and it is the following: that the Soviet Union will continue to follow the course which was clearly formulated and defined by the Soviet Union and the United States as a result of the efforts of both sides. It is found in many documents, particularly those which were adopted at the highest level, in particular in a speech of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev at the reception in honor of British Prime Minister Wilson.11

Kissinger: That is one I am mentioned in.

Stoessel: There are many aspects to that one!

Gromyko: To the Secretary of State, and—I can’t say guests—but hosts. [He raises his glass and all toast.]

Kissinger: My father keeps a scrapbook. If there is an unfavorable article, he gives a columnist two chances and then banishes him from the book.

Rodman: The book is shrinking.

Gromyko: What would you say to the press?

Kissinger: On the plane, I have to say something to the press. On [the visit of] Brezhnev, I will say an understanding exists and not go beyond that statement.

On the Middle East, I would like to say our views on the Geneva Conference are converging, which is in fact the case.

On background, on the plane.

When we go down to your car, we can say a few friendly words.

Gromyko: All right. Do we have time?

Kissinger: We can talk some more.

[The Foreign Minister is handed a draft of the communiqué.]

Gromyko: There are two amendments.

[Page 511]

One, “they assume the results [of CSCE] permit”—we don’t need “will permit.” Second, on Cyprus, it should be “the only legitimate government.”

Kissinger: I accept to drop “will.” But “only legitimate government”—we don’t need it. “Only” is a provocative word for us.

[The final text of the joint communiqué is at Tab B.]12

[The meeting ended at 3:00 p.m. Secretary Kissinger and Minister Gromyko went to the Secretary’s suite to confer privately for another hour.]13

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Soviet Union, January–March 1975. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held at the Intercontinental Hotel. Tabs A and B are attached but not printed.
  2. Gromyko traveled in the Middle East February 1–5; Kissinger February 10–15.
  3. Stoessel reported on his meeting with Sytenko on February 12 in telegram 1964 from Moscow of the same date. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  4. Jean Sauvagnargues.
  5. Shimon Peres.
  6. Ismail Fahmy.
  7. See footnote 9, Document 127.
  8. Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly on November 13, 1974.
  9. See footnote 9, Document 86.
  10. See footnote 2, Document 128.
  11. See footnote 9, Document 128.
  12. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, March 10, 1975, pp. 291–292.
  13. See Document 130.