147. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Viktor Mikhaylovich Sukhodrev, Counsellor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, National Security Council Staff

[Photographers are let in, then ushered out.]

Kissinger: I’ve lost two kilos in the last four weeks. It’s a great achievement. Fat.

Gromyko: No, just husky.

Kissinger: I’ll be a lot in Austria, during the next two weeks. I’ll give a press conference in Salzburg. Twice before we stopped in Salzburg on the way.

Gromyko: To get accustomed to the time.

Kissinger: In ’72 on the way to Moscow; in ’74 on the way to the Middle East.

Gromyko: You have to take a deep breath before starting.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Kissinger: I notice the Foreign Minister is giving me publicity by name.2 [Laughter] I hope you are not disappointed that I didn’t reciprocate. My father is glad.

Gromyko: But I praised you.

[Page 561]

Kissinger: That paragraph wasn’t reported.

Gromyko: I said Dr. Kissinger made a very good statement in favor of détente. And then a second paragraph I quoted you.

Kissinger: On the defense budget.

Gromyko: I quoted your statement that the President sees no higher duty than guarding against nuclear war. And then I just added one phrase: that perhaps it was a bit hard to bring into line those two good statements with a statement on inflated military budgets. That’s all.

Kissinger: Not an inflated budget; an adequate budget. I never saw the text, only the press reports, which picked out the negative part.

Gromyko: That is what the press did—it was mild, but negative, and the press picked it out.

Kissinger: Must have been extemporaneous.

Gromyko: I got the text, just a half hour before I spoke.

Kissinger: I meant the [St. Louis] speech3 to be constructive.

Gromyko: If you, for example, were to say in public that “Gromyko gave a high estimate of my statements about détente and diverting the threat of nuclear war, but was not in favor of my statement about military budgets,” I’d be happy if you quoted me.

Kissinger: I avoid naming any Soviet leaders, because I know the tendency of the press to make a conflict out of it.

Gromyko: I certainly see the newspapers have a tendency to pick out what’s to their advantage and leave out what isn’t.

How do you think we should organize our meetings? Let me suggest perhaps today we should start with European affairs and other directly related matters, and tomorrow morning we could take up SALT and also the Middle East tomorrow. These are the three major topics which I’m sure will take up the lion’s share.

Kissinger: I agree.

Gromyko: And then other intermediate points.

Kissinger: I agree. That’s a good order. Maybe while we are here, we can have a brief assessment of how our relations are.

Gromyko: I agree. We can do it here, at the outset. Let me start by saying I bring you greetings from Leonid Brezhnev and he asked me to convey greetings also to President Ford.

Kissinger: And so did President Ford ask me to convey greetings to the General Secretary.

[Page 562]

Gromyko: Thank you. If you have something to tell me regarding our bilateral relations, I’ll be happy to reciprocate, and I’ll be happy to hear yours.

Kissinger: Our assessment is that the reasons that caused us to pursue the policy of détente are still valid, and the main line of our policy should be continued. We have a Presidential election next year and we are prepared to defend very hard the policy of détente if our opponent is one who takes a critical view of our relations. We believe the majority of the American people support our policy. I have said many times publicly that if we don’t solve the problems of our relations we will have 10 years of struggle, and somebody else will have to solve it. Neither of us can impose his will on the other. We believe we should use the favorable circumstances now as an opportunity to maintain or accelerate the momentum. President Ford and I are prepared to continue and if possible deepen this relationship.

On the other hand, there have been difficulties, especially in recent months, which perhaps neither of us was aware of. I believe both of us should look at areas where our rivalry could lead to confrontations. In Indochina, whatever the outcome was, it was certainly accelerated by Soviet arms deliveries; in the Middle East we should both play a restraining role. There is no point discussing Indochina; because it’s now past history. I mention it only as an example.

Our objective is to implement the principles we signed in 1972, to make progress in SALT, on the European question, and to start up progress in trade relations. If our relations proceed as we expect, the President is prepared in early summer to go to the Congress again. We should discuss how we can avoid an escalation of the crisis.

This is our assessment.

Gromyko: We can but voice our positive attitude to your statement that the reasons that caused the need for efforts on both sides to better our relations still exist. Therefore the policy of détente which has been pursued by both the Soviet Union and the U.S. has an objectively stable foundation, provided of course that neither side takes steps to make corrections in a negative direction. This is the firm conviction of Leonid Brezhnev and of our entire leadership. We have no intention to take negative corrections; we firmly intend to pursue that policy. What you said in that direction is a hopeful sign, and it means that both sides must take a positive attitude.

Previously President Nixon and later President Ford and you yourself have many times emphasized and reemphasized the fact that a great deal in terms of détente and the conditions of the world climate still depend on the policy taken by our two countries.

Kissinger: We still believe it.

[Page 563]

Gromyko: We believe it is still correct, and we believe it brings great responsibility on the two of us. It is a duty rather than a privilege. That is something we recognize. We too recognize that neither of us can impose our policy on the entire world; we certainly don’t attempt to do it, though there are some who do.

Kissinger: They have elevated the adjectives they use about us, without lowering the adjectives they use about you.

Gromyko: We believe we should continue our policy because it is in the interests of the entire world.

[In Russian to Sukhodrev:] He was talking about China?

Sukhodrov: Yes.

Gromyko: [to Kissinger:] The most characteristic feature of the relationship between our two countries has been the line that you and I just referred to; it must be continued. Neither of us should allow any room for the display of emotions in these relations. Of course, matters will not always follow the course that suits the line of both of us, but we should ensure that coolness and logic should always have the upper hand. But we have noticed in the recent past . . . Perhaps not at all times matters would proceed in a direction that either one or the other of us would like, but we must always be guided by the need to be cool in our thinking and logic must prevail. We have noticed a certain toughness in language and attitude in certain statements by President Ford and yourself, and you must agree that statements of that kind are fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. And certain attempts are made to explain those statements. We believe nothing can justify those statements or the lack of consistency in that line. There is no such change in our behavior towards the United States. And we do not in our own papers or magazines use any such language—or in official statements. So if both sides proceed from the statement that one side can pursue a line and the next week say “we’re not sure the other side wants to take that line,” what would the situation come to if both start taking that attitude? If both of us do that, no doubt that a crack will appear in our relationships and the policy will be shaken and undermined. It will only cause glee on the part of those who attack détente and do not wish good to the Soviet Union and also yourselves.

We believe that all our business should be conducted in a serious and statesmanlike way.

You cannot reproach our side because we never tried to cause doubt on the foundations of détente. But it is a fact that you and the President publicly called the relations into question.

And you have publicly called the Soviet Union an adversary [protivnik]. As if it were night instead of daylight, you just up and call us adversary. Nowhere in the Soviet press will you see the U.S. called an [Page 564] adversary. And such statements of the United States leaders cause our people to wonder, “how can that be? So many documents have been signed—on the prevention of nuclear war, for better understanding—and then it turns out the U.S. calls us adversary.” We have given no response up to now, even though it’s harder to make no response than to take the initiative. We certainly cannot accept as justification for those statements the existing domestic situation or any other circumstances that may crop up from one time to another.

Kissinger: I agree that we both should exercise restraint both in language and in action. I will take a look at speeches; I am conscious . . . but in January there was intensified treatment in the Soviet press of American difficulties. I called it to the attention of your Ambassador. This was from January to the end of March. There was intensified treatment of the domestic situation and the historical situation of the United States. So serious people began to wonder whether it was a major decision at the Central Committee meeting in December. Since then we have seen, and you have reconfirmed it tonight, that there is no change. But there were statements, not of your leaders but of your public organs, which, however, are not responsive.

Secondly, events this spring have had an impact on public opinion. When the American position in some part of the world is overthrown by Soviet arms, that is an historical fact. You could argue that it would have happened sooner or later, but it was not in our interest that it happen sooner. It strengthened the hand of those who questioned it [détente] from the beginning. But the basic policy laid down in the documents at two summits and reaffirmed by President Ford when he met the General Secretary is the same. But I will pay attention to our public statements.

Gromyko: If there is anything that strikes the eye in an objective study of our press, it’s that the Soviet press and radio and television displayed the greatest restraint in the treatment of the United States. If what you refer to relates to ideological struggle, ideological matters, that’s a different matter. Whatever appears there in the Soviet press, it’s an infinitesimal part of what’s written about the Soviet Union in the United States and in Western Europe. You know a veritable mountain of material appears there, which is essentially hostile. You were right to refer in your speech to differences, but it’s entirely wrong to confuse the two areas, foreign policy and the area of ideology, the struggle of ideology.

Let me say in your remarks that the United States can’t be a passive observer if events have a negative impact on the United States and happen through the existence of Soviet arms. Let me say that wherever there are Soviet arms, on the other side there are American arms. That was the case in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in the Middle East. So wherever [Page 565] there are Soviet arms there are American arms on the other side—with the sole difference that there are rather more American arms. Take Africa as one case. There are Soviet arms, but again, more American arms. And on a purely commercial basis. When a war starts with the arms of both sides, every time are we to quarrel? Are we to allow that to lead to the heating up of our relations? There is, after all, a basic foundation on which our relationship is built, and that must surely be most important.

That is what I wanted to say in the introductory part of our meetings. I hope you understand the concern of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev and the leadership, and the concern for the great responsibility of the two of us for matters in the world, and that is why we cannot but be concerned. But let me repeat that we stick to the line, and I’m authorized to confirm this, and I hope you report to President Ford.

Kissinger: I appreciate these last remarks and I will report meticulously to President Ford, and he will appreciate it.

With regard to arms, there are different types of situations. In Vietnam, it is not true there were more American than Soviet arms, and ours were on defensive along 700 miles, and yours were always on the offensive.

In Africa, if we look at Somalia, the amount of arms in Somalia is greater than the number of American arms in any surrounding country.

Gromyko: Are you sure?

Kissinger: Yes. And we’re not sending much arms to Ethiopia.

In South Vietnam, South Vietnam did not have the capability and we would not have permitted them, to launch an offensive—maybe harassment but not a general offensive. The North Vietnamese had the capability always for an offensive, and to give more arms in that situation is significant. However we got it, it was bound to have an impact on the international situation and the domestic situation, though we can handle both. The Middle East is a special case, which I will discuss tomorrow. But I think that both sides should show restraint in situations where indirectly it could lead to problems. We have shown great restraint in East Europe. There are many areas where activities take place that could have indirect significance.

Therefore both sides should—on the basis of reciprocity—look carefully at situations where our actions could cause embarrassment to the other.

I had a long talk with President Ford Friday and Saturday4 before I came. He too wants me to reaffirm that the basic policy remains. He [Page 566] wants to work on the remaining difficulties that exist and move forward and accelerate our relations. Perhaps we should focus on these efforts.

Gromyko: Let me just say that we will most firmly keep to the line that has taken shape in our relationships with the United States the last several years. In our view, neither side should allow third countries, wherever they may be situated, to shake that line in any measure. Either through direct influence or indirectly, and no extraneous factors. When I say no third countries, I mean no small countries, no big countries, and no combination of countries should be allowed to shake the line.

Kissinger: We agree with that.

[The private meeting ended at 6:10 p.m. On the way to the dining room, the Foreign Minister gave the Secretary a note quoting the text of the Foreign Minister’s comments on the Secretary’s St. Louis speech. Tab A.5]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, May 19–20, 1975—Kissinger/Gromyko Meetings in Vienna (1). Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Marble Room at the Hotel Imperial.
  2. Reference is to Gromyko’s speech during a ceremonial meeting of the Warsaw Pact in Moscow on May 14. The Embassy in Moscow provided two lengthy reports in telegrams 6766 and 6767, May 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) For the condensed English text of the speech, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXVII, No. 20 (June 11, 1975), pp. 6–8. For an account in the American press, see Christopher S. Wren, “Gromyko Chides Kissinger on Large Defense Budget,” The New York Times, May 15, 1975, p. 3. At Kissinger’s behest, Sonnenfeldt met with Vorontsov on May 15 to “express the Secretary’s surprise at the personal criticisms” in Gromyko’s speech, which were “not only unfair, unreasonable and inaccurate, but also unwise in terms of the debate we are now coping with.” (National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 7, Soviet Union, Apr–May 1975)
  3. On May 12, Kissinger delivered an address on “The Challenge of Peace” before the St. Louis World Affairs Council. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, June 2, 1975, pp. 705–712.
  4. For the meeting on Friday, May 16, see footnote 7, Document 146. Ford and Kissinger, however, evidently did not speak to each other, either in person or by telephone, on May 17. (Ford Library, White House Office Files, President’s Daily Diary; and Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 439, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule)
  5. Attached but not printed. Kissinger and Gromyko met in the Gobelin Saal at the Hotel Imperial from 6:15 to 8:35 p.m. to discuss the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 284. The two men then met for dinner in the hotel’s dining room from 9 to 10 p.m. A memorandum of their dinner conversation is in Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, May 19–20, 1975—Kissinger/Gromyko Meetings in Vienna (1).