16. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. William E. Timmons, Assistant to the President
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Senator Henry M. Jackson
  • Senator Jacob K. Javits
  • Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff

President: The Trade Bill is a matter of highest priority—not only for our own benefit but for all the world.

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Number two is to get a better handle on Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. As I tried to say on Monday2—the House bill. I didn’t identify the amendment, but you know what I mean.

Russell Long is going to campaign. I don’t know why. Russell tells me everything is going well. If agreement here can be reached he sees little trouble on the floor.

I am familiar with the discussions Dr. Kissinger and Scoop have had on the letters. Dobrynin came in yesterday.3 He had planned to stay in the Soviet Union until September or October. He cut his stay short in order to indicate their interest in the continuation of their policy. He spent most of the time telling us that Brezhnev said that if harassment and difficulty with numbers continue, Brezhnev could take personal responsibility with the President. The President could complain directly to Brezhnev. Remember, Scoop, they previously said we had to bring it to the proper authorities, but never to Brezhnev.

Jackson: I think we are making good progress. The Russians are giving. The reports back from the Soviet Union are that they now consider there are 300,000 wanting to leave. They could handle that in 4–5 years. We got some letter changes last night.4 We three are in agreement. I want to touch base in the Senate, and talk to Meany. He is up tight about it. The labor people are fighting the hill.

Javits: The Trade Bill. This indicates their hangup.

Jackson: With this in the bill you will get more support from those who will push it for emigration.

Kissinger: In the text of the letter—we can’t bother the President just about a legal clause. For example, it will cause no trouble with the Soviet Union to say “as frequently happened in the past.”5

Jackson: There are two areas. One is harassment. This is not just for the Jewish emigrants; it’s all of the ethnic groups. The others are tough, but not well organized. They are hot on this.

President: I know, I have 5,000 Latvians in my old district.

Jackson: The big problem is harassment. If you apply, you get harassed.

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Kissinger: They have specifically said those practices wouldn’t take place. They may not keep the agreement, but that is something they have specifically assured us.

President: I can assure you that, if we get an agreement, if there are violations of it, it won’t take me 24 hours to cut it off.

Ribicoff: There has been much quiet cooperation among us. We are at the last issue—the 60,000 figure. Is that realistic?

Kissinger: I am worried. If Jackson’s figure is right, it is okay, but we don’t know that. They don’t want to have to expel people to meet a quota. They say the applications are dropping because of the Middle East situation. Would we know if harassment continues?

Jackson: Not necessarily. The subtle forms are the toughest. They are out to avoid quotas. The scheme is the letter, the response, and the interpretation. Our letter would say emigration would rise promptly from what they were.

Kissinger: That we can live with.

Jackson: This avoids your being associated with a quota. We must have the 1973 figures because this year is lower.

Kissinger: If you relate that to the number of applicants, and if there is no harassment, it should work if they keep their word.

Jackson: They are moving on security clearances. A cable I have here says they could leave after three years. There is general movement, Mr. President, which shows that the Soviet Union is in economic trouble. We don’t want to push them into a corner.

MFN is a source of pride to them. The credits are a touchy area because they don’t have anything to sell that doesn’t require US capital. Oil, aluminum. They have hydroelectric power and Kaiser is putting up a plant. Forty percent of producing an ingot is power. But it is Kaiser capital.6

President: If good authority for MFN is given, with Presidential authority to cut it off for violations with the assurances they and I have given, we have a club to insure performance.

Jackson: Yes, what we would do is leave it hang but with waiver authority. [He reads from the draft]. This is enough language. This is also your club with the Soviet Union.

President: Is the House bill a denial of authority?

Javits: The House language is onerous.

President: Let me propose. The general authority would cover all. Then a denial could apply to any one country who denied emigration.

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Javits: That’s not good either. You don’t want to force you or us to break with the Soviet Union. We shouldn’t be put in a place where it has to be proved that there are violations. The renewal obligation makes it an affirmative action, not a cut-off.

Jackson: By this method we would share the burden.

President: Let’s see, I make a 12-month report and ask for an extension. Congress approves by a majority vote. How do we avoid a bottle-up?

Jackson: We could write in a must vote within so many days. We would grant it—this is a big concession—immediately. The Soviet Union wants MFN immediately and we make this big concession.

Timmons: It applies to credits also.

Jackson: Everything.

Kissinger: What worries me is this: If Congress has to renew your authority every year, we can have this kind of debate every year.

Javits: We could write a line that the President has the right to waive and then say this will continue for one year.

President: It’s a cumbersome procedure which is like the one on chrome. If we go this route we would have to have prompt resolution.

Jackson: We would have provisions to insure prompt action.

Kissinger: We can just get by with the letter. The interpretive statements overload the circuit. We have shown them this letter. There was no disagreement, on what the performance must be, but just on how to write it.

Javits: The interpretive letter is best.

Ribicoff: But Dr. Kissinger has to show it to the Soviet Union.

Kissinger: We have to distinguish between the objective and what we write down.

Javits: Take the non-proliferation treaty. We issued an interpretation about the French and British nuclear forces and the Soviet Union issued just exactly the opposite. Let the Soviet Union say what it wants.

President: How will the one-year affect business contracts?

Javits: Even if we cut it off, contracts made will continue.

President: What worries me is that you identify a particular country by this.

Jackson: No, just non-market states.

Kissinger: How would it apply to East Europe?

Jackson: It’s the same for all of them.

Kissinger: How about Romanians?

Jackson: You would have to seek some assurances. The Romanians say they won’t have any problem.

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President: Supposing Romania performs and the Soviet Union doesn’t. How would we handle that?

Jackson: We would work that out.

Javits: Abe and I talked to Ceausescu and he said it was no problem. I think they stopped because the Soviet Union didn’t want them to set bloc policy. The PRC isn’t yet an issue.

Kissinger: Because they want to keep MFN from the Soviet Union. Scoop has a great future in the PRC.

Jackson: They say the threat will come through Europe. Chou wants to talk to Mansfield on this.

Javits: The complaint in the Jewish community is that the Soviet Union has cut the rate and they should restore the rate before we move to show good faith. I said no. The same on the high visibility trials. They also fear numbers, as a possible quota. I don’t buy this because with artful language we can make it okay.

Jackson: We don’t want a bilateral agreement between West Germany and the Soviet Union to affect this. This argument is for about 1000 a month. We wouldn’t want any other agreements to count against this quota.

President: I am worried about the language. I would prefer blanket authority with a right to cut off.

Let’s get the technicians together and see if we can’t work it out.

Jackson: This is so designed that Congress has to retain some authority.

Javits: I think I can work something out on a waiver if he [Kissinger] believes it is viable to keep the Jackson Amendment with some positive or negative waiver. We need to try this.

Kissinger: How about a waiver subject to Congressional veto? It is the affirmative vote that worries me.

Jackson: Let’s go back and work more—We are determined. I am a strong supporter of the trade bill. We are getting strong pressures from pressure groups.

Timmons: I have three points I would like to make quickly. On the other ethnic groups, how does this apply?

Renewal—how would it be done? And what do we say to the press?

President: That it was a very constructive meeting. Momentum is now under way for one of the most important pieces of legislation on the calendar.

Jackson: We will praise the President for constructive efforts for a solution. But don’t say it is settled. We don’t want to let the Soviet Union think we capitulated.

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Javits: Also, we are determined, if it is humanly possible, to have a trade bill.

Jackson: You and Abe cover that.

Ribicoff: You are in a great position here with the change of President.

We will have no problem knowing about harassment. The most important thing is numbers. Once we have established that, and the exchange of letters, I am not worried.

Once we know that harassment is ending and people are leaving, we are in good shape. They should go ahead with mark-up and amend on the floor to add the waiver.

Kissinger: If I may summarize, the three Senators are saying that if we keep the Jackson Amendment, they can be flexible on waiver authority. Let us look at this.

Jackson: We will ensure there can be no delay or filibuster. We will get our drafting people on this to get the language right. We had little time and this is only a rough idea and formulation.

President: The ExIm Bank lawyers don’t understand all the legislative procedures.

Jackson: We should look at the options.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 5. Secret; Nodis. Transcribed by Peter Rodman from Scowcroft’s attached handwritten notes. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the first-floor private dining room at the White House. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted until 9:18 a.m. (Ibid., White House Office Files)
  2. August 12. See footnote 7, Document 12.
  3. See Document 12.
  4. See Document 15.
  5. The relevant passage from the latest draft letter (as received from Jackson, Javits, and Ribicoff the previous evening) reads: “no unreasonable or unlawful impediments will be placed in the way of persons desiring to make application for emigration, such as interference with travel or communications necessary to complete an application, the withholding of necessary documentation and other obstacles, including kinds frequently employed in the past.” (National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 9, Trade Bill, August 1974)
  6. Kaiser [Aluminum] Industries.