161. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoli G. Kovalev, Deputy Foreign Minister and Chief of Soviet Delegation to CSCE
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the United States
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Chief of the American Department and Member of the Collegium, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mikhail D. Sytenko, Chief of the Near East Department and Member of the Collegium, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Vasily G. Makarov, Chef de Cabinet to the Foreign Minister
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Counsellor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • Oleg M. Sokolov, Chief, American Section of the American Department
  • 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 J. Stoessel, Jr., Ambassador to the USSR
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor, Department of State
  • Winston Lord, Director, Policy Planning Staff, Department of State
  • Amb. Albert W. Sherer, Jr., Chief of U.S. Delegation to CSCE
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • CSCE; Middle East

[Photographers and press came in to photograph.]


Kissinger: Twice I’ve given briefings in bars in Moscow in the Intourist Hotel.

Mr. Foreign Minister, first let me welcome you to—I can’t say our place. Could we have our Ambassadors here? I see Ambassador Kovalev. Where is Sherer?

[He looks over draft of joint statement.]

Gromyko: Mr. Secretary, you are the chairman. You didn’t know you were elected?

[Page 643]

Kissinger: Oh. I thought Mr. Kovalev would give us a report.

Kovalev: We’ve just received a reply from the Maltese. They are prepared to accept the entire text of yesterday of the Canadian proposal, including the date of July 30, to register all the understandings except the one on the Mediterranean which was the subject of discussion yesterday between the Foreign Minister and Secretary Kissinger. Let me read the text.

Kissinger: To whom did they communicate this?

Kovalev: We received it just now from Mintoff’s special representative, Kingswell.

Kissinger: Did we get it too?

Kovalev: It was virtually two minutes ago.

Sherer: I was probably at the hotel.

Kovalev: “In order to advance the objectives set forth above, the Participating States also declare their intention of maintaining and amplifying the contacts and dialogue as initiated by the CSCE with the nonparticipating Mediterranean States to include all the States of the Mediterranean, with the purpose of contributing to peace”—the amendment is “reducing armed forces in the region”—“strengthening security,” and so on.

Kissinger: The only amendment is “reducing armed forces in the region?”

Kovalev: Right.

Kissinger: Do you have any problem with this?

Gromyko: Why don’t we talk for a minute?

[Kissinger and Gromyko get up and go to corner of the room to confer alone, from 10:57–10:59. Kissinger then confers with Sonnenfeldt, Stoessel, Sisco and Sherer to 11:02.]

Kissinger: I assume if we now accept this, you will not be calling for a nuclear-free zone or disarmament.

Gromyko: [Laughs] Nothing.

Kissinger: I will instruct Ambassador Sherer to call the NATO caucus and discuss it. I foresee no problem. If there is, we can discuss it.

Sherer: There will be no problem.

Kissinger: We should know, say, within an hour. Then we can conclude it today.

[Sherer leaves. Kovalev gets up and talks to Gromyko.]

Gromyko: I’m telling him [Kovalev] to grab Sherer by the coattails.

Kissinger: He’s joining the NATO caucus?

Gromyko: He will be active among our friends and the neutrals.

Kissinger: I think it will be settled in the next hour.

[Page 644]

Kovalev: [in English] Goodbye.

Kissinger: Goodbye. Thank you.

Middle East

Gromyko: Maybe we could now go over to the Middle East.

Kissinger: Great eagerness.

Gromyko: I expect it, greatly expect it.

Maybe you would like to give your assessment of the present situation and give your considerations on the problem. Perhaps you might have some sort of plan to put forward. I say this because at the last meeting you said you would be prepared at the next meeting—this one—to speak in this vein.

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, I had told your Ambassador that things have moved somewhat more slowly, both in our internal deliberations and in policy, than we had anticipated.

The situation we face is as follows: Egypt and Israel, as is known publicly, are engaged in attempting to see if some agreement can be reached. Contrary to the newspapers, it has not been reached yet. I am seeing the Israeli Prime Minister tomorrow, who will give me the latest Israeli thinking. But with no concreteness. The clarifications Israel is seeking concern mostly our bilateral relations. The basic issue has to do with the lines in the passes and access to the oil fields, in return for whatever can be done for UN forces and passage through the Canal and other similar matters. It will become clear in the next two or three weeks. I am not planning any extended trip in the area. I will let your Ambassador know Tuesday or Wednesday.2

The question then is, if there is an interim agreement, how to move to a more comprehensive consideration. We believe we should then move to a more comprehensive consideration of all the issues. We might begin with Syrian matters if that is the preference, but it will be comprehensive.

How to do this raises questions of procedure as well as of substance, as well as of participation. It involves the question of relations of the Middle East countries and our joint conduct. This is my assessment. Do you want to add anything, Joe? [Mr. Sisco, who had been traveling all night, declines.]

This is a preliminary comment.

Gromyko: You know, there is a book by the German author Erich Maria Remarque, which is very popular in our country: On the Western Front, No Changes.

[Page 645]

Kissinger: All Quiet on the Western Front. In German it’s Im Westen Nichts Neues.

Sukhodrev: In Russian, No Change on the Western Front.

Kissinger: That’s wrong too. It is a line from their communiqués.

Gromyko: It is my guess this translation was agreed on with the author when it was published originally.

In any case, this expression I think is applicable to the Middle East today. In the Middle East there are no changes. In our view the situation in the Middle East is a dangerous one. Although there is no smell of gunpowder in the air, it could flare up at any time. It is similar to the period before the last flareup, when we gave a warning but were not heeded. I don’t say it is imminent, but it could happen. We are not prophets.

Kissinger: You think we are in a similar situation to 1973?

Because in retrospect . . . we didn’t heed the warnings of the General Secretary.

Gromyko: I say this because there are two basic issues which are not yet resolved. First is the complete withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories, and second is the recognition of Palestinian rights, which in our view is the formation of a state by the Palestinian Arabs. The third issue is that the agreement must be reached by all the parties concerned to guarantee to Israel the right to free and independent existence.

Of the questions on which we believe agreement must be reached today, these are the following:

At present, the current and most important task is this: Should there be a continuation of the step-by-step policy? Or should there be a joint consideration of all the problems at hand as was agreed upon in the past, at the Geneva Conference? Our view has not changed. The step-by-step approach cannot yield a radical solution to the problem. Steam can be let out of the boiler, but the pressure cannot be ended. You may read in the press that the Soviet Union somewhat abated its interest in Geneva. I can reply this is not so. We are always interested in the work of the Geneva Conference being resumed. We are in favor of its serious work—not as a protocol function or to ratify separate partial steps taken outside the conference and in circumvention of the Conference. It is the comprehensive issues we believe should be discussed—broad ones, and certain narrow ones can be resolved through the Conference too. We don’t see why the U.S. is so apprehensive of the Conference resuming its work.

It is also true we don’t understand all the steps taken by Sadat. This is not a complaint to you about Sadat but a statement of the facts. We say it to Sadat too.

[Page 646]

The General Secretary said this to you and I too: If the Soviet Union were to set itself the goal, it could paralyze all the step-by-step attempts. It would suffice merely to supply the requisite quantities of arms to the relevant Arab countries and they would understand what it was in reference to. It is true we supply some arms, but not a great deal. You may read that the Soviet Union is supplying billions of dollars of arms to, say, Libya, but as usual, the sources are Arab sources, and you are quite right in not raising this issue before us and quite right in not paying attention to these quite erroneous reports. We believe you should appreciate our restraint and our cool and level-headed approach in the Middle East. We could supply unlimited arms and we could outdo the United States in this regard, but we are not setting ourselves that task.

In the past you have said you appreciate the restraint and level-headed approach we have taken; lately you have not said this, probably for reasons of your own.

Let me say a few words on the Geneva Conference.

We believe, especially bearing in mind the fact that all previous deadlines for the resumption of the Geneva Conference have passed, it would be correct if in the nearest possible future the Conference be resumed to consider any questions the parties want to raise; they could include broad or partial or narrower issues at hand. There is a forum for discussion of all these issues and we simply cannot understand why apprehension exists about the discussion of this at Geneva. Let me repeat, even narrow and partial issues could be raised.

As for the Palestinians, we have been in favor of their participation from the beginning. As you know, there is an authoritative and capable organization capable of representing them, and you know of the Arab decision about this. We would accept any concerted Arab decision, and of other participants, with respect to their participation in the Conference.

Israel, which has the opportunity to obtain an effective guarantee, is dodging the issue and balking at appropriate ideas and proposals on the subject. Whether it is the result of arrogance or thirst to keep their hands on the Arab territory they have seized, that we don’t know. In the future, people will appear in Israel who can weigh and assess the decisions taken by those in power with respect to the possibility to obtain a guarantee for their existence, and to judge responsibility for those decisions. But that is a matter for the future. The question now is of the Palestinians and their participation in the work of the Conference.

Kissinger: Let me make a few observations on your remarks, Mr. Foreign Minister.

First with respect to the general Soviet attitude. I think it is on the whole characterized by restraint. I have said so on occasions and I have [Page 647] never said the contrary. I think this restraint isn’t a favor you do to us but reflects common interests. Because the absence of restraint wouldn’t solve the problem but would leave us in the same situation, only after another war. So I think both of us have an interest in exercising restraint. But I agree, the Soviet Union has not done all it could do to exacerbate the situation, and we appreciate this.

As for the step-by-step approach, I have not in recent months spoken on behalf of it with any great intensity. In recent months it is the parties who came to us rather than us encouraging it.

Second, we never saw it as a substitute for a comprehensive approach. We saw it as perhaps a way to make Geneva easier. You put it perhaps right: it lets the steam out of the boiler but doesn’t end the difficulty.

So there is not a big difference between us. Either there will be a step before Geneva or there will be no step before Geneva; there will not be two steps before Geneva. Whether it will be one more step or no step will probably be decided by the time the General Secretary and the President meet at the European Security Conference. Then will be the time for an overall consideration of the issues in any case.

So this is the issue with respect to the step-by-step policy, and we have no difficulty keeping you informed. But we don’t have to, because the Israeli press keeps you informed. In fact, the Israeli press keeps us informed, because we often hear more about the Israeli Cabinet than from the Israelis themselves.

Your Ambassador follows the situation in the United States, and you can see from the statements by the President and me that we share your view that a stalemate means continuing risks for everyone and there must be progress. And I agree with your remark: For Israel it is a big decision to make peace now with adequate guarantees, or risk a new military conflict.

You say, why are we reluctant to have Geneva? We are reluctant to have Geneva because to go there in conditions of frustration, there will be a tremendous pressure to do something rapidly that we may not be able to do. It is hard enough to deal with them individually; all together they intoxicate each other. With the Palestinians, the Syrians, all in the same room. But it has to be faced. If it turns into the kind of discussion we had with your North Vietnamese allies at Avenue Kleber, that also has problems for us, both of us.

With respect to the Palestinians, if you think Israel is trying to gain time through our elections, I can think of no issue better suited for this than the Palestinian issue. In our debate we have turned it to more consideration of the overall issue than at any time since ’67. But the Palestinian issue would enable them to rally again. It would immediately lead to a protracted stalemate. This is a fact; I’m not making it as a judg[Page 648]ment. This is why we always thought the Palestinian issue should be faced later, when more progress has been made and the parties have a commitment to the outcome.

But nevertheless we believe the time is approaching when we believe the process has to be started. About the Palestinian question, I have no answer, except that if it is put on the agenda at the beginning, it will be months before we have progress.

Sisco: Even if it becomes too acute at the UN, this will be true.

Kissinger: Yes. I would be interested to hear the considerations of the Foreign Minister, assuming Geneva starts, how we would move it to progress concretely. If an interim agreement succeeds between Egypt and Israel, we will have to face it. There will be no other step.

Gromyko: [Speaks at length in Russian. Before the translation, rain and lightning start.]

Kissinger: Mrs. Stoessel is on the lake right now taking a boat ride.

The situation outside is what the situation in the Middle East looks like. [Laughter] Can we get a light on? [Mr. Sonnenfeldt goes out to find the lights. A few lights over the bar and a pink light over the dance floor come on.]

Partial measures.

Sukhodrev: [Translating the Foreign Minister’s earlier remarks] Now we see more possibility for the Geneva Conference to resume. The participating countries meet and put forward whatever ideas they want to advance for a solution of the Middle East problem. These proposals should relate to the vacating of occupied territories, an end to the war, use of the Canal especially by the Israelis, and use of demilitarized zones and other ideas if necessary—in short, any proposals relating to the evacuation of territories. In addition, proposals relating to the Palestinian state. There is a basis: There are territories not belonging to either Israel or Jordan, namely Gaza and the Right Bank.

Sisco: West Bank. The Right Bank would be the East Bank!

Kissinger: It depends on how you look at it. [Laughter] This is the sort of discussion that goes on at our staff meetings.

Sukhodrev: [Resumes translating] Israel of course would have every right to put forward its proposals on the guarantees it wants.

Kissinger: That would start a war right there.

Sukhodrev: The Soviet Union is and always has been in favor of such guarantees. These should be participated in by the Big Powers. Whether by some or all of the Big Powers, could be discussed, but we believe certainly the United States and Soviet Union should be participants. We are prepared for our part to participate in providing those guarantees.

[Page 649]

There is another question that arises with respect to the Geneva Conference but we don’t understand why when we raise it you have bypassed it. The Geneva Conference can and should discuss radical issues, broad issues, because they have to be solved somehow. Ready-made solutions won’t just rain on us from the sky. Maybe our statesmen will find them up there, but if not, the states must do it.

Kissinger: We would not reject them if they did find them there.

Sukhodrev: But the Geneva Conference could consider partial steps . . .

Gromyko: If considered appropriate.

Sukhodrev: . . . steps that you keep wanting. So on no account do I exclude the Geneva Conference taking these up. So alongside the discussion of radical, broad issues, there could be a discussion of partial steps, to contribute to a “de-tensioning” of the situation.

Gromyko: Which ones—that would be discussed.

Sukhodrev: In the context of the overall. In what measure in the context of the overall, could be decided when we discuss. But you invariably ignore our remarks to that effect.

If that approach is taken, then all the parties would be taking a clean approach, a pure one. But we hear some saying “the Soviet Union wants to get in, and we don’t want that.”

That is what I wanted to say, taking account of your considerations.

One other remark: At the Geneva Conference the Soviet Union would act as a moderating factor, and that includes consideration of the Palestinian problem. You know the various trends and currents that exist within the Palestinian movement, so if Israel sees in the Soviet Union a force to which it wants to attribute solely intimidating and negative properties, it is making a mistake. The Soviet Union at the Conference would be carrying out a policy of principle but a moderating policy to a great extent, and this would be a support of Israel’s security—its real security, not illusory security.

Kissinger: Let me say first, I consider your statement a constructive approach.

I would like to ask a few clarifying questions: You said each country should be asked to put forward its proposal of the whole totality of it. Does it mean the Soviet Union and the United States should make a proposal with respect to the totality of it, or should we first ask the parties to make their proposal and then we would do it?

Gromyko: We believe that on this question too we could engage in some preliminary consultation or exchange of views to reach a common position. There are two possibilities: we could hear initially what the parties want to say and propose, and then we could weigh [Page 650] and assess their proposals and maybe put forward our own viewpoints. Or secondly, they could make their proposals—and they are the appropriate ones to do so since they are the parties directly involved—and the United States could make its viewpoints known, perhaps concerted, and we could put forward our own. These possibilities could be the subject of exchanges of views between us. After all, we have agreed on occasion to consult on these things, and included this in many documents. So we are flexible on this.

Kissinger: We have two approaches that either of us could pursue. Either of us could compete at this Conference to drive out the influence of the other, for advantage. This would, one, have an effect on our relations and two, would immediately produce a stalemate. Or, we could be a moderating influence. The parties have enough complexities without our adding to them. My view tends to be to let the parties put forward their ideas, and we could consult to try to put forward a common viewpoint. This would be the most constructive approach. Because a stalemate would serve neither of our interests.


[Kovalev and Sherer return at 12:19 p.m.]

Kissinger: Should we hear from our Ambassadors first?

Gromyko: Can we guess what they have? Augurs used to guess from looking at them.

Kissinger: I think it is now humanly impossible to make the European Security Conference fail. [Laughter]

Sherer: It took a little time to assemble the NATO chiefs of delegation. They were aware of the Maltese amendments. I polled the room to find out how people felt and I think without exception the major powers have to seek instructions before giving any opinion at all.

Kissinger: You should have said that too.

Sherer: And the countries almost all took a generally negative view.

Kissinger: Which? Italy?

Sherer: Italy, France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany.

Kissinger: Does Germany have forces in the Mediterranean?

Sherer: They all spoke in a generally skeptical way.

Kissinger: Let me talk to Mr. Sherer for a minute.

[Kissinger, Sherer, Sisco, Sonnenfeldt and Stoessel confer in the corner until 12:37 p.m. and then return to the table.]

Kissinger: Mr. Foreign Minister, on the European Security Conference first, as I understand it from Mr. Sherer, all the NATO delegations are asking for instructions and the answer is expected to be negative. I am asking Sherer to ask the delegations to hold an answer until I have a [Page 651] chance to confer with Schmidt and Callaghan, and I can get in touch with the French.

I think the Conference will take place on July 30. It is only a question of tactics. It’s a stupid . . . We are only committed to maintain contacts and dialogue on these questions.

Sisco: It is not operative.

Kissinger: We are not committed to do anything. I will recommend to them that we stay in low gear on this. [To Sherer] Tell them we construe this only as a commitment to a dialogue, that we don’t construe it as calling for a reduction, and we have no intention on our part to reduce our forces. And I don’t detect a burning desire by my Soviet colleagues to reduce. No, you speak for yourself.

[The Secretary confers with Sherer.]

Sherer will proceed as I indicated. I am seeing Genscher tonight and Schmidt tomorrow and Callaghan. I will call Sauvagnargues tonight or tomorrow. I think the Finns should proceed as if it will go forward on the 30th. It is inconceivable to me that it should fail at this late date.

I’m told the Finns are proceeding anyway on the assumption that it will go forward.

And our two Ambassadors will stay in touch and we will let you know everything we are doing. We will let Vorontsov know Saturday night or Sunday morning3 what the results are.

Gromyko: All right. I think evidently somebody somewhere seems to be not too aware of the consequences of what is going on.

Kissinger: You are talking about the European Security Conference?

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: I think it has become an industry in each Foreign Office working on the European Security Conference. No one asks himself what the purpose is.

I think of all the countries, Turkey is the most difficult one on this question of reducing forces.

[Gromyko confers with Kovalev.]

Gromyko: Yesterday they agreed with the Canadian proposal.

Kissinger: Yes. But on the Maltese addition.

Gromyko: We don’t know, since the NATO countries discussed it.

Sherer: The Turks here will consult their government, but the delegation here had a generally negative attitude.

[Page 652]

Kissinger: We could cut off arms to them.

[To Sherer] Will they be able to get instructions by this afternoon?

Sherer: The Turks will take a while.

Kissinger: All of them.

Sherer: They are all phoning now.

Kissinger: Let me know the lineup before I leave.

Sherer: All right.

[Exeunt Sherer and Kovalev]

Middle East:

[Gromyko and Sukhodrev confer.]

Gromyko: I was just recapping my last remarks on the Middle East: You said we should discuss whether we should concert to put forward proposals of our own or not.

Kissinger: What is your reaction?

Gromyko: That is a possible mode of action.

We can talk over these questions, but what do we do with the Geneva Conference?

Malta is not a factor.

Kissinger: Wait until your Syrian friends go into action. They will drive us all crazy.

[Sonnenfeldt shows him a draft of the joint statement of the meeting.]

I was prepared to add “constructive talks in a friendly atmosphere.” “Cordial.” I would prefer “cordial.”

Gromyko: “Friendly.”

Kissinger: We will do “friendly.”

Gromyko: Do you have any idea when the Conference should be convened?

Kissinger: We will have a more precise idea when the General Secretary and the President meet in Helsinki, because we will know whether there will be an interim agreement or not. It will probably be some time in the course of the fall, but a more precise date we will know perhaps by then.

Can I ask, for my understanding, one or two other questions?

You said there is a possibility of partial settlements coming out of Geneva. I have no fixed view on it. Should they be made as stages of an overall—that is, first we agree on the overall and then we agree on these as steps in it? Or can there be a partial agreement and then overall?

Gromyko: On this or that partial measure, there could be an agreement on a partial step before there is agreement on a comprehensive.

[Page 653]

Kissinger: Suppose there is agreement on an overall, or when there is one, you would also envisage the possibility that it could be carried out in stages?

Gromyko: It is a possibility.

Kissinger: Months, or years?

Gromyko: That is subject to consideration.

Kissinger: We don’t have to agree now.

Some of my colleagues heard you say the Soviet Union would not insist on participating in all phases of partial discussions at Geneva.

Gromyko: Who? The Soviet Union is a participant at the Conference.

Kissinger: It was an unusual statement from the Soviet Foreign Minister. I didn’t think so. You know your view. My colleagues wrote me a note saying they heard this.

Sisco: You said “Some say the Soviet Union wants to be in all of it, but we don’t.”

Sukhodrev: That was a quote. He said “Some say this” that “we”—that is, they—“don’t want the Soviet Union in.”

Kissinger: I understood.

The Palestinian question will be a problem.

Gromyko: On that question, the Arabs themselves should reach prior accord, and we would support whatever proposal they put forward. We ourselves are in favor of their participation from the beginning, but there is as yet no Arab proposal before us. They say there will be a meeting soon between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Maybe you have proposals from them.

Kissinger: No. In any event, the two leaders should discuss it in Helsinki. The two topics I think they should discuss are the Middle East and SALT.

Gromyko: Whether or not you keep us abreast of the partial measures is up to you. You know our view of it.

SALT should be a topic of discussion.

Kissinger: In any event, there should not be a debate about partial measures versus Geneva. It will be this and Geneva, or no step and Geneva. It will not be many more.

Gromyko: The next step in Helsinki?

Kissinger: The next stage of discussion should be at Helsinki. And you and I could meet, if necessary, while the meetings are going on. While Mintoff is speaking. Our Chiefs have to stay there but we don’t.

I fell asleep at the NATO meeting. Did you see those photos? The thing is, I knew the cameras were on me and I knew I was falling asleep, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

[Page 654]

[The meeting ended. The Joint Statement later released is at Tab A.]4

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 10–11, 1975—Kissinger/Gromyko Meetings in Geneva (2). Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held at the Carnival Bar in the Intercontinental Hotel.
  2. July 15 or 16.
  3. July 12 or 13.
  4. Attached but not printed. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, August 4, 1975, pp. 188–189.