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167. Memorandum for the Record1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Ford
  • Secretary Kissinger
  • Secretary Simon
  • Hugh Scott
  • Hubert Humphrey
  • Jacob Javits
  • Abe Ribicoff
  • John Culver
  • Charles Percy
  • Brent Scowcroft
  • Hal Sonnenfeldt
  • Max Friedersdorf
  • Les Janka (note taker)

SUBJECT

  • Senators’ Report on Their Visit to the Soviet Union2

The President: Thank you all for coming down. I saw some good pictures and heard a lot of reports of your activities in the Soviet Union. Brezhnev is indeed an interesting fellow, and I’m glad that you got a chance to meet with him. I know that you are all here to talk about trade and emigration today.

Senator Javits: Hubert Humphrey and Hugh Scott were the Chairmen of our Delegation and they will open our report to you.

Senator Scott: I took extensive notes on our conversations and I have given a copy to Secretary Kissinger and I hope you will have a chance to read through them.3

Senator Humphrey: Hugh’s notes are indeed very extensive and very helpful and I hope you will indeed have a chance to read through [Page 669]them. Mr. President, we made every effort to prepare ourselves well for this visit. We appointed leaders and speakers on each issue. John Culver covered arms control, Jacob Javits on the emigration problem and partially on the Middle East, and Chuck Percy primarily on the Middle East. It was my feeling that despite the Suslov speech,4 which we should have expected, our discussions went very well. They were very frank and some of our individual talks with Soviet leaders were very, very significant. The one point I want to make at the outset is about Brezhnev. It is clear that he feels time is running out, and I think that he means this perhaps physically for himself. It is clear that he wants to achieve something in the near future and now is the time for us to put pressure on the Soviets. I see Brezhnev needing results more than we do. The hurry point is more on them than on the United States. At several points Brezhnev mentioned the February 6 Communist Party Conference. It is my honest belief that Brezhnev has been under radiation treatment and he seems to have a persistent cough. There is also a great deal of slurring of his speech, evident even in the Russian language. He also mentioned at several points that men are mortal, that we have an obligation to our grandchildren, and so forth. All of that, I felt, was not just polemics. He is clearly very concerned not only with his place in Russia, but also his place in history.

It was also very clear that President Nixon’s visit to the Soviet Union was a very significant event for him. It was such a high point that he even at one point brought out all of his pictures of the visit to show us.

We also met with Jewish activists and dissidents. These meetings were most productive. I also want to say, Mr. President, that John Culver was simply terrific in the arms control area. He was very well prepared and very persuasive in his presentations to the Russians.

Senator Scott: John made his points very cogently and by doing so, showed the Russians that the President has to consider the view of Congress in formulating our arms control policy.

Senator Humphrey: It was also evident that the Soviet Government is not simply a collective leadership, but that they operate very subjectively with regard to Brezhnev’s leadership. His personal status and personality are very much involved. Much of the restraint in Soviet policy is due to Brezhnev himself. He has a very warm feeling for you, Mr. President, and I want to reiterate that now is the time to bear in on the Soviets.

Senator Ribicoff: Let me say a few words on trade and emigration. I want to start by saying that I am stronger now than ever before on[Page 670] détente. Changes are clearly required in the Jackson and Stevenson Amendments.5 We need a three-cornered effort between the Congress, the Executive and the Russians. We must work carefully with the Russians on the movement of people. We must also work on the mix of people allowed to leave. There have to be included some of the dissidents who have become a symbol in this country.

I recognize that all of this will take some months to work out. I’ve talked to Senator Jackson on a number of occasions. He is unhappy but he has to be brought into the process. There has to be an understanding that more people have to come out of the Soviet Union while this process is being worked out. It will have to work like the Romanian process going on now. Romanians have told me that they will move out some 800 people in July, which is up from the normal 300 a month. In the Soviet Union I told Arbatov very clearly that there could be no change in the Jackson Amendment without some movement of people. Most importantly, I think the Russians now understand that in our system of government, they have to satisfy the Congress before something can happen. All of this means that we will need to work quietly and diligently to get this process started.

Senator Humphrey: Mr. President, Senator Ribicoff’s statement to the Soviets was very profound and very moving. I hope you will read it when the Committee’s report is issued.

Secretary Kissinger: I think it may be possible to get an increase in emigration if we do it quietly and do not attempt to make it a public precondition. I don’t know for sure that emigration will increase, but I do think there is a chance if we handle it with some skill.

The President: I’ll be seeing Brezhnev in Helsinki in about two weeks. If we start to make a lot of speeches on this issue, it just isn’t going to work. There will be misunderstandings and roadblocks created for us.

Senator Javits: I support everything that has been said thus far but I do see a danger of our selling out in advance. We must act with dignity and restraint as we approach this problem. I also want to say that I saw great teamwork in our delegation. All members exercised great leadership during the visit, but I want to reiterate that we cannot give away the whole ball game. We have got to get the Russians to come through with some movement of people before we take any final steps. A good example is how the Romanian process is working.

The President: What is the status of the Trade Bill at this time?

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Senator Ribicoff: Both House and Senate committees have acted but are holding it up to watch for progress on the part of Romania. However, I am ready now to move it forward in the Senate.

The President: What scenario would you suggest for getting changes in the Jackson Amendment?

Senator Javits: We should approve the Romanian MFN as a symbol and a recognition of the progress made. Next the Soviets should let significant numbers of emigrants go. They should also let some of the prominent dissidents out. I would think the number leaving should reach 25 to 30,000. That is a totally practical number. One of the things that Arbatov told us was that they estimated that they had about 100,000 Jews who would want to emigrate if they could do so.

In our discussions with Brezhnev, Mr. President, we discussed this issue just this way, just this frankly. I pledged myself to remove this obstacle to détente, and Brezhnev said that this was a heartwarming move but he also said, somewhat slyly, that we were interfering in their internal affairs. I exercised uncustomary restraint by remaining silent at this point. I also want to say that one thing came through and that is that the Russians have finally gotten the point that moral ideas count in this country; that this trade bill issue is not pure mercantilism. I also want to note that with regard to the Middle East problem, Chuck Percy performed magnificently.

The President: When could we start action in the Congress? Doesn’t trade legislation have to start in the House?

Senator Ribicoff: That is right. It must begin in the House.

The President: Which should move first, the Stevenson or the Jackson Amendment?

Senator Javits: In our discussions with the dissidents we were told that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Stevenson Amendment cutting off credits; but everyone recognizes that the camel can only be restored by granting MFN, with action on the Stevenson Amendment coming later.

Senator Ribicoff: Trade is very important to the Russians, but the Canadian ambassador to Moscow6 told me that the only country the Soviet Union respects is the United States and it is important to them that they have equality with us. Therefore, MFN is essential because it involves the element of pride and nondiscriminatory treatment for the Russians.

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Someone in the White House will have to get together with the key actors, with Jackson, Ullman, Schneebeli, Reuss,7 etc., to set up a working group between the Legislative and Executive Branches to start the ball rolling.

Senator Scott (to Ribicoff): I hope in the Committee’s report you will bring out the dissidents’ comments about the impact of the Stevenson Amendment.

Senator Ribicoff: We cannot relegate the decision making on this issue only to the Executive Branch; Congress has to be involved. The Secretary of State will also have to work in tandem with the Russians. We ought to be aiming for some action by mid-October or November.

The President: I think so too. We can’t do anything because of the recess until September to get the working group going. The earliest we could have any action is mid-October.

Senator Ribicoff: Of course, I can’t speak for the House, but I would think we could assign our staffs during the month of August to start working on language.

Senator Humphrey: You have got to impress Jackson that while the dissidents were grateful for his amendment, now they want some action; they want to see people moving out again.

Senator Percy: I met recently with the top Jewish leaders in Illinois. They too want to see an increase in the immigration numbers and it is clear they are willing to see some change in the legislation.

Senator Javits: Yes, but don’t fool yourselves. The American Jewish community will need a lot of convincing. They have been hot for the Jackson Amendment. Both Abe and I have lost some support because of our stand on this issue. We need to let the example of Romania settle in for a while. We must also stress that a change in the legislation is a major part of the détente process and that progress on the Trade Bill will loosen up a lot of other things across the board. In sum, we are not out of the woods yet on this.

I want to mention that Chuck Percy drew Brezhnev aside at the conclusion of our discussion and told him some things about the Middle East. These comments will probably not be reflected in House notes, but I want you to know what an excellent job Chuck did speaking to Brezhnev.

Senator Percy: I tried to tell Brezhnev how much we had in common in bringing about a peace settlement in the Middle East. I told him that we cannot let third and fourth parties drive us apart, and I told Brezhnev very strongly that the Arabs will have to do some public[Page 673] things which indicate their public acceptance of Israel and their readiness for peace with Israel. If King Khalid can say that he can accept Israel, the other Arabs certainly can. We have a common goal with the Russians in seeking peace in the Middle East, and Brezhnev confirmed to me that there is no pressure on the part of the Soviets to go to Geneva.

I met yesterday with the Jordanian ambassador to discuss with him what the Arabs can do to stop the movement toward the expulsion of Israel from the United Nations. In our talk he recognized what a disaster this would be for the Arabs; that if you put Israel out of the United Nations, then it makes irrelevant Resolution 242 and Resolution 338 that provide the framework for settlement.

With regard to the Trade Bill issue, it was clear to all of us that the Soviets will not back down. They were very tough but we also laid it on the line with them. I showed them a chart of the emigration which shows the great drop off after the Jackson Amendment, and I told them that all that would be necessary is for them merely to keep the trend going that existed before the Jackson Amendment.

Secretary Kissinger: From the foreign policy viewpoint, your schedule for legislative action would match very well with our thoughts for progress in SALT. The President plans for a summit meeting later this year.

We will talk to the Soviets about this. I will tell them that what is needed is for them just to go back to the pre-1973 process, where they increased the emigration numbers without anybody saying anything about it.

The President: We’ve got to get the State Department people working with your staff people. We’ve also got to bring in the people from the House.

Senator Javits: Yes. You should treat the House people as having the primary legislative action. They should see us just as the experts who were in Moscow.

The President: We will talk to Ullman and Schneebeli. We will make clear that we are not preempting their role.

Senator Scott: I took your four letters on the Trade Bill8 with me and I showed them to the Soviet Parliamentarians. Arbatov advised me to show them to Brezhnev. The Soviets perceive even your letters as movement in the right direction.

I want to add my comments, Mr. President, that this was the best delegation I have ever been on. Everyone worked very hard, there was no free time for anyone, and this was certainly not a junket.

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Senator Humphrey: I want to emphasize, Mr. President, as you go to Helsinki that the Russians have to be informed by you that this is a two-way street. A change in the legislation cannot be made to look like weakness on our part. Brezhnev is now in a position where he wants to get things done. He feels time is running out and he has set a program for his country and for himself which he wants very badly to accomplish.

The President: That is the same reaction I received in Vladivostok. Brezhnev feels a personal mission to do something for the Soviet Union as well as for his place in history.

Senator Culver: With regard to our discussions on arms control, I reiterated the United States’ position on SALT and MBFR. I made two principal points: (1) the need for the Soviets to disclose in much greater detail the true nature of their defense budget. I pointed out to them that since we did not know what they were doing, the United States had to base its defenses on a worst case assessment of the Soviet threat. (2) I discussed with them the possibilities of arms control in the Indian Ocean. We were in Moscow during the Bartlett and Stratton9 visits to Somalia. I tried to ascertain the Soviet willingness to enter into arms talks on limitations in the Indian Ocean. They were not very flexible but in private follow-up talks they appeared to be somewhat more positive. I hope the Department of State can follow up on this possibility.

With regard to the détente process, the perception of the American people is that the benefits of détente have been very lopsided in favor of the Soviet Union. Encouraging this view was the first wheat deal and the first SALT agreement. I would also add that the Readers Digest article on Soviet SALT violations is often cited with regard to détente.10

My final point is that in the implementation of détente we have to be extremely careful that in our efforts to keep the détente momentum going we must nevertheless be very precise in the wording of the agreements we sign. We should make every effort to avoid setting in train the potential for later recriminations of “I told you so” that can only hurt the détente process.

The President: We don’t go into negotiations with the idea that we have to have an agreement. Of course, we would like to have one but we will not sell out for a date certain or just for the fact of agreement.

Senator Humphrey: This is a very good point. As we recall in 1972 we were very desirous of just getting something working with the Soviet Union and we, therefore, let some of the details go. We are no[Page 675] longer in that position and now we need patience and perseverance and we have to convey to the Soviet Union that they cannot win an arms race. I made this point in Moscow that the United States will win any arms race and that the Soviet economy cannot take such a race. I think we ought to get, and it would be very useful to have, a Congressional expression that while the United States is all for arms control, there is no way the Soviet Union will catch us unprepared or that they can close the gap on our defenses.

The President: That is all very well. The Soviets cannot beat us in the long run but we in the Executive Branch face the problem of selling our arms budget every year, the kind of budget that will keep our momentum going that will not let the Soviets catch up in specific areas. I told Brezhnev at Vladivostok that if we didn’t get an arms control agreement, I would submit a bigger defense budget in January. I think that made quite an impact on Brezhnev. Certainly what the Congress did this year to the defense authorization will be very helpful as we proceed.

Senator Scott: I also wanted to mention the stop in Poland. We met with Foreign Minister Olszowski and First Secretary Gierek in Warsaw. In the discussion they told us that they view themselves as part of the Third World and they are, therefore, very concerned for the process of great power and détente.

The President: Thank you all for coming. The work of your delegation was excellent and this meeting has been very helpful to me.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 10, POL 2 USSR–Trade (MFN, Ex-Im). Confidential. Drafted on July 18 by Les Janka. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Kissinger briefed the President for this meeting in an undated memorandum. Ford initialed the briefing memorandum; a stamped note also indicates that he saw it. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 17, USSR (17))
  2. The Senators visited the Soviet Union from June 28 to July 4.
  3. The copy of Scott’s record of the parliamentary conference in Moscow June 30–July 2 is attached to Kissinger’s briefing memorandum for the President (see footnote 1 above).
  4. Suslov’s June 30 speech was reported in The New York Times. (“Suslov Criticizes U.S. Over Détente,” July 1, 1975, p. 7)
  5. The Stevenson Amendment to the Export-Import Bank bill imposed a ceiling for 4 years on new Export-Import Bank credits to the Soviet Union and required a Presidential determination that any transaction with a Communist country over a certain amount was in the national interest.
  6. Robert A. D. Ford.
  7. Congressman Al Ullman (Democrat, Oregon), Herman T. Schneebeli (Republican, Pennsylvania), and Henry S. Reuss (Democrat, Wisconsin).
  8. Not further identified.
  9. Senator Dewey Bartlett (Republican, Oklahoma) and Congressman Samuel Stratton (Democrat, New York).
  10. See Document 169.