170. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford 1


  • Meetings with Brezhnev

Your Purposes and Basic Line

This is a crucial encounter for two reasons; first, it will largely determine the future course of the SALT talks, and, therefore, the prospects for Brezhnev’s visit; second, and equally important, it will be the opportunity to reestablish a mutual commitment, at the highest level, to improve Soviet-American relations as the basic policy of both sides. The latter is not a question of atmospherics, but a substantive problem in light of growing criticism of détente on both sides.

—Your aim is not so much to reassure Brezhnev about your policies, but to explain frankly and candidly that the relationship has reached the point where problems are emerging, as they inevitably would in any such attempt to alter the basic character of Soviet-American relations as they were shaped for over two decades of bitter hostility.

—Your main point is that détente must, in fact, be reciprocal, a two-way street, that you are committed to this course, but must defend it against a strong residue of suspicion that détente is being exploited; thus Soviet-American relations must be given new momentum; this means progress in SALT and MBFR, a real effort to implement CSCE, and a reaffirmation of the principles contained in the 1972 and 1973 summit agreements.

—You should stress that Soviet leaders should not be dismayed or surprised that certain segments in the US are skeptical, indeed, hostile to better relations with the USSR; after all, a complete turnaround in public and political opinion, whether in the US or USSR, cannot be expected in two or three years; the key is to demonstrate by deeds that the new course of relations is grounded in specific accomplishments bene[Page 682]fitting not only the American and Soviet people, but international stability in general.2

—This means that détente cannot be a cover for aggravating tensions, for regional advantage, or for applying differing criteria to various aspects of relations.

At these meetings with the General Secretary you want to accomplish three objectives; (1) to review the course of Soviet-American relations, both bilateral aspects and their impact on international issues; (2) to break the back of the SALT issues, if possible, by referring to the Geneva negotiations a number of issues where positions coincide or are quite close, and by discussing frankly those issues, like cruise missiles, where important differences remain; (3) to discuss the General Secretary’s visit to the US and the accomplishments that can be achieved by the time of, or during that visit.

—On this last point of the General Secretary’s visit, you will want to emphasize the critical importance of tying it to substantive accomplishments, particularly in arms control, so that it will be clear in both countries that the regular summits are a stimulus for reaching achievements.

Brezhnev’s Position

Brezhnev will probably be in a somewhat bouyant mood;3 whatever the criticism abroad, CSCE in his eyes must seem a successful achievement denied all his more illustrious predecessors. Being center stage with a host of his European colleagues cannot fail to appeal to his innate vanity and his pretensions to world statesmanship.

But, at the same time, and more basically, he knows that the Conference has become a contentious issue in the West and that this is symptomatic of a disenchantment with détente. He can only add the controversy over CSCE to a series of events that cause him and his colleagues to question the future potential for the so-called “peace program” which he initiated at the 24th Party Congress in March 1971.

In his view the setbacks to the trade bill last December, following so closely an unexpected criticism in the US of the Vladivostok agreement initiated a trend which he probably regards as ominous. He may point to such occurrences as Secretary Schlesinger’s remarks on a preemptive strike and first use of tactical nuclear weapons, the intelligence activities of the US that have received a great deal of publicity, the outcry against Soviet grain purchases, the anti-Soviet campaign that he cannot fail to see in the publicity to the Soviet base in Somalia, [Page 683] the reception given Solzhenitsyn, the debate over alleged Soviet SALT violations, the attacks on CSCE, our recent statements on the Baltic states,4 and our policy in the Middle East which seems aimed at the exclusion of the USSR.

In short, Brezhnev must wonder whether the support for détente in the US is weakening to the point that either you will abandon it, or be replaced with a more militant successor.

From his standpoint, however, you are his best bet, and he cannot afford to gamble that other events will weaken the US to the point where he can resume a forward, offensive policy if we back away from détente. Brezhnev’s problem is that he must, in effect, face his constituency in February at the 25th Party Congress; he must defend a foreign policy record that is tied to détente in Europe and with the US, that promises benefits in the encirclement of China, and the strengthening of Soviet influence in Asia and the Middle East.

—In defending his policies, Brezhnev must also recognize that he will almost certainly be making a farewell appearance before his party; he may retire of his own volition, or be asked at some point to step aside, or simply be thrown out. With his ingrained sense of historical perspective, he wants to bind his successor, and define Soviet policy for the next period, and preserve his own positive image in the history books.

—He cannot do this, if his policy is in a shambles; thus SALT, the US visit, the impact on China, the Middle East outcome, US-Soviet economic relations, all assume an importance in the perspective of his Party Congress.

All of this means that you have a strong bargaining position; Brezhnev needs to restore the momentum to détente, he cannot afford to abort his visit or leave SALT stalemated, unless he is also prepared to inaugurate a wholesale shift in policy next spring.

This does not mean, of course, that he can readily make a series of concessions; he must face his colleagues, and his position—for reasons of health and because he is in effect a lame duck—is more circumscribed than in previous summit meetings.

—He is still in charge and can make decisions on the spot, but he must be more solicitous of the collective in Moscow, lest he risk the fate of Khrushchev.

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Nor can he fail to see elements of strength and opportunity for the USSR in the fact that there is a weakening of the western coalition, especially the southern perimeter, that the industrial west is in some disarray, that Europe is shifting to the left, that there is a debate in the US over the control of foreign policy, and that there continue to be openings in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for the expansion of Soviet influence.

Nevertheless, in a broad sense, your objectives and Brezhnev’s coincide: he wants to make progress on SALT, though not at any price, he hopes for a successful visit to the US (though he may be very wary of his public reception), he wants to demonstrate that détente is reciprocal and that it brings gains to the USSR.

In sum, Brezhnev may be apprehensive, even somewhat truculent about the course of relations since you met him at Vladivostok; but objectively, he has no major options, other than to pursue this course, but he will do so in a more sober manner, looking for weaknesses that can be exploited.

Substantive Issues


The issue here is not so much the wording of documents or who won or lost, but what happens in the future: the Soviets no doubt have a different appreciation of CSCE and a different interpretation of it than we do. For them it is, in fact, a general postwar settlement recodifying the status quo politically and territorially. We can expect Brezhnev to make these points, however subtly, in his address to the conference though no doubt he will clothe his remarks in high-sounding phrases about peace and progress.

—You will want to explain that CSCE should be a guide to future relations, and in this sense a yardstick for measuring conduct.

—We expect to be attacked for signing what appears to many to be a meaningless document, and, as the General Secretary knows, we cannot constitutionally treat these documents as solemn treaty commitments.

—Nevertheless, you will stand behind the results and defend their value in the US, but you will do so in the sense that they establish standards for behavior that should be translated into practice through implementation of bilateral agreements.

—You should remind Brezhnev that we have no territorial issues in dispute and that we long ago accepted the existing borders, subject to our special rights and obligations for Germany and Berlin.

—We have played a key role in this conference, and sought to cooperate with both the Soviet Union and our allies.

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—Now that it is completed, it is time to look to the other key negotiations—on mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR). You may wish to say that we recognize Soviet motives for not proceeding in the MBFR talks until CSCE was completed, but that if MBFR now remains deadlocked, it will only increase the skepticism in the US about the value of European security negotiation.5

—You are prepared to initiate some changes in our position, in the direction of meeting Soviet complaints about reduction in nuclear systems, but this must be reciprocal—the Soviets must be prepared to respond to your initiative.

—In particular, the goal of these talks must be one of rough parity, rather than codifying existing imbalances.6 Moreover, the US and USSR must assume a special responsibility by making reductions first in the first phase.

—You and the General Secretary ought to take this occasion to emphasize the necessity for progress on what he calls “military détente” to provide the substance of the political détente of CSCE.


You will probably have a special discussion on SALT. In general introductory comments you may simply make the following points to set the stage:

—First, you appreciate the serious and comprehensive effort made by the Soviet side in the Geneva meeting between Secretary Kissinger and Gromyko.

—You understand that it was not easy for the Soviet side to reach this new position.

—You have had a thorough consideration of SALT at the highest levels of the American government, and as a result, you have accepted much of the Soviet presentation.

—Some serious issues remain and will have to be discussed with the General Secretary [i. e., cruise missiles and Backfire].7

—But overall, you perceive that both sides are seriously searching for solutions that are not one-sided, and will, in fact, lead to an agreement by the time of the General Secretary’s visit.

C. The Middle East

The Soviets have stayed on the sidelines during the latest round. They are probably upset that the US has once again assured itself the [Page 686] key role, when it appeared that the scene would shift to Geneva, and permit the Soviets to have a voice. Moreover, they have gone through another deterioration in their relations with Sadat: this time being forced out of their anchorages in Egypt, and drawn into a virtual public polemic with him.

Nevertheless, the Soviets have probably been sobered by the course of events since the Yom Kippur war. When face-to-face with the real possibility of convening in Geneva, they slowed their pace and, in effect, did not press for a strict timetable. They pressed for Palestinian participation, but implied this might be put off until later. They made a fine distinction between partial agreement within the context of Geneva and ones outside, thus leaving themselves some freedom of maneuver.

Apparently, the Soviets have concluded that there is little to be gained in the Arab world by outright opposition to our diplomacy if it seems to meet the desires of the participants. If it fails, they can hope to pick up some of the pieces; if it succeeds, they can take some implicit credit for not blocking progress.

—You will want to make one major point, if only for the benefit of Brezhnev’s record with his colleagues.

—We are not basing our policy on the expulsion or exclusion of the Soviet Union from a legitimate role in the area.

—We recognize that the Soviet Union has genuine security concerns in a region so close to its borders.

—But the key, as you have said, is not to allow matters to stalemate.

—Thus, you have taken every opportunity to maintain a political momentum.

—You want to make the point that the principles of conduct that were signed in 1972 apply to the current situation; we expect the Soviets to act with restraint.

—As occasion presents itself you should stress our opposition to any move to expel or suspend Israel from the UN and note the potentially disastrous effect on the UN were this to be done.

—You appreciate the fact that in recent weeks the USSR has shown statesmanlike restraint, and has not used its undeniable influence to block negotiations between Egypt and Israel, under US guidance.

—Once a new agreement has been achieved—and you will continue working for one—then you are prepared to have Secretary Kissinger discuss with Ambassador Dobrynin how the US and the USSR evaluate the problems of a comprehensive settlement.

—In particular, you can consider how each side could participate in guarantees (probably unilateral rather than joint ones).

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—You hope that Brezhnev will use his position and authority among his Arab friends to promote peaceful progress; this would have the most salutary effect on détente.

Somalia and the Indian Ocean

You may wish to refer to the Somalian affair, and its relationship to the Indian Ocean:

—You could simply say that the existence of Soviet facilities in Somalia—whether they are called a base or not—is a fact that cannot fail to influence our own decisions.

—We do not wish to inaugurate a major arms race in the area; but we will establish facilities in Diego Garcia.

—We have studied the problems of possible arms limitation in the Indian Ocean, but our distinct impression is that the USSR has no great interest at this time.

—We are not prepared to discuss our facilities in Diego Garcia, independent of Soviet presence in Somalia and India.

Thus, we have two choices: (1) let the matter lie for the present; (2) begin some highly private discussions on what principles might be involved in an arms control agreement affecting the area.

D. Other Arms Control

You should take the opportunity to mention progress in the talks on the agreement on peaceful nuclear explosions, which are a pre-condition to submitting the threshold test ban treaty to the Congress.

—You believe that the recent compromise agreement restricting peaceful explosions to a threshold of 150 kt is a major breakthrough; it will be of great importance in putting the entire package to the Congress.

—The technical details can now be worked out, and you anticipate that this agreement should be signed at the time of the General Secretary’s visit.

Environmental Warfare

On this issue, our negotiators have reached virtual agreement on a draft treaty:

—We can either submit this for consideration in the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, or proceed bilaterally; probably the former is advisable in view of the great interest of all nations in exotic warfare.

—But you are prepared to sign a document during the Brezhnev visit that will commit our two countries, whatever the outcome in Geneva UN forums.

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E. Other International Issues

During the course of your opening discussions, you may wish to allude to the problems in southern Europe, beginning with Portugal and including Turkey and Cyprus.

—The point you may wish to make is that events in Portugal are not of Soviet making, and we recognize this. Nor do we hold the Soviets responsible for difficulties in Cyprus, or in our relations with Turkey.

—Indeed, we believe that the Soviet Union has on the whole acted with restraint in situations which, in other times, it might have sought to exploit.

—Nevertheless, there is a growing apprehension in the US and in Europe, that Soviet influence over Communist parties is directed toward a weakening of the Western Alliance; many in the US suggested that CSCE not be held because of the role of the Portuguese Communists, who in the past have been so closely aligned with the CPSU.

F. Bilateral Issues

The predominant bilateral problem, of course, is the trade bill-emigration issue. Despite the optimistic assessments of some of the Senators on the possibility of Soviet concessions on emigration,8 there seems little chance that the Soviets will move on this question. They take seriously your commitment in your letters that you will seek a revision in the legislation. But it is doubtful that Brezhnev is in a position to do anything beforehand.

The economic incentive for détente still exists; but the benefits must now seem less attractive, especially since major credits are available in the West in any case. Yet the Soviet vulnerability to bad harvests is a potent reminder that we have leverage if we can use it.

Your major points are:

—You will seek to revise the trade bill, but you must in all candor explain to the General Secretary the limits: with an election year coming and a dispute with the Congress on a range of subjects, revising the Jackson/Vanik Amendment will be a slow, careful going.

—The Soviets should not anticipate a breakthrough.

—Even so, there is a potential for economic growth in both trade and other activities.

—In particular, you will defend grain sales, but you must point out that some mechanisms must be devised, whether it is the private channel, or within existing agreements, to gain some advance notice of [Page 689] Soviet purchasing plans; otherwise, every sale will be turned into a political football.

—We could consider a longer term agreement providing for regular purchases; but there are technically complex issues involved which we are still studying and will need further private discussions.


From these discussions with Brezhnev you will want to gain:

(1) A strong mutual reaffirmation of commitment to improving Soviet-American relations on the basis of reciprocity;

(2) Some appreciation of the prospects for SALT and perhaps for MBFR; and

(3) A subtle warning to Brezhnev that he cannot free-wheel in tense situations without paying a price in Soviet-American relations.

Above all, you want to impress on him that you are likely to be in charge for the next five years and that your ability to explain and defend a policy of détente depends, not on the atmospherics of communiqués and publicized meetings, but in being able to prove to the American people that this is, in fact, the best alternative, and that the course you are on brings real benefits to world peace.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books and Cables of President Ford, 1974–1976, Box 14, Presidential Trips File, July 26–August 4, 1975, Europe, General (16). Secret; Sensitive. Although the memorandum is on White House (Washington) letterhead, Kissinger and Ford were both in Warsaw on July 29 for a 2-day official visit to Poland. No evidence has been found to indicate when the President saw the memorandum, whether in Poland on July 29 or at another time and place. Hyland forwarded the text in message Tohak 21 to Sonnenfeldt and Scowcroft in Warsaw on July 28. (Ibid., TOHAK (2))
  2. The President highlighted the first half of this point in the margin.
  3. The President underlined the phrase “bouyant mood.”
  4. On July 25, Ford and Kissinger met with members of Congress and representatives of U.S. organizations of Eastern European background to discuss the upcoming European Security Conference in Helsinki. For a record of the meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 322. For the President’s public remarks at the meeting, see Public Papers: Ford, 1975, No. 430.
  5. The President highlighted this point in the margin.
  6. The President underlined the phrases “rough parity” and “codifying existing imbalances.”
  7. Brackets in the original.
  8. See Document 167.