179. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

President: On the détente speech,2 I told them I didn’t like the explanation of détente. Why don’t you read this page-and-a-half.

Kissinger: I violently object to this phrase about translating détente into English and Russian. It is a tawdry phrase which will drive the Soviets crazy.

[More discussion about the speech.]

To me it is clear what the Democrats are trying to do. I don’t think you have anything to fear from the conservatives.

[The press came in to take photographs and then left.]

President: I would like to look over the part you gave me and decide what to do. I liked what you said on Portugal more than what is here.3

[Page 731]

Kissinger: I would recommend you not mention the Soviet Union by name. I did, and to do so a second time I think may be too tough on them.

I can rewrite the Portuguese part to make the same points I did.

President: Good.

Kissinger: You need one positive paragraph. I hate to think where we will be if we have a first-class crisis with the Soviets next year.

[More speech discussion.]

Kissinger (continues): I am worried we are driving the Soviets into a position where Brezhnev may have to turn on us at the Party Congress. If it looks like we are screwing him on détente, he may have to.

President: I want to be tough on intelligence. I think the Greek-Turkish portion is wrong with the Congress. That will be changed.

Kissinger: You shouldn’t sound soft on détente, but it should be tuned to their fears. If they think you are turning on détente, they will want to try to get ahead of you.

[Omitted here is discussion of national security, Greece, negotiations in the Middle East, and Iranian oil. During this exchange, Kissinger interjected: “We are on the edge of what we can get away with on détente. To push much further will force a reversal from the Soviets.”]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 14. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original.
  2. Reference is to the President’s address to the annual convention of the American Legion in Minneapolis on August 19. During the speech, Ford outlined his views on détente: “Relations between the world’s two strongest nuclear powers can’t be summed up in a catchphrase. Détente literally means ‘easing’ or ‘relaxing,’ but definitely not—and I emphasize ‘not’—the relaxing of diligence or easing of effort. Rather, it means movement away from the constant crisis and dangerous confrontations that have characterized relations with the Soviet Union. The process of détente—and it is a process—looks toward a saner and safer relationship between us and the Soviet Union. It represents our best efforts to cool the cold war, which on occasion became much too hot for comfort.” “We are now carefully watching some serious situations for indications of the Soviet attitude toward détente and cooperation in European security,” Ford added. “The situation in Portugal is one of them. We are deeply concerned about the future of freedom in Portugal, as we have always been concerned about the future of people throughout the world.” For the full text of the speech, see Public Papers: Ford, 1975, No. 492.
  3. Reference is to the Secretary’s address to the Southern Commodity Producers Conference in Birmingham, Alabama on August 14. During the speech, Kissinger declared: “the United States has never accepted that the Soviet Union is free to relax tensions selectively or as a cover for the pursuit of unilateral advantage. In Portugal, a focus of current concern, the Soviet Union should not assume that it has the option, either directly or indirectly, to influence events contrary to the right of the Portuguese people to determine their own future. The involvement of external powers for this purpose in a country which is an old friend and ally of ours is inconsistent with any principle of European security.” For the full text of the speech, see Department of State Bulletin, September 15, 1975, pp. 389–396.