190. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


Thursday, September 18, 1975

4:30 p.m. (90 minutes)

The Oval Office

I. Purpose

This meeting2 comes at a time when Soviet policy is becoming increasingly complicated because of (1) the Soviet Party Congress in February, where a general line of foreign policy will have to be laid down; (2) the possibility that Brezhnev, voluntarily or otherwise, may relinquish the Soviet leadership; (3) a series of difficulties both domestically and abroad, that at least raise serious questions about the validity of the Brezhnev détente policy; and (4) the implicit linkage of several key issues—SALT, grain sales, the Middle East—the outcome of which could be critical in determining the direction of Soviet policy. At the same time, each of these issues has important implications for US foreign policy and domestic interests.

Your purpose in this meeting is:

—to reaffirm your determination to bring SALT to a successful and mutually satisfactory conclusion so that the General Secretary’s visit will be capped with a significant breakthrough in our relations;

—to impress on Gromyko the difficulties in unilateral American concessions which might break the deadlock, but which in the end would risk the failure of the agreement in the Congress;

—to explain the importance of concluding agreements on grain and on oil that are satisfactory to both sides—i.e. the United States must show some advantage in buying oil from the USSR rather than at world prices from OPEC;

[Page 754]

—to emphasize the importance of the grain agreement in breaking down barriers to improvement of economic relations in general—even Senator Jackson seems to support selling grain and buying oil;

—to review the Middle East agreements, emphasizing the point that we have followed the general course you described to Brezhnev;3 namely, to make progress on whatever front was acceptable to the parties in the overall interest of creating an atmosphere conducive to progress on a comprehensive settlement; to warn against Soviet efforts to exploit the situation, lest the result be a rapid escalation of tensions and a new danger of war; to offer to begin consultations prior to reconvening the Geneva Conference;

—to reassure the Foreign Minister that your general policy remains exactly as you have stated it to the General Secretary: you are prepared to pursue the policy described as détente, because it is clearly in our interest, but you can only conduct such a policy successfully if it is seen by the American people as one that will bring concrete benefits.

In short, Gromyko should leave the meeting with the impression that on all major issues we are making an effort to be conciliatory, but only in the expectation that the Soviets will show flexibility and restraint as well. He should not gather the impression that we are exploiting their poor harvest, but it ought to be clear that we are making firm linkages between grain sales, SALT and the Middle East. In general, he should come away with the understanding that the relationship between our countries is such that we cannot isolate one issue from another; e.g., a long term grain agreement as SALT collapses would be almost impossible to sustain: a SALT agreement concluded while we were confronting each other in the Middle East would be inexplicable in the Congress.

II. Background, Participants, and Press Arrangements

A. Background: This has been a difficult year for Brezhnev: beginning with the collapse of the MFN/credit agreement last December, the failure of his health, the growing dispute with Sadat, the exclusion of the USSR from the major negotiations in the Middle East, the stalemate in SALT, the consequent postponement of his US visit, more recent reversals for the communists in Portugal, and the second disastrous harvest in three years.

On the other hand, the Soviet power position relative to the Western Alliance and China has not declined strategically. The Soviet leaders can see that the southern flank of NATO is in trouble; the industrialized world is buffeted by recession and inflation; there are new op[Page 755]portunities in Asia for the USSR as a result of the end of the Vietnam war; Soviet strategic weaponry is growing stronger and more sophisticated; Soviet military forces, both ground and air, in Europe and the Far East, and at sea are stronger than ever. The Soviet leadership, despite its collective age and uncertainties over the succession, has been remarkably cohesive, and the only recent challenge to Brezhnev (from Politburo member and former KGB Chief Shelepin) was easily defeated.

The most immediate problem for the Soviets lies in charting their future long-term course: how can they arrange an orderly succession to Brezhnev, and make the long term foreign and economic policy decisions required by the Party Congress. They need a clear understanding of where they stand with the US: will the relationship deteriorate? or can it be stabilized and even improved, thus allowing Brezhnev to bind his successor to a firm long term policy of “peaceful coexistence” which would be his historical legacy to the Party.

Thus, in a sense, we are in an ideal position to influence Soviet policy decisions—which, after all, is one of the underlying aims of détente.

—Some observers would argue that we should press hard for better terms from the Soviets across the board, on the ground that they are in extreme trouble.

—Others would argue that the situation in Moscow is too uncertain for pressure tactics to guarantee our objectives, and that an overriding aim must be to commit the USSR, with or without Brezhnev, to a general line of policy that cannot be easily reversed by successors who inherit his mantle and can command an extremely powerful Soviet state. In other words, short term gains we might make could lead to a longer term reversal of Soviet policy toward a more aggressive belligerency.

Your strategy is consistent with the estimate that we should allow Brezhnev some room for maneuver and accommodation and not press him to the wall, but extract concessions that we know he almost certainly will have to make.

B. Participants: Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Ambassador Dobrynin, Viktor Sukhodrev (interpreter), Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Helmut Sonnenfeldt.

C. Press Arrangements: The meeting will be announced and there will be a press photo opportunity.

III. Talking Points

The major subjects that Gromyko will be eager to pursue are probably SALT and the Middle East, and perhaps force reductions in Europe. He is probably briefed on the grain/oil negotiations, but may be reluctant to get involved in any major way (and the talks are suspended [Page 756] for a week in any case). You may also, if there is time, take the opportunity to raise CSCE and the Threshold Test Ban talks. Gromyko may allude to the new Soviet UN initiative for a comprehensive test ban, which is roughly the old ploy of isolating China.

Separate talking points follow on:

—General US-Soviet Relations


—Middle East

—Grain/oil sales

—Threshold Test Ban and Comprehensive Ban

—Force reductions in Central Europe

—Follow-up to the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE)

[Omitted here are the separate talking points for Ford’s meeting with Gromyko.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Briefing Material for VIP Visits, 1974–1977, Box 12, VIP Visits, 9/18–19/75—USSR—Foreign Minister Gromyko (2). Secret; Sensitive. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Clift forwarded the final version to Kissinger on September 17 and reported that it was “based on an NSC/State draft” that had been “revised here in coordination with Boverie, Oakley, Hormats and Elliott.” (Ibid.) A revised draft with handwritten corrections by Scowcroft and Kissinger is also ibid. A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. See Document 192.
  3. See Document 171.