192. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • USSR:
  • Andrey A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. Kornienko, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. Sukhodrev
  • US:
  • The President
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor, State Dept.
  • Walter Stoessel, U.S. Ambassador to the USSR


  • Foreign Minister Gromyko’s Call on The President

The President: How is the General Secretary?

Gromyko: He is in good health and he had a good vacation. (Photographers came in and the President gave Mr. Gromyko an autographed picture for General Secretary Brezhnev showing the General Secretary and the President in conversation during the meeting in Helsinki.)

I want to give you the best wishes and very warm greetings of Leonid Brezhnev. I saw him the day before I left while he was still on leave. He still had a few days to go but, knowing him, I doubt if he will use them.

I am prepared, in my own name and on behalf of the Soviet leadership, to exchange views with you. Speaking for the leadership and personally for the General Secretary, I can say that the Soviet Union is dedicated to the line worked out in the last few years and particularly as a result of the US-Soviet meetings at the highest level and expressed in the relevant treaties and agreements between our two countries. At the outset, I want to emphasize this. I would be happy to hear your views, Mr. President, on our bilateral problems and on broader questions and then I would be pleased to give you our views. Thus, we will be able to touch on the main issues of interest.

[Page 760]

The President: I felt that we had a very good meeting at Vladivostok. This was a good example of how we can work together on concrete problems. I also felt that the meeting in Helsinki was good. Perhaps not as much progress was made as we could have hoped, but still it was a good meeting. We should continue in this way. We have had some disappointments but there have also been good results. Our relations now are far deeper than previously. Hopefully, our relations can be expanded to cover an even wider range of subjects.

I hope we can move ahead on SALT and bring those negotiations to a successful conclusion. If we could do that and also have an agreement on grain, this would be very good. I hear encouraging reports about the grain talks; I hope there can be some relationship between grain and oil as I discussed with the General Secretary in Helsinki.

The progress we have made is in the interest of peace in the world. In general, there is a relationship between all of the various problems.

I look forward to the visit of the General Secretary in 1975. If some of the differences on SALT can be narrowed, I believe it can be a successful visit.

These are my general views and now we could get into some details.

Gromyko: I am pleased to hear your statement, Mr. President, and to know that you and your Administration support the policy which has been worked out over the past 4 or 5 years.

The President: I would add, and Ambassador Dobrynin is very familiar with this, that we do have opponents in the US—not everyone is enthusiastic about our relationship. I won’t name any names in this regard. But I am confident that I will be able to defend our relationship. I want it to continue, but we have to see some benefits from it for both sides. If that is the result, then there is no reason why the vast majority of Americans will not support our policy.

Gromyko: More specifically, the crux of the question is whether we will hold to the path of détente or whether there will be a change from this fundamental policy. We carefully follow developments in the United States and we know what you are talking about. We know that some circles—perhaps for their own tactical reasons including domestic political considerations—do not accept the present policy. But we want to believe, as you said, that the policy of détente and improving our relations will be preserved and developed. We believe this and we will follow this line firmly. If the US does the same, then there will be a reliable basis for our future relations. We favor this policy.

The President: I share this view. We should proceed on this basis.

Gromyko: It is correctly emphasized on both sides that the process of détente should be filled with content. We have done some things to[Page 761]gether, for example in Europe, and this has been useful. Progress can be made only if the fundamental line of détente is observed. It is not right to say that everything depends on the Kremlin. In equal measure, much also depends on the White House and on the US in general.

I welcome what you have said, Mr. President. I wish to emphasize again that what I have stated is the view of the whole Soviet leadership and personally of the General Secretary.

The President: You may reassure the General Secretary and your leadership that the US does believe in détente. I feel that it has been to our mutual interest and benefit and the US will follow this line.

To carry this forward with you it is important that the General Secretary and I meet. If our views are shared, as you indicate, then this should be in 1975. For our planning purposes, it will be useful to have some idea of your views about the timing of the visit. Of course, we could be somewhat flexible.

Gromyko: Mr. President, let me make a few observations in connection with our exchange of views on the general need to follow the present course of our relations. We have given attention to two circumstances: I don’t know how you will assess this or whether you will feel my remarks are critical or not, but I would not be frank if I did not say them.

Mr. President, we value your statements as the Head of State and also statements by other official representatives—first of all, by Dr. Kissinger—in support of détente. These have been very clear. But sometimes arguments are marshalled in support of détente which make it appear that one side—the US—is absolutely clean with regard to détente, whereas the position of the other side leaves something to be desired. A shadow is cast on the intentions of the other side. This can only cause harm to our relations.

Secondly, the grain. We expressed our desire to buy a certain amount of grain and the US said it would sell. The situation would seem to be clear—there is a potential consumer and a potential supplier. However, so much noise has been made about this and so much excitement stirred up that ill wishers get food for attacks against the principle of our relations. Shocks and pinpricks are delivered against this policy.

These are thoughts which could not fail to enter our minds.

The President: At the outset, I would say that you must differentiate between what I and the Secretary say and what our opponents say—those who have reservations about détente. I say very emphatically that I and the Administration believe in détente. But we have to put up with our critics who don’t like détente. I have been forthright in support of détente because I believe in it, and I must talk against those [Page 762] who are against détente, either sincerely or for political reasons of their own. You must put what I say in context. What I say is more important than what the critics say.

I agree about the grain deal—we are a supplier and you a buyer. I support this and so does the Secretary. The Secretary of Agriculture also is a proponent. It would be better for you to believe us—myself and the Secretary—rather than to listen to the wailing words of those who oppose our policy. You should believe us and our words just as we do yours. This is the crux of détente and of our relations.

Gromyko: From your remarks I can see that you clearly understand me. We value highly what you have said.

Now, about the visit of the General Secretary. Up to now, and at the present time, we have been talking in the specific context of a new SALT agreement. There can’t be any doubts that the understanding about a visit to the US remains fully in force. For the leadership and for the General Secretary, I want to confirm this at the outset. I trust it would be correct to proceed on the assumption that a new SALT agreement would be signed at the time of the visit.

The President: This is my assumption. We are making progress and we proceed from the assumption that a new agreement will be finalized.

Gromyko: We too proceed from precisely that assumption. There is a substantive connection here.

So far as the timing is concerned, provided a new agreement will be prepared in December, then the visit could take place in December as you have suggested.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we suggested December 16.

Gromyko: You said November 15 or December 16.

But what if we visualize a situation where it is impossible to prepare and finalize an agreement by then? If such a situation occurs, then it would be in the best interests of both sides to put off the visit for a while. We don’t see anything wrong in thinking that if an agreement is not reached, then we could visualize an agreement in the spring. Of course, it would be better earlier than later, but if it were in the spring there would be no difficulty in reaching agreement on a date.

The President: In view of the progress we have made, I think it would be far better to do it in December. I feel that 1976 would not be the best time in this country for the culmination of an agreement. I see no reason, as I look at the differences, why, if the General Secretary comes in December, this could not result in an agreement.

Anything which goes into 1976, when our national elections will be on, raises questions about the timing and the atmosphere. It seems to me better to move now and make an agreement in December.

[Page 763]

Gromyko: There is no question of what I would prefer. It would be better to finalize an agreement in December and then, of course, the visit should be in December. But we are talking about a turn of events where the agreement might not be ready that soon. However, there is no question about our preference.

The President: I don’t foreclose 1976. I would just point out that the atmosphere in 1976 would be much more difficult in terms of making an agreement. We can do it in 1975. Of course, the agreement is vitally important and it could be postponed and could go into 1976.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course, we assumed that the Foreign Minister, with his usual spirit of conciliation, would fully accept our last proposal!

Gromyko: I will give my views later on that.

We believe that for a serious-minded policy the question of finalizing the agreement at the end of December or in the spring of 1976 shouldn’t cause such a problem. After all, we are talking about an adjacent period of time. So far as the visit is concerned, it is obvious that we in the Soviet Union will do everything possible to promote a new agreement. I assure you that our words and deeds will not be separate on this.

But now if I could say a few words on the substance of the negotiations. I don’t know how much detail we will want to get into on this today. I know I will talk with Dr. Kissinger on the details. But I will speak with you concerning matters of principle regarding SALT.

In Moscow, on the part of the leadership and of the General Secretary, serious questions have arisen concerning the present situation and what is taking place today about the whole matter. When we began these negotiations, we proceeded from the need to block channels for developing new weapons in greater volume and quantities and we wanted to slow down the strategic arms race. The Vladivostok agreement was dedicated to this aim. Now, we have come to the conclusion that the government of the United States has introduced—or is introducing or will introduce; you will know best about this—certain corrections to the line on which Vladivostok was based.

Why does this question arise? Perhaps because you are trying to open up the development of a new type of strategic weapon. Here I refer to cruise missiles. We believe that to proceed along this path would mean giving a unilateral advantage to the United States as compared to the Soviet Union. This would certainly complicate the situation.

We made a major concession on a matter of principle to you. This was on a question which had been personally mentioned by you and by Dr. Kissinger. This involved considering all three types of missiles as [Page 764] MIRVed because they have all been tested as MIRVs. This was not easy for us to do but we made a concession. We did it in the expectation that you would take a more objective position on other specific questions at issue in the SALT talks. But your position afterwards indicated that you were not taking any step forward to meet our position. This troubles us. Why should we sign a new agreement when it will permit development of a new weapon? It would burst forth like a torrent.

Maybe your military people want this but it is not the basis for an agreement. Our interests must be taken into account. Any agreement must be based on a reasonable compromise. This was the basis for SALT One and for Vladivostok. I hope the US will elaborate a new, more objective position on cruise missiles. Other questions arise as well. For example, the Backfire bomber. Your experts say it is a heavy bomber, but it is not. You will recall that the General Secretary said that at Helsinki. Your people say that various agencies are claiming it is a heavy bomber, but our people know better about our own bombers.

Dr. Kissinger: Do you want to tell us its characteristics?

Gromyko: On the question of range, you will remember that the General Secretary said it was about one half.

Another question involves a definition of when a light missile becomes a heavy missile. Also, there is the question of modification and replacement of missiles.

Dr. Kissinger: You mean silo modification?

Kornienko: Yes.

Gromyko: I would like to call all of these simple questions, but they are not. That is why we ask ourselves if the US can seriously believe that we can accept all of the suggestions made to us.

This is how I would frankly describe the situation regarding the negotiations at present.

The President: It seems to me, Mr. Foreign Minister, that you have touched on the main areas of our differences. There is the problem of Backfire. There is the issue of ballistic (sic) missiles, their range from a bomber or from a submarine. There is the question of the cruise missile, the question of the definition of a heavy ballistic missile, the question of modification. These are matters where we have an area for negotiation.

The Secretary will be meeting with you tomorrow and on Sunday.2 Rather than get into specifics here, I would say only that I believe there are places where we can be more forthcoming. We have some thoughts and the Secretary will present them to you for consideration by your leadership and by the General Secretary.

[Page 765]

We understand you have made a step forward on the verification question. We believe that our position, as it will be presented to you by the Secretary, can move things forward.

On the Backfire, this should not be irreconcilable.

On the question of range on submarines and bombers, I indicated 2500; whether there should be a ban or whether they should be counted is a matter for negotiation.

On submarines, we started at 1500 and then indicated 1200.

On definition of a heavy ballistic missile, the launch weight and throw weight should be included.

I believe these matters can be resolved. Tomorrow, or more likely on Sunday, you will have our views. I believe they can lead to agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: We have not finally fixed on a position and it would be helpful to get your views on these matters. There is a question of reconciling many different points of view on our side. It is not true that we have not changed our position. We have reduced the range for our cruise missiles to eliminate the possibility of reaching populated areas in the Soviet Union. It would be helpful to have any ideas which you brought from Moscow so that we do not go past each other again in our positions.

Gromyko: Mr. Secretary, if we take the proposals you have made, including the latest ones, I would say that they change nothing in comparison with the position which you took previously. Your new position does not alter at all the possibility of achieving agreement. The difference in what you propose is microscopic. But let’s consider this tomorrow or the next day. Should we now take up the Middle East?

The President: I would be glad to do so.

Gromyko: I know you are interested in learning about our position and we want to know yours. First of all, I must say that, in Moscow, we are disappointed with the actions of the US in the Middle East.

The President: You should realize, Mr. Foreign Minister, that we were asked by the parties to participate in the negotiations. We of course are willing to work with the Soviet Union and to lay a foundation to move toward bringing the Middle East situation to Geneva. On the assumption that what we did during the last month materializes, then you and we can move together toward Geneva.

Gromyko: I am sure you are familiar with our position on this matter and I do not need to go into it in detail. But I will say again that there will not be peace in the Middle East unless there is a full evacuation of the occupied territories by the Israeli forces. Secondly, there will not be peace until the Palestinian question is resolved. Today, the Palestinian problem looks different from what it did five or ten years ago—it [Page 766] has become much more acute. It can only be resolved on the basis of permitting the Palestinians to establish their own national homeland.

Also, there can be no peace without guarantees of the existence of all states in the area, naturally including Israel.

I would call your attention to the fact, Mr. President, that there is agreement between the Soviet Union and the US that all questions concerning the Middle East would be reviewed and considered together by our two countries. But in fact the US simply decided to ignore the Soviet Union and its role in that area. But I believe you will agree that this cannot be done.

The Soviet Union does exist and it does have a policy in the Middle East.

We ask ourselves why the United States has done this. Perhaps it is to try to denigrate the policy and influence of the Soviet Union and to inflate the role and influence of the US in the eyes of public opinion. But I really don’t want to develop this any further.

Of course, we believe that such actions cause damage to the line of policy which we discussed earlier today and which has been agreed by our two countries. It undermines trust and understanding between the Soviet Union and the United States.

We, of course, expressed our disappointment with these actions. They cannot be considered as positive simply because they were done with the consent of certain other parties. We do not believe that the comments of certain Arab leaders—who do not consider the interests of other Arabs—can be useful. All of this cannot justify the actions of the US in the Middle East.

Mr. President, you mentioned the Geneva Conference and said that this was an area where the two sides could act jointly. But where are the grounds for joint action? Even if we tried, we couldn’t convene it. How can it be expected that the Soviet Union could agree to convene a conference which would be a failure because of actions which have been taken? A failure of the conference would not be useful to anyone—to the Arabs, to Israel, or to the US. I consider that the prospects for a Geneva Conference are gloomy.

These are my views about the situation in the Middle East. This is an area which suffers tremors from time to time. This cannot but affect relations between us. Of course, some Arab leader can say that the Soviet Union is bad and the US is good.

Dr. Kissinger: That changes every 10 years!

Gromyko: Time alone will tell how long this situation will obtain. This is a momentary thing. But the role of the Soviet Union and its policy is a permanent thing, as distinct from the position of an Arab leader. I will name no names.

[Page 767]

Dr. Kissinger: You shouldn’t speak ill of your Syrian friends.

Gromyko: We want nothing in the Middle East but to see peace. If your military people say that we seek bases there, this is not true—it is nonsense. Everything will depend on the US and the policies pursued by the US. We favor serious, joint actions. We are against policies based on considerations of the moment and steps divorced from the idea of achieving a permanent settlement.

The President: I know the policy of the Soviet Union in the Middle East is based on seeking peace there. We share the same long-range overall objectives. They can be defined in many ways. At the UN, we agreed on resolutions 242 and 338. We believe a settlement based on them would be fair and equitable.

Under no circumstances—and I want to make this clear—was our effort with Egypt and Israel aimed at downgrading the role of the Soviet Union. It was aimed, with the best intentions, at a settlement which we want to participate in with the Soviet Union.

I am not as pessimistic as you regarding what could be accomplished at Geneva. I understand the need to take into account the legitimate interests of the Palestinians. I know there are many issues which must be resolved. I won’t go into details, but the Soviet Union and the United States can help move the parties toward a settlement.

We should review how we can work together. The Secretary will do this in detail with you and he will report to me on how we can proceed together toward common objectives.

Gromyko: Of course I am prepared to exchange views with the Secretary.

Dr. Kissinger: I believe the presentation of the Foreign Minister was very moderate and constructive.

The President: I reiterate, Mr. Foreign Minister, that there was no intention on our part to cut down the Soviet interests in the Middle East. I look forward to sharing the effort with you.

Gromyko: I trust our clarifications have helped you to gain a more complete picture of our intentions in the Middle East and our assessment.

There has been much discussion of the agreement between Israel and Egypt and many have said that the Soviet Union will lead a drive against this. We do not conduct any special campaign against this agreement. But we make our own conclusion about it. We will go on doing this—this is our duty.

Now, about future cooperation in the light of what’s been done recently. On the Geneva Conference, I note that you say that you are more optimistic than we. Well, we will have to see. There are many factors to be considered.

[Page 768]

Mr. President, with your permission, I would like to consider briefly several other questions.

First, under the general heading of European affairs, I wish to express the satisfaction of our leadership and of Leonid Brezhnev personally that a significant step was taken in Europe with the holding of the European Security Conference. The General Secretary said this to you directly, but I too want to express my appreciation for the cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union in preparing for the conference and bringing it to a successful conclusion.

Now, about the Vienna talks on force reductions. No substantive progress has been made as yet. I don’t want to go into the details and maybe Dr. Kissinger will talk about this. However, no cracks have yet appeared in the sky because of the lack of progress. We will do our part, but one side cannot guarantee success. We hope that both sides will make efforts to achieve success.

The President: I appreciate your kind words about our position concerning the Security Conference. I fully supported the agreement and defended it in the US. I feel the spirit in which we entered it—if fulfilled—can bring fruits in the coming years.

I am glad you mentioned the Vienna talks. There has not been enough progress there. You feel, and we do also, that we can bring this to a point where there can be an agreement on a reduction. I hope the negotiaters in Vienna on both sides will take actions toward this end. I assure you the US will do so.

Gromyko: I appreciate your words, Mr. President.

In Moscow we ask ourselves where things are moving in regard to the arms race. We are conducting negotiations about a SALT agreement which will last until 1985. But other nations are arming themselves. The arms race is continuing in various degrees.

We have made a number of proposals to curb the arms race, but these have not met with a positive response from the US. It is true we have done a few things—the NPT and prohibiting bacteriological weapons. But these are all too few and the arms race proceeds without restrictions. Where will the world find itself?

We have suggested the convening of a World Disarmament Conference with the participation of all states in the world—France, China, the UK and others. Perhaps this won’t achieve immediate agreement, but at least the problem would be discussed. But we are told that this is not a good idea and the US raises up in arms against it.

We are discussing a SALT agreement bilaterally but other countries are continuing their arms programs. How long can this go on? This is not just a philosophical question divorced from life, but it is a [Page 769] question of practical politics which is related to the situation several years in the future.

The President: Mr. Foreign Minister, the world would be safer if the arms race could be discontinued on a world-wide basis. Perhaps the best way to lead in this direction would be for us to conclude a SALT agreement and MBFR. This would show the good faith of both of us and would show the way toward ending the arms race. It would be an example and would lend credibility to what we want to see in the world as a whole.

Gromyko: I understand your words. It is not easy to give a full answer to this question, but I wanted to call your attention to it. These are matters which exist in real life and this influences life everywhere.

Now, if I could ask you one last question. You made a casual remark earlier that you valued the talks in Moscow by Mr. Robinson about grain. Could you give me your views on this?

The President: As I understand it, the Soviet side and Mr. Robinson have been negotiating on a grain deal which would be made on a five-year basis. Five million tons could be sold annually with an option to purchase three million more tons. Alternatively, six million tons could be specified as a firm figure. In addition, further sales could be made this year. There is some question if the five-year period should begin this year or next.

Mr. Robinson has my full authority to go back to Moscow in a week or so and achieve agreement. I did not mean to pass over this question casually. As we see it, it would be better to have stability in purchases rather than the peaks and valleys of the past. This would be in the spirit of our talk in Helsinki. It should also contain the concept of the sale of oil.

If we can do a grain deal, the oil deal might take a bit longer. But both would be in our mutual interest.

Gromyko: It is clear we are talking about the purchase of grain this year on a one-time basis and a separate agreement on a long term basis.

Dr. Kissinger: This is correct. It is a US bureaucratic problem as to when the five-year period should start. It is clear it should start next year. If you want, you can purchase additional grain this year. As I see the situation, most of the remaining issues are technical.

We will work out an agreement and present it to you. Mr. Robinson will go to Moscow on Wednesday or Thursday.3

On the oil question, it would be helpful if 10 million tons could be sold in connection with the grain purchases. Then we can discuss in a [Page 770] more leisurely way with you the idea of an exchange of technology on oil. Robinson can discuss this with you.

You will have the proposed agreement no later than the first two days of next week.

The President: There should be no serious problems about this. I have given instructions that there should be no nit-picking. The agreement would show that détente benefits both sides.

Gromyko: Well, I don’t want to go into the details since the talks are continuing. I have had information on them since I have been in the US.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for your reception, your courtesy and the time you have given me. We have expressed our thoughts frankly—perhaps too frankly—but this has always been helpful in the past in discussing problems.

The President: I want to reassure you that frankness is very helpful in solving problems. I believe in frankness and candor. I thank you for coming and for helping to lay the groundwork for progress in SALT and in other areas.

I should mention that in my speech in Oklahoma I will say that “encouraging progress” has been made.4

Gromyko: I have no objection.

The President: Please give my very best regards to the General Secretary.

The meeting terminated at 7:05 p.m.5

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, September 18–21, 1975—Talks with Gromyko. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt’s handwritten notes of the meeting are in National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Misc. Memcons.
  2. September 21.
  3. September 24 or 25.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 191.
  5. After his meeting with Ford in the Oval Office, Gromyko went to the North Lawn of the White House to issue a statement to the press and answer several questions. The text of his remarks are attached but not printed.