228. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Hugh Sidey, Time Magazine
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • William L. Greener, Jr., Deputy Press Secretary

Sidey: Has the world improved over the past year?

The President: I inherited a fine foundation. We had to build from there. We had to convince our NATO allies I stood for American strength. Now the Alliance is stronger and our relations bilaterally are better than ever.

Also it was time to solidify our relations with Japan. U.S.-Japanese relations are now the best ever. My trip and the Emperor’s trip here.

The Middle East—the aftermath of the October war. We need to keep moving. We were disappointed in March but we have it now and the situation is better. There were some problems in the UN. The Sinai agreement lowered the danger threshold, but we can’t rest.

In Southeast Asia, we have lost Indochina, but my trip in December was very helpful in convincing them that the U.S. continues to be an Asian power and we will resist expansion.

In Portugal, the situation is moving toward a solution. It is much better than several months ago.

In Spain, there appears, with Juan Carlos and the new Cabinet, to be a movement toward moderation. This will be a help in reentering Europe.

With the USSR we have a chance for a SALT II agreement. We made headway in other areas. The five-year grain deal was good. There are many exchanges. But we do have serious differences: Portugal, An[Page 875]gola. Kissinger has spoken strongly on the Soviets in Angola and I support him.

Sidey: Are the Soviets cheating on SALT?

The President: I don’t believe they are cheating. There are ambiguities and we have sent them to the SCC. There is an inevitable gray area.

Sidey: Is your relationship with Brezhnev good?

The President: I think it is a good candid working relationship.

Sidey: Does he have the people’s interest at heart rather than just his personal power?

The President: He appreciates the danger of confrontations with the U.S. I think there is realization on both sides that we must try to find a way to avoid confrontation.

Sidey: Are you encouraged by the attitude of the Western Alliance leaders?

The President: Yes. They have their differences, but they are honest ones.

Sidey: How do you see the outcome of U.S.-Soviet competition other than military?

The President: Aside from the military, I think our country can more than hold its own in economic or other competition with our free system.

Sidey: What are your foreign policy nightmares?

The President: The danger of some miscalculation by some nuclear power which could start a nuclear conflict.

Sidey: What if Israel should become a nuclear power to stabilize the Middle East?

The President: It wouldn’t be helpful.

Sidey: Won’t nuclear weapons inevitably be used? Kennedy thought so.

The President: I am not pessimistic from the leaders I know; it doesn’t have to happen.

Sidey: Do you have enough power in foreign policy?

The President: There are frustrations. [Off the record] Angola is very frustrating—it is so useless.

Sidey: Your religion. What has all this power done to that?

The President: I still pray. I think there is a higher order of things.

Sidey: Where does the U.S. stand in terms of power?

The President: In economics, the U.S. has proven our system works.

Sidey: Do you use the Hot Line?

The President: We have good means without that. I haven’t used it.

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Sidey: Does our agriculture power give us a blue chip advantage?

The President: It is helpful for others to know we have these reserves to help—our friends and our opponents. I don’t think we should use it in a crass powerseeking way.

Sidey: Can you trust these foreign leaders?

The President: No one has violated my trust thus far.

Sidey: How about the third century?

The President: The first hundred years stabilized the government structure. The second gave us the industrial corporation. Now we have new problems. Everything is big—it tends to smother the individual.

Sidey: Have the attacks on Kissinger been unfair?

The President: In many instances, unfair, inaccurate and harmful.

Sidey: You are hard to parse. You are conservative in budgetary terms, yet pursue détente. How do you define yourself?

The President: I grew up in an isolationist, Fortress American environment. World War II showed us that the world was different. I became convinced of the role of the U.S. in the world.

Sidey: Why this foreign policy revolt?

The President: I think it is an outgrowth of Vietnam.

Sidey: Why do you have to see these leaders personally?

The President: I think it very important to have a personal relationship so you know what the words mean, what the matters mean, etc.

Sidey: What is the most encouraging thing?

The President: The incidents: Vladivostok, Sinai, Mayaguez. Otherwise the growth of personal relationships.

[The above are informal notes.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 17. No classification marking. All brackets are in the original. In a letter to Nessen on November 10, Sidey requested an appointment with Ford to discuss his plans for “achieving some sensible relationship with the Soviet Union.” “I’d like to chat with him about his view down this road,” Sidey explained. “What he wants from the Soviets, what it is like to deal with Brezhnev, how does he add up that formula which needs a subtle combination of strength and firmness and willingness to compromise.” (Ibid., White House Central Files, Subject File, 1974–1977, Box 52, CO 158 USSR Executive) In an undated memorandum, Scowcroft briefed Ford for the meeting and provided talking points on Soviet-American relations, negotiations, and personal impressions of Brezhnev. (Ibid., National Security Adviser, Presidential Name File, 1974–1977, Box 3, Sidey, Hugh) Time magazine published Sidey’s column, “Oval Office Optimism,” based on his meeting with Ford, in its December 29 edition.