240. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

Kissinger: We have had a message from the Soviets which is mildly encouraging.2 [Hands message to the President.]

The President: What does it really mean?

Kissinger: Our position is basically hopeless in Angola. We have done miraculously at the OAU at Addis Ababa, considering we have nothing to offer compared to the Soviet Union.

The President: I would say we are doing pretty well.

Kissinger: It is unbelievable that Diggs3 would go there and attack us that way—when his specific proposal is in fact ours.

The President: He is a lightweight and listens to the wrong people.

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Kissinger: What could this mean . . . We will ask them: Are we correct that if we remove the South Africans, they will move with us to eliminate all foreign presence?

The President: How long would that take?

Kissinger: It also raises the question of my trip.

The President: You have negotiated under adverse criticism before. I think you should go. If you don’t, SALT II is probably down the drain and we may lose attempts at solving Angola.

Kissinger: Reagan may come after you. I am being accused of being too tough on the Soviet Union and too soft at the same time.

Moynihan is a disaster. His opening comments at the Security Council debate would have been disastrous. [He described the comments.]

The President: The arguments against your going are political and those for your going are substantive, and I think we should go with substance.

Kissinger: I think you should decide on SALT and make a decision at the NSC meeting tomorrow.4

The President: I think Option III is what we should really work from. But I want to get as much support from Defense as possible. I have been thinking if you could get something between III and IV to give Dobrynin . . . Obviously they won’t buy it, but then you could go there and put Option III on the table.

Kissinger: They will accept everything except surface ships and counting Backfire. We have given them some options on Backfire—like counting all the ones they build after the date of a treaty—and they have rejected them.

The President: I would like to get Defense off our back.

Kissinger: We won’t get Option III easily. I can’t go to Moscow without the full support of Defense. They must be told that. [There is discussion of how to deal with Backfire, etc.]

The President: How would you deal with it?

Kissinger: I could tell Dobrynin this is as far as we can go now, but I would have flexibility in Moscow. [There is more discussion about counting surface ships, Backfire, etc.]

Scowcroft: If you start with Option III, I am convinced you will have leaks that the JCS was overruled.

Kissinger: But if we go with Option IV, I will be accused of not negotiating hard enough for Option IV. But we can go with counting [Page 900] Backfire after 1977, and count cruise missiles on surface ships as MIRV’s. If that fails, go to Option III, with a separate protocol on Backfire and surface ships, with a reduction to 2,300 for five years or an eight-year agreement with higher numbers.

The President: This at least gives you the argument that we tried a preferred position.

Kissinger: It is a two-edged sword—they could also claim we shouldn’t have fallen off.

The President: Let’s go that way. Give me a paper for the NSC tomorrow.

[Omitted here is discussion of personnel matters, including Kissinger’s proposal to appoint Joseph Sisco as Ambassador to the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 17. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. The memorandum is incorrectly dated January 8; the references in the text to the Soviet note of January 9 and to the NSC meeting of January 13 (“tomorrow”) indicate that the meeting probably took place on January 12. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford met with Kissinger and Scowcroft on January 8 only once (with Rumsfeld), at 9:23 a.m.; see Document 237. The President did not meet with the two men again until January 12, and then only once, from 9:25 to 10:25 a.m., the likely time of this meeting. (Ford Library, White House Office Files)
  2. Document 239.
  3. Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (Democrat, Michigan).
  4. The record of the January 13 NSC meeting on SALT is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1979.