277. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Don Kendall
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[There was small talk at the beginning.]

Kendall: I know your schedule is tight, so I am organized. I want to talk about US-Soviet relations and politics.

I started going to the Soviet Union in 1939.

[Discusses his qualifications as a Soviet student.]

I believe in détente—there is no other answer.

[Discusses political qualifications—campaigning for Nixon in ’66, ’68, ’72.]

There were no “plusses” in the Cold War—either political or military. It is easy to give a speech and kick the Soviets around. It takes some guts and innovation to be constructive.

The new relationship was based on a series of bridges—not to change the system but to build an interlocking web which will build up trust and confidence. The Soviets have educated their people and the result has been pent-up consumer demand like nowhere else I have ever seen. Brezhnev spends two-thirds of his time with me on consumer problems. [Story about Brezhnev and Czech invasion.]

Over a period of time we can build up leverage with trade and grain, but that will take years. But the linkage theory never had a chance to work—we never gave them the trade or the credits.

And I know all about the Jewish issue. I have had garbage dumped in my yard, etc. But the Council for Soviet Jewry came to me and asked for help. [Described the deal for starting the MFN reversal.] This was all set when Angola burst. I think Angola got out of proportion. The only thing wrong was the Cubans. There was nothing wrong with the Soviets supporting their side—just like we do.

The cancellation of the Commercial Commission really got me upset.2 You can’t do this sort of thing on a stop-and-go basis. This is a [Page 1033] big error—just like when you dropped the word “détente.”3 I tried to talk Henry out of it but he went ahead anyway. I was mad as hell at Henry. We just shouldn’t blow everything when something goes wrong.

The other problem is the military. They have terrible blinders on. The only difference between Schlesinger and Rumsfeld is he is a better salesman.

The President: That is why I picked him.

Kendall: I don’t think you have to hit the Soviets over the head. It is a lousy way to go about it. Why the hell does Don have to say, “I don’t trust the Russians.” You can’t win in the long run by creating a crisis with the Soviets—you can’t do it year after year.

You made a terrible mistake when you dropped “détente.”

The President: It was only the word, not the process.

Kendall: I know, but when you drop the word it rattles not only here but around the world. You support the process but people don’t believe it because you drop the word.

The President: I guess we differ on that.

Kendall: We do and you are wrong.

Now, politics, Humphrey is going to be the winner. He will clean you up the way you are going on foreign policy.

The President: I agree on Humphrey.

Kendall: [Reads Harris4 judgments on support in the country on détente and Kissinger.]

The President: You haven’t heard me say anything but in support of Kissinger.

Kendall: Yes, but it doesn’t help when your people go around bad-mouthing him, Laird and Morton.5

The President: You know we got Morton turned right around. Laird is uncontrollable.6

Kendall: True, but Morton said in January, when I asked if he had checked with Henry about something, that Henry didn’t count for much anymore. [Reads from draft Democratic platform a statement strongly supporting a détente policy with the Soviet Union.]

Be positive on détente.

[Page 1034]

Don’t sell the Defense budget by kicking the Soviets.

Don’t hold off on MFN.

Hold the Patolichev meeting.

Move as fast as possible on SALT.

The President: Let me talk to Brent on Patolichev. On SALT we are doing what we can, but we have trouble with the military.

Kendall: The military shouldn’t be in economic policy. They are in both. They won’t let us sell to the Soviets, so US technology goes to the Soviets through Japanese and European companies.

The President: We are moving as fast as possible on SALT.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 19. Confidential. All brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 261.
  3. See Document 268.
  4. Louis Harris, journalist and pollster, founder of Louis Harris and Associates, an American public opinion firm.
  5. Rogers C.B. Morton, former Secretary of Commerce and chairman of Ford’s election campaign.
  6. See Document 169.