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


Friday, October 1, 1976

4:00 p.m. (90 minutes)

The Oval Office

I. Purpose

More than a year has elapsed since your Oval Office meeting with Gromyko last September2 and your earlier discussions with Brezhnev in Helsinki. While the general course of USUSSR relations has not changed, the pace of the relationship has slowed considerably. The events in Angola, the tone of the US election campaign, the situation in Lebanon, the lack of progress on SALT and MFN, charges and countercharges on CSCE implementation, the MIG–25 defection and the current Soviet campaign against our diplomatic initiatives in Africa all have been contributing factors. In his meeting with Averell Harriman [Page 1079] on September 20,3 General Secretary gave the impression that the Soviet leadership is resigned to riding out events until November with the hope of resuming a more active relationship after the U.S. election.

On the basis of Gromyko’s talks with Secretary Kissinger on Wednesday evening,4 you should not expect anything radically new from the Foreign Minister. In addition to his general list of complaints about U.S. actions, he will want to discuss:

SALT, expressing the hope for progress and reiterating Soviet opposition to the February proposal which would set aside Backfire and Cruise missiles;

—the Middle East, expressing the hope for resumption of the Geneva Conference; and

—the need for progress on MBFR, his hope for U.S. support for his proposed Non Use of Force Treaty, and his hope for USUSSR consultations on non-proliferation and law of the sea.

Your purpose in this meeting will be to:

—state that USUSSR relations remain on the same basic course which you and General Secretary Brezhnev set at Vladivostok;

—express your serious concern and dissatisfaction with Soviet actions and propaganda against the current diplomatic initiatives in Southern Africa;

—draw out Gromyko on the Soviet SALT position, stating that you will have the U.S. position again reviewed, with a view to resuming active discussions after the election; and

—state that you will study the Soviet proposal for resumption of the Middle East Geneva Conference, noting the problem posed by Palestinian participation.

II. Background, Participants and Press Arrangements

A. Background: Soviet Internal Developments. Since your last meeting with Gromyko the Soviets’ 25th Party Congress was held last February. At the Congress, Brezhnev and the other leaders expressed satisfaction that the main objectives of the “peace program” they announced in 1971 have been successfuly implemented. At the same time, in keeping with the slower pace of our bilateral relations, speakers at the Congress generally ignored the US and East-West relations.

Just as the Soviet Party Congress pointed to no significant changes in foreign policy, neither did it make or even foreshadow changes in the leadership. Since the Congress, Brezhnev’s health seems to have [Page 1080] improved but Premier Kosygin recently was stricken, apparently with a heart attack, and has not yet returned to a full work schedule. The death of Defense Minister Grechko earlier this year presented the Politburo with an opportunity—quickly seized—to reaffirm civilian control of the military by naming as his successor Dimitry Ustinov, a civilian who has been a leading figure in the Soviet defense industry since 1941. Also to emphasize civilian preeminence, in recent months several civilian leaders have been promoted to high military rank—Brezhnev and Ustinov to Marshal of the Soviet Union and KGB Chief Andropov to General of the Army.

The Soviets have been preoccupied this year with internal matters including the Party Congress, economic problems, and the Conference of European Communist Parties.

USUSSR Bilateral Relations

SALT. Gromyko will probably express a sense of Soviet frustration over slow going in SALT. Following his presentation, you will wish to draw him out on any changes to be expected in the Soviet position. Brezhnev complained to Harriman that the Soviets had given the US a new SALT proposal in March and had not yet received a reply. Gromyko can be expected to repeat this and you will wish to remind him that the Soviet side did not make a new proposal; it turned down a U.S. proposal. Brezhnev indicated that if that is the attitude now taken by the Administration, “it is not a token of willingness or desire to achieve agreement.” More specifically, Brezhnev said that:

—the American side in SALT is seeking to avoid limitation on certain of its own arms such as the strategic cruise missile while attempting to extend that definition to Soviet weapons such as the Backfire bomber which do not have strategic capabilities;

—the Soviet side has proposed to ban the Trident and B–1 and similar weapons in the USSR, but the US has rejected this proposal. In fact, the Soviets probably do not expect a response from the US on their latest proposal before our elections.

Our current proposals on Backfire bombers and cruise missiles, put before the Soviets in February,5 are: (from signature through Jan. ’79)

Backfire: Prohibit acceleration of Backfire production beyond the current and agreed rate.

—Ban improvements in Backfire capability.

Cruise Missiles: Ban ALCMs with range over 2500 km, restrict ALCMs over 600 km to deployment only on heavy bombers, count [Page 1081] heavy bombers equipped with 600–2500 km ALCMs in the 1320 MIRV sub-ceiling.

—Limit testing of all sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), i.e., cruise missiles launched from submarines and surface ships, and land-launched cruise missiles (LLCMs) to a maximum range of 2500 km.

—Ban deployment of SLCMs and LLCMs over 600 km.

—Commitment to resolve the Backfire and cruise missile issues as soon as possible.

The Soviet response to this proposal was negative, claiming it represented a step backward, that resolution of the cruise missile issue would not become easier in the future as testing progressed and that Backfire was an artificial issue. The Soviet proposal of March did not include any new elements but reaffirmed the previous position they had put forward (a more detailed review of the SALT alternatives is at Tab A).6

Nuclear Test Ban Issues. Gromyko may raise nuclear test ban issues. The Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and the Treaty on Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) establish a yield limit of 150 kilotons for individual explosions. (The PNE Treaty permits group explosions up to an aggregate yield of 1.5 megatons under specified verification conditions.) Both treaties have been submitted to the Senate for ratification. There have been public allegations that certain recent Soviet explosions exceeded a 150 kiloton yield. Data on these explosions are now being studied. Gromyko may also advocate a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons testing.

USUSSR Trade. With the JacksonVanik provisions of the Trade Act still blocking MFN for the Soviet Union, the pace of USUSSR trade expansion has slowed. At the same time, bilateral trade has grown from less than $200 million in 1970 to over $2 billion in 1975. In his meeting with Harriman on September 20, Brezhnev again stated that while all are in favor of developing trade without discrimination and with mutual respect, the United States should not attempt to place pressure on the USSR through linkage of trade to any other issue.

The current major irritants for the U.S. in our bilateral trade relations relate to the Maritime Agreement and the Civil Air Agreement. The USSR has shown unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under the Maritime Agreement of 1975 with respect to grain shipments on U.S. flag vessels. The net result of Soviet actions has been to deny U.S. shippers the opportunity to carry the one-third of the grain cargo to which they are entitled. U.S. shippers and maritime unions are [Page 1082] showing increasing irritation. Additionally, the USSR is in violation of the Civil Air Agreement—ticketing practices by Aeroflot running counter to the agreement, and denial of U.S. charter flights running counter to the agreement. Through the State Department we have made strong representations on these issues.

Soviet Trade Minister Patolichev has been invited by Secretary Simon to come to Washington on October 17–23 for the Sixth Meeting of the Joint USUSSR Commercial Commission. We have not yet received a response from the Soviet side.

MIG–25/Belenko Defection. The USSR remains greatly disturbed by the September 6 defection of Viktor Belenko and by their inability thus far to recover the MIG–25 from the Japanese. On September 8 General Secretary Brezhnev sent you a message protesting the U.S. role in Belenko’s “forced landing,” stating that any U.S. actions with regard to the pilot and any efforts to get access to the aircraft could not but leave their mark on USUSSR relations.7 He said that Foreign Minister Gromyko would raise this with you together with a number of other Soviet complaints over what has been said and done in the United States in recent months. You have since replied to the General Secretary setting the record straight.8

The Japanese Foreign Minister and Gromyko have just consulted in New York on the return of the aircraft (following its inspection by Japanese and U.S. experts). Belenko was granted political asylum by the United States on September 7. On September 28, at the request of the Soviet Embassy, Belenko met with Soviet officials at the State Department and, following their entreaties, told them that he had carefully planned his defection, and that asking for political asylum in the United States was his own decision. He said that he had not been harassed or threatened, that he was not taking pills or medication, that he did not wish to receive any communications from the USSR or his family, that his wife could get a divorce and that he wished no further meetings with Soviet representatives. You will wish to hear out Gromyko, note that the disposition of the MIG–25 is in the hands of the Government of Japan, and that the pilot’s decision to come to the United States was his own.

East-West Issues

CSCE. Gromyko is likely to be apprehensive about the follow-on to the Helsinki Conference and the prospect that Moscow will face a kangaroo court at the Belgrade meeting in June, particularly on Basket III [Page 1083] (humanitarian) provisions of the Final Act. He may allude to Soviet counter-complaints, such as Radio Liberty broadcasts and US visa refusals.

The information we are receiving suggests a mixed picture on implementation. There has been progress in the area of military security, for example in confidence building measures, with participants in both East and West giving advance notification of major military maneuvers. Similarly, provisions concerning cooperation in the field of economics, science and technology and the environment are being implemented. There has been some progress in the implementation of provisions on human rights. Regulations governing foreign journalists have been eased somewhat; steps have been taken to simplify application for emigration and reduce its cost; and as a result of CSCE there has been a marked increase in emigration of ethnic Germans from Poland and the USSR to the FRG. There has also been some progress in the reunification of divided families. Nevertheless, we have emphasized to the Communist signatories that their actions thus far represent only a beginning and that much more must be done to implement fully the provisions of the Final Act in this area.

Berlin. Despite public and private Soviet indications that they want peace and quiet in Berlin, Soviet acquiescence in GDR interference with the transit routes on August 13 may presage a somewhat harder line on Berlin. The Soviets continue to protest against what they claim to be Western “stretching” of the Quadripartite Agreement, citing plans for Berlin’s representation in a popularly elected European Parliament as an example. Gromyko can be expected to bring up Berlin as part of his list of complaints. FRG Foreign Minister Genscher requested during his meeting with you on September 289 that you stress to Gromyko the importance that the allies attach to strict observance and full implementation of the Quadripartite Agreement.

MBFR. In the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks over the last three years we have sought to achieve a more stable military balance in Central Europe at lower levels of forces. The tenth round of the talks began this week in Vienna. The major development of the last session was the tabling of data by the Soviets on Eastern manpower in Central Europe. This was a significant move since it is one of the few times that the Soviets have tabled data in any arms control negotiations. However, the Soviet data puts Eastern force levels at some 160,000 below our own estimates of Eastern strength and suggests that NATO and Pact manpower in Central Europe is about equal. In fact the East has a significant manpower advantage which we and our allies [Page 1084] have sought to eliminate by our proposal that both sides reduce to a common manpower ceiling. As a first step in this process, the US has offered to withdraw 29,000 troops plus selected nuclear elements (the Option III package) in exchange for Soviet withdrawal of 68,000 men in the form of a tank army (with 1700 tanks).

Our efforts to question the Soviets on their data have been held up by our inability to table revised figures on Western force levels in Central Europe. This is due to the recent objection by the French (who do not participate in MBFR) to the continued inclusion of their forces stationed in Germany in the Western force total. We are working with our allies to solve this problem (which the Soviets may be aware of).

Africa. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly this week, Foreign Minister Gromyko was critical of Western diplomatic initiatives in Africa.10 Over the past several weeks the Soviet press has been highly critical of Secretary Kissinger’s mission (Tab B).11 Gromyko will take a strong line on US-African diplomacy. He will argue that the US aims to use minimal or non-existent progress to break down the anti-South African/Rhodesian polarization in Africa and that the US wishes to establish puppet regimes in Rhodesia and Namibia. It will be important to stress our dissatisfaction with Soviet propaganda, underscore the gravity of the situation and state the need for Soviet restraint.

Soviet/Cuban involvement in southern Africa could rise in coming months if, despite our recent diplomatic breakthrough, insurgent activity was to intensify and the white regimes undertook “active defense” intrusions into neighboring states. The success of our diplomatic initiative, therefore, is clearly crucial. In Brezhnev’s message to the Colombo non-aligned summit, southern Africa was the only location cited where “neo-colonialism” was now in the process of being turned out. Given the increased centrality of southern Africa in Moscow’s calculations, it may be overly optimistic to presume that we can convince Moscow to refrain from supporting violent change in the area. We may, however, be able to deter an active campaign to sabotage our efforts by pointing up the costs to the Soviets.

Middle East/Lebanon. Soviet influence in the Middle East continues in a downward spiral. Estranged from Egypt, Moscow had hoped to use an anti-Sinai pact “united front” of the Syrians and Palestinians to thrust the Arab-Israeli settlement process back into channels where Moscow could participate and curry Arab favor. The deterioration of the situation in Lebanon and the consequent split between the Palestinians and Syrians frustrated Moscow’s design.

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Nevertheless, Gromyko will raise a renewed Soviet initiative to reconvene the Geneva Conference in two stages: a procedural stage possibly to work out PLO participation and a substantive stage. Moscow sees little chance for movement at present and Gromyko’s proposal is probably for the record. He will also probe whether we have any plans for additional contacts with Middle East parties preparatory to possible future settlement moves. The Soviets are nervous about Syrian intentions and have even shown signs of concern about the Palestinians. An indication that we see no possibilities for further settlement steps for the time being paradoxically may ease Moscow’s concerns and lessen any perceived need to make desperation moves in the Lebanese or Libyan contexts.

The fighting and quarreling between Soviet clients inside and outside Lebanon place the Soviets in a “no win” situation. While clearly leaning toward the Palestinians, whose continued autonomy best serves Soviet interest in regaining a Middle East diplomatic role, Moscow has taken pains to avoid completely alienating Syria. In this situation, Gromyko is likely to seek to score points by upbraiding us for tolerating Israeli support of the Christians in Lebanon.

UN. In his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Gromyko invited the US to begin discussing ways to reduce Soviet and US military activity in the Indian Ocean, the first such bid from a high-ranking Soviet leader. The Soviets are primarily seeking talks that would eliminate foreign military bases in the area. Otherwise, Gromyko’s address closely paralleled Brezhnev’s speech to the Party Congress in February.12 The Foreign Minister again called for a reduction in military budgets of the permanent states of the Security Council, repeated customary Soviet references to a non-use-of-force treaty, the elimination of nuclear weapons tests and the dismantling of foreign military bases.

China. The death of Mao13 raises questions of stability inside China and continuity in Sino-Soviet-US relations. Moscow has adopted a cautious, wait and see attitude and can be expected to make at least pro forma gestures to Peking for improved relations. Peking has so far shown no receptivity. Schlesinger’s visit, and the exceptional treatment accorded him in the PRC, has been highly irritating to the Soviets. Gromyko may raise it.

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B. Participants: Foreign Minister Gromyko, Ambassador Dobrynin, Viktor Sukhodrev (interpreter), Secretary Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft.

C. Press Arrangements: The meeting will be announced and there will be a press photo session at the beginning of your talks.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 19, USSR (44). Top Secret; Sensitive. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Clift forwarded it to Scowcroft on September 30. A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Ford also initialed it. According to an attached correspondence profile, the President noted the memorandum on October 1. A September 30 memorandum from Kissinger to Ford on the Gromyko meeting is also attached but not printed.
  2. See Document 192.
  3. See Document 288.
  4. September 29. See Document 289.
  5. See Document 264.
  6. Dated July 15; attached but not printed.
  7. A copy of the note is in Ford Library, National Security Adviser, “Outside the System” Chronological Files, 1974–1977, Box 5, 9/9/76–9/24/76.
  8. Not found.
  9. A memorandum of conversation is in Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 21.
  10. See footnote 11, Document 289.
  11. At Tab B is a compilation, dated September 24, of selected Soviet media comment on Kissinger’s trip to Africa.
  12. For the English text of Brezhnev’s speech to the 25th Party Congress, delivered in Moscow on February 24, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXVIII, No. 8 (March 24, 1976), pp. 3–32.
  13. Mao Zedong died on September 9.