294. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

Kissinger: First, a few foreign policy things. I spoke to the editorial writers.2 I needled Carter a bit. They asked me if I still believed there was no difference between the foreign policy views of the two candidates. I answered that. I said that when I said that, he had given one speech. Since then, he has displayed the full complexity of his thought! So now I wouldn’t say that. Now Carter is going in several directions at once.

On foreign policy there is a high probability that Egypt will jump Libya in the last part of October. This would be a donnybrook. We have said we would interpose the Sixth Fleet.


The Soviets will think we put the Egyptians up to it. It will be tough for the Soviets—it would reduce them just to Iraq.

President: It would be great if they succeed, but what if they get beaten?

Scowcroft: They won’t get militarily beaten, but it is a thousand miles to Tripoli and they may not make it logistically.

President: We have to stand up to the Soviets if we need to.

Kissinger: That gets me to Gromyko. His behavior was really insolent.3 On Belenko [the defecting MiG–25 pilot] and Southern Africa.

I thought about calling him in and saying if they muck around in Africa, there will be no détente, no nothing.

In the Middle East they have interests. In Africa it is pure mischief. They don’t really stand to gain much from this gang and they have no permanent interests there. They can only be doing it to weaken and humiliate us. If they have any ideas about another Angola . . .

[Page 1096]

President: I thought I had . . .

Kissinger: You made the points, but he slid off it.

[Omitted here is discussion of Africa, the Middle East, and Congress.]

Kissinger: On the debate, you should not go on the defensive.

President: I have no intention of doing so.

Kissinger: He will say you are destroying the moral basis of our foreign policy.

President: I will say: What is more moral than peace? What is more moral than bringing peace in the Middle East? What is more moral than what we’re doing in Southern Africa? There are about five things.

Kissinger: And what is more moral than bringing home 500,000 troops? The Democrats have gotten us into two wars.

President: I am well prepared on that.

Kissinger: He will hit also on secrecy. [Gives statistics on meetings.]

President: Good.

Kissinger: Another charge is that I am running foreign policy. The White House puts out that no, you overrule me frequently. That makes you look weak, as if we compete. You should look strong enough to have a strong Secretary of State. We are a partnership, with you making the decisions. We shape things in discussion—it is not a case of competing views.

Scowcroft: [Hands the President the 1974 Carter quote praising Kissinger.]

Kissinger: Carter said we were good friends and met frequently. I have met him twice in my life and once was a handshake at the Gridiron this year.

He will throw morality at you—using the State Department surveys I took.4 That is not true. We asked for criticisms and that is what we got. We asked what was wrong, not what was right. I told the editors that yesterday and got applause. It was a stupid way for us to go at it, but it shows our interest and a desire to get the views of the people.

Schlesinger is now with Carter.

Scowcroft: So says Dick Perle.

[Page 1097]

Kissinger: When Schlesinger went to China, I told the Chinese that we didn’t object to his going but not to use it for political purposes. The goddamned Chinese said we officially protested.

Carter might say, “Schlesinger says our relations with China are lousy.” You could say it is based on the Shanghai Communiqué and if they have any complaints they should convey them to the United States Government, not to a private citizen. If he says the Chinese say we are weak on the Soviets, I would say China can’t tell us how to conduct our policy just like the Soviets can’t. The Chinese would like us to be in confrontation with the Soviet Union to take their chestnuts out of the fire.

I said yesterday to the editorial writers we have to preserve peace both by strength and by conciliation.

If he hits generally on being weak on the Soviets, point out his positions. He wants to cut the defense budget, prevent our giving military aid to Kenya and Zaire, withdraw from Korea, and let Communists into European governments.

I would say there have been two Democratic administrations since World War II and we have gotten into two wars; we’ve had two Republican Administrations and got into no war.

I honestly believe that is no accident. They extend our commitments and reduce our strength. Do you have these statements on Communists in Italy? I would not defend the soft on Soviets charge. I would attack him for making it.

[Omitted here is further discussion in preparation for the upcoming debate, including possible questions on China.]

[Kissinger:] He says we have departed from the moral basis of foreign policy. I would say we have restored the moral basis of our foreign policy. I would blast him on that.

If he raises the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine,5 I would say there is none. What we also say is: we encourage the greatest independence and freedom of action but do not encourage a revolution. We have not intervened before during revolutions. Does he want to encourage a revolution? You have taken the responsible course—Presidential visits and trade.

[Page 1098]

We won’t imply there is possibility of revolution when three times in the past the Soviet Army marched in. Who would be willing to use United States troops for an issue like this?

The greatest possibility for freedom in Eastern Europe is an easing of tensions so they can maneuver. The worst situation for them is when the Soviet Army is on their necks. You visited three countries in Eastern Europe to symbolize our commitment to freedom in Eastern Europe. No Democratic President has ever been in Eastern Europe.

President: Didn’t Kennedy go to Poland?

Kissinger: No, Nixon was the first, when he went to Romania. I wouldn’t just attack Carter. On foreign policy I would attack the Democrats also. Most Democrats agree our foreign policy is better.

Scowcroft: Isn’t that dangerous?

Kissinger: On domestic policy yes, foreign policy no. This is the man who wants to cut the budget, bring troops home and advocate revolution in Eastern Europe. This is the way to get us into war.

On Helsinki, the first point is there were 35 nations there, including the Vatican, not just the United States. Second, when he says it recognizes spheres of influence, it shows Carter doesn’t know what he is talking about. Helsinki says nothing about the Soviet Union in Europe. It says that borders can’t be changed by force, but only by peaceful means. To whose advantage is this? Ours or the Soviet Union’s, with 70 divisions on the border? For the first time the Soviets have committed themselves to implementing human rights. They’re not sticking to it right now but it gives us a standard to which we can hold them.

I am getting worked up. But this guy really burns me. He is a super liberal and now he is turning tough.

On grain, I don’t like this answer [in Eagleburger’s paper].6

Scowcroft: He said we messed up the grain deal in 1972. The implications are that he would use grain as a weapon.7

[Page 1099]

[Omitted here is further discussion in preparation for the upcoming debate.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 21. 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.
  2. On October 2, Kissinger was interviewed by a panel at the Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Editorial Writers at Hilton Head, South Carolina. For the text of the interview, see Department of State Bulletin, November 1, 1976, pp. 541–554.
  3. See Document 292.
  4. From February to April 1976, the Department of State held five town meetings to “listen to the public’s views on four fundamental concerns of our foreign policy,” including Soviet-American relations. (Memorandum from Eagleburger, Lord, Lewis, and Vest to Kissinger, March 11; National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 91D414, Records of Henry Kissinger, Box 20, Nodis Memos 1977 (January), Folder 2)
  5. Reference is to “off-the-record” remarks Sonnenfeldt made during a conference of U.S. Ambassadors in London in December 1975, in particular, his suggestion that the United States should seek an “organic” evolution of the Soviet role in Eastern Europe. A subsequent account of Sonnenfeldt’s remarks is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; Public Diplomacy, 1973–1976. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak published an account of his remarks in their syndicated column on March 22. Despite denials from the administration, including Sonnenfeldt himself, critics charged that this statement represented the recognition of a permanent Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, a position quickly dubbed the “Sonnenfeldt Doctrine.”
  6. Not found.
  7. During the Presidential debate on October 6, the President answered a question on the Helsinki Accords, defending the agreement and declaring: “There is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976, No. 854) By the time he discussed the debate with Kissinger on October 11, the President had already suffered a setback in public opinion polls. Although the initial response to his performance had been positive, Ford acknowledged: “It was after two days of press play on Eastern Europe that it turned around.” When he asked if Kissinger was “going to resign because your President let you down,” the Secretary replied: “Don’t even think of what happened. One little glitch.” “You have confirmed in that debate,” Kissinger declared, “the country’s need for you and the disaster that Carter would be.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 21)