36. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford 1


  • Your Meeting with Foreign Minister Gromyko


This meeting will be of considerable importance for the next phase of Soviet-American relations. Soviet policy is in a sort of holding pattern: there are a number of indications that they are uncertain about the course of Soviet-American relations; for their part, they are hesitant to take initiatives that might suggest a détente is more important to them than to us or to reinforce their public commitment to “détente.” There may well be divided counsels in Moscow in the wake of the change in the US Administration. Our own debate on the benefits of détente probably has its counterpart in Moscow. Thus, Gromyko’s report to the Politburo on his impression of your policy will carry great weight.

Despite some apprehensions in Moscow, the factors that lead the Soviet Union to the present stage in relations with us—economic problems at home, the risks of strategic competition, and the dangers of tension on both the Soviet Union’s European and China front—are still operative and work to limit any major swings in policy. Moreover, Brezhnev’s personal position is linked to proving the improvement of relations with the US has been justified, and thus should be maintained and expanded. We are therefore not the supplicants; there are at least equal pressures on the Soviet Union to make further progress.

A wide variety of issues with the USSR, whose outcome will determine relations between now and the next summit, are now in flux: the Conference on European Security, the talks on mutual force reductions in Central Europe, and the Geneva SALT talks are resuming, and a US delegation will go to Moscow in early October to discuss the issues involved in permitting peaceful nuclear explosions in a manner compatible with the new treaty limiting the threshold of underground nuclear weapons tests as of March 31, 1976. The resolution of the Trade Bill and Jewish emigration question, of course, are of critical importance for the [Page 97] Soviets. And the further course of Middle East diplomacy and a Cyprus settlement will confront us with potentially explosive issues in Soviet-American relations. Each of these issues will be dealt with on their merits; progress will be uneven; taken together, however, they constitute the hard core of Soviet-American relations and a test of whether we can move ahead. Because we are confronted with difficult and interrelated issues in European security and arms control there is a risk of a general stalemate. Added to this possibility is the fact that in both the Middle East and Cyprus our policies must be designed to keep Soviet involvement to a minimum.

Your Objectives

There are no concrete issues that must be settled in your discussions with Gromyko, though it would be desirable to get the Trade Bill resolved while he is here. Your objectives are: (1) to reassure Gromyko, and through him Brezhnev, that the general direction of our policy has not changed; but (2) to impress upon him that the Soviet Union bears a burden for moving ahead in critical areas such as the arms control issues—in other words, you will be looking for signs of continuing Soviet interest, especially in SALT negotiations and the talks on force reductions in Central Europe.

—In SALT , our aim is to achieve agreements at the highest level for a 1985 agreement which can then be negotiated in detail in Geneva. This will be the aim of my trip to Moscow.

—In the Vienna talks on reducing armed forces in Central Europe, we want a breakthrough and we may offer a new package that will include some reductions in nuclear forces, either in a first phase reduction of Soviet-US forces or in a subsequent phase when European forces are cut; the quid pro quo we would want is Soviet agreement to begin the process with US-Soviet reductions of about 5–10 percent.

—We are not pressing in the European Security Conference (CSCE), because of Allied hesitations; we may use the deadlock as leverage for Soviet action in the force reductions talks. We can agree to an early conclusion of the European Conference (probably early next year) and a final meeting at the summit level, but our position is that we need to show simultaneous progress in mutual force reductions, lest the Soviets achieve a pan-European sanction of the political and territorial in Europe, while maintaining their massive military presence in East Europe. (Although the Europeans display toughness on these issues, they are quite soft: Schmidt will almost certainly agree to a CSCE summit-level conclusion when he goes to Moscow in October.)

—In the Middle East, we are trying to combat Soviet meddling; they are pushing recognition of a Palestinian state and Palestinian participation in a resumed Geneva Conference; they know this disrupts [Page 98] the negotiating process and makes the strategy of step by step disengagement extremely difficult. Their aim, of course, is to reconvene the Geneva talks, where they can influence the situation, and press for a final solution, which can only maintain tensions. We want to avoid any commitment to return to Geneva, or act in complete unison with Moscow.

—Similarly, in Cyprus, we want to keep the Soviets out of the mainstream; they want a UN conference of Security Council members and the interested parties, a settlement that maintains the neutral status of Cyprus, and a Soviet-American guarantee of the Island’s status—which gives Moscow a right to political intervention.

Gromyko’s Objectives

It is doubtful that Gromyko will go into the details of various issues. He will probably make a general presentation on the desirability of continued détente. He will look for you to do likewise. However, he may have instructions to propose an early meeting with Brezhnev, as suggested in recent communications in your channel.

He will almost certainly stress the need for joint or parallel action in the Middle East, and on Cyprus; his main theme will be that the US pays lip service to cooperation with the USSR, but in practice follows an independent course.

—He will complain of the “tyranny of the minor powers” in blocking the completion of the European Security Conference; he may claim he already has Chancellor Schmidt’s agreement, during Gromyko’s stopover in Bonn,2 to a completion of the Conference by the end of the year with a final summit meeting.

—He will take the position that in European force reductions, we are being unrealistic in expecting disproportionate Soviet or Warsaw Pact reductions that would change the “correlation” of forces, and that any cuts must be taken by all the countries involved, and apply to all forces, ground and air, and that the process could start with a symbolic reduction of 20,000 on each side.

—On SALT, he may not have any fresh ideas or instructions; he will claim that it is up to us to explain what we want in a 1985 agreement because it was our initiative; he will probably say that there are factors outside of the negotiations—the position of third countries—that have to be taken into account (i.e., giving compensation to the USSR for China, France and the UK), and that our geographical advantage in forward basing is a key concern in Moscow that cannot be ignored.

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—On economic relations, his main point will be that there are major cooperative projects that the US could join—exploitation of natural gas and oil reserves in the USSR—and even the possibilities for large Soviet purchases of US consumer goods, but that we are blocking progress by linking it to internal affairs; he will avoid detailed formal commitments, and be very chary of explicit assurances on the rate of Jewish emigration, though the Kremlin obviously understands the general arrangements we have been discussing. Gromyko should be prepared to confirm Brezhnev’s assurances that there will be no impediments to emigration.

He will not expect detailed agreements with you on any of these issues, but he will interpret your responses as an indication of your general attitude toward “détente.”

US Strategy

Our strategy has been to induce a prolonged period of restraint in Soviet international conduct by constructing a series of incentives for such conduct while at the same time keeping the penalties high for retrogression from it.

The Soviets themselves have seemed to have no precise strategy and have operated opportunistically, testing our resolve in some instances and trying to tempt us with piecemeal negotiations in others.

We have no illusion that the Soviets see any period of relaxation as a permanent change. Our calculation is that through a combination of benefits, incentives and threatened penalties we might over time make it increasingly hard for a Soviet leadership to revert to openly aggressive international behavior.

Almost certainly, our opening to China, while rousing their suspicions, confirmed the Soviets in the broad decisions they took in early 1971 since it raised the spectre of a US-Chinese combination against the USSR. It remains one of our principal sources of strength in dealing with Moscow.

As the Soviets have moderated their conduct in crisis areas and showed a readiness to negotiate seriously on major issues—e.g, SALT, Berlin—we have proceeded to implement our strategy of “linkage” by agreeing to negotiate a series of bilateral cooperative agreements on one or another aspect of science and technology and on trade in which the Soviets were interested. This broad network of negotiations was intended to stimulate interest in détente among the various constituencies that make up Brezhnev’s political base.

Brezhnev himself, we have found, had developed a considerable stake in relations with us and we gave this impetus through the summit meetings and an active personal exchange in confidential communications channels, as well as by a series of broad principles defining our re[Page 100]lations with which Brezhnev was personally identified in solemn ceremonies.

The problem we face now in pursuing this strategy is that from the Soviet standpoint the results of the last two years of détente look increasingly questionable: in the Middle East a combination of inept Soviet policies, deep-seated Arab suspicions and US diplomacy have led to significant reductions in Soviet influence; in Europe, our Alliance relations have recently been solidified; despite their best efforts, the Soviets have not succeeded in achieving any appreciable reduction of US military power around their periphery; in their bilateral relations with us, our inability thus far to go beyond rather modest trading relations is clearly disappointing to Moscow; and in relations with the West generally, the Soviets have encountered increasing pressure on them to modify their domestic system as the price for continuing détente.

In short, that element in our strategy which was intended to provide continuing incentives for the Soviets to remain on a course of restraint has been brought into question.

The issue here is not whether to provide the Soviets with unilateral benefits, but whether to maintain a balance in our policy whereby the Soviets will see continuing advantage in restraint rather than meeting with frustration in all their major objectives. If the latter were to happen we could easily witness a reversion to more rigid policies and to more active pressures against us and our Allies which Western societies are not in the best shape at present to deal with.

At this stage in our relations, therefore, our strategy will have to emphasize the incentives for continued conciliation. We need to hold out promise for expanding economic relations, and use our EX-IM credits, to the extent Congress permits, as a flexible instrument for encouraging the trends in Soviet policy we favor, and similarly to hold back from commitments when Soviet behavior warrants it. In addition, on those areas where we have some freedom of action—in SALT, in the force reduction talks, and in the European Conference—we need to establish a general interrelationship to maximize our bargaining leverage and ensure an outcome that protects our interests.

Thus, in the coming phase we will stress the need for simultaneous progress in European security, both politically in the European Conference, and militarily in the Vienna force reduction talks. The concession we may make in the force reduction talks—i.e., including some reduction of nuclear forces—should be exploited first in the SALT talks to end the debate on our forward based systems. Moreover, in SALT, we will have to make a proposal that is as realistic as possible, rather than a set of maximum demands from which we will inevitably scale down.

The reason for this tactical scenario is that by late fall we may face another Middle East crisis—and by then we want the Soviets to be [Page 101] deeply engaged in a diplomatic process with us that will ensure, to the extent possible, their moderation in the Middle East. As part of this strategy, we will emphasize that another summit is planned and that, as its predecessors, it will be an opportunity to bring together a number of issues for high level review and resolution.

[Omitted here are talking points for Ford’s meeting with Gromyko.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 16, USSR (2). Secret; Sensitive. The date, September 20, 1974, is handwritten at the top of the memorandum. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Sonnenfeldt forwarded it to Kissinger for approval on September 18. An attached access control form indicates that the President saw Kissinger’s memorandum.
  2. Gromyko arrived in Bonn on September 15 for 2 days of talks with Schmidt and Genscher on European security, economic relations, and Berlin.