50. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of State Kissinger and Bernard Gwertzman of The New York Times1

G: It’s on the Jackson . . .

K: We’re talking background.

G: A senior State Department official . . .

K: Just say State Department official.

G: It’s such a complicated thing. My understanding is from the Senators’ source primarily.

K: Let me tell you what happened. We had discussed 3 letters with the Senators. The first letter contained the assurance I received. If I had received more assurances, I could have put them in my letter. The 2nd letter, what he thought those assurances should mean, including numbers, which I told the Senators were never given to me ______. We then sent the letters to Senate leadership, chairmen and ranking members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. If we had been able to make those assurances to begin with—I told everybody from the beginning how these assurances translate into ______.

G: I’m told you did say that 45,000 would be acceptable to the Russians and I gather they came back with 75,000 and 60,000 was sort of agreed upon.

K: This assumes that I can make Jews leave the Soviet Union. We say 75,000 therefore let’s compromise on 60,000. It’s ridiculous. What the hell can I do about it.

G: The question is, which was more troublesome. If this was the case why was the letter drafted in the first place?

K: It was also said the wording of these letters—we would have to go over again and was an idea that the 3rd could be interpreted to mean that we would do our best. The more it was studied, the more people who believed it was a commitment.

G: That was my impression and that was the Jewish impression.

K: You find me one leader of the Jewish community to whom I said I could specify numbers.

G: They got their information from the ______.

K: The Senators kept saying it will be 60,000.

G: When you saw (Gromyko), he would never confirm anything like that?

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K: Never. I thought that if they could state a number and I could use it as a yardstick ______. I cannot say something that will be used against us. It’s getting to be pretty tough to be humanitarian. Why would I want to direct them.

G: Some of them think perhaps you could get more out of Russia.

K: Why would I do it in 3 letters if I had all the assurances to begin with.

G: I could see why if there was something to say perhaps—so profit minded.

K: I told them at every meeting I could not deliver a number. I told them ______ to a substantial increase and I still believe it, but what the increase is, I don’t know how many applications there will be.

G: What’s the situation?

K: I’m planning a meeting with them on Monday2 and see what can be worked out.

G: Great expectations were built up—certainly in the Soviet Union.

K: I think if you see those letters, you will say my ________ we ________ carried out.

G: I gather in your 1st letter, we have assurances that certain criteria will be carried out.

K: No restriction on application, all of which is somewhat changeable.

G: Jackson’s letter is full of detail.

K: Which I was never given.

G: Do you think there’s an honest problem here—that there was a misunderstanding?

K: A problem that could have easily been worked out. I said from the beginning we want to work out in good faith. If I signed this letter and a year from now it will ______.

G: The letter has sat on the table for more than 2 months.

K: It was the unanimous opinion of the leaders that this letter would be taken as a commitment. And they said you better not send that letter.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Electronic Reading Room, Kissinger Transcripts of Telephone Conversations. No classification marking. Blank underscores indicate omissions in the original.
  2. October 7. See Document 51.
  3. In an article on the Trade Bill and Soviet emigration, published in The New York Times the next morning, Gwertzman reported: “Highly reliable Administration and Senate informants said the compromise appears to have broken down because the White House declined to give written assurances to Congress that it believed the details of the agreement would be carried out by the Russians. There had been an earlier understanding of such assurances. A State Department official said the Administration had to drop the earlier promise because the Soviet Union had never given assurances that a specific number of persons could emigrate. The official said the understanding with Congress had been more a hope than a certainty.” “According to a State Department official familiar with Mr. Kissinger’s views,” Gwertzman added, “the Russians did not commit themselves to a specific number of emigrants.” (Gwertzman, “Talks on Soviet Jews’ Emigration Periled,” The New York Times, October 6, 1974, pp. 1, 8)