62. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Department of State (Sonnenfeldt) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Your Moscow Talks

This almost certainly is a time of considerable uncertainty in Moscow.

—There are probably arguments that now, with the change of Presidents, it is time to revitalize Soviet-American relations.

—But a Soviet leader could also argue that prudence dictates a strategy of procrastination—at least until the outlook for the Ford Administration’s survival is clear and the impact of the “crisis of capitalism” is clearer.

As best as we can judge from all the evidence the decision, if there is one, is to proceed with the atmospherics of détente, but to reserve on the substance. In other words, Brezhnev probably has no urgent incentive to make the concession now that he withheld at the last summit, or that he can offer later.

Thus, a major, and perhaps insurmountable, problem is how to create an incentive for the Soviets to move.

—Since they are guaranteed a summit—which is probably all Brezhnev needs to justify his past record—we have no particular leverage, except the leverage inherent in each issue.

—Unfortunately, even linking Soviet desires, on CSCE and economic credits for example, may not be too effective, because events are probably moving their way in any case:

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CSCE seems destined to finish next spring, unless we actively work against it;

—Soviet dependence on credits may be lessened by the substantial increase in hard currency earnings they have made from oil prices.

If, in fact, your leverage is not strong, then your first decision is whether and to what extent you want to turn the SALT talks into confrontation, by insisting and pressing for a breakthrough. Alternatively, if we allow SALT to slide, there is the risk that the meeting will be regarded as a “failure”, and the divisions in Washington will then be aggravated by a debate over Soviet intentions. Moreover, there is no guarantee our bargaining position will improve.

You do have some cards to play, the principal one being Brezhnev’s own identification and involvement with the policy. He can not deliberately want to see a deterioration. He must at least hedge against it by continuing to play up the external signs of good relations. This suggests that you should bear down on the need to produce substantive progress by the time of the meeting in Vladivostok, which, in essence, means at least a May 20th type SALT agreement.2

A more delicate aspect is whether you wish to attach your own position to the outcome—whether you want to warn that failure to make progress in SALT will feed your critics. This could have an impact but also could be dangerous: you cannot know whether Brezhnev might prefer a weaker American administration, or whether he thinks you may be leaving in any case.

In sum, you probably have no choice but to press for substantive progress—particularly in SALT and to a lesser extent on MBFR—and the TTB—since we might as well find out now whether Brezhnev is executing a gradual turn in policy. What follows, therefore, presumes you will press your view on SALT, and suggest some linkage among issues, and play on the importance of making the first FordBrezhnev summit more than a get-acquainted session.


Though we have a feeling that Brezhnev will stonewall, the evidence from the Geneva talks does not confirm this. Indeed, one could conclude that there is a new Soviet NSDM, and that it represents some softening of positions. Naturally, it is a position very favorable to Moscow, but allowing for the normal bargaining fat built into all Soviet positions, one could conclude that we are at least in the same ball park: they agree on ceilings and on some reductions, they agree on numerical [Page 172] MIRV limits in percentages, they want “restraint” in deployments. On the other hand, they propose to perpetuate the Interim Agreement numbers, count FBS, count some bomber armaments as interchangeable with MIRVs, minimize reductions, dismiss throw weight, and eliminate “new” modern submarines and bombers.

The question is whether the present position is partly for show in Geneva, or represents the Politburo—in the latter case, Brezhnev may be frozen into a very unacceptable position.

Your main tactical problem is whether and when to play some of the concessions, primarily Holy Loch, Rota, and Option III in MBFR.3

The other problem is how you might respond to a tentative offer along the lines of “offsetting asymmetries”, if it should emerge from the bargaining.

As you are well aware, you can expect one session in which Brezhnev will counterattack against your proposal, and another session to see if we have softened, and probably a final round to see if there is enough agreement to proceed à la May 20.


If you introduce Option III, you will want to stress that it represents a major concession to Soviet concern and is conditioned on (a) removing FBS from SALT, and (b) a Soviet counter concession on a first phase agreement. You will not want to specify that we will withdraw 48 F–4 nuclear capable aircraft, 27 Pershings and 1000 nuclear warheads, but that a nuclear reduction can be part of the package that includes Soviet tank reductions.

You will want to stress the importance of a viable conventional balance in Europe and that we expect the Soviet side to be responsive to our concerns and the concerns of our Allies over the Soviet preponderance of armor and ground forces in Europe.


CSCE should be treated in the same strategic context. If the Soviets expect us to subscribe to a series of agreements embracing a political settlement in Europe at the highest level, we must have assurances that the military balance will be a stable one. We should therefore tell them that we want to move forward in both CSCE and MBFR. This means substantive progress in MBFR must be made before the CSCE summit.

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The TTB is largely unrelated to these issues and it provides no real leverage for us. However, unless we can reach agreement on PNEs with adequate verification the TTB will stand little chance of ratification. It is thus essential to convince the Soviets of the need to tackle Article III of the TTB as a first priority. As a possible concession to the Soviet view, however, we might say that after we have crossed this first hurdle, we would be willing to consider the broad scheme for cooperation in stemming the proliferation of nuclear weapons under Article V of the NPT.

Economic Issues

Finally, economic issues might give us some leverage. You will be able to claim credit for breaking the deadlock on MFN and point to the successful outcome of the EX-IM Bank bill as a sign of our good intentions. While we cannot be very positive on the Yakutsk natural gas deal with the Japanese because of Congressional opposition, chances are that the Soviets may be having second thoughts on this as well. However, the sale of computers and aircraft are another matter, and if the licensing problems should be resolved by the time you arrive in Moscow, the notice of approval might be used to good effect during your talks. You might also tell the Soviets that we remain prepared to help out as best we can on grain deliveries within the constraints of our own domestic situation, but that they simply must play by our rules in our markets.

Middle East and Cyprus

The Middle East and Cyprus pose the delicate problem of how to keep the Soviets at arm’s length, but convince them that what we are doing does not threaten their interests. This means giving them your assessment of the situation and perhaps sharing more delicate information than otherwise, since they are probably getting it from the Arabs and the Greeks.

Finally, there is the question of announcing a summit meeting with President Ford. Should it result from your trip? Be announced at the end?

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 91D414, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–77, Box 5, Nodis Memcons, 1974, Folder 6. Secret; Sensitive. Attached but not printed is telegram 15849 from Moscow, October 18, which briefed Kissinger as follows: “Your visit comes at a time when the Soviets—in Brezhnev’s meeting with Secretary Simon and in authoritative articles in Pravda and Izvestiya—have reaffirmed their détente course and the special importance they attach to U.S.-Soviet relations. It is also, however, a time of continuing Soviet uncertainty about the depth of the U.S. commitment to the momentum of improvement in our bilateral relationship. There is particular malaise about U.S. strategic policies. What you have to say on SALT is likely to be taken as the most important indicator since President Ford took office of his Administration’s orientation toward the USSR. In addition to SALT, we expect the Soviets to look for a U.S. assurance that the focus of Middle East diplomacy will soon return to Geneva. They will hope for a positive report on the MFN/emigration issue. And they may again seek to enlist U.S. support for bringing CSCE to a conclusion at the summit. They will also be watching closely for clues about your own future.”
  2. Reference is to the joint announcement on May 20, 1971, by President Nixon and Chairman Kosygin of their desire to come to an agreement on SALT. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, Document 160.
  3. Reference is to a U.S. proposal for a 20 percent reduction in Soviet armored forces in Europe in exchange for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. This and other options were the subject of NSDM 211, April 16, 1973; printed ibid., volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 137.