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

Secretary Kissinger asked me to pass you the following report on his meeting with General Secretary Brezhnev.2

“I had a further three and a half hour meeting with Brezhnev this evening. The atmosphere and tone were again relaxed and friendly but much of the discussion continued in the same serious basically aggrieved vein. Brezhnev continued an accusatory line on MFN, Middle East and ended the meeting with ‘two questions’ he had obviously written out for himself and with which he sought to dramatize his concerns. He delivered them crisply and even somewhat theatrically and said he wanted me to sleep on them before answering. They were, in brief, (1) what is the meaning of US assertions that it must be the strongest power in the world and (2) do I think there is a possibility of nuclear war between us or anywhere in the world? The implication of Brezhnev’s questions seemed to be that despite all the progress of the last two years, our recent policies have reopened these basic questions.

“In earlier portions of the meeting, Brezhnev first requested my private assessment of US domestic scene, something again showing his concerns and unusual for him. I explained the nature of the coalition opposing détente, indicated we will welcome debate on the issues and had every expectation of building consensus once election is over. Brezhnev seemed encouraged when he heard you were actively campaigning. He asked why I was not in the hustings and I explained that it is against our custom for the Secretary of State to inject himself into political campaigns as such.

Brezhnev continued to bridle at MFN developments, again implying that the 18 month provision in the waiver may not be acceptable to the Soviets. (The original Trade Agreement called for an initial three year duration of MFN.) He also expressed disappointment at ExIm Bank authorization terms. I told him we had done the best we could. This will remain a very touchy set of issues for the Soviets, but assuming general progress in our relations, they will probably go along.

“On the European Conference, Brezhnev pressed for more US activism. I explained the problems with the Allies but expressed hope [Page 221] that the conference will be ended by March. I also assured him you would be prepared to talk about it in Vladivostok. We left it that after the forthcoming series of East-West and Intra-Western summits in the next two months, we would take stock with the Soviets and see how we can expedite matters. I told Brezhnev frankly that many issues in Geneva had become absurd and were largely the result of domestic politics in Western Europe. But I thought it best on this issue to give him some reassurance that we would try to be helpful.

“We then had a pretty tough Middle East discussion in which Brezhnev complained about our unilateralism and warned of a new war if no progress is made through joint efforts. I told him rather bluntly that as long as Soviets parrot Arab proposals we might as well deal with the Arabs directly, and have no incentive to join with the Soviets, the more so since Soviet positions require us to put pressures on Israel that are bound to be rejected and cause domestic anger in the US. But I assured him of our readiness to coordinate policies on a concrete step-by-step basis and denied we had any intention or capacity to exclude USSR from Middle East. The discussion remained inconclusive and will be resumed. I found it psychologically interesting that Brezhnev, in recalling his vehement warnings of possible war at San Clemente in 1973, denied any advance knowledge or collusion with Arabs in Yom Kippur War—something supported by our intelligence. Charges to this effect clearly still touch a sensitive nerve with Brezhnev, one of whose traits is his need to have his moral purity certified at regular intervals. He did, however, acknowledge, as Dobrynin had previously implied, that the Soviets had had some kind of notification just before outbreak of war but could not pass it on for fear of provoking Israeli preemptive war.

“This inconclusive exchange on the Middle East then led to Brezhnev’s posing his two questions mentioned above. All of this is a prelude to what Brezhnev keeps referring to as the key discussion of SALT which is to begin Friday.3 Although I have continued to get some positive noises regarding our proposal, Brezhnev’s evident desire to delay discussion suggests he does not expect conclusions during my visit. This is speculation, but he may want to await our election outcome and clarification of our domestic situation before he commits himself to a SALT approach.”

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, October 27, 1974—Kissinger/Brezhnev Talks in Moscow (2). Secret. Sent for information. Ford initialed the memorandum.
  2. See Document 66.
  3. October 25.