73. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Side
  • General Secretary Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • US Side
  • Secretary of State Kissinger
  • Counselor of the Department of State Sonnenfeldt
  • Interpreter
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev

Brezhnev: There is always good and evil in the world. I am the epitome of good. Gromyko and Sonnenfeldt are the epitome of evil.

[Page 253]

Kissinger: Gromyko is the chief obstacle to SALT.

[Brezhnev gets up and goes to his desk and brings back to the conference table a model of an artillery piece which he points at Secretary Kissinger.]

Brezhnev: I don’t know how to operate this thing.

Gromyko: It is a good thing there are no correspondents here.

Kissinger: They do want a picture [referring to the fact that no US correspondents were allowed into the opening conference for pictures].

Brezhnev: We will let them.

Kissinger: [Referring to the gun] It has a bullet in it?

Brezhnev: It is supposed to be operational but I don’t know how to work it. You know I haven’t missed once since I got the Colts. I am like Chuck Conners.2

Gromyko: But you only shoot once a year.

Brezhnev: Did you have a good lunch?

Gromyko: Yes.

Kissinger: The Foreign Minister made a long toast.

Brezhnev: We missed the morning discussion today and I trust Gromyko explained the reason to you and you understand it.3

Kissinger: No—of course I understand. I have so much work along with me anyway.

Brezhnev: I have given up work.

I have been doing some thinking. We should not get involved in a 15-year treaty [on SALT].

Kissinger: I agree completely.

Brezhnev: Let’s begin now the private conversation I had with President Nixon.4 I would like to know your view.

Kissinger: President Nixon never explained to me fully your proposal. I would appreciate a more detailed explanation of what you told [Page 254] him. President Nixon told me that you had talked about an agreement for mutual cooperation but he did not quite explain the details before he resigned.

Brezhnev: As always, I want to be absolutely frank. I too at that time did not go into great detail. I suggested an idea which never left my mind since. There were no selfish aims. I was guided only by the desire to jointly do something in the world which would forever exclude atomic war or any war in general. The gist of the conversation was this: even in the presence of the agreement between us—and we sincerely believe in it—to the effect that we would not use nuclear weapons against each other, could we not also agree . . .

[Brezhnev throughout his remarks and the translation had been manipulating the artillery piece. Kissinger: I have never been shot at by the General Secretary. Brezhnev trains the gun at Sonnenfeldt. Gromyko: You should train it at your own Foreign Minister and not frighten the Americans. Brezhnev inserts a shell into the gun and pulls the lanyard. Nothing happens. Brezhnev: I have to ask Sadat for spares. Kissinger: He probably has them in the wrong guns.]

[translation resumes] . . . could we not give thought to the possibility of our two powers who possess for the foreseeable future immense strength, especially in the military realm, achieving a treaty or an agreement in some form, in the interest of all mankind, and bearing in mind the threat of nuclear weapons to all peoples, to the effect that, in the event of an attack on either of us by any third power—we could even name it—each side, in the interest of keeping the peace, would use military power in support of the other. This would also apply to allies—say an attack on the FRG or Italy—we would also come to the assistance of them. Surely this would be a warning against those tempted to use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

That was the purport of the proposal. I am not suggesting a military bloc of any kind. And this would respect national sovereignty, but it would solve the problem of preventing thermonuclear war between us or other countries. All this could be formulated in a way to be sure that all parties understand that it is not a diktat but meets the interests of all in peace.

At the time, President Nixon indicated he considered it a very interesting idea and seemed to support the general concept underlying it. He added that he took interest in the idea and in another couple of months would be in a position to give a reply to my propositions. We did not go into greater detail and what I have said is in effect a quotation of that talk. I give you my word, and Sukhodrev is responsible with his life, that I never showed the memorandum of the conversation to anyone. Even today, quite some time after the meeting with President Nixon, I still think in the same way. I am not prompted by fear or [Page 255] hostility toward anyone. Why should anyone object to the proposition that no one will ever touch them with weapons—Belgium, Holland and the rest.

Kissinger: Let me understand. Suppose the FRG attacks the Soviet Union. We would then support the Soviet Union militarily under this idea?

Brezhnev: Yes. [Keeps pulling lanyard on the gun.] Equally, assume that the Czechs or someone would attack you or your allies or friends with nuclear weapons, we would come to your help. It would primarily apply to an attack with nuclear weapons since the time of conventional weapons has passed. In a preamble to such an arrangement, it would be said that it is not directed against anyone and it is in the interest that each State has against the use of nuclear weapons . . . [to Sonnenfeldt: you should stop taking notes. Kissinger: This is only for President Ford and I assure you it will not leave the White House. Brezhnev: That is impossible in the United States.] . . . it would be a sign of great success for us and our allies. It would not be necessary to make a reference to the parties who might attack. I am just talking about principles now.

Kissinger: The principle is this: If either of us or one of our allies is attacked with nuclear weapons the other one would come to his assistance.

[Brezhnev again pulls the lanyard and this time the gun goes off with a loud bang.]

Brezhnev: Now they will say you are under duress.

Kissinger: I once stepped on a certain button in the President’s office and all the Secret Service came charging in. It was early in the Nixon Administration.

Brezhnev: This was originally made to fire paper caps like children’s pistols but it wouldn’t fire. So then they developed blank shells. I got it as a souvenir.

Kissinger: It is more impressive than the bell you rang downstairs yesterday.

[Brezhnev brings more shells from his desk.]

Kissinger: You already fired a few.

Brezhnev: No, just one. They have no warheads like in the United States. They just make noise. I just got to the bottom of how this thing works; there is a little lever.

Gromyko: We will MIRV it.

Brezhnev: Well, I just wanted to amuse you. [Pushes gun aside.]

Brezhnev: [Responding to Kissinger’s last substantive statement.] Yes. I don’t have in view the mention of a specific country. And we are [Page 256] not doing it on a bloc basis. Our allies do not have nuclear weapons, though yours do. Such an agreement could generate conditions to warn anyone that no one has the right to attack anyone so all nations should live at peace with each other. I value the life of every Soviet citizen, of every United States citizen, and the citizens of other countries. If we do not do something like this we will raise our military potential and raise suspicions. As I said yesterday, others will say: Here are the United States and the Soviet Union. They had an old agreement on strategic arms with certain ceilings. Now they have a new agreement with higher ceilings. It means that they closed their eyes to their obligations. My proposal meets all the needs. I have never shown the memorandum of conversation to anyone. I put it forward as a personal idea, as a useful idea. I am not for blocs. We each have friends, though one bloc is defensive and the other is military. That is why I asked those questions of you the day before yesterday. I had written them in my own handwriting in my notebook.

To ensure that people will understand it clearly, I suggest that Dr. Kissinger formulate the preamble and we could just sign it. So no one would think it was a new bloc.

Kissinger: Let me ask this so I understand completely: It is between us and applies to us and our allies. Suppose China attacks India, which is not an ally. Does it apply? And it applies only to nuclear weapons?

Brezhnev: The very fact that the preamble would say that the agreement is directed against nuclear war on the planet—without mention of China, India, etc.—would imply that everyone could be sure there would be no nuclear war. If for instance China wants to attack us—maybe, who knows, in five years they will attack you—the agreement would be subordinated to the interest of peace. There should be no reference to “allies.” Who knows who will be allies?

Kissinger: So any nuclear attack on anyone we would jointly oppose, including an attack on ourselves?

Brezhnev: What I suggest be said is that we will jointly retaliate against an attack on you, on us, on an ally, so that people understand that nuclear weapons cannot be used with impunity. On us, or allies. It would mean in effect that our two powerful nations, who won’t be overtaken for 50 years, would guarantee a world free of nuclear war. So that many problems will fall away.

Kissinger: But then we would have to extend it to other countries; that is my point. Otherwise any country could attack a country which is not your or our ally.

Brezhnev: So far the only nuclear powers are you, us, your allies, and China, and who knows whose ally it is?

Kissinger: And India.

[Page 257]

Brezhnev: Oh, India—it doesn’t change the substance. The main thing is that there be no attack on the United States, the Soviet Union, or our respective allies. This is just my private thinking and it must not be repeated. Don’t think I will assemble the leadership tomorrow. I just advanced it on my own.

Kissinger: This is only going to President Ford. No other official in the United States Government will get it, nor of course any foreigner. Let me say that it is a very interesting and far-reaching concept and I will discuss it with President Ford now that I understand it. Maybe we will have a brief talk in Vladivostok.

Brezhnev: We are now bargaining about 20, 100, 200 rockets and about whether to MIRV them or not. This doesn’t accord with the idea of converting the Interim Agreement into a permanent one. What are 100 rockets when we have thousands?

Kissinger: I agree.

Brezhnev: After all, what difference does it make for any American or Soviet man what he died from, one million or half a million tons. In practice, as the situation is today, one group of states pins its hopes on US nuclear weapons and another group pins its hopes on Soviet nuclear weapons. We spend lots of money and we argue. Surely it is no solution.

Kissinger: As I said, it is an extremely far-reaching and comprehensive approach. I had told President Ford generally that there were discussions between you and President Nixon. I will discuss it with the President when I return and of course well before your meeting at Vladivostok.

Brezhnev: Please understand. This is not an alternative to the detailed proposal we are discussing. It is simply a deeply felt idea. So, report it to President Ford not as a condition. Maybe he will see his way clear to achieving this with us. It would be a great hope for the world and eliminate all the charges of US hostile intent. So I made it very confidential with just one additional person on each side and Sukhodrev who doesn’t exist. [Brezhnev brings a large, youthful looking photograph of himself from his desk.] This is me as I will look in 1985—it was taken on my 65th birthday.

Kissinger: It is a very nice picture.

Brezhnev: I will have it on my new Party card. They could have made me look still younger. [Pointing to a globe.] This shows the best line of attack against the United States. Of course we have a less intricate net than you have.

Kissinger: I recognize that these two subjects, SALT and your proposal, are not dependent upon each other. On the other hand, what you propose doesn’t make sense if the arms race continues.

[Page 258]

Brezhnev: I agree. But it is also true, in terms of this idea, that in 50 years it is very hard for anyone to catch up with us.

Kissinger: No, I meant an arms race between us.

Brezhnev: We should end the build-up. What you have, especially in MIRVs, is quite enough.

Kissinger: I will discuss it with President Ford.

Brezhnev: We could easily and calmly agree that if you need them you add three more submarines and so could we, as long as it is by agreement. Meanwhile, we would divert the funds we need for arms from domestic uses. It means billions of rubles. One B–1 costs seven billion.

Kissinger: No. 70 million. But your point is the same anyway.

Brezhnev: On a personal basis, we couldn’t invent anything better than this proposal. I am speaking my mind but you are a diplomat. Now, really what is your view?

Kissinger: This is the first time I have heard it in detail. It would have a revolutionary effect on the international situation. It would certainly prevent nuclear war against any other country.

[Brezhnev lights his cigarette lighter and holds it near Sonnenfeldt’s note pad, as if to burn it.]

Brezhnev: That is exactly what I want. No one should be tempted to start a nuclear war. In that case we would not be interested in B–1s and all that. It would put the whole question in a different light. It would make no difference then if we agreed to add three submarines or five rockets on each side. But in the other case, we engage in all these calculations and no one knows what they come to.

Kissinger: It is certainly a very radical solution.

Brezhnev: The older you become the wiser you are. I don’t wear a wedding ring but I play with this signet ring. It says in here “To Leonid Brezhnev from Novorissisk.” It is a memento of one full year I spent when we were allies. Three hundred days of battle with no step back. That is why Novorissisk is a hero city. I had the honor to present the award. On that occasion I was presented this ring. It is not just any ring. It represents a whole epoch when we fought fascism.

Kissinger: It is very moving. I have always been convinced of the General Secretary’s deep emotional commitment to peace. I remember the story he told me of his father.

Brezhnev: I am by nature an emotional man. Whenever the war comes up I read and re-read. Tears come to my eyes. It may be difficult for some to understand. This is not to say that I don’t set great store by the contributions made by those who remain in the rear. But I don’t forget those who lost their life in battle, on mine fields or barbed wire. Or barbarities like burning people alive or that Jewish people were [Page 259] herded into ghettos—ghettos right?—and were destroyed. My own family saved many Jews from bandits during the Civil war. To this day I have great respect for them, those who are really honest. Basically it is this abhorrence of war that prompted the peace program of the 24th Congress. I cited Lenin when I put forward that program and the economic program. I just recently addressed the US-Soviet Trade Council and I quoted Lenin: We must have good relations with all countries, especially the United States. I would like to be only one tenth as perspicacious as Lenin. But people like that are born just once in a century. That is why it is so hard to conduct negotiations as we have done in the last two days, since they will result in raising arms levels. Its ideas [of the Party Congress] are supported by an overwhelming number of people. Fifty million in the Party and Young Pioneers and millions more. So this is really a matter of substance not just of emotion. When Napoleon, who was a great warrior, got to Moscow he said he had lost the war. It is a small step from the great to the ridiculous.

Kissinger: There is no military solution to contemporary problems.

Brezhnev: No temporary military victory could lead to a solution of the desires of the peoples. I am sure you could draw the conclusion from your own trip to the Middle East that there can be no military solution. When a new flare-up will occur is hard to say but the situation is still a dangerous one. I am not alone in thinking of the need to ensure peace. I have been in the leadership for 23 years and even with Khrushchev’s ramblings this has always been true.

Kissinger: I think the overwhelming problem is that of peace, and the General Secretary has made a far-reaching and interesting proposal.

Brezhnev: Comrade Gromyko, who is a member of the Politburo, knows that on more than one occasion I have said to our colleagues that to lead means to predict not just to note. One has to see through the fog. It is in that context that I talked about the Middle East the other day. We have solved nothing. Only the firing has stopped.

Kissinger: I agree. The problems continue to exist.

Brezhnev: Especially since they are young states headed by very emotional statesmen who are very devoted to sovereignty, they have never said they want to destroy Israel. They just want their territory back.

Kissinger: Assad could be convinced to destroy Israel. It would not take much to persuade him.

Brezhnev: I would be against it.

Kissinger: No, I know. I heard what the Foreign Minister said at the UN and I recognize the Soviet position.

[Page 260]

Brezhnev: In all my statements I have always stressed that Israel should not be destroyed. We have espoused it since it has been created. And with Bhutto yesterday, he raised the Middle East and spoke in favor of legitimate rights of all the people, including Israel. I agreed with him. He had raised it himself. I can’t say that I have contact with all the non-aligned, but India, Yugoslavia, Algeria, they all support a settlement in the Middle East. That is why we favor joint action. We do not want to push anyone out. We need no oil and they have no gas, just Oriental bazaars. I recall a conversation with the late Nassar.5 I told him to talk more to the people, to use radio and TV. He said all right, but the real way is to put on a fez and go to the bazaars and talk to Ahmed and the others. That is the way.

Kissinger: You will soon see yourself.

Brezhnev: I already have an idea. Nassar was here and Sadat has been here several times. [Sukhodrev gives Brezhnev the Kalb Brothers’ book on Kissinger with an inscription in Russian to Brezhnev from Marvin Kalb.6 Brezhnev looks at the photographs in the book. Brezhnev: Ha, Zavidovo. You know I would like to take you to Dneproderzhinsk where I was born. Kissinger: Very moving.]

Brezhnev: What now?

Kissinger: Maybe the others should join now?

Brezhnev: After our peaceful discussions here, I don’t know.

Kissinger: We have practical problems, leaving aside your great project. We have the SALT delegations in Geneva and we are going to call ours home because there is nothing more to talk about.

Brezhnev: Well, there are people downstairs you can talk to—Gromyko, Aleksandrov.

Kissinger: The problem is that if we would like an agreement in 1975, we have to find a concrete method of negotiations.

Brezhnev: I wonder what we have on tonight. Football maybe?

Kissinger: We were going to go to the Ballet, but is there a football game? I am a great fan.

Brezhnev: Is Mrs. Kissinger at the Ballet? How nice to know Dr. Kissinger isn’t getting there again.

Kissinger: It’s okay. I know the plot.

Brezhnev: I guess we have got to go downstairs. But not for endless bargaining. We can’t conclude an agreement today.

Kissinger: No, but the principles of how we go to an agreement.

[Page 261]

Brezhnev: The only thing to do would be to agree on some basic principles for an agreement to be signed when I go to Washington.

Kissinger: I don’t know what you would want to say at Vladivostok.

Gromyko: The discussions can continue and then there would be a further continuation after that.

Kissinger: Partly in Geneva and partly in the Channel.

Brezhnev: I surely would love to go to Zavidovo. [Brezhnev brings over photos of him and Tito hunting in the Ukraine.]

[The meeting ends at 6:45 p.m.]

  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 (3). Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Brackets are in the original. The memorandum was transcribed at the time from Sonnenfeldt’s handwritten notes. (National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Soviet Union, Nov–Dec 1974) The meeting was held in Brezhnev’s office in the Kremlin.
  2. Brezhnev was a fan and friend of Conners, the former star of a western series on American television. The two men met during the U.S.-Soviet summit at San Clemente in June 1973 and again in Moscow in December 1973.
  3. In message Hakto 26 to Scowcroft, October 26, Kissinger reported: “Please inform President that this morning’s meeting was cancelled because of Politburo meeting lasting apparently four hours. Gromyko told me at lunch that they had reached a basic decision to get agreement on SALT by the time of next summer’s summit based on our proposals. However, they continue to have trouble with heavy missile MIRV ban, phasing of reductions and, possibly, method of counting bombers because of number of missiles they carry. We need detailed negotiations on these topics. I am meeting privately with Brezhnev later this afternoon and then will continue broader meeting on SALT.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books and Cables of President Ford, 1974–1977, Box 4, Presidential Trips File, November 1974—Japan, Korea & USSR, HAKTO (2))
  4. See footnote 5, Document 71.
  5. Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, 1956–1970.
  6. Reference is to Marvin and Bernard Kalb’s biography of Kissinger (Boston: Little Brown, 1974).