85. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs


  • Vladivostok Summit with Brezhnev

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on foreign policy and domestic politics.]

[Kissinger:] The Vladivostok meeting is very important. You can’t be too nice to him—be tough and confident.

The liberals will scream foul when you attack; but when you don’t, you won’t get any kudos.

President: I think we must bite the bullet and let the chips fall where they may. If we are right, we will win some and lose some.

If the Congress doesn’t keep up with us . . . They have to be a partner now, and if they don’t measure up . . .

Kissinger: We have to have a team, not a bunch of prima donnas.

President: I agree. Where do we start?

Kissinger: Let me start with mood. Brezhnev is very upset by some of the things which have happened. He thinks we are trying to make them look weak. I think we must show the three Senators2 the Gromyko letter [warning of a repudiation of MFN].3 We had this for a year—except for Brezhnev’s personal assurance to you. This looks like a humiliation to them. And for what? They get $300 million in credits in 2 years, when Schmidt gave them $360 million at one crack. And even if they do it, they get MFN for only 18 months. They think we let them down on the corn deal because Butz led them on.

On the other hand, they are eager to have a good relationship with you. But they can’t figure us out—Rockefeller, my position, etc. They must ask themselves how many chips they can put in their pot.

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In ’72, I could kick them around because we were strong—I could give or withhold a billion in credits and clobber North Vietnam. Now what can we do?

I asked to see Brezhnev alone Friday,4 and I said to him this will be the third meeting in Moscow this year. If it is a failure, Ford is not tied to détente—I am. I can go home and say I tried and failed and my course doesn’t work. He called a Politburo meeting the next day.

But we know it’s a bluff.

While we have détente, the Democrats can’t get together between the Jacksons and the Kennedys. If we fail, we will be back like ’69 where the Democrats will push for unilateral concessions and they will follow. [He described the Soviet SALT proposal].5

President: What about throw weight?

Kissinger: There are no limits on throw weight. But that is a fraud because we can build a bigger missile legally, under the agreement, and put them in the same silos.

Brezhnev asked for 180 SS–18’s to be MIRVed.

I think we could manage the proposal by getting a disparity in our favor in MIRVed missiles while they have a disparity in their favor in overall numbers, but by the date of 1 January 1984.

We would give them 180 SS–18’s MIRVed and they won’t count our missiles or bombers.

[He argued the futility of the B–1.]

I think you can’t let the Defense Budget be prepared on the basis of interservice bargaining.

To go the Schlesinger route on SALT is I think impossible. You would have to put SALT on ice for two or three years and go on a building program. I think if you are tough at Vladivostok and we give them my counterproposal, I think we can get a deal. It won’t be a glorious deal. The danger is we won’t be able to get from 2200 to 2400. But we would have that problem anyway.

The Soviets are already committed to their program. We aren’t.

President: Can I see the counterproposal?

Kissinger: By Tuesday.6

President: This would be for signing in June 1975?

Kissinger: Yes. You will get flak from the right and the left. The right will say they can build up their MIRVs; the left will say that it is no [Page 290] arms control agreement at all because it requires us to keep building. But you can say that they can otherwise MIRV everything, and this will put a cap on it.

President: I want to be fully briefed and up to speed on everything.

Kissinger: Yes. I need to tell you about Brezhnev also. At Vladivostok we could announce that we have agreed to reach an agreement by June based on equal aggregates and equal MIRVs. The JCS may just want equal aggregates, but then they could MIRV everything.

As a practical matter, the Soviet Union couldn’t MIRV more than about 8–900 on ICBM.

It will be a bitch of a negotiation, because he hasn’t focused on the fact that if any missile is tested as MIRV’d, all of them must be counted as MIRVed.

My impression is they want the SS–18 against China. I think we should ask for 12 Tridents so as to keep the production lines open.

For us to get to 2400 and keep within 1300 on MIRV’s is tough, because all our systems are MIRVed. But you can make an announcement. I would leave the heavies out of it for now.

Schlesinger will complain, but you can say that his way would take a heavy program for two to three years and we can’t get the money for it. Schlesinger asked today for my support to keep a $95 billion budget for ’76.

We must project an image of brutal toughness. Your misfortune is that you are paying the price for Watergate.

President: We have to plan what is the vehicle to get the Turkish aid thing repealed. Better do this next week.

Kissinger: Brezhnev has made us a proposal of, in effect, an alliance. If either one of us were attacked by nuclear weapons, or one of our allies, the other would come to our aid. It is really directed against China.

President: What if Israel launched a nuclear attack on Syria?

Kissinger: Technically, neither are allies of ours. But it would drive all of them to become allies to get the protection. It is rather clever. Obviously it is unacceptable, but you may not want to kill it at Vladivostok.

[Omitted here is a wide-ranging discussion of Europe, the Middle East, energy policy, Turkey, Latin America, and domestic politics.]

Kissinger: Your meeting with Brezhnev is important. You must be tough and decisive.

President: I would like a summary of where we stand on the main issues.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 7. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original.
  2. Jackson, Javits, and Ribicoff.
  3. Document 75.
  4. For a record of Kissinger’s private meeting with Brezhnev and Gromyko on October 25, see Document 78.
  5. See Document 74.
  6. November 12.