88. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • 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

[Omitted here is discussion of Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East.]

Kissinger: Dobrynin says the impact on the Soviets of Rockefeller is very bad.2 He keeps saying there is stability domestically but they don’t understand. For a Rockefeller to go through this after 40 years in politics, four times elected governor, they can’t believe it.

President: It is a vicious partisan jugular operation.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic politics.]

[Page 316]

[Kissinger:] [less than one line not declassified] We must discuss how to discuss with Brezhnev the Middle East. Gromyko is hard-line because of his bureaucratic experience. I told Dobrynin we are fighting for our domestic lives here—if we wanted a stalemate, we would go to Geneva.

Dobrynin asked about you. I said you were more direct but your instinct was more to the right than Nixon. It is better to have them worry a bit. We lost two years with Kennedy because they thought he was too easy and rattled. If you could show you had an option and an instinct to go to the right . . .

President: I have a tough and bombastic side . . .

Kissinger: I wouldn’t do that. I would show him still just a bit then throttle it. Be firm but friendly.

President: How many will be in the meetings?

Kissinger: With President Nixon, we had very few.

President: I would prefer no private meetings for two reasons: I want to show we are close and friendly. This is the big league.

Kissinger: You are in the Brezhnev league right now. I wouldn’t worry about your meeting him alone, but we should have a record of it.

President: I want them to know we are a team and would prefer not to meet alone.

Kissinger: Let’s see how it goes. You shouldn’t let it look like you are afraid to deal with him alone. You could speak alone and say stay in touch—we both have pressures but we must do our best. Take the Middle East: we must not let the Arabs play us against each other. We eventually have to go back to Geneva.

President: Yes, especially if there is a stalemate. They would prove worthwhile only if we could make progress.

Kissinger: You don’t have to worry about comparison with Nixon. He was a poor negotiator. He was tough in private, but last June he hardly knew what the subject was. Nixon never liked to say no face-to-face. The Soviets respected him not for the negotiations but for his toughness, his daring to mine Haiphong just before his meeting with them.3

President: I supported all those hard decisions.

Kissinger: The Soviets didn’t respect Kennedy—they thought he was weak. [Described SALT I crises and Nixon being mad.]4 I wouldn’t[Page 317] get into specifics with him head to head. If you two confront each other, there is no one to fall back on.

Their normal pattern is to start out friendly, then have one tough session, where you just stay calm and strong.

I think he wants a SALT agreement. He wants to be able to report he has established a relationship with you; third, he will want to assess you in a crisis.

President: If you see things heading the wrong way, don’t hesitate to set it straight.

Kissinger: We have a tough problem on the Middle East, and they do have a point. The theme in general for you to hit is that we are willing to cooperate in many areas. Be blunt with them in the crunches.

President: Can I say I hope they don’t get the impression that the American people are in bad shape?

Kissinger: You shouldn’t do it that way. Act confident. You can say that we always have a unified country in foreign policy on major issues—and that you have great flexibility. You can mention the right-wing problems, and Jackson. You can reaffirm all our commitments and say we have to consider each other’s needs. Tell them you expect to be in until 1980 and our election was on internal issues. Ask him what is on his mind right at first.

Japan I am not worried about.5 Hit them on the energy thing. You won’t get a full endorsement, but this is an opportunity to mobilize the West like anti-Communism was.

You could mention to Brezhnev the danger of a Japanese-Chinese alliance. Say that is why we want to keep Japan tied to us and that is why we support Japan in Siberia.

The Chinese aren’t with us because they like us. They are cold-bloodedly using us. For 10 years we should support the Chinese, then we may have to join the Soviet Union. The Japanese are a great danger. In all their history they’ve never had permanent alignments.

The Japanese can do anything. They have such an unusual society that they can adjust to anything. The basic structure of their society can accommodate to any kind of system.

If we decline in world power, we will lose the Japanese. They have no psychological understanding of other societies—they do every insensitive thing while being very sensitive themselves. Don’t give Brezhnev all this but let him know there are things that only you two can do.

[Page 318]

Your big problem will be the alliance thing. You should say you share the interest in preserving nuclear peace. Don’t be too negative. You agree with the objective but this is a monumental issue. I will write out some questions for you to give him.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 7. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford met with Kissinger and Scowcroft from 10:50 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. (Ibid., White House Office Files)
  2. Presumably a reference to the extended and contentious Congressional hearings on Rockefeller’s appointment as Vice President. No record of a conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin as described here has been found.
  3. President Nixon announced on May 8, 1972, less than 2 weeks before the Moscow summit, his decision to mine Haiphong harbor in an effort to stop the North Vietnamese Easter offensive.
  4. Brackets in the original.
  5. President Ford made a State visit to Japan and stopped in Seoul, South Korea, before continuing on to Vladivostok.