90. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US:
  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Amb. Stoessel
  • Mr. Akalovsky, Department of State
  • USSR:
  • General Secretary Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • Amb. Dobrynin
  • Mr. Sukhodrev (Interpreting)


  • General Discussion (US-Soviet Relations, SALT II, Middle East)

The Secretary: Mr. General Secretary, this is a historic event, it is the first time in history a US President and the General Secretary are meeting in the Far East.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Indeed it is, and the eyes of the entire world are fixed on this event. You also have representatives of the American press here so that the press in the United States will have a lot to write about.

The President: Our press writes a lot, and some of it is good and some bad.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I remember when I once talked to Nasser he told me that as far as the Egyptian press was concerned their newspapers had people on the first floor who blamed Nasser, those praising him on the second floor, and those blaming the USSR on the third floor. I told Nasser he could put out accurate news through the radio and TV, but he replied that the market place was where people usually gathered the news.

The President: I think that the good news usually comes from the countryside.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Well, there are always good-wishers and ill-wishers. There have also been a lot of stories about me, and many of them are totally wrong. For example, I recently saw a story in an American newspaper saying that I live on Lenin Hills, but I never lived there. The story also talked about my having two daughters, but I [Page 321] have only one. It seems to me the author was a quite inexperienced writer.

The President: In the United States, there are also people who write deliberately against me, but that’s how the press is.

General Secretary Brezhnev: There are all kinds of correspondents, of course, some respectable and some less so. Would you like some tea or coffee, Mr. President?

The President: I would rather have tea, because I think we in the States generally drink too much coffee.

General Secretary Brezhnev: You know, Kekonnen2 drinks an unbelievable amount of coffee. Not only that, but he also makes you suffer by compelling you to do the same. When he visits the Soviet Union, he usually goes to see a few factories and always asks for coffee while there. I, of course, have to join him but in my mind I pray God for tea.

The President: Have you ever had New Orleans coffee? It is very heavy and strong.

General Secretary Brezhnev: No, but I know that the Bulgarians like very dark and strong coffee.

The Secretary: The General Secretary, unfortunately, had no chance to travel around the country when he visited the United States last time. I hope that he will be able to do some travelling when he comes again in the spring.

The President: You saw only Washington and San Clemente, Mr. General Secretary, didn’t you? It would be good if you could see the heartland of the United States, for example Chicago, because the East and West coasts do not give an accurate perspective of our country.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I have seen a number of travelogues about the United States, and I know that you have many beautiful and interesting places. But when one is on an official trip, the trouble is that one is always surrounded by protocol. I have always wanted to bury protocol but somehow I have had no success. Gromyko and Kissinger are always around and insist that protocol be observed.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It’s not we who invented and developed protocol, it was the Vienna Congress.

The Secretary: When the Westphalian Treaty was signed, they had to install a door for each Head of State so that all of them could enter simultaneously the room where the treaty was to be signed.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Yes, in Vienna I saw the hall where there were four doors so that four emperors—the Russian, the British, the Austrian, and the French—could all come in at the same time.

[Page 322]

General Secretary Brezhnev: And you, Gromyko, were the Czar at that time, weren’t you?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: No, merely an observer.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Oh, one of those nonaligned ones! Mr. President, the area here is a very interesting one.

The President: Yes, I have already noticed that you have a lot of beautiful mountains here, they look rugged and strong.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Yes, it is a hilly area.

The President: I noticed that some of the hills have their tops leveled. Is the flat area being used for agriculture?

General Secretary Brezhnev: I really don’t know about this. But in general, there are a lot of natural disasters in this region. There’s too much water, and floods are a frequent occurrence. This of course affects our soy bean crops.

The President: Is this a good area for hydroelectric plants, since you have so much water here?

General Secretary Brezhnev: No, not really.

The Secretary: But in general, the area east of the Urals has enormous potential.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Yes. We have done a lot to develop it, but there are still many places with enormous untapped resources. Many areas are still what could be described as virgin land.

The President: Do you have a short crop period in these areas?

General Secretary Brezhnev: Well, the spring is very short and so is the fall, and a lot depends on the weather.

The President: Is the soil good?

General Secretary Brezhnev: The soil is good, so that provided the weather is normal we can have a good harvest. This year, Siberian crop was not too good, although in the rest of the country it was quite good.

The President: Does spring come late in these areas?

General Secretary Brezhnev: Well, the spring is rather capricious, sometimes it rains, sometimes it’s very dry and sometimes it snows. But in general, the winter is too long.

The President: We had some serious problems in our country this year because we had a very rainy spring followed by very dry spells. This affected our harvest with respect to wheat, corn and soy beans, so that while the crop turned out good it was not as good as had been expected.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I have studied your agricultural conditions and believe that they are more favorable than ours. Your winter temperature is 5°C on the average, whereas in our country the average winter temperature in certain areas is −30 to 40°C. You have 500 to 600 [Page 323] mm of precipitation in the summer, while we don’t have enough water in a number of areas. Under our current 5-year plan, we are engaged in a major land improvement program. In some areas we are draining the soil while in others, where this is necessary, we are putting in irrigation facilities.

The President: I see you are very well informed about our agricultural conditions. We, too, are seeking to improve them through more effective use of fertilizers, by expanding agriculture in areas where land is still unused, and by irrigation. As a result, we expect to create very fertile areas in Arizona, California, Utah and Montana, where thus far many areas had been without water and completely arid.

General Secretary Brezhnev: In Central Asia, all the water they have comes from irrigation. In that area, cotton is the primary crop, and this year they had great problems with water supply. Nevertheless, they produced a record harvest this year. 5.4 million tons of cotton were produced in Uzbekistan alone, and the total cotton crop was 8 million tons.

The President: As far as our agriculture is concerned, about 65 to 75% is without irrigation. However, we are expanding irrigation and also improving the soil through more effective fertilizers.

Mr. General Secretary, I would like to ask you how you would like us to proceed in our discussions. I have been looking forward to meeting you, and perhaps you would like us to expand our personal acquaintance. On the other hand, there are some subjects which we could usefully discuss in either a smaller or larger group.

General Secretary Brezhnev: This depends on the two of us. I don’t think we should limit ourselves to any narrow scope of issues. At the same time, we should be realistic and recognize that we cannot cover everything. So I would suggest that we discuss our general relations, then further measures concerning strategic arms limitation, and finally some international questions. I am sure that you, Mr. President, are familiar with many issues and with our position on them through Dr. Kissinger. I believe this will facilitate our discussion. Some issues probably cannot be solved immediately. This will make Dr. Kissinger very happy, because he always gets some special pleasure out of the fact that there are still some problems to be resolved.

The Secretary: Well, I’ve never seen Leningrad, and now that my wife has confirmed its existence, I will need a reason for visiting the Soviet Union and trying to see it at long last.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Any of the issues we shall touch upon affects not only our two countries but also the world at large. World public opinion clearly expects positive solutions from us, and we must find such solutions. It is not a matter of you or me personally, but history itself has brought about a situation where the United States and [Page 324] the Soviet Union are the two most powerful countries, both militarily and economically. It is clear that the world is looking at us, and that world public opinion is most interested in the question of peace, the question of how to ensure that there will be no nuclear war.

The Secretary: The General Secretary is always so eloquent that I find myself nodding even before I have understood the entirety of his remarks.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Let us speak not as diplomats but as human beings. Both you and I fought in World War II. That war was child’s play as compared to nuclear war.

The President: Mr. General Secretary, I agree with you in two respects. First, I agree fully with the agenda you have suggested. Certain issues we might want to discuss in a more restricted group, and I do hope that we will discuss strategic arms limitations. I also agree that what our two countries do diplomatically or militarily is of tremendous importance for the rest of the world. What has been achieved in US-Soviet relations in the last three years is a great tribute to you, my predecessor, and both his and your associates. I want you to know that our foreign policy will be a continuation of the policy pursued by President Nixon. I believe in it and its beneficial effect not only on our respective constituencies but on the entire world. World War II experiences were hard, but you are so right in saying that the consequences of a nuclear war would be incomparable. They would be indeed unbelievable. Thus, we have responsibility for our two countries, but we also have to look at the world at large.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Thank you for your kind remarks, Mr. President. I would also like to thank you for the message you sent me when you took office.3 I, and my colleagues as well, were very happy that the American policy of 1972 would be continued. Dr. Kissinger also told me this on your behalf, but now this must be shown through deeds. The world is looking at us, and we must not disappoint it and act in such a way as to safeguard peace. I wouldn’t want to discuss secondary issues but only those of major importance. We have a number of differences, for example, as regards ideology. But Mr. Nixon and I agreed at the very outset on one thing—not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. We like our system and you like yours, and we hold this principle of non-interference sacred. We appreciate your evaluation of what has been achieved. We too believe that a good foundation has been laid. This was not only a matter of personal respect—although this also played a role, and I wouldn’t want to hide the fact [Page 325] that there was personal affinity between me and Mr. Nixon—but we also proceeded from the standpoint of world interests.

The President: I know that Mr. Nixon and you had very warm personal relations. I saw him for eight minutes recently, when he was very ill.4 He was most interested in the issues facing our country, especially those in the area of foreign policy. He asked me to convey to you his best wishes, and he hoped very strongly that I would continue a foreign policy that would fit the pattern of the past several years. I assured him that I would convey his greetings and that I would pursue the policy he had initiated, a policy that has the broadest implications not only for our peoples but for the entire world.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Thank you very much, Mr. President. When he ceased being president and you were already in office, he sent me a very cordial letter5 in which he indicated very warm feelings about you and assured me that you would pursue a policy that would be of the same spirit as his. I appreciated the difficulty of his situation and was therefore particularly grateful that he had found strength to send me this letter.

As regards our agenda, let me say first that we endeavor to abide scrupulously by our 1972 agreements. One of the most important issues we have to address is further limitation of strategic arms. We spent a lot of time on this issue with Dr. Kissinger. Off the record, I am of the opinion that we have proceeded incorrectly, along a wrong course. We have not achieved any real limitation, and in fact we have been spurring the arms race further and further. That is wrong. Tomorrow science can present us with inventions we cannot even imagine today, and I just don’t know how much farther we can go in building up so-called security. This does not mean that I am not prepared to discuss numbers or levels, but I do want to say that this arms race is fraught with great danger. Today we may have new submarines, tomorrow missiles launched from the air, and, who knows, maybe the day after tomorrow the arms race will reach even outer space. The people don’t know all the details, otherwise they would really give us hell. We are spending billions on all these things, billions that would be much better spent for the benefit of the people.

The President: I am interested, Mr. General Secretary, in your statesmanlike approach to this problem and I think we could talk in [Page 326] this broader context at a later time. But I believe it important at this meeting to discuss these issues in specific terms and step by step. I think our proposal and your counterproposal could be a good basis for continuing the legacy of the 1972 agreement. I believe that what we should concentrate on is the building block of the Interim Agreement and move forward from it. I would be very pleased also to discuss the broader matter which you raised and which I believe is of worldwide interest. In my view, it is important not only to develop a relationship between ourselves such as the warm relationship between you and President Nixon—and this is the way I intend to proceed in the context of our conditions and political situation—but I also think that we have some things before us that are quite specific. Hopefully not only as regards strategic arms limitation but also in broader international affairs we can come to a meeting of the minds that would be beneficial to our two countries and to the rest of the world as well.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I am prepared to discuss all questions frankly and straightforwardly. It is very hard to discuss issues that are not clear. As to my personal relationship with you, Mr. President, I have nothing but respect and best feelings for you.

The President: I fully reciprocate, Mr. General Secretary.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Thank you. In any event, it is Kissinger who is to blame for all the problems we have.

The Secretary: That’s true. I love to come to Moscow, where I get so well fed and taken care of.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Yes, I noticed that you love pirozhki.

The Secretary: Well, I’ve gained 25 pounds as a result of détente.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I don’t notice that you have gained weight.

The President: I think we have sugar shortage because of Dr. Kissinger.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Anyway, sugar prices are going up. Mr. President, I remember Mr. Nixon’s words at the very outset of his visit in 1972. We had a short tête-à-tête conversation which I will attempt to reproduce.6 He said that as regards our different systems he liked his and I liked mine, but that the main question was to secure peace. He then said that we had accumulated such amounts of weapons as enabled us to destroy each other seven or ten times over. I understood what he meant, and this is the way we proceeded. But now the situation appears different. It seems to me that we are departing [Page 327] from this approach and are whipping up the arms race. I would be prepared to discuss this matter. The Middle East problem is also likely to prove difficult for both of us. Dr. Kissinger will remember that while in San Clemente I talked with Mr. Nixon all night and told him that we had to prevent another war in the area.7 But then war did break out, and not because we or you wanted this to happen. Now it may break out again, and it will be hard to stop. So we must find a way to solve this situation. If we don’t, it will come back to us, if not to me personally then to someone else who will be in my position.

The President: I fully agree that the Middle East situation is a most volatile one and causing great concern. It has all the elements of a most serious situation dangerous for peace. War can recur and we should discuss this problem. But perhaps we should approach the issues before us on a one-by-one basis. Perhaps today, after dinner, we could discuss strategic arms limitation and then tomorrow the Middle East. Also, tonight we could discuss in a more restricted group the broader issue I mentioned earlier.

I should tell you, Mr. General Secretary, and you may have already heard this from your Ambassador and Foreign Minister, that I intend to be a candidate in 1976. I believe it most important, therefore, to have coordination of our foreign policies, coordination which I am convinced benefits not only the United States and the USSR but also the entire world. I am apprehensive that if others were elected the policy of 72–76 could be undercut. I believe the American people support this policy and intend to continue it.

The Secretary: The Soviet Union is working for Jackson, because Mondale withdrew after his visit to Moscow.8

The President: I was wondering about that too.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Mondale didn’t link his withdrawal with his visit to Moscow.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I didn’t meet with Mondale.

Ambassador Dobrynin: That’s why he withdrew.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I’m for Jackson.

The Secretary: Our intelligence reports say so.

The President: Seriously, I believe that in the time before ’76 we can build on the policy of the preceding several years. My objective is to [Page 328] have our policy fully supported by the American people. In our system, people such as Senator Jackson have the right to disagree, but I believe the American people wish us to pursue our present course. If we can agree in this 75–76 period, there will be better chances for continuing our policy until 1980. If we fail to agree, such chances will diminish. I also want to point out that 1975 is a crucial year, because an election year is not the best time for the US President to engage in some serious negotiations. This is why I stress the importance of 1975.

General Secretary Brezhnev: That seems to be true. According to the press, the people are interested in our two countries establishing a good relationship. Much will depend on what we do to strengthen confidence not only between us two but also between our two peoples. In this connection, I would like to note, perhaps off the record, the public utterances of your Secretary of Defense during his recent visit to the FRG.9 In his statement, he talked about introducing into the FRG two brigades with nuclear weapons. We didn’t say anything, but our people did notice this development and are now wondering what their leadership is doing when arms aimed against our country are being increased. How should one explain this—on the one hand, we speak of détente and, on the other hand, we see such actions. How can one reconcile this? There are, of course, also other things happening which I don’t want to mention now, but this is a living example of such things. It is really difficult to understand why such things are done. Recently, Schmidt was here. He has his own views on the question of troops, and I did not raise the issue with him.

The President: Such statements are obviously ill-advised. As to actual facts, I would personally discuss this with the Secretary of Defense and strongly tell him that public statements of this kind are not conducive to solution of matters we want to resolve, such as strategic arms limitation. In this connection, Mr. General Secretary, it seems to me that there are also other issues, for example MBFR, which we should discuss, although perhaps not on this occasion but later. I believe MBFR is an important issue. If we succeed in resolving it, that will counter such statements as the one you referred to.

General Secretary Brezhnev: The basic point is that the foundation of our policy is that we do not intend to attack anyone. We do not lay claim to a single piece of territory anywhere. But we are constantly compelled to talk about new bases, a brigade here, a brigade with nu [Page 329] clear warheads there. So we have to react; it is a protective reaction, as it were. As a result, we are becoming belligerent ourselves. I told Dr. Kissinger at one point that we are prepared to have a referendum on our foreign policy and that I am sure that it will obtain the fullest support of our people.

The President: Mr. General Secretary, public speeches and comments for the press are not helpful for our efforts to solve important issues. Our discussion over the past hour and a half has been very helpful in that it lays the foundation for our further talks on specific issues. I am very pleased to have met you and I believe that after this preliminary discussion we can proceed to specific, and I hope constructive, negotiations on the issues before us.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I also enjoyed meeting you, Mr. President, and share your hope as regards our further talks.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, November 23–24, 1974—Vladivostok Summit (1). Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Drafted by Akalovsky. The meeting took place on board the train between Vozdvizhenka Airport and Okeanskaya Sanatorium near Vladivostok. Sonnenfeldt’s handwritten notes on the meeting are in National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Misc. Memcons.
  2. Urho Kekkonen, President of Finland.
  3. Document 4.
  4. On November 1, during a campaign trip to California, Ford visited Nixon at a hospital in Long Beach, where the former President was recovering from surgery for a blood clot in his leg and massive internal bleeding.
  5. Dated October 1. Kendall delivered the letter to Brezhnev during his visit to Moscow in mid-October. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1974–1977, Box 27, USSR, The “D” File)
  6. For a record of the one-on-one meeting between Nixon and Brezhnev on May 22, 1972, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 257.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 64.
  8. Senator Walter Mondale (Democrat, Minnesota) met in Moscow with Kosygin on November 14 and with Gromyko on November 15. The Embassy reported the highlights of these meetings in telegram 17371 from Moscow, November 16. (National Archives, RG 59, Entry 5339, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 5, Soviet Union, Nov–Dec 1974) Mondale announced on November 21 his withdrawal from consideration for the 1976 Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
  9. Schlesinger visited West Germany November 4–6, meeting in Bonn with Schmidt and West German Minister of Defense Georg Leber. During a German television interview on November 4, he addressed U.S. troop levels and military equipment, including the arming of two brigades with tactical nuclear weapons. The Embassy reported his remarks in telegram 17424 from Bonn, November 6. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files)