262. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General-Secretary of Central Committee of CPSU
  • Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister
  • Anatoli Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • A. Alexandrov-Agentov, Assistant to Mr. Brezhnev
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • Mr. Samoteykin, Assistant to Mr. Brezhnev
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Senior Staff
  • Mr. Winston Lord, Special Assistant to Dr. Kissinger
  • Mr. John Negroponte, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


Brezhnev: Now I would like to make some comments on ABM limitation and the freeze on ICBM’s. This is an important measure, and we have been discussing it for two years now.

I want to show how the Soviet side solves problems in a constructive spirit. We have taken into account all the communications made to us by President Nixon. We have had quite a few over the past few months, and we have tried to take them all into account, particularly those in the most recent period.

[The General-Secretary then read the Soviet note on ABM’s:]2

“It is recognized as expedient to limit ABM systems in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. to covering the capitals and to one area each for the location of land-based ICBM silo launchers.

“The location of ABM facilities for the covering of the capitals would be limited to an area in the form of a circle with a radius of 150 km whose center would be within the limits of the capital.”

This is a reflection of your proposal to us.3

Kissinger: One member of our delegation is an adviser to your delegation.

[Page 775]

Brezhnev: [resumes reading ABM note:] “The location of ABM facilities for covering land-based ICBM silo launchers would be limited to an area in the form of a circle with a radius of 150 km whose center for the United States would be in the area of location of ICBM launchers where the deployment of ABM facilities is most advanced.”

This also reflects your proposal.

“The quantity of ABMs and their launchers for each side should not exceed 100 units for covering the capitals and 100 units for covering land-based ICBM silo launchers.”

That, too, reflects your proposal.

So now you have something to take back, a proposal from your confidential channel.

Kissinger: The only one which does not reflect our official thinking, but that of a member of our delegation, is the 150 km radius.

Mr. General-Secretary, let me say this is a constructive approach. I will reserve comment until I hear what you say about submarines.

Brezhnev: Nothing.

Kissinger: Nothing.

Brezhnev: Be patient. What can I say about them? They travel under water, we can’t see them, they’re silent—

Gromyko: [in English] Puzzle, puzzle!

Kissinger: You do have something on submarines?

Gromyko: You can’t read it before Sukhodrev!

[Sukhodrev then reads the text of the note on submarines:]

“We have thoroughly considered the state of affairs at the strategic arms limitation talks taking into account the considerations expressed by the US side through the confidential channel, relating to the freeze on ballistic-missile carrying submarines.

“In this connection we believe it appropriate to state the following:

“1. The question of the freeze on the number of modern ballistic-missile carrying submarines and the total number of launchers thereon is of very significant importance.

“Ballistic-missile carrying submarines occupy a special place in the composition of strategic offensive weapons and their consideration should not overlook differences in the geographies of the sides, the ballistic-missile carrying submarines at the disposal of the US NATO allies and the US forward submarine bases.

“As is known, that offers important strategic advantages to the American side, and under these conditions the number of submarines and ballistic missiles thereon at the disposal of the sides cannot be the same.

“2. In order to bring about relaxation of international tensions, normalization of relations between our two countries and cessation of [Page 776] the strategic arms race we agree to consider the question of including ballistic-missile carrying submarines in the suggested freeze agreement provided, naturally, that there should be established for the sides appropriate limits for such systems taking into account the considerations set forth above.

“The Soviet Union would agree that the US and their NATO allies should have, for the period of the freeze agreement, up to 50 modern submarines with the total number of ballistic missile launchers thereon of up to 800, including 41 submarines with 656 ballistic missile launchers thereon at the disposal of the United States. Over that period the Soviet Union could have 62 modern submarines with the total number of ballistic missile launchers thereon of no more than 950.

“It is understood that over that period the sides will reduce the number of land-based ICBMs through dismantling older launchers. The sides would also be entitled to modernize and replace older submarines by new submarines but without increasing in the process the above-mentioned number of modern submarines and ballistic missile launchers thereon.

“However, since the above proposal would only be a partial compensation for the strategic disbalance in the location of missile carrying nuclear submarines of the sides, the Soviet side proceeds from the premise that the whole of this problem—and primarily the issue of dismantling US missile submarine bases outside the territory of the United States, should be appropriately resolved in the course of subsequent negotiations.

“If over the period of the Interim agreement the US NATO allies increase the number of ballistic-missile carrying submarines to the excess of those operational or under construction, the Soviet Union reserves the right to the corresponding increase in such submarines.

“3. Taking into account the proposals of the US side the Soviet Union could agree to include in the suggested freeze agreement the obligation not to start, in addition to ICBM silo launchers, new construction of fixed soft land-based ICBM launchers as well.

“4. Moscow believes it possible to have the period of the Interim freeze agreement—5 years.

“5. Given understanding in principle on such an approach we would be prepared to give necessary instructions to the Soviet delegation in Helsinki to discuss practical matters related to the final elaboration of the corresponding articles of the Interim agreement on certain measures with respect to strategic offensive armaments having in mind that this Agreement together with the Treaty on the limitation of ABM systems would be signed during the forthcoming meeting in Moscow.”

[Page 777]

Brezhnev: I think that is a very constructive proposal and it is in keeping with the spirit of all those communications you made through Ambassador Dobrynin. I would think President Nixon should think it very constructive. Apart from the constructive nature of our proposals, that paper is another sign of the spirit with which we approach the Summit meeting.

Kissinger: If the General-Secretary says as little on Vietnam as he said on submarines, we will make enormous progress today.

Brezhnev: I’d have been pleased to say less on Vietnam, but Dr. Kissinger took so much time.

Kissinger: That was meant as a compliment. You had said you’d say nothing on submarines.

It’s a very constructive approach. I recognize that it incorporates many of the points we made in the confidential channel. It is a serious effort to address many of our concerns.

May I ask a practical question, simply for my understanding?

When you say, “Over the period the sides will reduce the number of land-based ICBMs,” does this mean you accept the obligation I mentioned to Dobrynin to dismantle older land-based missiles once we grant you the right to build more submarines?

Brezhnev: That is what is implied. We have accepted that principle. We won’t build new ones to replace the ones removed. We will build submarines according to the terms allowed, and we are prepared to inform you of the exact month and date we will dismantle the ICBM facilities.

Kissinger: We will have a problem in explaining to our Congress why you have a greater number of missiles in both categories. If we have an understanding that you will dismantle some of the older missiles, we will instruct our delegation to work out the precise numbers. Semenov can work this out with our delegation. We needn’t do it here, at this level.

Gromyko: We will instruct accordingly.

Brezhnev: It is very easy. Of course we will be dismantling.

Kissinger: I only want to fix this so we can make this instruction to our delegation and make this part of the negotiation.

Brezhnev: We will give similar instructions.

Kissinger: No problem. But I have one other point. It is difficult for us to discuss limitations on British and French submarines. It would be easier if you make a unilateral declaration. We agree to 41, then if the British and French build more than 9 and if the total number reaches more than 50, then you can respond accordingly. This will be easier, because we have no right to tell the British and French what to do. You will make unilateral deal. We have no right to negotiate the total number.

[Page 778]

Brezhnev: Of course. We shall certainly give thought to a unilateral declaration. But the figures are agreed.

Kissinger: The figures are agreed. There is no problem about figures. I will show you what a bad diplomat I am. Gromyko wouldn’t do this, but I think the submarine matter is acceptable in principle.

Brezhnev: This shows what a strong diplomat you are. I agree our Foreign Ministry would never do that, but that’s an example of how bad it is.

Gromyko: It’s your advantage. I would never have said this outright. I would have waited at least three minutes.

Brezhnev: I don’t want to raise the question at this time, but I do want to mention the serious matter of the U.S. military bases ringing the Soviet Union. This relates to your air force and intermediate range missiles.

Sonnenfeldt: We have no IRBM’s.

Kissinger: We are going to ground Sonnenfeldt.

Brezhnev: We mean forward-based missiles. It doesn’t make any difference what kind of rocket you die from.

Kissinger: Sonnenfeldt is right. We have no forward-based missiles that can reach the USSR, but I understand the General-Secretary’s point.

Brezhnev: Of course it’s useless to deploy intermediate range missiles in the U.S., so you deploy them abroad.

Kissinger: We have airplanes that can reach the USSR. As it happens, we have no missiles in Europe that can reach the USSR, but we have airplanes that can. But we understand the General-Secretary’s point and we take it seriously.

Brezhnev: As we see it, this could be the start of an important future process. It could be the start of the strengthening of confidence; this should be followed by further measure of goodwill to strengthen normal relations between our two countries.

Kissinger: Agreed.

Brezhnev: … measures that would be in no way prejudicial to obligations each of us has to other countries, and would be at the same time encouraging to the Allies of us both. Therein lies the greatness and noble purpose of our two countries.

Kissinger: This attitude can be a principal result of the Summit.

Brezhnev: These are indeed problems of great importance. First, the statement of principles yesterday,4 then this,—all this carries great [Page 779] significance. It will last the commentators and analysts about 2 years, until the next Summit. I could write a good commentary. I could write a good article for the U.S. press. How much do you pay for a good article?

Kissinger: My only hope is that the next meeting is sooner than 2 years, and I hope the General Secretary can visit us next year.

Brezhnev: I don’t think I have an invitation or visa yet.

Kissinger: You will have an invitation when President Nixon comes here. We hope to have that in the final communiqué.

Brezhnev: Thank you. In the coming 4 years, the United States and Soviet Union should take even more important steps to increase the spirit of good will.

Kissinger: As for ABMs, Mr. General Secretary, we have proposed using 2 ICBM fields, rather than Washington and 1 ICBM field, but I consider your proposal constructive.

Brezhnev: Then you said 2 and 2.

Kissinger: I will have to discuss this in Washington, but we will do so in very positive attitude.

Brezhnev: Mr. Kissinger—I would not want this on the record—this has the advantage for you, which your military are aware of, that yours covers more ICBM’s than our does.

Kissinger: I understand, but not necessarily if they are 150 km radius. It depends on where you put your fields.

Brezhnev: This won’t be the case. The area will be clearly defined. It is a secret now, but not for long. Your military will photograph it anyway.

Kissinger: If you can give me informally some idea of the number of ICBMs you will put in this field, it would help persuade some of my people. You don’t have to tell me the field, just an idea of the number, to tell the President.

Brezhnev: I will tell you that later.

Kissinger: It’s just for the President.

Brezhnev: But I can say beforehand that we will have fewer than you have.

Kissinger: May I make a suggestion?

Brezhnev: It is not to be made public. Because it is really to your advantage and it would be bad if it came out.

Kissinger: I must be honest with you. Anything in the White House we can keep totally secret. Once it leaves the White House, as your Ambassador can tell you, I can’t completely control it.

Brezhnev: That’s why I say I should have invited Rogers in the first place!

[Page 780]

Kissinger: You would have gotten more publicity. Therefore what you tell me here will not become public. Once agreement is completed, I can’t guarantee that numbers won’t become public, but what the General Secretary says here will not.

Brezhnev: In nature of speculation, but not officially.

Kissinger: But once we have a treaty, our people will have to testify before Congressional committees. We will try to control it, but the testimony will only happen several months after an agreement.

Brezhnev: That’s a procedural matter. If we agree on this principle, procedural matters won’t be a problem.

Kissinger: The submarine matter is certainly acceptable. The ABM matter I will have to discuss in Washington but it is certainly in the direction… .

Brezhnev: I feel it incorporates your latest suggestion and incorporates the principle of equality, and I don’t foresee changes.

Kissinger: I don’t see any problems. Let me suggest the following procedure. I will take this up with the President as soon as I return Monday or Tuesday.5 We’ll then call back our negotiator from Helsinki and simultaneously get together with our military people. All of this will take about a week. We’ll then instruct our negotiator. If you can send your Ambassador back… . If in the meantime Semenov can be kept under restraint so he doesn’t reveal this, it would speed this matter.

Brezhnev: We have given him instructions. But if you think this is easier, we can send him a telegram to keep it back for a time.

Kissinger: Let me think about it.

Brezhnev: We have enough time to cable him to hold up.

Kissinger: When will he propose it? Monday?

Gromyko: At his discretion. He met with Smith yesterday and said nothing.

Kissinger: He hinted at it.

Brezhnev: On submarines, Semenov knows nothing.

Kissinger: Let him propose it. Let me on second thought talk to the President. I’ll tell Vorontsov.

Gromyko: We’ll hold Semenov up.

Brezhnev: We have a closed phone link, so we will phone him immediately.

[Aide goes out to do so.]

[Page 781]

Kissinger: How should we do it in Helsinki? Should they conclude the whole thing in Helsinki, or should we leave something for the Summit? We can settle certain things privately but not in Helsinki.

Brezhnev: The signing should be on a high level. The final decision and signing should be at the Summit level.

Kissinger: The signing and final decisions should be at the highest level, yes.

Gromyko: Since this matter relates to a text, it may be best for our delegations to finalize as much as is possible. Because it is a text, the lawyers should look at it. If all is done here, there is a risk of not having enough time. But the final decision and signing should be here.

Kissinger: I agree with the Foreign Minister that perhaps we should pick some issues, perhaps one or two—I don’t want to take the time of the General Secretary on this—on which the delegations should write the text, but then, the President and the General Secretary can settle them here.

Gromyko: Deliberately you mean?

Kissinger: Yes.

Brezhnev: But to have reached confidential agreement beforehand?

Kissinger: Confidentially.

Brezhnev: So there will be a special signing ceremony in the Kremlin.

Kissinger: We will have a SALT agreement, there is no question.

Brezhnev: I think so too.

Kissinger: I will let your Ambassador know by the end of the coming week when we can proceed in Helsinki, but it will be very soon.

Brezhnev: Good, because there is not so much time left.

Kissinger: Let them talk about radars this week. They have a lot to talk about.

Brezhnev: Yes. That’s my view. I don’t think they’re in any hurry. They don’t have much to talk about, but let them talk. Let them talk about the nature of the universe. The Delegations should be locked in a room for the final 3 days without food and told they must get an agreement or not get food for another 3 days.

Kissinger: We’ve reached the point where despite all the efforts of our delegations we will still reach an agreement.

Brezhnev: No matter how hard they try! That’s our success.

Kissinger: Our delegation is so complex we don’t understand them anymore.

Brezhnev: You want an example of how to make something very complex? I can pose one or two questions that neither you nor the President can solve for months. So we can consider this closed.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 485, President’s Trip Files, USSR—Issues Papers, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Guest House on Vorobyevskii Road. The NSC staff extracted this discussion of SALT from a memorandum of conversation of the entire meeting, which covered a range of topics. The memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 139.
  2. See Document 252. All brackets are in the original.
  3. Document 194.
  4. Brezhnev gave Kissinger this statement at their first meeting on April 21; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 134. For the text as signed by Nixon and Brezhnev, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 633–634.
  5. April 24 and 25.