308. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid V. Smirnov, Deputy Chairman, Council of Ministers of the USSR
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the USA
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Chief of USA Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Eduard Zaitsev, Interpreter (afternoon)
  • Mr. Bratchikov, Interpreter (late evening)
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • William G. Hyland, NSC Staff Member
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff (notetaker)


  • SALT

Dr. Kissinger: On the subjects we discussed yesterday [Tab A],2 to get them out of the way, let me give you our answers:

Point #1, the “Text of a Joint Statement on Article III of the Treaty on the Limitation of ABM Systems,” is accepted in your formulation.

Point #2, “The Parties understand that in the process of modernization and replacement the size of land-based ICBM silo launchers will not be increased,” is accepted in your formulation.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I would like to say on this point that we are ready to make a concession in your favor.

Dr. Kissinger: No, we don’t want your concession.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: But it is in your favor.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the concession?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: “The Parties understand that in the process of modernization and replacement the size of land-based ICBM silo launchers will not be substantially increased.”

Dr. Kissinger: What is the concession?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We accept your formulation.

[Page 882]

Dr. Kissinger: Look, we can’t do this every eight hours, after getting agreement in our government. Yesterday, you said “significantly.” Today we got agreement with everybody in our government and informed you only this morning. You’re not making a concession, you are withdrawing from an agreed position.

Are you prepared to say 10–15%?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: In general, we are.

Dr. Kissinger: In other words, we have wasted three hours of conversation with Mr. Brezhnev and two hours with you.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: We would prefer the formula you suggested and which was accepted in Helsinki.

Dr. Kissinger: If we are going to do this, we can give it all to Helsinki. To summarize: The President was unsatisfied with what was done in Helsinki. He therefore raised it with Mr. Brezhnev.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Yesterday we discussed one possibility, and another possibility. Yesterday we decided to convince you of ours. But the Americans were reluctant to accept ours. Our experts said it made little difference, and we put it to Mr. Brezhnev and he agreed.

Dr. Kissinger: But Mr. Brezhnev said the word “significantly” is meaningless and that we should go back to 10–15%.

[Smirnov spoke in Russian and was not translated.]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We have only changed three words—“not substantially increased.”

Dr. Kissinger: But that’s what we … Let’s see what else we’ve got, because we may not have an agreement. I am not accepting this, any way, since if we don’t settle the submarine point it doesn’t make any difference what we do here.

Should I mention the other two points? [Points #3 and #4 at Tab A] The other two points are agreed to, except for minor editorial points, which they can do in Helsinki.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: On submarines, yesterday we agreed that our position on 48 was discussed, and we also spoke about replacements. We are in agreement on that because we had an exchange on that in March. But if you want to determine this level through the total number of launchers, then we agree with this. If you are more satisfied with translating it into the number of launchers, if you multiply 48 boats by 16 launchers, then you have 768. That would be a figure that we would specify, that we would write down. This is not because we insist on 28 starts but because we would have an even number for each of the submarines. What is your opinion?

Your proposal is 740. We subdivide it by the number of launchers.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand the arithmetic. The arithmetic is not hard, the politics is hard. Policy decisions are hard.

[Page 883]

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yes, we are for taking that political decision.

Dr. Kissinger: What I tried to explain last night is the following. The problem, Mr. Deputy Minister, is as follows: First of all, I totally reject the proposition by which you arrive at 48. The figure 48, to repeat for the record, is the figure 41–43 which we think you have, plus G- and H-class which you will convert to Y to 48, plus the SS–7s and SS–8s converted to submarines, which gives you 62. This is how the 62 originated with us. It makes no difference to us how you arrived at 62.

Then when Mr. Brezhnev gave me a paper which listed 62 boats and 950 launchers, I thought we were operating on the basis of the figures I gave to your Ambassador.

Our problem is this. I repeat: We can accept 62 and 950. We can accept it, although it will present us with enormous difficulties in explaining to the American public why the Soviet Union should have more submarines than we.

What has become apparent over the past few weeks, particularly over the last week is, if we let you build over the next few years without any obligation of retiring anything, then the treaty cannot be ratified. Because we don’t believe you have 48 Y-class boats.

So, there are a number of practical solutions. The only way the treaty can be defended in the U.S. is this: We start at an equal base, but we allow the Soviet Union to transform old missiles and old submarine-launched missiles, up to a figure of 62.

Therefore there are only two practical solutions to the problem, in my view: Solution one, is that we don’t say anything about the number of submarines you now have. If you like to say you have 48, that’s your privilege. But we only say that the next submarine you build after this agreement is signed will lead to the retirement of old missiles, either submarine- or land-based.

Actually there are three possible solutions. The second possibility is: That we accept the figure of 48 but include in it all your nuclear-powered submarines which have missiles on them. A third possibility is that we take the figure 740, or maybe even 768, and include in it 100 missiles you have on G- and H-class submarines. In either event, you will end up with 62 subs and 950 missiles. And since the Deputy Minister is so enamored of our delegation in Helsinki, I will show him the latest formula of our delegation in Helsinki which omits all numbers, which takes the first possibility.

I would merely like to add the following. I sent a cable to Washington today because you asked me if we could drop submarines altogether.

[Page 884]

Ambassador Dobrynin: It was my private question.

Dr. Kissinger: Private but nonetheless. [Shows cables Hakto 32 and Tohak 147, at Tab B,3 to Dobrynin.] You will know we can’t possibly pass the treaty through the Senate with all these people opposing it. The Defense Department has come up with an even tougher request, which I won’t even show you.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: What is your conclusion?

Dr. Kissinger: The conclusion I make, Mr. Foreign Minister, is that we should find a solution which includes one of the three possibilities, otherwise we’ll have a treaty that won’t be ratified.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: We’ve got to come to some conclusion finally. As far as I could gather from the previous conversations, I could understand that the formula with the number 740 was most convenient for you.

Dr. Kissinger: If it included G- and H-class submarine missiles.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yesterday that wasn’t the question.

Dr. Kissinger: It wasn’t discussed.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: I want to specify the term. By H-class you mean the old atom submarines?

Dr. Kissinger: With three missiles each.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: And by G-class you mean the old diesel-powered submarines.

Dr. Kissinger: With three missiles each. It’s as old as Polaris.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: I don’t think it’s worthwhile. I take it as a joke.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course, Polaris is a better weapon. I agree with you.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yesterday we did discuss the figure 740 but yesterday we did not include these in the figure; we discussed only modern submarines.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Mr. Kissinger, this element is a new one. It has never been introduced in Helsinki or Vienna. They spoke about the modern submarines, never about the old ones. We cannot accept this.

[Page 885]

Dr. Kissinger: But the protocol I was working from, which was the protocol of May 19, doesn’t have the word “nuclear.” If you drop the word “nuclear,” we’re in business. You added the word “nuclear” to our May 19th protocol. We submitted it to your delegation. We didn’t mislead you.

I have always said with the 48 we included G- and H-class.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Not with me. With 740 yes, but not with the 48.

Dr. Kissinger: Our problem is: We have no difficulty about where we will conclude: 950 and 62. What we have problems with is with the interim. We absolutely require domestically that we be able to say that new boats are replacements and that we did not give you a unilateral advantage.

I am not bargaining with you. We have a massive problem. Our military people in the Department of Defense—we’ll take care of this; we haven’t even shown this to them—propose that we replace SS–9s with subs.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Repeat that last idea about SS–9s.

Dr. Kissinger: [laughs] It’s not a serious proposal. I showed your Ambassador the telegram I sent to Washington this morning. I said this, so that you know what we’re up against. I said, “Given the present state of SLBM discussions and Smith cable, would Laird, Rush, Helms and Moorer prefer that offensive agreement not include submarines? … Under what conditions should we proceed?”

[Dobrynin at this point gets up and leaves.]

Dr. Kissinger: We’ve driven your Ambassador away?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: According to protocol, the Ambassador has to escort the President to the theater. This is our concern for the President.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. Your hospitality has been excellent. We are all grateful. We thank you.

[Reads second cable:] “Have discussed your message with Rush, Helms, and Moorer. All agree that an agreement which limits Soviets to not more than 950 SLBM launchers of any type on any submarine (including G-, H- and Y-class) is essential.

“If such provisions are not acceptable to the Soviets, we recommend a delay in reaching any agreement.

“The alternatives of an ABM agreement alone, an agreement limited to ABM and ICBM, or allowing more than 950 SLBM launchers, is not acceptable.”

Then the military have an even more exalted position, but I won’t bother with them. They want you to trade in modern missiles …

[Page 886]

We cannot pass this treaty in the Senate with the opposition of all these people.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: If we start considering the opinions of individual persons, even from very high positions, then we are bound to return to the very start of the negotiations. I can tell you the opinion of our military, that your position—both geography and the availability of forward bases—gives you a very big advantage. Therefore, our navy people tell us our figures are extremely small, given your advantages. That question has already been discussed.

We received information March 17 that your President was agreeable to the proposal of 48, without including diesel or other submarines.4 Yesterday you said we should calculate missiles or submarines equally. You mentioned 48, that’s your proposal.

But I can assure you that we are more criticized by our military than you are by yours. If you start citing the opinions of the military, citing pluses and minuses of the positions we find ourselves in, we’ll have to go back to the beginning of the negotiations.

Dr. Kissinger: But that is what we are facing now.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I have to say, Mr. Kissinger, that what you say today introduces something new into our conversation. We seem to come to agreement that we are receiving certain partial inequalities, certain advantages with respect to number, but we did have a different understanding of the situation. We understood we were dealing with modern submarines and modern launchers. Now it seems we have toys that produce certain sounds and we are stuck with them.

Dr. Kissinger: If you accept our proposal you’ll have 62 submarines—that’s 50% more than we have—and 300 more missiles. That is a compensation for geographic inequality.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: That is the quantitative side.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s right. On the qualitative side, those 62 submarines and 950 missiles can all be modern. All we ask you to do is to destroy old toy submarines you have in order to reach this total of 950. The Deputy Prime Minister knows very well that the missiles on those submarines are antiquated and aren’t very useful. We are giving you a margin of 50% in both missiles and boats. And in ICBMs we’re giving you a margin of 40%. This will be a very difficult agreement to present to Congress even in the form we are proposing, and impossible in the form you are proposing.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Your argument may be convincing to your military people but it cannot be satisfactory to us. If you are [Page 887] including there all the forms we are dealing with, then we would have to start speaking about bases and aircraft and all other initial conditions. It is clear today you are trying to include obsolete units even though those obsolete units have been excluded from the parities long ago. We have been following the negotiations a long time, and today’s formulation is a surprise to us. You know our possibilities; what you propose today puts us in a difficult situation. If we were asked to put forward a list of what is demanded by our military, that list is longer than what you have.

We should come to a decision without crossing out what we did before and the political decisions taken in the past by our leaders and your leaders.

Dr. Kissinger: We are not asking you to keep obsolete systems. You can replace the old systems with new ones. We want you to replace them, not keep them. That is the point.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Whether it’s worthwhile, we will decide ourselves.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we are just trying to explain our proposal. We are not trying to tell you what to do.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: It seems we are deviating from the specific question that was on the agenda yesterday. The essence of the agreement was that you have 41 submarines plus three according to the letter—plus three you would not use; for us, 950 starts and 62 submarines. Yesterday, no problem was raised with this; nor today. It is known that the number of submarines and ICBMs was determined, as well as the number of replacements. Yesterday, only one question was raised: What is the initial point from which to start counting? It was also raised in Helsinki. The figure was 48 modern submarines.

[The clock chime rang at 6:30 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: We have to go.

[Gromyko leaves the room]

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yesterday we came to the following results: You told us it was more convenient for you not to fix any number of submarines, that is omit the 48. You considered it more convenient to calculate the number of launchers, and you put forward 740. This is what we should discuss, not the evaluations of your military.

[Gromyko returns.]

Dr. Kissinger: I have a problem. I have to go with the President to the ballet. Could we meet after the ballet?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Good. Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: May I ask for an explanation here? You said [in your Protocol draft, Tab C] “in excess of 740 nuclear submarine-launched [Page 888] ballistic missiles.” Strictly, that would include H-class.5 If this were true, it would give us a certain symmetry with the 710 we have, and would permit me to talk to the President.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Did you ask whether the 740 includes all nuclear submarines?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: On all atomic submarines.

Dr. Kissinger: Including H-class?

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me talk to the President. I think we have a possible …

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: That was always our position. That is why your new position about the diesel submarines surprises us.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. That is why I think we may have a solution … Let me talk to the President.

[The meeting broke up at 6:35 p.m. for the Bolshoi performance of “Swan Lake.” The meeting then reconvened at 11:30 p.m. after the ballet.]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Where have you been?

Dr. Kissinger: I was looking for the ballerina.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: You needed a helping hand?

Dr. Kissinger: A helping hand is no good if I don’t have the time.

I spent the time talking to the President, and also to Washington. I hope General Antonov reports promptly to you the substance of my conversations!

Ambassador Dobrynin: We want to hear from you personally!

Dr. Kissinger: Let me sum up my understanding of what this protocol means.

The number of 740 ballistic-missiles includes the number of missiles on any nuclear submarine no matter when it was built. You said this in your proposal.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Any nuclear submarine.

Dr. Kissinger: Including H-class submarines.

[Page 889]

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: If you classify our appropriate submarines as H.

Dr. Kissinger: We know what we’re talking about. This is clear enough.

So, what divides us is 70 missiles on G-class submarines. Is that correct? You don’t have to confirm the figure, just the number of missiles on G-class.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: This is right. They have never been included.

Dr. Kissinger: That is the issue that divides us. I included it in my arithmetic with your Ambassador and our delegation had it in its May 19 proposal.6

Ambassador Dobrynin: But you didn’t mention the G-class.

Dr. Kissinger: [to Dobrynin] I mentioned the G and H together, five submarines—but you didn’t pretend to know all the details.

We understand each other. Does the Minister have any possible compromise in mind?

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Yesterday you made this proposal and we decided to assess the situation to make everything clear. We accepted your proposal to include all nuclear submarines.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: There is no room for additional compromise.

Dr. Kissinger: Then this makes it impossible to reach agreement.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: We should put everything in its right place. Yesterday we finished by saying we won’t mention 48 submarines and we will restrict ourselves to launchers, numbering 740.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: The question was put by your side and we promised to answer today. We moved to meet your position today, and we gave you a positive answer. That is, we accepted 740, including all atomic submarines, including older submarines.

Dr. Kissinger: May I offer a compromise? As follows: We can accept this figure if you will meet one of our concerns, namely putting modern missiles on your G-class submarines. Therefore add a sentence [Page 890] to the protocol: If any modern missiles are put on any nuclear submarines, we will count them against the 950.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Only G-class submarines?

Dr. Kissinger: What I propose is this. You of course have the right to convert G-class to Y-class under this agreement. Into modern subs. That’s part of the protocol. But secondly, those that you don’t convert, if you put modern missiles on them, they will count in the 950 modern missiles you are permitted.

[Smirnov has trouble understanding; Korniyenko repeats Dr. Kissinger’s suggestion.]

Dr. Kissinger: This would be added to the protocol. I have it written here. [Hands over text Tab D.]7

Foreign Minister Gromyko: You don’t mention G-type in this paper, but actually you mean G-type?

Dr. Kissinger: If you put it on another submarine, naturally it counts too—but I don’t think you have any other. What we are saying is that neither side should be able to evade the agreement by putting modern missiles on another submarine.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: In fact it means G.

Dr. Kissinger: In fact it means G.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Don’t you have a Russian text?

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t have a Russian expert on my staff!

[Gromyko and Smirnov confer.]

Ambassador Dobrynin: [to HAK] Really, personally, do you think there is a possibility to put modern missiles on G-class?

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think it’s worthwhile, but it’s technically possible. Really, you should know we need this for our concerns. You’re making the same mistake as in Germany, you’ll end up making the concessions and making them to the wrong people. The Navy won’t accept any agreement unless it eliminates the G-class entirely.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: What else do you have?

Dr. Kissinger: That would take care of the submarine issue—with the proviso that we have to let the delegations work out the language more elegantly. But the substance we accept.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Do you have the other consideration?

Dr. Kissinger: On the other point I have raised with the Foreign Minister, it is of some sensitivity, because the President believes he was [Page 891] given some assurances on silo dimensions. I would suggest a compromise as I suggested last night. That you accept the word “significantly” and that you say that this means 10–15%.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Where would that be said?

Dr. Kissinger: We could have an agreed interpretive statement. We can say 15%.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It is extremely complicated.

Dr. Kissinger: For the same reason, on our side.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: In such a big document, being over-specific will not be too appropriate. It is already accepted that we won’t turn light missiles into heavy ones and there will be no expansion of silos. And if we have, say 15–1/2%, what do we do about that? Do we have to be that specific? Different variants were proposed. You used those cables: I also can use our cables.

Dr. Kissinger: That would be a good beginning to our mutual cooperation. I hope your cables are written in better Russian than ours are in English.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: This time unfortunately I have fewer cables than you do, but next time I will bring more.

You will recall that up to recently the position of the Soviet delegation in Helsinki, where the principal talks were held, was “not to increase significantly.” The American side proposed several variants, including figures, in terms both of cubic meters and of percentages. I won’t enumerate all the variants; they are well known. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that beginning May 20 our positions began to come closer. On May 20, Vorontsov said that General Haig told him that on Sunday Presidential instructions would be sent to Helsinki. As we understand it, on the basis of those instructions, on May 22 in Helsinki there was a meeting of the Working Group (Grinevsky, Kishilev, Garthoff and Parsons) which arrived at a formula. This was only the Working Group’s formula …

Dr. Kissinger: I know the formula.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: Today, May 25, we received confirmation that the proposal of the four had been considered by the delegations as approved, and presented as a formal proposal of American side. It seems we now have an agreed text.8

Dr. Kissinger: Let me explain why Haig talked to Vorontsov. I was traveling; normally I and your Ambassador handle this. General Haig was not familiar with all the details. He wanted only to fill the gap of one day while I was en route here. In our first formal meeting with Mr. [Page 892] Brezhnev we raised the issue. We would not have raised it if we were satisfied with what the delegation had done. So it does no good to tell me how many times our delegation approved it. We are not satisfied with it.

And we have not insisted on the volume limitation [only the dimension of silos], even though that too was discussed. We are willing to go back to the word “significantly,” if we can have some specification.

That really is my last proposal.

[There was a break from 12:12–12:26 a.m.]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: The situation, in general, is very complicated. If there are no additional considerations, I think we can stop for the time being. We could continue tomorrow, but let’s not fix a time.

I think it will depend on the meeting at the highest level. If there is a high-level meeting tomorrow morning, we could meet tomorrow afternoon.

Dr. Kissinger: So I can inform the President, [can you tell me] which provision is the obstacle?

Foreign Minister Gromyko: It is becoming discernible that, first, the provision on launchers, and second, the question that was raised in that last formula that was given us.

Ambassador Dobrynin: To think it over.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: On the other issues we discussed yesterday, you have given us a reply and we think it is settled.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. No signing tomorrow then.

Ambassador Dobrynin: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: When could there be a signing? It has to be Sunday.9

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I think we won’t be able to sign before Sunday, but we won’t have to interrupt the Saturday schedule, because the President is going to Leningrad and Sunday is free.

Dr. Kissinger: Fine. We can do it Sunday.

We will meet tomorrow.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: At a time to be specified tomorrow.

Dr. Kissinger: You owe us an answer on the two propositions. We have no other considerations. If you accept those, it will be completed as far as we are concerned. We will raise no other issues.

Deputy Chairman Smirnov: After the ballet, have nice dreams. Swans, not evil forces.

[The meeting then ended at 12:32 a.m.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 73, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Kissinger’s Conversations in Moscow, May 1972. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in St. Catherine’s Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace.
  2. All brackets are in the original. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a list of issues discussed. See Document 303 for prior discussion of SALT.
  3. Attached but not printed. In backchannel message Hakto 32 to Haig, May 25, Kissinger inquired whether Laird, Rush, Helms, and Moorer would prefer an offensive agreement that did not include submarines. In backchannel message Tohak 147, May 25, Haig replied that all four concurred that an agreement that limited the Soviets to not more than 950 SLBM launchers of any type on any submarine, including G, H, and Y class, was essential. If such provisions were not acceptable to the Soviets, they recommended a delay in reaching any agreement and continuing negotiations until the issue was resolved. Haig further reported that an ABM alone agreement, an agreement limited to ABM and ICBM, or an agreement permitting more than 950 launchers was not acceptable.
  4. Kissinger and Dobrynin met on March 17; see Document 237. Nixon attended the meeting for a brief time.
  5. Tab C is attached but not printed. The statement in the Protocol reads: “Additional submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers (up to the above mentioned levels) for the U.S.A.—in excess of 656 nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and for the U.S.S.R.—in excess of 740 nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers, operational and under construction, may become operational as replacement for equal numbers of launchers for ICBMs of older types constructed before 1964 or of ballistic missile launchers of older submarines.”
  6. In telegram USDEL SALT 1356 from Helsinki, May 20, Smith reported that on May 19 he had told Semenov that the problem was that the United States did not have the word “modern” before “submarines” in its text. 740 was the approximate total of SLBMs on Soviet Y-, H-, and G-class submarines. The United States was saying that if the Soviet Union wanted to build 950 launchers on 62 modern boats, it could do so, provided it converted from H- and G-class submarines and from SS–7 and SS–8 ICBMs. When these ICBM launchers were added to 740, the result was 950. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 883, SALT, SALT talks (Helenski) [sic], Vol. 18, May–August 1972)
  7. The text at Tab D reads: “Deployment of modern submarine-launched ballistic missiles on any submarine, regardless of type, will be counted against the total submarine-launched missiles permitted for the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.” The protocol was transmitted to Smith in Helsinki in telegram WH0072/Hakto 37, Document 311.
  8. See Documents 291 and 293.
  9. May 28.