51. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT and CCD


  • USSR
    • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
    • Yuly M. Vorontsov, Counselor
  • US
    • Gerard C. Smith, Director, ACDA
    • Philip J. Farley, Deputy Director, ACDA


Dobrynin questioned, along familiar lines, why, shortly after Helsinki, the Secretary of Defense started talking about the danger of the Soviet SS–9 buildup and the importance of going ahead even before a year was up with the second stage of ABM. The implication was that the anti-Chinese ABM rationale was just a cover for an anti-Soviet buildup. I stressed that one should look at the facts rather than the press treatment of the facts, and the Soviet SS–9 buildup was a fact that the United States had to take into consideration.

I stressed the asymmetry between the knowledge that American editors had of the US strategic program and what the Soviet editors who just visited Washington2 have of their own strategic buildup. Dobrynin admitted that their editors were probably not knowledgeable about the Soviet strategic weapons buildup, except perhaps those who were members of the Central Committee.

Both Dobrynin and Vorontsov kept coming back to the ABM matter. I flatly stated that as long ago as five years, the United States had concluded that an ABM area defense system against the Soviet offensive missiles was not a practical proposition and that when the United States talked about a Chinese defense it was seriously referring to that. Dobrynin said that my answer did not jibe with what he had heard [Page 182] from people in other parts of the Government. I pointed out that we also saw things in the Soviet press that did not seem consistent with a good negotiating atmosphere, and that “across the board” the Soviet press line was much more anti-American than is the American press anti-Soviet. I thought we ought to work on facts not on press lines.

I argued that the Soviets should not be concerned about a thin area defense oriented toward China, and that their people should not think this is provocative on the part of the United States. It was quite clear that the Soviets did not accept our Chinese rationale.

Vorontsov wondered why his Government put all of their public relations stress on ABM and did not talk about the American buildup of MIRVs. He demonstrated the truth of the proposition that Soviets know a great deal about our system from reading the newspapers, etc., by citing the “mark” numbers on both the Poseidon and Minuteman III. The subject of MIRVs was not otherwise mentioned.

I stressed the fact that the Soviets had a good knowledge of all American weapons systems at a very early stage in their development through the press and our Congressional process. Dobrynin pointed out that the recent evidence of very high cost overruns made it difficult for an outsider to assess the scope of American weapons systems, but I pointed out that I was sure their experts had good fixes on the numbers of American weapons regardless of how the cost estimates matched actual costs.

I pointed out that we saw no sign of the Soviets giving up any of their weapons programs in anticipation of a SALT agreement and we did not think that it would be rational for us to. Dobrynin seemed to say that he understood this but did not understand why our press output put such a strong anti-Soviet twist on it.

I made the point that although they seemed very displeased with Mr. Laird at the present time they might end up with a position analogous to what Semenov told me about McNamara: after having scolded McNamara for years in their press, they have come to have a very high regard for him. Dobrynin agreed that may very well be the case when history finally came to be written.

Dobrynin backed the advantages of a simple SALT agreement for a starter. After confidence had been built up, then one could think of more comprehensive arrangements. I asked him if on-site inspection was really ruled out as a matter of principle. He said “Well, for a first phase agreement, they were very strongly against on-site inspection,” but they did not rule it out for a subsequent agreement.

On the subject of a simple agreement, I pointed out the importance of not negotiating an agreement which would merely lead to a qualitative arms race with perhaps more uncertainties and suspicions than presently existed.

[Page 183]

Dobrynin said that if we had any ideas to help the Vienna process get off to a good start he could get word to Semenov quickly and would get an early reply.

I told him that the Soviet suggestions about accident/unauthorized launch had been of interest and asked them what they had in mind. He ducked an answer to this. I asked if they had in mind communications. He agreed, plus other methods about which the Soviets would speak with more precision at Vienna.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]


He asked me what I thought of the Soviet Delegation. I told him we had formed a good impression of their Delegation, especially of Semenov, Ogarkov and Shchukin. He said that Kornienko was still in the hospital.

Dobrynin asked about our Vienna Delegation. I said it would be about the same as before, with Mr. Farley as my Alternate. He asked how long I would stay in Vienna, and I said it simply depended on the discussions and whether I would be needed back in Washington for a time.

We had a discussion before lunch of the importance of military and civilian sides of the house getting a better understanding of each other’s problems.

There was some joking reference by the Soviets to the need for Soviet ABM against the Israelis.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files: FRC 383–98–089, Director’s Files, Smith’s Files, Memcons, January 1969–October 1970. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Smith on February 10. The meeting took place at the Soviet Embassy.
  2. Eleven Soviet editors, led by Lev Tolkunov of Izvestia, arrived in Washington on January 19 for a 3-week tour of the United States. The Soviet editors were reciprocating a visit made by 10 members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors to the Soviet Union in 1969. (“11 Soviet Newsmen Here for a U.S. Tour,” The New York Times, January 20, 1970, p. 20)