109. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Ford1


  • Discussion with Foreign Minister Gromyko

The bulk of my discussions with Foreign Minister Gromyko were on SALT and the Middle East. There were two fairly long sessions on SALT, one in Washington and the other at the Soviet UN Mission in New York on Sunday.2

No particular progress was anticipated on SALT, since Gromyko has to check with the Politburo on such a major issue. And Gromyko is reluctant to be drawn into a dialogue on weapons systems and so forth.

Nevertheless, he made no real attempt to find an opening for moving ahead. At first he repeated the exact same position that the Soviets held at the time of the Helsinki meeting. He belittled the movement we had made at that meeting and since.

In this light, I deferred discussing a resolution of the issue and I warned him that failure to make some progress in October and November would throw the entire question into an election year, which was the least advantageous time for a rational debate in the Congress over ratification, or defer a new agreement until 1977 when the current agreement expires.

In the second session, I outlined a general approach that we could take on the issues of cruise missiles and Backfire bombers. I said, in effect, that we could meet most of their concerns about cruise missiles by agreeing on the range of air-launched missiles that would be permitted [Page 490] (2500 km) and putting sea-based cruise missiles and the Backfire bomber into a separate category of hybrid systems.

I suggested that if we could agree on this general framework, we could discuss such issues as the number of bombers armed with cruise missiles and could limit the number of Backfire and sea-based cruise missiles on the Soviet side and the number of FB–111 bombers, sea-based cruise missiles on our side; this agreed level would be outside the 2400 ceiling. He asked a few questions about the meaning of this approach, but, of course, only offered to report our position. Later he told me that it would take two weeks of analysis, and two Politburo meetings to frame a reply.

In general, Gromyko’s reactions suggest that Moscow has two very strongly held positions:

1. The Soviets adamantly refuse to agree to open what they call a new “channel” of competition in cruise missiles; they probably, in fact, do see this as a new frontier of strategic weaponry in which our technology gives a commanding advantage, at least in the short run; they probably believe that to allow a virtually unchecked deployment of cruise missiles, even of intermediate ranges, undermines the 2400 ceiling which they so reluctantly conceded in Vladivostok.

2. The second very tough point is their claim, now tied to Brezhnev’s personal word, that the Backfire is not a heavy bomber; Gromyko and other members of his staff said bluntly that our position on this convinced them we were not really serious about SALT at all.

—This controversy has a very disturbing aspect: we can find no way that their claim for Backfire’s range and payload could be accurate; but if so, it is puzzling why they are so intransigent in maintaining our calculations are dead wrong.

In any case, the upshot of this meeting is that we still have a stalemate, and the hopes of breaking the impasse, if we adhere to our present position, are not favorable.

Moreover, the increasingly severe deadlock in SALT seems to be coming on top of uncertainties and frustrations in Moscow: uncertainties over the grain negotiations, frustration over Portugal and the Middle East, and over their inability to convene a conference of Communist parties in Europe; there are some signs of internal debate on the strategy of other communist parties.

Above all, the impasse on SALT seems to be coinciding with the succession to Brezhnev:

Gromyko set out a timetable for possible meetings, which makes it fairly obvious that Brezhnev will not come in December, though he held open a possible meeting between you and Brezhnev in Europe as a kind of safety valve.

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Gromyko’s conversation suggests (though this is not certain) that they may even have in mind a visit in the spring by someone other than Brezhnev—even though they know that is inconvenient and raises political problems.

—Rumors and reports of Brezhnev’s retirement keep reappearing, and we must seriously consider whether the Soviet leadership is not caught up in a debate about his retirement and succession.

—If this is so, then the delays on SALT and the possible collapse of the Vladivostok agreement may add greatly to the uncertainty in Moscow, and SALT may even become an issue in a succession debate.

We have tentatively agreed that we might meet in Europe in early November.

Once we have in hand their response to the SALT position I outlined, we will have to reassess the individual issues, and re-examine the chances for reaching a successful SALT agreement this year.3

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 33, USSR, Gromyko File, 9/21/75–9/25/75. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 106 and footnote 2, Document 107.
  3. On September 25, Kissinger discussed the chances of an agreement by the end of 1975 with the President: “I don’t think we will get a SALT agreement. There will be no Brezhnev visit. So we need an alternative strategy. I think the reaction here to Vladivostok really shook them. If we sign and have a brawl here during their Party Congress, that would be very bad for them. I think they want to wait until their Party Congress is over.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, 1973–1977, Box 15) Brezhnev and Ford exchanged letters on October 27 and November 4 and again on November 16 and 20 on the impasse in the negotiations; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Documents 212, 214, 217, and 219.