117. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1

Secretary Kissinger has just sent you the following report of his first meeting with General Secretary Brezhnev.2

The meeting with Brezhnev has just ended. Brezhnev led off with a fairly conciliatory statement emphasizing his interest in concluding a SALT agreement. I then made an opening statement in a similar spirit but I hit hard on the consequences of Cuban and Soviet intervention in Angola, which drew a sharp, prolonged response from Brezhnev, disclaiming any responsibility for Angola. At one point, he referred to the State of the Union3 and the increase in our Defense budgets as a sign of the obstacles arising in Soviet-American relations. However, he calmed down somewhat and expressed his appreciation that you and I were still committed to an improvement in relations despite increasingly sharp attacks from critics.

At this point, we returned to SALT and I asked Brezhnev to respond to our latest proposal.4 He then proceeded to present an item-by-item proposal of his own based upon our position. He began by calling attention to their concession on MIRV verification and he emphasized very strongly that this was organically linked to a solution of all outstanding problems and stressed there should be no misunderstanding about this linkage.

He then addressed the ALCM problem and said they still preferred to count each individual cruise missile on heavy bombers. However, they were prepared to accept our proposal that heavy bombers equipped with ALCMs over 600 km in range would count as a MIRV against the ceiling of 1320. But he introduced a new wrinkle by claiming that each B–52 would count as one, but the B–1 would count as three. Second, he accepted our proposal that all ALCMs over 2500 km in range would be banned. Third, he addressed sea-based cruise missiles and took note of the fact that we now both agree that SLCMs [Page 554] over 600 km in range would be banned from deployment on submarines. Nevertheless, he said the Soviets still proposed that all sea-based missiles over 600 km in range should be banned altogether. On land-based cruise missiles, Brezhnev took a new position. He claimed that the previous agreement to ban land-based cruise missiles of intercontinental range was meant to ban all cruise missiles of shorter ranges as well. In order to clear up any misunderstanding, he now proposed a ban on all land-based cruise missiles over 600 km in range. Finally, he turned to the question of Backfire and began by emphatically denying that the Backfire bomber could be considered a strategic weapon. He referred to his previous statement to you on this matter5 and said that he could now officially give us the official range estimate for this bomber and that this could be made a matter of record in the negotiations. He stated that the radius of the Backfire was 2200 km.

At this point, I interrupted to ask some questions about the Backfire estimate; namely, what conditions of flight altitude, subsonic or sonic, etc., were assumed in this estimate of 2200. Brezhnev turned the question over to General Kozlov who said this range reflected an altitude of 10,000 meters with a maximum load. I asked what the radius would be for a subsonic mission at a higher altitude, say 15,000 meters, and General Kozlov said it might be 2400 km. Brezhnev then suggested that we recess to reflect upon what he had said and proposed reconvening at 5:00 p.m. this evening Moscow time.

In addition to the foregoing, Gromyko told me privately last night and again before lunch today that a deferral option was completely out of the question. He characterized it as a present to the United States since they believe Backfire should not be counted in any case.

In light of Brezhnev’s presentations and Gromyko’s remarks, my strong recommendation is that we not proceed with a straightforward presentation of Option 3 which would merely challenge Brezhnev on the Backfire and without benefit of some preliminary discussion of the concept behind Option 3. What I propose to do is to explore with Brezhnev the modified version of Option 3 which we discussed briefly in the NSC meeting6 in which Backfire and surface ship cruise missiles would be put in a separate category for limitations during a five-year period beginning in 1977 through 1982. This has the advantage that the Soviets would not be able to develop or deploy sophisticated cruise missiles in this period, while our surface ship cruise missile program would be approaching an optimal level for breakout or for putting pressure on the negotiations. Moreover, this approach would ease the verification problem since the Soviets would not be able to deploy the [Page 555] cruise missile at long range. In addition, since the Soviets claim that the Backfire has a 2400 km radius this provides an opening to group both the Backfire and cruise missiles of a similar range. I would start out by suggesting a separate limit on Backfire during this period at about 250 and in this way, allow Brezhnev to save face and to keep open all our significant cruise missile options. As discussed at the NSC, I would outline a limit on surface ship cruise missiles at about 25 ships with 10–15 launchers, but my main aim this evening will be to persuade Brezhnev this is an equitable compromise without yet committing ourselves to specific numbers. On land-based cruise missiles I will say that we have two choices, either to return to the original agreement banning intercontinental missiles and therefore permitting shorter ranges, or to accept our new position of banning above the range of 2500 km.

I anticipate a lengthy evening session but it is also likely that Brezhnev will have to consider what we say and take it to the Politburo probably tomorrow, which means we may have a decisive session on Thursday afternoon. I will report this evening my impressions of what the prospects for an agreement are.7 As of now, I am impressed with Brezhnev’s determination to get into the substance of SALT, signified by the presence of some of his SALT experts and his willingness to respond in detail to our proposal. Nevertheless, it is clear that on Backfire, at least, he has a tough political problem, and his claim that it is not strategic is being backed up by official military estimates. Thus, this evening’s session is almost certain to be very tough going.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, January 21–23, 1976, Kissinger Moscow Trip (1). Top Secret; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Kissinger met with Brezhnev on January 21, 11 a.m.–1:50 p.m., in Brezhnev’s office at the Kremlin. The memorandum of conversation is ibid.; it is also Document 249 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.
  3. The text of Ford’s State of the Union Speech, January 19, in which Ford stated “only from a position of strength can we negotiate a balanced agreement to limit the growth of nuclear arms,” is in Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, pp. 31–44.
  4. See Document 115.
  5. See Document 102.
  6. See Document 116.
  7. Document 118.