134. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Kissinger: There is nothing in the Soviet letter [the Brezhnev letter of March 17].2 They misled us all day long. Voronstov briefed the press that we could have an agreement in two months. He called me and said it didn’t meet all our points but was positive.3 [He describes the letter.] They proposed going back to their January position as a basis.

President: Their idea for reductions has appealed to me.

Kissinger: We have two problems: How to handle the letter so it doesn’t do damage next week; and how to conduct our affairs in the government.

I think we are undermining détente. Except for Angola, I think the Soviets are getting a bum rap. I don’t believe they have massively increased their forces. It is a gradual trend and will continue no matter what. They have been quiet in the Middle East. Only Angola was out of bounds.

The next thing which will happen is the Democrats will say SALT has collapsed and we have ruined détente. The Democrats may seize the peace issue.

President: Reagan hasn’t made headway with his charges as long as we are at peace and moving. SALT is in our national interest. The question is how to proceed.

Kissinger: We could have an NSC meeting late tomorrow. Hand out the letter, warn them against all leaks, and say we want a proposal for the next step within two weeks.

[Page 612]

Scowcroft: It will leak. I would suggest instead that you call in just the principals, show them the note, and tell them you want to think about next steps.

President: I think it should be principals only. Maybe just here in the office—the three of us, Don, George, and George Bush.

Kissinger: I think Ikle also.

President: Let’s have a meeting late Friday with those people.4 Say it is not to distribute or it will leak. Say start a study the first of next week.

Kissinger: I agree with Brent. Say you just want to think about it over the weekend. Then have an NSC next Wednesday. I would even mention the option of suspending the talks. None of them will want to take the heat for it! [There is discussion of notifying Rumsfeld ahead of the others.]

You could then decide whether to go for one or not. If not, you could respond—which I don’t recommend—or string out the talks.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT II.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, 1973–1977, Box 18. Secret; Nodis. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Scowcroft prepared talking points for Ford, which are ibid.
  2. Document 133.
  3. No record of Kissinger’s conversation with Voronstov on March 18 has been found. However, in a March 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt relayed the substance of his conversation with the Soviet Minister Counselor: “Voronstov said he was expecting, possibly still today, a letter from Brezhnev to the President which, he thought, would advance the SALT dialogue. Vorontsov said he would contact you as soon as he has precise instructions. He added that our last position offered some possibility for discussion but ‘did not save enough face.’” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Lot File 81D286, Box 7, Soviet Union, Jan–April 1976)
  4. Ford and Kissinger met later in the day, 6:45–7:15 p.m., with Rumsfeld, Bush, Iklé, and Rockefeller. The President opened the meeting by stating: “This [Soviet] note raises the possibility—if we pursue our present course—that we will be forced to suspend the talks for 1976.” The participants then briefly discussed different tactical approaches to take with the Soviets. The memorandum of conversation is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, 1973–1977, Box 18.