148. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Anatoliy Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Affairs Assistant

Strategic Issues

President Carter began by stating he would like to move rapidly—aggressively—on arms control issues with the Soviet Union. He mentioned that he had been encouraged by the messages he received this summer from Secretary General Brezhnev. He would like to see Brezhnev’s good wishes translated into positive results. The President added that his Inaugural Speech and his recent letter to Secretary Brezhnev expressed his views on U.S.-Soviet relations.2


Ambassador Dobrynin asked if the President had a timetable for SALT. The President was non-committal.

Cruise Missile, Backfire, and Missile Reductions

The President asked how Dobrynin felt about the cruise missile and the Backfire bomber in relation to SALT II. Dobrynin responded that the cruise missile should be included within the SALT II framework. With respect to the Backfire, Dobrynin said that the aircraft does not have a strategic capability. The President asked if the Soviet Union had tankers to refuel the Backfire. Dobrynin replied that he was not prepared to answer the question. He did, however, add that the Soviets would not go “intercontinental” with the Backfire. Secretary Vance asked if that meant the Soviets would not deploy the Backfire so that it [Page 651] would have a return capability. Dobrynin responded by asking “where would we put them?”

The President said that he preferred to separate the cruise missile and Backfire issues from SALT II. He indicated he wanted to confine SALT II to numbers, but that other issues would be open to negotiation later. Following a successful conclusion to SALT II, the President said, he would like to move quickly to reduce the size of our respective nuclear arsenals. The President said he would like to see the total number of nuclear missiles reduced, by several hundred. He added that we could, at that time, decide which would be sea-launched, land-based, etc.

The President stated his desire to reach a minimum number of missiles, one that would allow each nation to feel secure from a preemptive strike. He wanted the remaining missiles to be easily monitored and secure from destruction.

Dobrynin raised the question of ceilings on MIRV and the numbers of ICBMs. The President said he would like to see ICBMs reduced to 1,000 with one warhead apiece (100 kts).

Dobrynin asked about range limitations for sea-based cruise missiles. The President explained that our population is located on the seacoast; the Soviet Union’s in the interior. A 600 kilometer range is, therefore, a threat. The President said that if we could agree on a lesser range for the sea-based cruise missile . . . 300–400 kilometers instead of 600—this might alleviate our concerns.

Throw-weight and Accuracy Advantages

The President commented that the Soviets have a throw-weight advantage. Dobrynin responded that the United States has an accuracy advantage and, therefore, their throw-weight advantage is necessary.

The President asked whether the Soviets would consider reducing their throw-weight advantage if we would forego escalating our quality advantage. Dobrynin responded that this might be considered after SALT II. To include this equation in SALT II would make it more complicated, he said.

Fixed and Mobile Missiles

The President asked whether the Soviets would forego the use of mobile ICBMs. Dobrynin said the Soviets have mobile medium-range missiles because of China. The President then asked about the SS–20 and the SS–16. The SS–20 is mobile; the SS–16 is not. The SS–16 has the range to hit the United States. The President mentioned that it is difficult for us to tell the difference between the two missiles.

Dobrynin stated that he didn’t see any difficulty in medium range mobile missiles. He added that the Soviet Union has no need for [Page 652] long-range mobiles because it has sufficient numbers of fixed ICBM missiles. The President asked how we could confirm the difference between the two. Dobrynin said, “I will pass the question to my people.”

The President suggested the Soviets might consider keeping their present SS–20s, but adding no additional ones or new types of mobile missiles. He added that he would like mobile missiles eliminated. He again asked if Dobrynin could tell us how to distinguish between the two missiles.

Advance Notice of Missile Test Firings

The President indicated that he would like to reach a formal agreement with the Soviet Union to have advance notice—at least 24 hours—of missile test firings. This, according to the President, would allow us to avoid any misunderstandings on intentions. This advance notice would include sea-launched missiles. Dobrynin responded: “that is a good idea.”

[Omitted here is discussion related to other arms control issues.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 55, SALT, Chronology, 1/24/77–3/24/77. Secret. Ellipsis is in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Brzezinski sent Carter a briefing memorandum on January 31, which is ibid.
  2. The full text of Carter’s Inaugural Address is in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, pp. 1–4. In a letter to Brezhnev, January 26, Carter wrote: “I have said to the American people that my firm goal is to eliminate all nuclear weapons. There are three areas where progress can be made toward this goal. A critical first step should be the achievement of a SALT II agreement without delay, and an agreement to proceed toward additional limitations and reductions in strategic weapons.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 69, USSR: Brezhnev-Carter Correspondence, 1–2/1977)