183. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President’s Meeting with USSR Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter F. Mondale
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Paul Warnke
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • Mr. David Aaron
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. William G. Hyland
  • Mr. Reginald Bartholomew
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
  • Mr. V. Makarov
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
  • Mr. M.N. Detinov
  • Mr. V.G. Komplektov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Turning to the SALT negotiations, “the question of questions,” Gromyko pointed out that he had set forth the Soviet position to Secretary Vance on the two major issues still outstanding—air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), and those Soviet missiles which the US side refers to as heavy, terrible and awful, with which it constantly frightened its people.2 Gromyko said that he had already presented arguments in support of his position, and there was hardly any need to do so again. Concerning the Soviet position he could say the same thing that had been said to Soviet troops during the battle of Stalingrad: “There is no land beyond the Volga,” no room for retreat. That applied to both the issues he had mentioned. He wanted to recall the many concessions toward the US position the Soviet Union had already made. In Geneva, knowing the significance President Carter attached to reductions in the overall aggregate ceiling of strategic delivery vehicles, the [Page 766] Soviet Union had agreed to reduce that aggregate by 150. Another major concession had been Soviet agreement to the principle of counting MIRVed missiles, which stated that once even a single missile has been tested with MIRVs, then all other missiles of that type would be counted as MIRVs. The Soviet Union had accepted the framework for SALT II, which had been proposed by the US side. Of course, all this had been agreed to contingent upon achieving overall agreement on the entire subject of SALT II. All elements were interlinked and it would be wrong to accept a concession on one element while refusing to yield on another, on which the first was contingent. He wanted to say most emphatically that if the two major issues he had mentioned could be agreed upon, he was convinced that work on the SALT II agreement could be completed and the agreement signed. He would ask the President to take a look at this matter from a realistic position, look at it with Soviet eyes as it were. The President probably received a great deal of advice, but Gromyko was certain that what he had suggested was the most correct solution to this question. If the two major issues still outstanding could be resolved during the current meeting, the road would be clear to conclusion of the SALT II agreement. As for our respective interpretations of what clearly happened at Vladivostok, here the interpretations were different indeed. When the two sides had met in Vladivostok no exceptions for any specific type of missile had been mentioned. Some components had been talked about, including land-based and sea-based missiles, but now an additional component had been introduced. Well, even with respect to this component Gromyko had made an important proposal to the Secretary of State yesterday. That was done in order to facilitate agreement on all issues. In particular, the new Soviet proposal for a sub-limit on MIRVed missiles had gone a long way to meet the US position. Naturally, he was anxious to get a response before his return to Moscow. Also, he would express the wish to the President directly that an end be put to the many statements frightening the people of the United States with the spectre of a first-strike by the Soviet Union. Why was this being done? The answer seemed to be clear—to increase tensions. As he and the Soviet leadership saw it from Moscow, the only reason could be the striving for ever-higher military budgets. What first-strike by the Soviet Union was being talked about? The Soviet Union had no intention of using nuclear weapons against anyone in the world. It had made proposals to preclude the possibility of a first-strike to the parties at the European Security Conference. He felt strongly that the President needed to take steps to stop frightening the people of the United States by a first-strike by the Soviet Union. That was a non-existent possibility. It had never existed and will never exist.

Gromyko said that just before his departure for the United States he had a talk with Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev asked him to convey his [Page 767] personal regards to President Carter and also wanted him to convey the following, on which Gromyko had taken detailed notes.

Brezhnev personally and the entire people of the Soviet Union were active fighters for peace. In a spirit of good faith the whole leadership of the Soviet Union was deeply convinced that the whole question of maintaining peace can and must be resolved not arithmetically, but politically. There was no other alternative. No attempts at smearing each other could produce anything good. Brezhnev personally felt that conclusion of a SALT II agreement would even further increase the prestige of the Soviet Union and the United States, while the people of the whole world would heave a sigh of relief. Gromyko emphasized that he had read Brezhnev’s words from his notes.

He wanted to say a few words about a possible meeting between President Carter and President Brezhnev. Brezhnev and the other leaders of the Soviet Union were by no means against such a meeting. It would be a major event provided it were properly prepared and if it could be crowned by a major political step forward. He believed that this would be in the best interests of both our countries, and emphasized that a major step forward was required. A meeting should not be held simply for the sake of holding a meeting, because that could turn out to be a backward step in the relations between us. But, if a major political step were taken as a result of such a meeting, that would be a good reason for arranging it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

[The President said] On the subject of SALT, it is the “question of questions” as Gromyko said. The President said we recognized that our views on the meaning of the Vladivostok understanding differ. That understanding had been achieved with a different perspective, in different circumstances. There was no mention at Vladivostok or in the Interim Agreement of ground-launched or sea-launched cruise missiles. We were not trying to take advantage in their respect. We believed, and knew that the Soviet side disagreed, that there had been no discussion of air-launched cruise missiles at Vladivostok. The President could understand how this could have happened, since Gromyko had been there and he had not. As a matter of fact, we did not want any unilateral advantage over the Soviet Union in any SALT negotiation, because that would not be constructive, would invite violation and create an imbalance and increase tensions. We did have some political considerations to take into account in our country. The President could not conclude an agreement with the Soviet Union even if his Cabinet was fully in accord, without such agreement being ratified by Congress. Gromyko was surely aware of the difficulty that would arise during ratification. The President had to protect the interests of our country and on occasion take stands with which the Soviet Union disagreed. In this connec [Page 768] tion he noted that the Soviet side saw no significant threat in their large missiles. From our point of view they created explosive capability for the Soviet Union that was three to four times greater than our weapons. This was not what we had anticipated, it was a new development. He was not arguing about who was at fault, but when Gromyko had said that there was no land beyond the Volga, no further discussion, he was greatly concerned and regretted such rigidity. Large missiles, something the Soviet Union was entitled to have, but we were not, represented a concession on our part. The President hoped that the Soviet Union would be flexible enough with regard to cruise missiles. His own impression was that the SU had not been forthcoming in the negotiations. We had made many proposals to which we had received no reply. We will continue to be flexible, but obviously there was a limit to such flexibility. He hoped the Soviet Union can show some flexibility. The President expressed the hope that eventually we could arrive at a situation when there would be no nuclear weapons on earth. After SALT II, if progress were made, we would proceed to SALT III negotiations and would be prepared for reductions of as much as 50% and further reductions, recognizing that other countries—France and China—should not be able to create a threat to us. The President was very eager to reach an agreement now that would be the basis for reductions in the future. Gromyko had spoken of several concessions the SU had made to us. The President did not view a reduction in overall ceilings as a concession to us, because it was not something that provided a unilateral advantage; it applied equally to both sides. This was all the more true when the SU had the right to build very large missiles, while we did not have the right to do so. We could not view this as a concession. This President noted that Gromyko had said that the SU had conceded to us on the method of counting MIRVed missiles. But, he would point out, that until the limit for MIRVs was reached, this represented no constraint at all. That factor could be important to both sides as they approached the MIRV limit. It was our understanding that the SU was indeed converting its missiles to MIRVs. As for the framework for the SALT II agreement, it presented no particular advantages to the US, since it applied to both sides.

Gromyko interjected that it had represented a concession toward the position of the US.

The President repeated that we did not view this as a concession from the Soviet side.

The President said that before concluding this meeting he wanted to point out that there were two items which Gromyko had described as causing the main problem between us. He wanted to set them aside and come back to them. He wanted first to outline his understanding of where we stood on other issues, based on the earlier conversations with [Page 769] Secretary Vance. First, for the total aggregate of nuclear delivery vehicles the SU’s position provided for a reduction from 2400 to 2250 at the end of five years. We would like to see a limit of 2160. Thus, the difference between us was 90 missiles and this could be resolved. As for ground-launched cruise missiles and sea-launched cruise missiles both sides had agreed to limit their range to 600 kilometers for three years. On the Backfire bomber, the SU had proposed to guarantee that its radius of action would not exceed 2200 km, and that the present rate of construction would not be exceeded. Of course, we did have an estimate of the present rate of construction, but it would be helpful to know what that rate was. (Gromyko interjected “your information is good.”) On the question of mobile missiles, we had a disagreement on whether it would be best to ban them and for what period of time, as we had proposed to do in the Protocol, or as the Soviet side had proposed to ban their flight testing and deployment until 1985 in the basic Treaty. The President thought we were not very far apart on that issue. There was a difference between us on the matter of testing new ICBMs. We wanted to prohibit testing and deployment of all new ICBMs, while the SU wanted to apply this to MIRVed ICBMs only. The President wanted to understand the reason for this difference. He asked Gromyko whether he had described these points accurately so far, including minor differences.

[* Gromyko pointed out that, as he had already said, when he had spoken of concessions, he had meant concessions toward the position of the US. It could go without saying that all these provisions applied equally to both sides. He recalled that when the SU had moved toward the position of the US on the question of counting MIRVed missiles, that had been met with enormous satisfaction. Yesterday he had communicated to Secretary Vance the figure of 820 for a sublimit on MIRVed ICBMs, almost coinciding with the figure proposed by the US. That was a matter of significance in principle. As for the overall ceiling of 2400, when the US had suggested to reduce it to 2160, the Soviet side had immediately reduced its proposal by 150 units. Thus, there was a compromise figure here which, moreover, moved more than halfway in the direction of the US position. Thus, there was hardly any need to minimize the importance of these steps. Of course, they were mutual in that they applied to both the US and SU. As for ground-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and air-launched cruise missiles on heavy bombers, for some reason the US side had spoken of permitting testing from airborne platforms. Gromyko and his delegation had noted that yesterday; what did that mean? It meant that ground-launched cruise missiles and sea-launched cruise missiles would still be tested, but from airborne platforms only; however, once they were fully tested, they could be produced and built up very rapidly, like pancakes, by the thousands. There were other questions where the SU [Page 770] had moved toward the position of the US. However, the two questions he had mentioned earlier were those that constituted the principal obstacles to reaching agreement; these were the questions of heavy missiles and of air-launched cruise missiles on heavy bombers. Gromyko said that if he had understood the President’s comments correctly, the US was inclined to rest on its previous positions in spite of everything that had been said in Geneva and subsequently. If that was indeed so, then he would have to point out that everything that he had described as concessions would have to be withdrawn.*]3

(The above portion of Gromyko’s statement indicated by asterisks at beginning and end was not interpreted into English because the President interrupted with the following statement.)

The President said that he had purposely spent many hours in an effort to understand the history of the SALT negotiations and the security interests of the SU as well as ours. We were trying to be accommodating to the interests expressed by the SU, and would hope that the Soviet side would reciprocate by recognizing our concerns in a political as well as substantive sense. We were prepared to drop the question of Modern Large Ballistic Missiles, leaving the SU entitled to 308, as agreed in connection with the Interim Agreement. We were prepared to accept a sublimit of 820 for MIRVed ICBMs. We were prepared to agree to a combined limit of 1320 for MIRVed entities, including ICBMs and SLBMs, as well as heavy bombers with air-launched cruise missiles. However, we would like to include a sublimit of 1200 for MIRVed missiles, including ICBMs and SLBMs. This combination of proposals, the President thought, was almost exactly what the SU had wanted, except for the sublimit of MIRVed ICBMs and SLBMs. This would permit the sides to have 120 extra MIRVed entities above the original figure of 1200 we had proposed, including heavy bombers with air-launched cruise missiles. Below the 1200 limit for MIRVed ICBMs and SLBMs the sides could have any mixture they wanted. In addition, the President presumed that within the 820 limit on MIRVed ICBMs the 120 ICBM launchers in question at Derazhnya and Pervomaisk would be included. At this point the difference between the sides was that on air-launched cruise missiles the Soviet side wanted to include the 2500 km range limitation in the Treaty with a duration until 1985, while our proposal was to include that limit in the three-year Protocol, providing time for further negotiations on this item.

The President said he had one further matter to raise and that was a request for clarification of what Gromyko had proposed yesterday for [Page 771] the Backfire bomber. Our own information was that production was 30 per year.

Gromyko said he did not want to go into figures. He was sure the President was acquainted with the statement he had read yesterday. He believed there was an inaccuracy in the President’s understanding of that statement. What he had said was that the Soviet side would not increase the radius of that aircraft so as to enable it to strike targets on the territory of the USA, and that it did not intend to give the aircraft this capability in any other manner, including by means of in-air refueling. Explaining the words “this capability” Gromyko said that it meant the capability of striking targets on the territory of the USA. At the same time, the SU would state that it will not increase production rates of this aircraft as compared to the present rate.

The President said that this interpretation would obviously create an uncertainty. We had anticipated that the Backfire radius would be limited to 2200 km, but now Gromyko had made it clear that this would not be the case; it could be increased to 2400. In that case, we would prefer a more specific mention of the radius, such as 2400 km or 2500 km, rather than leave it up to the SU to interpret what the radius would be that would enable that aircraft to reach the US. It was not a matter of distrusting the SU, but simply desire to have an agreement that was clear and unambiguous, in order to prevent disputes from arising in the future.

Gromyko thought that both sides had reached agreement on the distance between the Soviet Union and the US. The President said that would depend on where one started.

Gromyko said that from any point at all the closest distance between the two countries was 5500 km, and that distance had been agreed upon between the sides as a criterion for inter-continental range.

The President pointed out that, as Gromyko possibly knew, there was a threat from bombers on a one-way trip. Radius was not the only criterion. We were not trying to be argumentative, but would prefer a more specific statement. We would prefer to spell out the range in kilometers rather than engage in disputes in the future about the figures necessary to attack the US. He would say that this was a good proposal, but it needed to be made specific.

Gromyko said that in that case even a Phantom aircraft with multiple in-air refueling could be considered to have intercontinental range. (Gromyko read his statement in Russian and his interpreter read it in English as worded yesterday.) Gromyko added that the words “that capability” meant the capability of striking targets on the territory of the USA.

[Page 772]

The President thought this was a matter that could be discussed this afternoon between Gromyko and Secretary Vance.4

Gromyko referred to the President’s remarks and said that while he would, of course, return to more detailed discussion of it later, his first impression was that this was not very promising. What the President had suggested did provide a unilateral advantage to the US; he did not believe this to be the right way of moving toward agreement.

The President said he wanted to respond to that. Every single limit proposed was identical in terms of what the SU would be free to do and in terms of what the US would be free to do, with only one exception, and that was that the SU could deploy 300 very large missiles, while we could not. There were no other differences at all. Any restriction which applied to us also applied to the SU, and the only exception was the provision for large missiles which worked to the advantage of the SU. We recognized that advantage, because it had been agreed upon several years ago. We had accommodated to this, but he would challenge Gromyko to show any other place in the agreement that did this.

Gromyko pointed out that the President had omitted one very important factor. Did he know why the SU had received that advantage at Vladivostok? It had been agreed there that the SU was to have freedom as far as what the US called heavy missiles were concerned, while the US was allowed in return not to record any specific commitment to do away with its forward-based strategic nuclear systems. This was the accommodation which had lead to the break-through at Vladivostok, and this was how the problem had been resolved. Up to now, Gromyko had not mentioned this to the President because he believed that he was all too well aware of all of this. But now he did have to mention it in view of the President’s raising the subject. The heavy missile/FBS resolution had been reached with due account for the security interests of both sides and had established the necessary balance. After all, since then nothing had been changed as far as forward-based nuclear systems were concerned. True, the US Administration had changed. But, could the SU now be expected to modify its position on heavy missiles?

The President replied that there was perhaps a misunderstanding here. We were not demanding that the SU modify anything in connection with its heavy missiles. The only point was that this was the only point of inequity in the arrangement. We had granted this advantage to the SU, and Gromyko had explained what he viewed as good reasons for that advantage. He hoped that Gromyko did not expect him to offer [Page 773] him a proposal going even beyond the one he had explained. We had agreed to the 1320 overall aggregate for MIRVs. We had yielded on the SU position on modern large ballistic missiles. We had also yielded to Soviet insistence that a heavy bomber with air-launched cruise missiles be counted as a MIRVed unit. He really felt that this proposal could not be considered as a sign of weakness on our part or simply as a negotiating position. If the Soviet Union accepted it, it would put an end to uncertainty for 3 years, and in the President’s view it accommodated the special strategic needs and the special political needs of the SU. The result was consistent with what had been agreed between former President Ford and President Brezhnev. This afternoon Gromyko would have a chance to discuss it further with Secretary Vance. If there were still difficulties that had not been resolved while Gromyko was still in this country, the President would try to remove them. He believed that our proposals accommodated the difficulties of the SU and also met our security interests.

The President said in closing that he had enjoyed getting to know Gromyko. Gromyko had been preceded by a reputation which was a clear advantage to the SU.

Gromyko thanked the President for this meeting and for his time. He said that it appeared to him the US was still trying to gain advantages, but through the back door. But he would continue with Secretary Vance. This was just his first general impression. He asked the President not to forget the words to the effect that the SU was anxious to see the important negotiations between us crowned by success. This would, of course, depend upon the efforts of both sides.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 35, Memcons: President, 9/19–9/30/77. Secret. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 182.
  3. Brackets in the original.
  4. Vance and Gromyko met the same day from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. to discuss this issue, the proposals made by the President to Gromyko, and other SALT issues. (Department of State, Files of Secretary of State Vance 1977–1980, Lot File 84D241, Vance NODIS Memcons, 1977)