184. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT


  • US
  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter F. Mondale
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Ambassador Paul C. Warnke
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. William G. Hyland
  • Mr. David Aaron
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • Mr. Jody Powell
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Deputy Foreign Minister V.G. Korniyenko
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
  • Mr. V.G. Makarov
  • Mr. N.N. Detinov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

The President told Foreign Minister Gromyko that he had watched him on television today during his General Assembly speech. He noted that Gromyko seemed to be getting more publicity than the President himself.

Gromyko first wanted to express his appreciation to the President for his having found it possible to meet with him at this late hour. He recalled that during their last conversation2 the President had said that if the Soviet side had some additional considerations to offer in the light of their last discussion, these thoughts could be conveyed to the President personally or to the Secretary of State. Gromyko had wondered how to proceed correctly. In short, he was here in order to express these considerations and, in particular, on the issues discussed the last time.

[Page 775]

Gromyko said the President might have noted that he had told the U.N. General Assembly that the positions of the sides on concluding a new agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms had come somewhat closer together.3 Gromyko would add that this was very good indeed. He believed that what he had to say tonight would be of some interest to the President. What he had said before the General Assembly had already taken into account what he was going to say tonight.

During his last meeting with the President and his conversations with Secretary Vance,4 the efforts of both sides had resulted in substantial forward movement in terms of resolving those issues which, he would say directly, had been blocking the new agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms. In this connection he had in mind above all the questions of cruise missiles and so-called heavy missiles. At the same time, the US side had raised some new questions. The President would recall that he had raised them toward the end of his statement.

Naturally, the Soviet side had to take a certain minimum amount of time to compare and analyze the respective positions of the sides,5 and reconsider them from various angles in view of the new questions raised. The Soviet side had thoroughly reflected on what the President had said, and Gromyko was now prepared to present its views, in short, the Soviet position.

First: the President had proposed that within the overall limit of 1,320 MIRVed strategic delivery vehicles—a number that would include MIRVed ICBMs, MIRVed SLBMs and heavy bombers equipped with air-to-surface cruise missiles with a range in excess of 600 kilometers—a separate level would be established for the total number of MIRVed ICBMs and MIRVed SLBMs. In this connection, the President had named the figure of 1,200 for that level. This new figure had not appeared in our discussions before that. The Soviet Union was now agreeing to the establishment of a separate sub-level for the total number of MIRVed ICBMs and MIRVed SLBMs, but in the amount of 1,250, not 1,200 as the President had proposed. The President could see that the difference was very small.

Second: in connection with the understanding achieved to establish a separate sub-level for MIRVed ICBM launchers—a level of 820—the President had said that this figure must include all the ICBM [Page 776] launchers deployed in the Derazhnya and Pervomaisk areas, invoking the argument that it was difficult to establish with certainty which ICBM launchers there were equipped with MIRVs and which were not so equipped. Gromyko had to say that in the view of the Soviet side this question, raised by the U.S. side, was artificially contrived. He was convinced that the national technical means at U.S. disposal made it possible to ascertain everything necessary in this respect. National technical means make it possible to distinguish between MIRVed ICBM launchers and non-MIRVed ICBM launchers by the specific features peculiar to MIRVed launchers, which were not hidden away somewhere but could be observed. Nevertheless, on the basis of its policy, based on principle and aimed at earliest possible completion of the new agreement, the Soviet side could now agree to include all (Gromyko repeated and stressed the word “all”) ICBM launchers deployed in the Derazhnya and Pervomaisk areas in the sub-level to be established for MIRVed ICBM launchers, i.e., in the figure of 820. The Soviet Union had taken this decision with an account for the President’s statement to the effect that within the limits of the aforementioned sub-level for MIRVed ICBM launchers there would be no sub-limit for heavy missiles; in other words, no restrictions on equipping heavy missiles with MIRVs.

Gromyko pointed out that everything he had said so far and would say further on had been very carefully considered, and not only by himself and his colleagues here. He had been in touch with Moscow where this had been analyzed, and Leonid Brezhnev personally had given close attention to the considerations expressed by the President the other day.

Third: the Soviet side will not object to the President’s proposal that the provision banning air-to-surface cruise missiles with a range in excess of 2,500 kilometers be included in the Protocol rather than in the basic treaty. In this connection it is anticipated that the question of the maximum range of such missiles for the period after expiration of the Protocol would be considered subsequently. The Soviet side was confident that the President looked at this issue the same way. As for the provision banning the equipping of aircraft other than heavy bombers with ALCMs with a range in excess of 600 kilometers, the Soviet side reaffirmed the previous understanding that a clause to that effect should be included in the basic agreement or treaty. He did not think there would be any argument between the sides about this issue.

Fourth: the Soviet side accepted the President’s proposal that the three-year Protocol should not include a ban on the testing of land-based mobile ICBM launchers. However, deployment of such launchers and missiles for them would be prohibited, as already agreed, and the testing of such missiles would also be banned.

[Page 777]

Summing up, Gromyko said that the Soviet Union had once again taken several major steps forward toward the position of the U.S. side. He recalled that the President did not like the word “concession;” therefore, he had not used it this time. He was speaking of steps toward the position of the U.S. side in the interests of finding mutually acceptable solutions. He expressed his trust that this would be duly appreciated by the U.S. side, and that in turn the U.S. would take a realistic approach to the solution of those questions which had not as yet been fully resolved. He did not know how to categorize the remaining questions, but would say that they were questions of the second or third category, in any case of secondary importance.

Gromyko added he would not say that the matters on which he had presented new Soviet proposals tonight in order to meet the President’s wishes were not complex and difficult. Some of the decisions which had to be taken in order to present these proposals had been quite painful for the Soviet Union, in particular the question of the launchers in the Derazhnya and Pervomaisk areas. Nevertheless, the Soviet Government had taken the necessary decisions in order to meet the U.S. position. He wanted to repeat for the sake of clarity that all the missiles in those areas would be included in the sub-limit of 820.

This completed what Gromyko had to communicate to the President tonight. If the President believed it possible to comment, he would like to hear his reaction.

The President noted that there were two or three other items which had not been discussed. One was the matter of further missile testing. We would like very much for the testing of all new intercontinental missiles to cease. He understood that the previous Soviet position was to ban the testing of new MIRVed ICBMs only. We would prefer to see an end to the testing of all new ICBMs.6

Gromyko acknowledged that, of course, there were several questions that had so far not been completely resolved. He had addressed those issues tonight which one might characterize as being of crucial importance for the two sides, agreement on which in his view had put the sides on the road to completion of the new agreement. However, since the President had touched on some unagreed issues, Gromyko would speak about them, including the one the President had mentioned. The following were the questions which had not as yet been polished to perfection, as it were.

First: with reference to the overall aggregate of strategic delivery vehicles, the Soviet side believed it possible to agree to a reduction of [Page 778] that aggregate by 150 units after 1980, i.e., to a reduction from 2,400 to 2,250. He would tell the President quite frankly that to some extent this was somewhat painful for the Soviet side because the 2,400 level had already been agreed upon earlier. Of course, the President had named a figure that was different from the one he had just specified. The Soviet side had decided to propose a compromise figure, closer to the U.S. proposal than to the original level.

Second: with reference to new types of MIRVed missiles, the Soviet side reaffirmed its readiness to agree that the three-year Protocol include an obligation for the sides not to test or deploy new types of MIRVed ICBMs (Gromyko repeated and stressed “MIRVed ICBMs”), not new types of ICBMs generally. In the interests of strategic stability the Soviet side was also prepared to agree that the Protocol include an obligation for the sides not to test or deploy new types of MIRVed SLBMs as well.

Third: as for the limitation on SLCMs and GLCMs, he thought there was agreement between us that deployment of such missiles with a range in excess of 600 kilometers will be prohibited for the duration of the Protocol. In this respect there was no difference of views between the sides. In this connection there remained the question that had not yet been fully resolved and agreed upon, i.e., the question of the testing of such missiles. The Soviet side continued to believe that all further testing of such missiles should be prohibited. He repeated that he was speaking about SLCMs and GLCMs, and that it was the Soviet view that all testing of such missiles should be banned.

In conclusion, Gromyko believed it necessary to remind the President that there were still some other unagreed issues, not yet fully polished, such as the obligations not to transfer strategic arms to third countries and not to circumvent the agreement in any other manner. Without an appropriate solution of these matters the agreement would not be effective. These questions had already been tackled by the delegations, in other words, by “our wise men in Geneva.” Gromyko expressed the hope that they, too, would be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both sides.

Summing up, Gromyko wanted to note the productive nature of the current talks, as he saw it. He believed this would not be different from the President’s opinion. In his view there was now every reason to believe that the work on the new agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms had entered into the home stretch, and that there was every opportunity now to complete the agreement in the not too distant future if both sides were really interested in doing so. He would also note that the four or five questions he had mentioned toward the end of his statement, which had not been mentioned by the President, although important, could be classified as secondary questions, and he [Page 779] believed that the delegations in Geneva could exert the necessary effort to agree upon them. The fundamental issues were the ones he had addressed in the first part of his statement. They belonged to the first category and were knocking on the door as it were, begging to be resolved. Incidentally, he also thought that if a green light were given on these crucial issues, it would make it easier for the delegations to deal with the other still unagreed issues as well. If the President was not in a position to comment definitively on some questions tonight, he might want to do so later, but Gromyko would certainly very much like to hear what the President could say. The tough decisions taken by the Soviet side were of a fundamental nature and went a long way to meet the U.S. position; this should make it possible to complete the agreement. After all, who could refuse to accept concessions?

The President said he would respond as follows:

First: he believed that the discussions during this past week had been fruitful and had moved us in the right direction. He felt there was now an extra burden on him because he had to protect the interests of our country; Gromyko had been so generous that the President now felt obligated to protect the interests of Gromyko’s country as well. (Ambassador Dobrynin suggested that the Soviet side should perhaps take back some of its concessions.)

The President said that since there were so few occasions when they could meet with himself participating, it would be good to accomplish as much as possible at this meeting, if not reach agreement, at least be sure that we understood the Soviet position, and clarify any possible differences.

First he wanted to ask a question: when Gromyko had referred to sub-limits of 1,200 and 820, he had assumed that no sub-limit would apply to the very large missiles of the Soviet side. He took it that the limit of 308 would remain in effect.

Gromyko said there was no question about it at all. Since Soviet heavy missiles were ICBMs, they would be subject to the sub-level of 820 for MIRVed ICBMs. Thereby, they would also be included in the broader sub-level of 1,250. Gromyko noted that he was speaking of a sub-level of 1,250, not 1,200, as the President had said, for both land-based ICBMs and SLBMs.

The President wanted to make it clear that there would be three sub-limits: a sub-limit of 1,250 for the total number of MIRVed ICBMs and MIRVed SLBMs; a sub-limit of 820 for MIRVed ICBMs; and a sub-limit of 308 for heavy missiles. Was that correct?

Gromyko replied that the 820 sub-limit would apply to all land-based ICBMs, and therefore all Soviet heavy missiles. The sub-limit of 1,250 would apply to all land-based ICBMs plus SLBMs.

[Page 780]

The President said he understood, but still wanted to know whether there would be a limit on the total number of very large missiles in the amount of 308.

Gromyko replied: “Absolutely, no question about it.”

The President wanted to go down the list and make sure that there were no different interpretations:

—The figure 1,320 for the MIRVed ALCM aggregate was agreed.7

—The figure 820 for MIRVed ICBMs was agreed.

—Very large missiles would continue to be limited to 308.8

—At this point we would not agree on the sub-limit of 1,250 for the total of MIRVed ICBMs and MIRVed SLBMs, and the President would explain somewhat later why we preferred 1,200.

—The range limit of 2,500 kilometers for ALCMs was agreed, as well as inclusion of a provision to that effect in the Protocol only.

—We still needed to discuss in Geneva the definition of heavy bombers on which ALCMs would be mounted. He did not think that there would be a difference between us in this respect.

—On mobile ICBM launchers, we had agreed to ban their deployment and include a provision to that effect in the Protocol.

—With reference to the overall aggregate of 2,250, it had been our understanding that the Soviet side wanted to include this in the Treaty which would be effective through 1985, but now we understood that this would apply only after 1980. This was not a major point and we could decide it later on. Of course, we preferred a lower overall figure and earlier reductions.

—With reference to testing new ICBMs, the President said he would hope that the Soviet side could agree with us on this point in order to stop further testing and deployment of new types of missiles. As Gromyko knew, it was not possible to detect surely whether a new missile being tested was equipped with MIRVs or with just one warhead. As far as we were concerned, if there were specific missiles the Soviet side wanted to name as an exception to this provision, missiles on which it was currently working, that might be possible provided we could do the same.9 But on the whole we would like to freeze new ICBMs.

—On SLBMs, this matter could also be resolved by naming specific missiles in which we already had a considerable investment; for example, for the Soviet side these could be SS–NX–18’s and for us, Trident I. Both sides might possibly have other plans for the future, but if it could be specified at the level of our Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, which missiles we would continue testing, that could provide a solution. The President wanted to explore that idea with Gromyko so as to end the testing of all new ICBMs except specified missiles. We would also like to discuss with Gromyko ending the testing of all new SLBMs except those on which much work had already been done.

[Page 781]

The President now wanted to return to the proposed sub-levels—1,200 proposed by the U.S. and 1,250 proposed by the Soviet side.10 As Gromyko had pointed out, this difference was small. For us, however, it was important because, as the President had said last week, we felt that the SALT agreement provided exactly equal limits on every item except one—very large missiles—and here the Soviet side had a significant advantage. The difference of 120 (between 1,320 and 1,200) could be used for heavy bombers with ALCMs, and we saw it as justifiable as a balance against the Soviet advantage in heavy missiles,11 recognizing that if the Soviets choose to deploy heavy bombers with ALCMs, they might of course do so as well. So that our Congress, the American people, and the President himself could see that we had a general balance between the two sides, the sub-level of 1,200 was important for us. We would have liked to say 1,100,12 but had put out the figure of 1,200, not as a negotiating position, but because we felt it did provide the necessary balance. If the Soviet side could accommodate us on this point, the President believed that we could then very quickly resolve the present difference between us on the testing of new ICBMs and SLBMs.

Gromyko replied that he had no new position on overall aggregate levels except the one he had set forth tonight. The same applied to the sub-limit of 1,250. He would emphasize, however, that the concessions the Soviet side had made tonight toward the position of the United States were on very fundamental issues, as he had pointed out in his remarks. As for his comments tonight on still unresolved questions, most of them were already before the delegations in Geneva, or should by mutual agreement and accompanied by appropriate instructions be referred to the delegations. The overwhelming majority of the President’s comments had concerned these questions of the second category, which, although important, were subordinate.

Gromyko had one question to ask. If he had understood the President correctly, the President had said that it was not possible during the testing of missiles to distinguish between MIRVed and non-MIRVed missiles. The President had said that in connection with the testing of new types of missiles. This was something new for Gromyko. Up to now it had been his understanding that national technical means were capable of distinguishing between them. What had changed?

The President said he would be glad to reply. He was sure that Soviet observation capabilities were better than ours. Within the limits of our technical capabilities he thought Gromyko would agree that one [Page 782] could test a number of new delivery vehicles and simply install existing MIRVs on them after the test. What we would like to see would be, he thought, to our mutual advantage—an end to testing all new ICBMs so as not to engage in a race in terms of improving the propulsion of new delivery vehicles, after which standardized warheads which had already been tested could be installed on the missiles.

Gromyko suggested that if there was a difference on this issue between us, the delegations and experts discuss this subject, too. He believed it to be a very strange approach indeed to hold that the Soviet Union had the capability of distinguishing between MIRVed and non-MIRVed missiles during testing, while the U.S. did not. Since when was the U.S. a technically underdeveloped country?13 But, knowledgeable people, technicians, should discuss this matter; let them talk and try to overcome the problem.14 In short, with reference to the second category of questions, other obstacles can indeed arise, but they should be discussed and hopefully resolved at the level of experts. It might turn out as a result of such discussion that what appeared to be a mountain today could turn out to be a molehill tomorrow.15 Gromyko expressed his hope that the President personally and his Government would duly evaluate what had been proposed tonight as a serious effort to move toward the United States position with minor rectifications. After all, it would not be a negotiation if one side always responded simply “yes” or “no” to the proposals of the other. Slight amendments and reservations were the rule rather than the exception. The proposals Gromyko had brought with him tonight contained a minimum of such rectifications.

The President wanted to bring up two more points so there would be no more misunderstanding.

The first concerned the testing of our GLCMs and SLCMs, where in the past we had one missile that was launched from the ground, from the sea, and from the air. Any testing of cruise missiles in the future with a range of more than 600 kilometers would be only from aircraft. He did not want to mislead the other side, because in the past we had tested missiles from the sea, from the ground, and from the air, because they were the same missile.

Gromyko acknowledged that there was a difference between the positions of the sides on this item, which had been discussed between him and Secretary Vance and Mr. Warnke. The Soviet side did indeed believe that there should be a ban on testing, including air-launched [Page 783] testing of GLCMs and SLCMs, because after all, if a missile has been tested, even if only from the air, it could at a moment’s notice be mass-produced on a conveyor belt and then be used in a ground-launched and sea-launched mode. He would suggest that this question, too, be thoroughly and jointly ventilated and viewed from all technical angles. One of the arguments made on the US side had been that it did not make any difference whether a missile was tested for subsequent use only from a heavy bomber or for use from the ground or sea. The Soviet side believed that it did make a difference. This question should be thoroughly investigated. In any case, it would do no harm to do so. He would repeat that the Soviet position was to provide a ban on both deployment and testing of such missiles, including air-launched testing. But, he would suggest that the delegations take a look at this matter, and thought it would be difficult to object to such a suggestion, even for a President.

The President said he would not object.

The President presented Gromyko with a mock-up showing the relative size and date of first deployment of Soviet and American missiles. He thought Gromyko would be interested in seeing it and pointed out the model of the Soviet SS–18.

Gromyko pointed to the model of the Titan missile and said, “Here is the most terrifying of all the missiles; its name speaks for itself, while Soviet missiles are designated by letters and numbers only.”

The President expressed his pleasure at having met with the Foreign Minister again. He thought the two sides had made progress in the current talks, and looked forward to the continuing discussions, in which Mr. Warnke will be our major negotiator. He believed that Gromyko’s attitude had been very constructive. Where differences between us existed, he thought it would be clear to Gromyko that we were urging lower limits and earlier reductions. He hoped that we would come to an early conclusion of the new SALT agreement, hopefully in combination with a comprehensive ban on the testing of nuclear explosives, so as to curb the costly arms race between us. We were ready to meet the other side halfway or better. He would agree that the outstanding matters be turned over to our respective negotiators to continue negotiations and hopefully complete the new agreement which was very important for both our countries.

Gromyko thanked the President for his remarks and asked him to understand the great significance of the concessions he had brought with him tonight. In particular, he would draw the President’s attention to the concession regarding the Derazhnya and Pervomaisk areas, and ask him to realize what this had meant for the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, considering the great importance the President had attached to this issue, the Soviet side had agreed to the U.S. proposal.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 18. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House. An unknown hand made several edits to the text of the document, which is marked “Draft.” The substantive changes have been accounted for in the footnotes below.
  2. See Document 183.
  3. Excerpts of Gromyko’s speech were published in The New York Times, September 28, 1977.
  4. For Vance’s conversations with Gromyko, see footnote 3, Document 182, footnote 4, Document 183.
  5. An unknown hand added “and analyze.”
  6. In this paragraph, the same unknown hand added “two or,” substituted “intercontinental missiles” for “ICBMs,” and crossed out “ban” and added in its place, “see an end to.”
  7. The same unknown hand added the word “ALCM.”
  8. The same unknown hand substituted the phrase “would continue to be” for “were.”
  9. The same unknown hand added the word “missiles.”
  10. The same unknown hand added the word “proposed.”
  11. The same unknown hand added the phrase “justifiable as.”
  12. Above this sentence, the same unknown hand wrote “are prepared to accept a lower number, to,” but the original text was not crossed out.
  13. The same unknown hand added the words “a” and “country.”
  14. The same unknown hand substituted “should” for “had to.”
  15. The same unknown hand added the phrase “turn out to.”