197. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • SALT Strategy

The attached memo (Tab A)2 from Cy and Paul came over on Sunday. I asked Harold for his views and they are at Tab B.3

Obviously the decisive factor in realizing any SALT strategy is whether and when we can work out terms with the Soviets that we can accept and get ratified. We still have a good amount of ground to cover on issues that are important from various standpoints (Harold classifies them neatly) and on which opinions within the Administration differ as to what is acceptable and ratifiable (as Harold’s memo shows). It follows that while we might set a June summit as a target, we ought not to get locked in to any specific time table until we are quite confident that we are within sure reach of a good agreement.

Looking at the outline Cy and Paul have given you, I have these first reactions:

(1) One can argue that the SALT III principles should be agreed at the summit rather than during Cy’s Moscow trip since they link back to the comprehensive proposal and set guidelines for the future. If we drop specific reduction numbers and accept language calling for “significant” or “substantial” reductions (for which there is widespread interagency support) then we probably can settle this in time for Cy to seal it in Moscow. On the other hand, it could be that just as Brezhnev [Page 821] was ready to set a framework at Vladivostok, he might be prepared to accept some specifics at a summit with you.4

(2) Strategy for the single RV exception and the general new types issues has to be shaped in light of where we want to come out. I think there is much to be said for permitting each side one new ICBM through the 1985 period, holding the final playing of this card for the summit.5

(3) The Gromyko meetings in May could prove as decisive as last September’s, and I believe they should be a separate, special target for our planning rather than rolled up with the summit as they are in Cy and Paul’s outline.6

(4) The summit agenda has to be balanced in a way that curtails any appearance of major Presidential concessions. Thus, while Backfire will probably have to be dealt with there, the issue has to be worked carefully here as well as with the Soviets so that the outcome does not appear as a sharp break with earlier positions.7

As for how we proceed, I think we need to do more work, starting from Cy and Paul’s outline, to flesh out a strategy and consider our alternatives looking to a meeting the week of your return with Cy, Harold, Paul (whom we will ask to return from Geneva). In the interim, things can move forward in Geneva—we have just sent new instructions implementing the SCC conclusions you approved, and we will shortly be sending additional instructions.

Two final observations. Bringing the JCS along on whatever strategy and positions you settle on will take careful handling. My own view is that we should not start to bring them into the picture until we have a clearer view of it ourselves.

Finally, without brandishing the spectre of linkage, we do have to recognize that there is some evidence of a review of US-Soviet relations underway in Moscow and that its outcome can affect the prospects for SALT and our strategy for managing it.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 53, SALT: 12/77–3/78. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Attached but not printed is March 25 memorandum from Vance and Warnke to Carter on “strategy for completion of SALT at Summit meeting,” in which they laid out the issues to be resolved in Geneva and the issues to be “pre-cooked” by Vance in Moscow. Essentially, Geneva would handle the technical issues and Vance in Moscow the substantive ones.
  3. Attached but not printed is a memorandum from Brown to Carter, March 27, entitled “SALT II: Strategy for Completing the Process,” in which Brown commented on Vance and Warnke’s memorandum. Brown identified SALT issues that were “vital militarily,” vital to U.S. Allies, and those that were symbols of who “won” the negotiations. He agreed with the Geneva/Moscow strategy, but noted that some technical issues had military significance. If they could not be resolved at Geneva, “they will have to go higher.”
  4. Carter underlined “SALT III,” and in the margin of the paragraph wrote, “general language—probe SU on specifics.”
  5. In the margin, Carter wrote, “MX—U.S., ?—SU.”
  6. Carter underlined “meetings in May” and in the margin wrote, “w/Whom?” At the bottom of the memorandum, he wrote, “Nitze, Wed.”
  7. In the margin, Carter wrote, “I agree.”