218. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Carter-Gromyko Private Meeting


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Secretary Cyrus R. Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • U.S.S.R.
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]


The President thought it was now time to move on to SALT discussions. He had carefully studied the proposals Gromyko had presented to Secretary Vance,2 thus there would be no need to repeat them. Perhaps Gromyko had some additional suggestions to present before the President responded.

Gromyko said he did want to present a few considerations. He would not say that they would add something on substance, but would provide additional clarification of how the Soviets assessed the current situation.

Gromyko said his attention had been drawn to recent statements that the President and other officials had made, expressing optimistic views on the prospects of concluding a SALT Agreement. Such statements could only be welcomed. Throughout the SALT negotiations the [Page 891] Soviet Union, for its part, had sought to bring them to a successful conclusion. To that end the Soviets had made their own proposals and had carefully studied US proposals. Their position today remained unchanged—they were in favor of concluding the Agreement as rapidly as possible. They felt that completion of the agreement and its signing at an early date was a feasible and realistic goal, providing, of course, that both sides were prepared to work energetically in that direction and to seek resolution of questions remaining unresolved, and there were such questions, on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security.

If one analyzed the remaining questions from the standpoint of their true significance, it became clear that not that many truly substantive questions were left. It would seem that by now they should have been resolved. In fact, however, and unfortunately, this had not happened. In effect, today we were still grappling with the same questions we had tried to resolve during his meeting with the President last September.3 Moreover, in a number of instances, these questions had become more complicated. The US side kept putting forward more and more problems, although as often as not there was no real need to raise them. What was the situation today as far as resolution of outstanding questions was concerned?

New Types of ICBMs and SLBMs:

This issue had first been raised by the US side last year. US representatives and the President personally had repeatedly stressed the particular importance of this issue for the United States. The Soviets had been told that a solution that would be satisfactory to the United States with respect to this issue would to a significant extent facilitate resolution of the other issues. This had been said at this very table. Without going into detail, Gromyko would remind the President that the Soviet side had proposed a number of variants for a fair solution to the question of new types of ballistic missiles. Unfortunately, however, none of these has been accepted. Subsequently, once again carefully weighing the pros and cons, and guided by a desire for earliest possible conclusion of the agreement, the Soviets had taken a difficult political decision. Gromyko wanted to tell the President quite frankly that it had not been arrived at easily. The Soviet Union had taken a truly major step forward by expressing its willingness to accept the US position on new types on condition that the United States consent to resolving the other remaining issues on the basis of Soviet proposals. In this connection, he would emphasize the words “on the basis of”; that did not mean that those proposals could not be adjusted or that not a single [Page 892] comma could be moved. What had been meant by the words “on the basis of” referred to substance only. It would hardly be possible to question the fairness and validity of an approach under which on the question of new types, as on many other questions, the Soviet Union had made major moves to meet US proposals. In fact, however, the US side had continued to adhere to its previous positions, with the result that the other remaining questions were still unagreed and, he would say frankly, had been complicated even further. This particularly concerned the entire complex of the issues involved in long-range cruise missiles.

Long-Range Cruise Missiles:

Indeed, the two sides had reached a firm understanding on the limitation of these missiles; notably, they had agreed that cruise missiles would be deployed only on bombers. They had also reached agreement on the process by which cruise missiles on bombers would be counted within the appropriate category of strategic vehicles, and on establishing upper and lower limits for the range of cruise missiles—600 and 2,500 km. That agreement was reached and had been confirmed several times. Then, however, the US side started to exert efforts to bring those important understandings to naught. The purpose here was clear—in one way or another to exempt a considerable number of cruise missiles from all limitations and thus obtain the opportunity of having thousands of such missiles. Naturally, the Soviet side had immediately understood what the US side was aiming at. There was no other way to explain these proposals, other than as being aimed at, in effect, doubling agreed ranges of cruise missiles with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads, and possibly MIRVing them. Cruise missiles with non-nuclear warheads were a completely new aspect that had been introduced. Further, it had been attempted to eliminate all numerical limits on the number of long-range cruise missiles that could be carried by a bomber.

In this way the appearance of a SALT Agreement would be created, while a very major component of strategic offensive arms, which quite naturally should be covered by the Agreement, would remain outside of it. What kind of an agreement would that be?

The Soviet side believed that such an attitude toward understandings already achieved was completely unacceptable and could not serve the purpose of bringing the positions of the sides closer together.

Gromyko said that the Soviet side had set out its positions on all aspects of cruise missiles more than once. He would remind the President that the Soviets were in favor of retaining established limits on cruise missile range—600 and 2,500 km—as minimum and maximum distances, to be determined by projecting the missile’s flight path onto [Page 893] the surface of the earth. At the same time, at the current round of negotiations the Soviet Union had proposed a compromise solution, in accordance with which the lower limit, i.e. 600 km., which divided cruise missiles into two fundamental categories—those limited and those not limited—would be retained with the Soviet definition of range, while the upper limit would be abolished altogether. Roughly this would mean that the Soviet Union accepted one-half of the US proposal, although it continues to believe that the original arrangement was better.

Of paramount importance was the question of limiting the number of cruise missiles on one bomber. This was elementary, and understanding on this must be achieved. The Soviet side had proposed that for the entire duration of the treaty, i.e. through 1985, that number not exceed 20. The President would probably not recall the discussions that had preceded that proposal, because those discussions had been with his predecessor. At the outset the Soviet side had proposed to equate one bomber with 20 cruise missiles with two or even three MIRVed vehicles. Subsequently, as a result of lengthy and difficult negotiations, the Soviet side had finally agreed to equate one bomber with 20 cruise missiles with one MIRVed vehicle, and to count it as such within the aggregate level of MIRVed vehicles, i.e. 1,320.

At the current round of talks, with a view to facilitating early conclusion of the Agreement, Gromyko had told the Secretary of State at their meeting in New York that the Soviets would be willing to accept a variant under which the sides could have bombers with more than 20 cruise missiles per bomber, but in that event and depending on the number of cruise missiles in excess of 20 to be carried by the bomber, it would be counted within the agreed 1,320 level of MIRVed vehicles with an appropriate coefficient, such as two or three, etc.

Gromyko wanted to repeat that although the Soviet side preferred the previous solution, i.e. no more than 20 cruise missiles on one bomber, it would be prepared to accept this “coefficient variant.” It could not agree to a bomber carrying more than 20 cruise missiles, unless that coefficient is applied, because that method would be tantamount to the sides having as many cruise missiles as there are raindrops. If the coefficient variant were accepted, the US could build aircraft with any number of cruise missiles, providing those aircraft were counted appropriately.

There was an additional point Gromyko wanted to make in this connection. He had already stated and wished to confirm again now that without limiting the number of cruise missiles on bombers for the duration of the Treaty, as proposed, the Soviet side could not agree not to increase the number of warheads on existing ICBMs in the process of their modernization. If agreement is reached on limitations on numbers of cruise missiles per bomber that was acceptable to the Soviet Union, it [Page 894] would be prepared to agree to establishing a limit on increases in the number of warheads on existing ICMBs in the course of their modernization.4 This question, too, had been viewed by the United States as well as the Soviet Union as being of great importance.

—Fractionation of New Types:

With regard to the question of numbers of warheads on ballistic missiles, Gromyko wanted to draw the President’s attention to the fact that at the current meetings here in the US, the Soviet side had reacted constructively to a US proposal by agreeing to establish a limit on the number of warheads that could be installed on ICBMs and SLBMs of new types (Gromyko repeated “ICBMs and SLBMs of new types”) as 6 and 14 respectively, and also to limit the number of warheads on existing SLBMs to 14.

—Timing of Reductions:

For a long period of time discussions were held on the subject of a time limit for reducing the aggregate level of strategic arms from 2,400 down to 2,250. The Soviet side proposed that such reductions be accomplished within 12 months, beginning December 30, 1980, on condition that the Treaty enter into force no later than January 1, 1979 or at the very latest March 31, 1979. No harm of any kind could result from this for the United States, neither from the standpoint of national security nor anything else. After all, here we were dealing with reducing by dismantling or destruction of the numbers of strategic offensive arms, and not of building up some new and terrible type of weapon. Whether this was done today or tomorrow or in three days could not possibly be a matter of concern or principle. Surely, this would have no effect whatsoever on the security of the United States. Any other time period was simply not realistic and could not be effectively observed for purely practical considerations. Gromyko hoped that the President would not read some sort of sinister purpose into the time period required for Soviet reductions. He felt that the practical considerations should be obvious to all.


On every convenient or inconvenient occasion the US had kept returning to the question of the Soviet medium bomber TU 22–M (Backfire). Quite recently the situation was depicted in such a way as to imply that this question had great importance for the Soviet Union, and accordingly attempts were made to tie it in to other questions in the hope of obtaining some sort of concessions. This great importance for [Page 895] the Soviet Union had obviously been invented in the offices of the President’s State Department. It does not have any such importance and cannot have any such importance, neither now or in the future. For this reason it would be quite unrealistic to expect any concessions from the Soviet side. Of course, medium-range bombers do exist, but in actual fact the Backfire question simply does not exist in terms of an agreement on the limitation of strategic arms. The Soviet Union does not make it a habit to go back on its word, once given. Therefore, Gromyko would confirm today that this contrived question can only be resolved on the basis of the unilateral statement whose text had been given to the President.5 If the Soviets had not given their word to provide the statement, they would not be discussing this question today, just as they would not discuss various US medium-range weapons. The statement to which he had just referred did in his view provide a solution to this whole matter.

In conclusion, Gromyko wanted to add that the Soviet position graphically demonstrates that throughout the SALT negotiations, including the current round of talks, the Soviet Union had exerted every possible effort to find mutually acceptable solutions and resolve all outstanding issues on the basis of the principle of equality and equal security, in order to complete the negotiations successfully and sign the agreement promptly, the more promptly the better. Time was not always an ally. Sometimes time helps, sometimes it complicates negotiations. He would end by saying that the efforts of both sides were required to bring everything to successful fruition.

The President said that, although we disagreed on the terms of the SALT Agreement, he did not doubt that the Soviet Union was negotiating in good faith or that it had done so from the very outset. Today he would start by describing the items where we agreed and disagreed, and then put forth the US position for concluding the negotiations without further delay.

—New Types:

The President noted that we had agreement to the effect that during the term of the agreement, i.e. through 1985, each side would be allowed to test and deploy one new type of ICBM. There would be no limit on new types of SLBMs, except a fractionation limit of 14 on SLBM’s of new types.6 We had agreement to exempt mobile light ICBMs.

[Page 896]

—Cruise Missile Range:

We now agreed on the lower limit for cruise missile range—600 km—and that above that there would be no limit. That included ICCMs.

Items which the President understood were still disagreed, although some of these were now being worked on in Geneva:

—Definition of New Missiles:

The President believed this was being worked out satisfactorily in Geneva.

—Heavy Mobile Missiles:

Our proposal to ban heavy mobile missiles was on the table, but the Soviet Union had not yet responded.

—Fractionation Limit on New ICBMs:

Our proposal was to set a limit of 10 warheads on new ICBMs, and we were strongly urging that limit. The Soviet proposal was to limit them to six. We would prefer to agree on ten.7


Our position was to ban them, the Soviet position was to place no limit on them. We were prepared to agree to setting no limit.

—Depressed Trajectory:

We had made a proposal recently, not for the purpose of introducing confusion, but because we believed it to be of mutual advantage, to the effect that testing of missiles from subs in a depressed trajectory be banned. This would remove the prospect of a quick attack without adequate warning. We believed this to be to the mutual advantage of both sides, but the Soviet side had not yet responded.


The timing of dismantling was still unagreed. The Soviet position was three years for the duration of the Protocol, and dismantling by the end of 1981, provided the Agreement was concluded by March 1979. Our position was that dismantling should be concluded by the end of [Page 897] June 1981, i.e. six months earlier, and that the Protocol period expire on the same date, June 30, 1981.

—Fractionation of Cruise Missiles:

On MIRVing cruise missiles the Soviet position was to ban it, ours was to place no limit.

—Number of ALCMs per Heavy Bomber:

The Soviet position was to limit that number to 20, ours—as in the case of bombs for bombers—no limit.

—Cruise Missile Definition:

The Soviet position was that the agreement provide limits on both nuclear-armed and conventional-armed cruise missiles (the latter was a recent position). Ours was that the SALT negotiations are no place for setting limits on conventional arms. We were willing to include conventionally-armed cruise missiles for the Protocol period, and agree that only nuclear warheads would be installed on cruise missiles capable of a range in excess of 600 km.

—Cruise Missile Range:

Our position was not the same as the Soviet position on cruise missiles above 600 km. The Soviet position was that 600 km. be determined by projection of the missile’s flight path onto the surface of the earth, with the missile flying to fuel exhaustion. Ours was that a cruise missile capable of a range of less than 600 km. not be able to attack targets further than 600 km. from the launch point.


We had a sharp disagreement on Backfire which was not artificial. Our position was not intended to induce the Soviets to modify their position on other items.

The President summed up by saying that these were the positions as he understood them. He would take them up item by item.

—Fractionation of ALCMs and number of ALCMs per bomber:8

To reach agreement on setting a limit on the number of ALCMs per bomber, we have two options: one would be for the United States to make a statement, such as the Soviet statement on Backfire, indicating that we will develop and test cruise missile carriers capable of carrying more than 20 cruise missiles, but would not deploy them, and that we would not deploy MIRVed cruise missiles during the term of the Agreement, depending on Soviet air defenses, the level of Soviet forces, and the number of warheads on the Soviet side. The other option would be to limit the number of cruise missiles per bomber to an average of 35, and additionally to make a statement that we would not [Page 898] equip cruise missiles with MIRVs for the term of the Agreement through 1985.

—Cruise Missile Range:

We were willing to accept the Soviet proposal and definition of the 600 km. ALCM range, to be determined by projection of the missile’s flight path onto the surface of the earth, provided that the Soviet side accepted the US proposal for the definition of cruise missiles, also making it clear that we did not accept the Soviet position on conventionally-armed cruise missiles for the period after expiration of the Protocol. The President added that we would give a distinctive airframe configuration to any conventionally-armed cruise missile, so as to enable the Soviets to distinguish them easily from nuclear-armed cruise missiles.


The President said that we considered the Soviet position on Backfire to be inadequate. However, to resolve this question, we would accept the Soviet proposal that would be to give us a document or letter to say that the Soviet Union would not increase the production rate of this aircraft. We understood that rate to be two and a half planes per month, or 30 per year. Further, the statement would specify that there would be no upgrading of the Backfire aircraft to give it a range greater than it has at this time. In response we would state to the Soviet Union that the United States retains the right to deploy similar aircraft.

Protocol Duration and Dismantling Schedule:

The President said that we would accept the Soviet position on the dismantling schedule, provided there would be steady progress in dismantling, and the Soviets would not wait until the last month to initiate dismantling. As for the Protocol, its term is to expire June 30, 1981, and missiles to be dismantled were to be made irreversibly inoperable by the end of June 1981. In Geneva we had already described what we would consider irreversibly inoperable. Dismantling was to be completed by the end of 1981. The President added that the dismantling provision he had cited obviously referred not only to missiles, but also to bombers subject to dismantling.

Gromyko asked a question concerning the Soviet statement on Backfire. He asked the President to draw no conclusions from the fact that he was asking the question. Would the President clarify whether his mention of the Soviets giving the US a letter on Backfire meant that there would be no change in the text of the statement he had already provided.

The President replied that what he would like to see in that letter would be a commitment on the part of the Soviet Union not to increase the production rate of the Backfire and not to give it intercontinental ca [Page 899] pabilities. We would prefer that the statement not include any mention of the 2,200 km. range, because if it were included, we would have to dispute it as inconsistent with our understanding.

—Telemetry Encryption:

Another item we considered very important was our ability to verify compliance with the Agreement. Therefore, we would like to have a clear prohibition on encryption of telemetry during testing.

The President said that there were other items under discussion in Geneva which we did not consider to be difficult issues, although they were important to us, such as prior notification of ICBM tests, and the principles to guide the SALT III negotiations.

The President summed up by saying that these were our proposals, and expressed his hope that they would be adequate to reach early agreement. He hoped that there would be no further delays. Some questions had political importance for us, as well as substantive importance. We had tried to be as forthcoming as we could, but if there were other items Gromyko wanted to raise, he would invite him to do so now.

Gromyko asked by way of clarification whether the limitations on cruise missiles mentioned by the President would operate for the term of the Treaty, through 1985. He was not talking about the distinction between conventionally-armed and nuclear-armed missiles, but of the basic issues. He had understood the President to have the term of the Treaty in mind for these limitations. He would ask the President again not to draw any conclusions from the fact that he was asking these questions.

The President replied that everything he had described applying to ALCMs was meant to operate for the term of the Treaty/Agreement.

Gromyko acknowledged that everything was now clear. He did note some shifts in the US position on some issues, unfortunately [fortunately?] on not too many. He would need to have the opportunity of studying what the President had said and reflecting on it. He would suggest that perhaps later today or tomorrow another meeting be convened, at whatever level the President believed useful, in order to make maximum use of this round of talks in Washington and to sum up what had been accomplished. On some issues it might be necessary for him to get in touch with Moscow.

The President said he was sure that Gromyko would be eager to notify Moscow of the great victory he had won at these negotiations. The President was saddened by the fact that he would not be able to join in the celebration. As for the additional meeting suggested by Gromyko, he could not be available himself, but Secretary Vance would be [Page 900] available.9 It would be good if we could obtain a quick response. The President really believed that this quick response would provide the basis for completing the Agreement. If Gromyko could tell us that the Soviet Union accepted our suggestions for resolution of the outstanding issues, it would benefit both our countries.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 81, Sensitive XX: 9/26–9/30/78. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. This portion of the meeting apparently took place in the Cabinet Room. The memorandum indicates that the meeting lasted from 9:15 until 9:45 p.m., which is in error. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting began in the Oval Office at 9:33 a.m. with a meeting among Carter, Vance, Brzezinski, and Gromyko plus interpreters. Then at 9:44 a.m., the group went to the Cabinet Room and met until 1:18 p.m. During this meeting, the President left at 12:18 p.m. and met with Warnke, Malcolm Toon, and Reginald Bartholomew from 12:19 to 12:24 p.m. At 12:24 p.m., Carter returned to the meeting with Gromyko in the Cabinet Room. (Ibid., Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) An unknown hand made several edits to the text of the document. The substantive changes have been accounted for in the footnotes below.
  2. See Document 215.
  3. See Documents 183 and 184.
  4. An unknown hand added the phrase “increases in.”
  5. Gromyko gave Carter the unilateral statement during their meeting on May 27; see Document 204.
  6. An unknown hand added the phrase “SLBMs of new types.”
  7. Dobrynin and Vance met at 4 p.m. to clarify certain statements that the President had made. Vance told Dobrynin that when the President said “prefer” he meant “want” and that the United States “had to have 10.” According to Vance, Carter was “only being polite.” On the figures for ALCM carriers, Vance explained that the average would be 35. Dobrynin asked if there could be “40 on some and less on others.” Vance said yes. Dobrynin suggested that if the Soviet Union accepted 10 warheads on new type ICBMs, “could the U.S. accept 20 ALCM per carrier?” Responding to Dobrynin’s response for clarification on Backfire, Vance said there if there was a commitment not to increase the production rate figure, the “previous Soviet statement would be acceptable without a profile range figure.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 56, SALT: Chronology: 9/29/78–10/22/78)
  8. An unknown hand added the phrase “and number of ALCMs per bomber.”
  9. Vance and Gromyko met again on October 1. A partial memorandum of conversation is in the Carter Library, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 56, SALT: Chronology: 9/29/78–10/22/78. The full memoranda of conversation of their meetings are in the Department of State, Marshall Shulman Files, Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot File 81D109, Vance/Gromyko, 9/78.