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


  • NSC Weekly Report #79

1. Opinion

There are two issues which, if allowed to drift, could very badly damage your leadership: SALT and the Middle East. Both issues may soon require some basic strategic choices:


There is no doubt that SALT is seen by many Americans as a litmus test of our ability to manage the relationship. Approaching our third year, we thus confront two basic options: either to get a SALT agreement quickly or, alternatively, make publicly the case that you were unwilling to make concessions which would jeopardize U.S. national security.

As a result, I think the time has come to tell the Soviets, in effect, what you said in your interview this week with The New York Times: that we cannot back down any more without damaging seriously the chances of the treaty’s ratification; that the “window” for the agreement is December–January; and that slippage beyond that point would mean postponement, at the earliest, to the fall of 1979.2

This message should be conveyed without anxiety on our part—for that could simply stimulate the Soviets to hang tough on the remaining issues. One way of conveying it would be through a personal letter from you to Brezhnev. Alternatively, you might send a personal emissary to talk to him, perhaps even under arrangements that would guarantee secrecy. For all of the negotiations we have had with the Soviets, I do not believe that we have yet had a firm and comprehensive “heart-to-heart” talk with them about all of the basic issues that are at stake and about the nature of our long-term relationship.

In addition to the above, you perhaps might wish to talk with Senator Byrd quite frankly about some other alternatives to treaty ratification in the light of the elections:

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—An agreement approved by majority action of both houses.


—We would abide by the agreement or treaty (so long as the Soviets do, too) pending a more propitious time to seek Congressional action.

The latter course would make the most sense only after we tried to get Congressional approval and it appeared we did not have the votes. It is fully consistent with international law and there is no constitutional impediment so long as the agreement has not actually been rejected by the Congress.

[Omitted here is information unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Subject File, Box 29, NSC Weekly Reports, 6–12/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. Carter initialed the memorandum at the top of the first page.
  2. The transcript of Carter’s interview was published in The New York Times, November 6, 1978.