235. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

I received your letter of March 7.2 Like you, I feel satisfied with the fact that we are on the threshold of completing the preparation of the strategic arms limitation agreement. I am confident that our compromise proposals, including those transmitted recently through Secretary Vance,3 on the few outstanding issues make it possible to complete this work really in the nearest future.

As for the question of telemetric information which you raised in your letter, frankly, I am surprised that you return to this issue once again since it has been considered already closed by mutual agreement of the sides.

I must say it straight that from the very beginning the US side introduced into the question of telemetric information many far-fetched things that are not related to the agreement being worked out.

Nevertheless, here again we have shown good will. As a result, during the Geneva meeting of Foreign Minister Gromyko and Secretary Vance last December4 a mutually acceptable formulation was worked out which provides that each side has the right to use various methods of transmitting telemetric information during testing, in[Page 935]cluding its encryption, except for those cases when it would impede verification of compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

We confirm that we intend to strictly adhere to the reached agreement having in mind that in practice there should be no encryption of such telemetric information which could become necessary for verification of the provisions of the concluded Treaty. I would like to remind in this connection that we proposed earlier to the US side that it names a list of parameters transmitted by telemetry which, in its view, would not be subject to encryption.

However, the US side would not come along. It was agreed that in case of any ambiguities in future regarding the telemetric information they will be considered at the Standing Consultative Commission which has been established precisely for the purpose of removing any misunderstandings whenever they arise. Indeed, practice has shown that the Commission effectively performs its duties.

There was even no discussion at all that at the time of including the worked out formulation in the agreement any additional statements or interpretations would be made.

Meanwhile, on January 31, when the understanding on telemetric information, worked out by the Ministers, was technically included in the draft agreement the head of the US delegation accompanied the text with a statement which cannot be considered otherwise but as an attempt to undermine the reached understanding.

Suffice it to point out the assertion contained in that statement to the effect that “any encryption of telemetric information could impede verification.” It is perfectly clear indeed that such an assertion obviously contradicts the text of the very formulation which speaks of the right to encrypt telemetric information except for those cases when it impedes verification of compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

Ambiguous, to say the least, is also the point contained in the said statement to the effect that the use in future of “such for example, encryption” of telemetric information which was used by the Soviet side in some tests in the past would contradict the agreement. Such statement can be interpreted in such a way as if all encryption which was used in the cases in question would be illegal as applicable to the agreement. This would again put in doubt the right of the sides, embodied in the earlier agreed formulation, to encrypt telemetric information about those parameters which are not regulated by the agreement and thus are not related to the verification of compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

Therefore it is quite natural that the Soviet delegation could not pass in silence over the unilateral statement made by the US delegation at the inclusion of the formulation on telemetric information worked [Page 936] out by the Ministers in the agreement. On its part, it stated at once that this formulation does not require additional interpretations.

Thus, Mr. President, if there is someone who undermines the achieved agreement on telemetric information the guilty ones should certainly be looked for among representatives not of the Soviet but of the US side. Evidently, it would not take you much effort to find them.

We confirm our readiness to consider the question of telemetric information resolved having in view the inclusion in the agreement of the formulation on this subject worked out earlier with the understanding that in case of any ambiguities in future regarding telemetric information they will be referred to the Standing Consultative Commission. The Soviet delegation in Geneva is instructed to proceed exactly from this.

I hope, Mr. President, that you will also give appropriate instructions on this matter to the US delegation.

Sincerely,

L. Brezhnev5
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 56, SALT: Chronology: 3/79–5/23/79. No classification marking. Unofficial translation. A covering March 12 memorandum from Tarnoff to Aaron indicates that Dobrynin handed the letter to Warren Christopher that day and that a copy was sent to Vance. (Ibid.)
  2. In his March 7 letter to Brezhnev, Carter raised concerns that the issue of telemetry was impeding reaching a final SALT II agreement. He wrote, “My own personal belief is that any encryption of telemetry from the testing of strategic missiles is unnecessary and ill advised.” He explained, however, that Soviet acceptance of the Common Understanding and the statement on record at Geneva in connection with it was necessary for U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty. (Ibid.)
  3. See Documents 233 and 234.
  4. See Documents 229231.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears Brezhnev’s typed signature.