239. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • General David Jones
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Ambassador Ralph E. Earle II
  • Mr. Jody Powell
  • General George Seignious
  • Mr. Roger Molander
  • Mr. D. Arensburger, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • President Leonid I. Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko
  • Minister of Defense D.F. Ustinov
  • Mr. K.U. Chernenko
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Marshal Nikolay Vasil’yevich Ogarkov
  • Ambassador V.P. Karpov
  • Mr. Korniyenko
  • Mr. Aleksandrov-Agentov
  • Mr. Rochetrov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter



President Carter, in his capacity as host at this meeting, invited President Brezhnev to speak first.

Brezhnev, reading from prepared notes, said that there was no need for him to speak in detail about the great significance of the SALT II Treaty which he and the President would be signing shortly. This was an event of major significance far beyond the framework of the bilateral relations of our two countries. Working out that Treaty had proven to be no easy task. Frankly, its completion had required an un [Page 944] justifiably long period of time. In part, this was because we were dealing with a complex and diverse subject at the negotiations. He was recalling this only to be sure that the two sides took good care of what had been achieved with such difficulty.

The President indicated agreement.

Brezhnev continued that the SALT II Treaty would not, of course, be enough to end an arms race. The Treaty contained what it had proven possible to achieve at this stage. He wanted to say frankly that the Soviet Union was not satisfied with everything contained in that Treaty. It had to make some hard decisions before agreeing to some of the Treaty provisions. But in general he thought that it could be stated that the Treaty, in its present form, met the interests of both states and was consistent with the principle of equality and equal security. He thought that the President shared this view because otherwise there would have been no Treaty.

The President concurred.

Brezhnev continued by saying that thus, we now had before us a fully agreed text of the Treaty and the other associated documents, which were ready to be fully approved and were prepared for signature. It had been agreed that the two Presidents would make several statements.

Brezhnev said that, to begin with, the two Presidents, as agreed, had to make identical statements on the question of new types of cruise missile carrier aircraft. Brezhnev read the following statement:

“The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics states that it has no plans to deploy during the term of the SALT II Treaty new types of aircraft equipped with more than 20 cruise missiles capable of a range of over 600 kilometers.”

Brezhnev continued that secondly, the President had to make a unilateral statement, to be handed over in writing, to the effect that modernized U.S. Minuteman II ICBM launchers did not contain Minuteman III missiles and did not have the capability of launching such missiles.

Brezhnev continued that by way of the third item, he was making the following unilateral statement:

“The Soviet side informs the U.S. side that the Soviet Tu–22M airplane called Backfire in the USA, is a medium-range bomber and that it does not intend to give this airplane the capability of operating at intercontinental distances. In this connection, the Soviet side states that it will not increase the radius of action of this airplane in such a way as to enable it to strike targets on the territory of the USA. Nor does it intend to give it such a capability in any other manner, including by in-flight refueling. At the same time, the Soviet side states that it will not in [Page 945] crease the production rate of this airplane as compared to the present rate.”

Brezhnev handed over a written copy of the statement (attached).2 He wanted to emphasize that this statement was being made strictly as an act of good will because the airplanes in question were not within the category of arms being limited by the Treaty. Also, in a spirit of good will and taking into account the desires expressed by the President personally, Brezhnev could add that if the U.S. side considered it necessary to state publicly that according to its own information, the production rate of this airplane did not exceed 30 per year, the Soviet side would not deny that in any form.

Brezhnev continued that once the President had made the two statements he had mentioned earlier, that is, with respect to new types of cruise missile carrier aircraft and on modernization of Minuteman II launchers, all issues pertaining to signing the SALT II Treaty could be considered fully resolved. Today we should also address the question of further steps to be taken after the signing of the SALT II Treaty. Clearly, until that Treaty had been ratified by both sides, and until it had entered into force, it could not bind the two sides in form or in fact. Accordingly, it was in the mutual interest of both sides to ensure ratification of the Treaty. Of course, how this was accomplished was a domestic matter for each of the sides, but inasmuch as the ultimate result would affect both sides, Brezhnev wanted to discuss this matter in brief. In the Soviet Union, the Treaty and all associated documents would be considered very thoroughly by the USSR Supreme Soviet, but Brezhnev was sure—he wanted to repeat, he was sure—that the supreme legislative body of the Soviet Union will ratify the Treaty in the form in which it was now agreed and in the form in which it would be signed by the two Presidents. As Brezhnev understood it, the situation in the United States was different. There were numerous opponents of the Treaty—Brezhnev emphasized that he was speaking of the U.S.—but they were very vulnerable in one respect. These opponents, in speaking out against the Treaty, were thereby exposing themselves as being against an improvement in Soviet-U.S. relations and against disarmament and in favor of the arms race and, in the final analysis, they were proponents of war. Brezhnev did not believe that it would be to the benefit of such politicians to be seen by the American people in that role. The Soviet leadership believed that the members of the U.S. Administration, including the President personally, took this into account when making statements on this subject. The Soviet leadership adhered to the same approach in its contacts with visiting U.S. public figures. It [Page 946] seemed to Brezhnev that if the leaders of our two countries were to make parallel statements along these lines, the opponents of the Treaty would be unable to achieve their goal. Opponents of the Treaty made it sound as if somehow the Treaty was advantageous only to the Soviet Union and as if the Soviet Union devoted all its thoughts to striking the U.S. The President was, of course, fully aware of the absurdity of such arguments. Brezhnev already had occasion to say that in the area of defense the Soviet Union was doing only what was necessary for the security of its country, its friends and its allies. The Soviet Union was not doing anything beyond that. Brezhnev, in his capacity as Chairman of the highest Soviet military body, that is, the Defense Council, could state with full authority that Soviet military doctrine did not provide for first use by the Soviet Union of nuclear or conventional arms. He wanted to repeat that the Soviet Union had no intention of being first to use arms against the U.S. or against its NATO allies. Brezhnev would be happy to hear the President make a similar statement on behalf of the United States. If such statements were made publicly, that would be of enormous significance, including from the standpoint of entry into force of the SALT II Treaty. That would be a major setback to those who have already been speaking of making ratification contingent on adoption of amendments, and to those who were advocating a step-up in new military programs. Brezhnev wanted to say quite frankly that based on considerations of reality, the only treaty which was acceptable to the Soviet Union was the one which would be signed shortly by the two Presidents. That was the only treaty that could enter into force. There must be no lack of clarity on that score.

There was one other point that Brezhnev wanted to touch on before proceeding to SALT III. Naturally, the Soviet leadership had noted the statement recently made in Washington, and approved personally by the President, concerning plans to develop and deploy the new MX ICBM.3 He wanted to say quite candidly that adoption of that decision, especially on the eve of the signing of the SALT II Treaty, could hardly be viewed as promoting the objectives of that Treaty, that is, to limit strategic offensive arms and to curb the arms race in general. It was difficult to understand why this was done, especially at a time when the peoples of virtually the entire world were awaiting the signing of the SALT II Treaty and its entry into force. After all, adoption of that decision in effect meant building a foundation for the further intensification of the arms race and, Brezhnev wanted to repeat, this was directly contrary to the objectives we would be agreeing to in signing the SALT II [Page 947] Treaty. He was not even speaking of the discussions in the U.S. of alternative deployment modes at multiple sites, that is, the silo and tunnel modes, which would be contrary to the present Treaty. He had already said that clearly any deployment mode which prevented verification by national technical means of the deployment of strategic missiles would be tantamount to undermining follow-on negotiations and the prospects for concluding a SALT III Treaty.

Brezhnev continued that with respect to further negotiations on the limitation of strategic offensive arms, they must begin after entry into force of the SALT II Treaty. It had already been agreed that, like the SALT II negotiations, the follow-on negotiations must strictly adhere to the principle of equality and equal security. Some guidelines have already been drafted for the follow-on negotiations, others have to be considered thoroughly. Clearly, it was necessary to address those issues which were not covered by the SALT II Treaty, but which were subject to the interim and short-term Protocol. He was referring, in particular, to sea-based and land-based long-range cruise missiles. Without these, the Treaty would lose much in value. Furthermore, in working out the SALT III Treaty, it was necessary to take into account such strategic factors as the potential in nuclear and missile forces of NATO allies and, of course, of China. These were very significant factors from the standpoint of the Soviet Union. The President, no doubt, was fully aware of the significance of that problem for the Soviet Union. The question of how to involve these countries in the process of limiting strategic offensive arms was certainly a difficult question. Still, it had to be resolved because one could not seriously expect that the Soviet Union and the U.S. would again and again reduce their missile and nuclear arsenals, while the other countries were continuing to build them up. In any event, such a prospect was not acceptable to the Soviet Union.

Brezhnev continued that at SALT III negotiations, it was also mandatory to consider U.S. forward-based nuclear systems. After all, these forces were targeted to cover a major portion of the territory of the Soviet Union. No one could deny that. In the West there was frequent talk of a “gray zone.” That concept was rather “foggy.” At the same time, it had to be noted that Soviet medium-range missiles and aircraft could not reach U.S. territory, while U.S. short range systems, deployed in Europe and in adjacent areas, certainly could strike Soviet territory. Under these conditions it was very difficult to determine which of these systems were “gray” and which were “black.” The Soviet Union was prepared to discuss with all relevant countries any types of arms on a reciprocal basis. Specifically, the Soviet Union was also prepared to discuss medium-range arms in Europe, but such a discussion necessarily had to involve U.S. forward-based systems, that is, U.S. nuclear [Page 948] systems. Pointing to a matchbook on the table, Brezhnev said that if this were a missile capable of a range of 10 kilometers (prompted by Gromyko, the Soviet interpreter said 100 or several hundred kilometers), it would not be included among intercontinental-range missiles. Nevertheless, it could strike very important centers in the Soviet Union. How could one but take into account such arms? In short, there were numerous problems. We would yet have occasion to exchange views on that score, but at present the important thing was to conclude the SALT II Treaty.

The President said in response that first he wanted to address SALT II issues and would subsequently respond to Brezhnev’s other points.

Brezhnev remarked that he was in favor of such an approach.

The President said the SALT II Treaty which we were now preparing to sign, was the result of ten years of effort, involving skill and patience, and our success was greatly attributable to Brezhnev’s personal efforts working with three U.S. Presidents. It was very important in itself to constrain nuclear weapons, as this was described in the SALT II Treaty. Brezhnev had been correct in pointing out that the SALT II Treaty was part of a continuing process which ultimately would lead to much greater control of the destructiveness of nuclear weapons. The President noted that Brezhnev had been a superb negotiator and had served his country well, and on most issues where the debate was long and difficult, it appeared to us that the Soviet Union had prevailed.

At this time, the President wanted to make his response on the question of cruise missiles:

“The Government of the United States states that it has no plans to deploy during the term of the SALT II Treaty new types of aircraft equipped with more than 20 cruise missiles capable of a range of over 600 kilometers.”

Brezhnev noted that this applied to the term of the SALT II Treaty and the President concurred.

The President next made a statement on U.S. Minuteman launchers:

“The United States has 450 Minuteman II launchers and 550 Minuteman III launchers operationally deployed; there are no Minuteman III missiles in Minuteman II launchers; Minuteman II launchers are not capable of launching Minuteman III missiles, and if we convert Minuteman II launchers to give them a capability for launching Minuteman III missiles, they would have to have externally observable design features which would distinguish them from Minuteman II launchers.”

The President handed a copy of the text to Brezhnev.

[Page 949]

The President then turned to the Backfire bomber. He said that we have agreed to conclude at this time our long discussions about the Soviet bomber, called Backfire in the U.S. As Brezhnev knew, the United States had serious concerns about the capabilities and potential mission of this bomber, but in the interests of completing SALT II, the U.S. had agreed to exclude the Backfire from the SALT II aggregate limits, conditioned on the Soviet Union’s making a statement on this issue. Brezhnev had made a statement to us. The two sides had also agreed that the President would respond. The President wanted to say that this statement was important, and he acknowledged receipt of it. The United States entered into the SALT II agreement on the basis of the Soviet statement which the U.S. regarded as a commitment that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will not significantly increase the range/payload capability of this airplane in any manner, and will not produce this aircraft at a rate of more than 30 per year. The United States considered the carrying out of these commitments to be essential to the obligations assumed under the SALT II agreement. As the President understood it, Brezhnev agreed that the maximum production rate of the Backfire would not exceed 30 per year. Would Brezhnev state that the maximum production rate of the Backfire would not exceed 30 per year?

Foreign Minister Gromyko stated that no answer was required.

The President asked for confirmation that this was the basis on which we would be signing the SALT II Treaty. He added that the U.S. had the right to an aircraft comparable to the Backfire.

The President wanted to turn to the issue of verification which would be, we believed, a major focus not only of our discussions now but as we move towards our negotiations on SALT III. He noted that he could not stress too strongly the utmost importance of the ability to verify compliance to the relations between our two countries, to the prospects for ratification, and to the success of future negotiations. He said that the agreement cannot survive if the United States determines that our monitoring efforts are being impeded.

The President wanted to turn now to a special element of verification, telemetry encryption, a subject which was vital to ratification of the SALT agreement and to the viability of the agreement after it entered into force. We have, after long and complex negotiations, successfully settled this question, adequate to conclude the SALT II Treaty. Our understanding was that the USSR agreed with us that certain telemetric information was relevant to verification of the provisions of the agreement because such telemetric information provided information concerning compliance with the provisions of the agreement, and that the deliberate denial of such telemetric information, such as by encryption, was therefore prohibited. And our understanding was also that [Page 950] we agreed that certain telemetric information was not relevant to verification of compliance with the provisions of the agreement and that the deliberate denial of that information which was not relevant to verification of the provisions of the agreement, such as by encryption, was therefore not prohibited.

The President asked Brezhnev to confirm that his understanding of this aspect of the encryption matter was the same as ours, because this particular issue was critically important in connection with entry into force of the Treaty.

Brezhnev said that this question had been discussed on numerous occasions by Gromyko and Vance.

Gromyko confirmed that he had discussed this matter with Vance on several occasions, while the SALT Delegations have discussed it dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times. It had been agreed that there must be no encryption of information involving parameters covered by the Treaty. He wanted to repeat, there must be no encryption of information involving parameters covered by the Treaty. Though he hoped that no misunderstandings would arise on this score, if they did, they could be considered in the Standing Consultative Commission. Accordingly, an understanding had been reached on that score.

Brezhnev agreed with Gromyko’s statement. Brezhnev continued that in short, the sides must not encrypt that telemetry information which was necessary for verification of compliance with the provisions of the Treaty. That is, they must not impede verification by national technical means of compliance with parameters governed by the Treaty. The Soviet side had proposed to discuss compilation of a specific list of data which must not be encrypted. The President’s representatives, however, had refused to do so, and it was agreed that in the event of ambiguities in the future, they would be considered in the Standing Consultative Commission. Thus, the Soviet Union proceeded from that premise.

The President said that we proceeded on the basis of that Soviet understanding.

The President wanted to address several points which concerned him. He thought that Brezhnev’s statement that until the Treaty was ratified its provisions were not binding on the two sides constituted a departure from past experience and from international custom. The U.S. was prepared to take no action which would be inconsistent with the terms of the Treaty from the time of signature. He hopes that the USSR would make the same commitment. The President noted that this was the case with the limited test ban treaty and with the Vladivostok understanding. He considered this to be consistent with international law. He knew of no case in which two sides had signed an agreement that they did not abide by immediately. We were prepared to abide by [Page 951] the provisions of the Treaty from the time of signature and requested the Soviet Union to do the same.

Brezhnev replied that Gromyko had discussed this matter with Vance on dozens of occasions.

Gromyko said that it had been discussed yesterday.

The President could not understand why the Soviet side was unwilling to agree to that.

Gromyko said that there was no international tradition, no universally accepted tradition, under which treaties or agreements entered into force immediately after signing, if they required ratification. The Soviet Union had concluded over 11,000 agreements and treaties with other states, but not one of these agreements or treaties had entered into force automatically if it required ratification. The sides were not bound by provisions of treaties or agreement which had not entered into force. He had previously discussed this matter at length with Vance. Today Brezhnev had made a statement of principle on that score. The Soviet position remained as stated. The Soviet Union retained that position.

Brezhnev asked what was troubling the President.

The President said that he would pursue this matter one more time. Obviously, this would have to be a Soviet decision. He wanted to hope, however, that once he and Brezhnev had reached an agreement on behalf of our two countries, that agreement would be binding. Previously we had extended the provisions of the SALT I agreement beyond expiration of the Interim Agreement on the basis of the word of the President of the USSR and the President of the U.S. He also wanted to point out that, as he had mentioned earlier, despite the fact that the U.S. still had not ratified the limited test ban treaty, all terms of that treaty were being honored. He thought that a departure from that practice would set a bad precedent and it was of concern to us. He would not pursue this matter further because this was a decision to be taken by the Soviet Union. But he was concerned about a departure from previous practice. No matter what the Soviet Union would do, it was the President’s intent not to undertake any actions which would be inconsistent with the SALT II Treaty.

Brezhnev said that it was time to turn to the next question because we had spent too much time on a totally clear issue.

The President noted Brezhnev’s statement that the Soviet Union had no intention of being the first to use conventional arms or nuclear arms against any other country, that is, that it would not engage in “first use.” If a statement were to be prepared along these lines, covering conventional arms, as well as nuclear arms, we would be prepared to agree to such a statement. The President thought that if we [Page 952] could pursue this further, perhaps we could make a joint statement if its wording could be agreed upon.

Brezhnev thought that this would be possible.

The President said that another issue frequently being raised by the Soviet Union concerned the U.S. decision to develop the MX missile. He wanted to point out that the MX was not nearly as formidable a system as the Soviet SS–18 missile and that in throw-weight and other characteristics it was equivalent to the SS–19. This was not a new or drastic escalation of weapons in a qualitative sense beyond what the Soviet Union was familiar with over years of experience.

Moreover, as the President had informed Brezhnev in an earlier personal message, deployment of the MX, when developed, would not involve its exclusion from verification by national technical means.

The President noted that Brezhnev, in referring to the Protocol, had spoken of the need to extend it while discussing further arms limitation in SALT III. These matters would be negotiated, but extension of the Protocol was not a presumption at this point. It would be part of negotiations, of future SALT agreements. The Protocol terms should not be assumed to be precedential. The Protocol would expire in accordance with the terms already negotiated.

The President noted that several times Brezhnev had mentioned future discussion of the SS–20, the Backfire, the SS–4 and the SS–5, and U.S. forward-based systems, as well as the arms of our allies and China. Inasmuch as the next session would be devoted to future negotiations, he thought that we could discuss these matters tomorrow.

Brezhnev expressed the view that today we have had useful discussion on some issues, while on others we had repeated what we had said on previous occasions, but repetition was the mother of learning. He was pleased with the course of today’s discussion.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 37, Memcons: President: 6/79. Secret. This meeting took place at the U.S. Embassy. President Carter arrived in Vienna for the summit with Brezhnev on June 15. Documentation on the summit is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. VI, Soviet Union.
  2. Not attached. The statement is also printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 1079.
  3. The full text of Deputy Press Secretary Granum’s remarks, June 8, on Carter’s decision to deploy the MX missile, an ICBM in a mobile basing mode, is in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 1016.