245. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • Iran, Christopher Mission to Afghanistan, SALT and Brown Trip to China


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • State
  • Secretary Vance
  • Deputy Secretary Christopher
  • Defense
  • Secretary Brown
  • Deputy Secretary Claytor
  • CIA
  • Deputy Director Carlucci
  • White House
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Hamilton Jordan
  • Lloyd Cutler
  • Jody Powell
  • David Aaron


[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Dr. Brzezinski said the first issue was SALT. The President said that he had talked to Robert Byrd and the Majority Leader wanted to keep SALT on the calendar but not bring it up onto the Floor.2

The President said that he had been able to persuade Byrd not to make a statement to that effect when he left the White House. It was the President’s view that we ought to leave it on the calendar and maintain our approach of working closely with the Majority Leader on this issue.

Dr. Brzezinski said that SALT was important regardless of our relationship to the U.S.S.R., but we will have to accept that at this time it is not advisable to bring it to a vote. Lloyd Cutler agreed. There was no sense to withdraw it completely since it was in our security interest, but that we cannot get the requisite as long as Iran and Afghanistan are unresolved.3 Therefore, he thought we should defer bringing it to the Floor but leave it on the calendar. However, if the Soviets veto sanc [Page 973] tions on Iran, we may have to look even at the possibility of withdrawing it from the calendar.

The President said that Robert Byrd had reminded him that the Executive Branch has no control over the Senate’s calendar and that he, the President, could not pull it back by himself. However, he indicated that he would be prepared to consult with us and cooperate.

The Secretary of Defense said the most we can do is to keep SALT alive. He thought that as part of our rationale we could explain that SALT was in our global interest, but that since other negotiations, such as the Indian Ocean talks, were affected by the movement into Afghanistan, we would terminate them. We would make clear the Soviets have removed the basis for Indian Ocean arms control which was to reduce great power rivalry in the region. On the other hand, the basis for SALT was to lessen the danger of nuclear war and avoid an arms race in the nuclear area, particularly when our priorities were to increase our conventional capabilities. Therefore, we were not pulling back the SALT Treaty. We were simply not going forward onto the Floor with it.

Dr. Brzezinski said he thought that leaving arms control activities out of the measures of retaliation against the Soviet Union is consistent with the position that had been adopted with our NATO allies. He pointed to the continuation of MBFR in this connection. Moreover, singling out the Indian talks for rejection would be unwise since the Soviets would exploit this with a new Indian government. However, given that it is dead already, he would be in favor of simply leaving it moribund.

Secretary Brown explained that the Indian Ocean negotiations were not concerned with arms control but rather with arms deployments. He said he was tempted to say that this was true for the conventional arms talks as well. Dr. Brzezinski replied that if we are trying to pursue punitive action, this did not help since the Indian Ocean talks were already dead. Moreover, it would not enhance our position or embarrass them because they could turn cancellation of the Indian Ocean talks against us with the Indians.

The Secretary of State agreed with Dr. Brzezinski. As for the conventional arms talks, he felt it should be left on the table. But he would not go forward with the meeting next week between the heads of delegation. On SALT, he thought it was important to leave it on the calendar. He reported that Senator Hart and others had heard that Robert Byrd had urged that we pull it all the way back. The President said no, Senator Byrd did not want to do that.

The Deputy Secretary of State said that the Europeans place great store by SALT. They would like the approach that we are considering. They want to keep other arms control negotiations going. On MBFR, [Page 974] the ball is in the Soviet court anyway. Our action to defer SALT would be widely understood by our European allies.4

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 2, NSC Meeting: #26 Held 1/2/80, 1/80. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Carter met with Senator Byrd on December 31 from 2:20 to 2:48 p.m., and they spoke briefly on the telephone late in the evening of January 1. (Ibid., Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. Iranian students seized the Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, taking 52 Americans hostage, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 25, 1979.
  4. In a memorandum of January 3 to Mondale, Vance, Brown, Jones, and Turner, Brzezinski informed them that, in accordance with the decision at this NSC meeting, “The SALT Treaty will be left on the Senate calendar. There will be no effort to bring it to the Floor for a vote. Our public posture will be to reaffirm that SALT is important irrespective of the tone of our relationship with the Soviet Union, but, at this time, we do not believe it is advisable to bring it to a vote.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 2, NSC Meeting: #26 Held 1/2/80, 1/80)