63. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, USA Department (Interpreter)

[Omitted here is an exchange of professions of their commitment to détente by Nixon and Gromyko.]

[Gromyko:] When Dr. Kissinger was in Moscow—and you discussed this briefly with Podgorny in Paris2—we discussed in detail the possibility of a new SALT agreement. We also had an opportunity to discuss this matter when I was last in Washington about three months ago.3 As hitherto, we attach great importance to reaching agreement on this question. Our determination to search for agreement with you has not abated. At the conclusion of our discussions with Dr. Kissinger in Moscow we, that is Brezhnev, submitted a proposal4 and we are now awaiting the official reply to it. Toward the end of the discussions the General Secretary said that it is not all that easy for us to come to a formulation of a proposal. We had to weigh all factors very carefully before making the proposal and we hope that the US appreciates it. After all, there is considerable disparity in numbers of missiles to be allowed under the agreement—1000 to 1100, meaning an advantage of 100 for you—and considering that each missile, that is, each naval missile will have 10—at least 10—MIRVs, the US will have an advantage of 1000 warheads.

[Page 241]

Kissinger: They don’t trust our information, Mr. President. We tested it once with 12 warheads but only used 10, but it doesn’t make any difference.

Gromyko: I would like to stress that if we reach agreement on this basis, it would mean in fact that the US would be ahead of the Soviet Union for the entire duration of the next agreement. Of course it is hard to say how the gap will progress, whether it will narrow or widen and how the “scissor” will move exactly; but the US will always be ahead. This really makes for a double inequality—formal and factual.

And I would like to mention one other point. Voices are sometimes heard in the US alleging that the US and the President should make every effort to “correct” the previous agreement and obtain a sizable advantage. Anyone can, of course, interpret an agreement as he wants. But we categorically reject that the Soviet Union was in a better position as a result of the last agreement. We categorically reject that. We should like to hope that you as Head of State and of the US Administration will take an objective approach to this question, proceeding from the assumption that the previous agreement places both sides in a position of equality. If there were any inequality, it would be the US who would be at an advantage because of one factor, your forward based systems. I hope all this will be weighed carefully and you will give an appropriate answer to those shouters who want to place difficulties in the way of understanding. I don’t know if they base themselves more on domestic or on foreign considerations but in any case they should be disabused of their false views.

President: Let me comment briefly on the entire area of strategic weapons. We have some areas for reaching an understanding. First, defensive weapons. Each side agrees not to construct site number two. Second, this is more technical—the question of not testing nuclear weapons above a certain threshold. This is very technical but I have instructed Dr. Kissinger to work with your people and we should be able to agree at least in principle. Third, this is more difficult still. We had hoped to get a permanent agreement but this is not possible. So we are talking about MIRVs because they most affect the balance. Now you mention numbers but you have enormous advantages in throw weight. Consequently, in the discussions of MIRVs we have to consider throw weight as well as numbers. And also whether MIRVs apply both to land and sea-based missiles or only to one or the other. But this is a difficult problem for us internally. There are those critical of the Interim Agreement because of the great Soviet advantage in throw weight. But we want agreement in SALT III—Summit III—as we had in SALT I and SALT II. Now we have already suggested a threshold test ban. On the MIRV agreement, having in mind the numbers problem, we should negotiate and attempt to reach agreement with you having in mind that [Page 242] we have a problem and we having in mind that you have a problem. We cannot negotiate ourselves into an inferior position. Nor can you. It is possible to reach agreement in that area provided there is an intention on both sides. And that is certainly true of Mr. Brezhnev and of you, and of me and Dr. Kissinger and others. I think you would agree, Secretary Kissinger.

Kissinger: Yes, it is very difficult but we should do it. On the test ban, we should have technical talks soon. On SALT, we have the problem that the two forces were designed in different ways and that now makes it difficult to establish equivalence. We each designed our forces independently not with each other’s advice, although our critics are trying to blame the Soviets for decisions we made years ago. We have to relate numbers in some way: how many of each category to MIRV and over what period of time. I will talk to Mr. Gromyko at lunch on the technical aspects and won’t hold you up with that now, Mr. President. We are now studying very carefully the Soviet proposal and we will submit our position first to you, Mr. President, and then to you and the General Secretary within about ten days. But I must say our press has really been unfair on this whole subject.

President: We are determined that unless we come to some sort of impasse this is a problem that can be negotiated. Both sides have to approach it in this way: Mr. Brezhnev cannot make an agreement that gives us an advantage and I cannot make an agreement that gives you an advantage. That is the spirit we should conduct negotiations in.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1028, Memcons–HAK & Presidential, March 1–May 8, 1974. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. The original is incorrectly dated April 11. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Gromyko on April 12 from 11:02 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) The full memorandum of conversation is Document 173 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974.
  2. The memorandum of conversation of Nixon’s meeting with Podgorny in Paris is printed as Document 171, ibid.
  3. See Document 52.
  4. See Document 61.