97. Note From the United States to the Soviet Union1

The negotiations in Geneva have failed to make progress on three general sets of issues that could now be considered in the confidential channel with the aim of agreeing on the instructions to be given both delegations when the talks resume.

1. The first set of issues relates to the US proposal for verification of the limitation on missiles equipped with MIRVs.2 It is essential that the final agreement contain provisions that leave no room for questioning whether the limit of 1320 MIRVed missiles is being exceeded; national technical means will be unable to monitor this limitation unless there is specific agreement on certain rules of deployment. Without such rules, we cannot expect an agreement to be accepted by the US Congress.

The MIRV verification proposal put forward by the US Delegation meets our concerns, but we understand the Soviet argument that it could result in counting some single-warhead ICBMs as MIRVed. Our understanding of the Soviet position, however, is that this concern ap [Page 420] plies only to the new heavy ICBMs, known in the US as the SS–18. Proceeding from this assumption, it might be possible to consider a modification in the US position to take account of the special case of this ICBM. Thus, the US would be willing to discuss the following approach:

—There would be an agreement that for the Soviet ICBM known as the SS–18, the USSR would specify those ICBM complexes where the MIRVed version of this missile would be deployed; this specification would be made prior to the actual deployment, and the total number of SS–18 launchers contained in those specified complexes would be counted against the 1320 limit.

—The presence of MIRV-related ground support equipment and facilities at complexes that contain SS–18s with single warheads would not be permitted.

In all other respects, the US position on MIRV verification remains as presented by the US Delegation.

2. The second set of issues relates to cruise missiles and bombers. The US continues to believe that long-range cruise missiles carried on bombers are essential for certain purposes other than strategic attack. As such, these missiles are not strategic weapons. At the same time, the US recognizes that beyond certain ranges cruise missiles could become strategic delivery vehicles. The issue, therefore, is to define a dividing line that meets the US position and takes account of Soviet concerns.

The US side would be willing to accept a dividing line set at 3000 km. Cruise missiles with a range up to 3000 km carried on heavy bombers would be permitted without limitation and would not count against the aggregate of 2400. Cruise missiles with a range greater than 3000 km carried on heavy bombers, however, would qualify as strategic delivery vehicles and would count against the limit of 2400.

In light of Soviet concerns related to other types of cruise missiles, the US would also be willing to apply the 3000 km dividing line to sea-based and land-based cruise missiles, counting those with ranges greater than 3000 km in the 2400 aggregate.

In return for these concessions to the Soviet view, the US would expect that the Soviet side would agree that the potential strategic capabilities of the Backfire aircraft warrant its being classified as a heavy bomber. While the US recognizes that at present this aircraft is being used for missions that are not intercontinental, such use does not solve the problem that this bomber has inherent capabilities as great as those aircraft which both sides have agreed to count as heavy bombers.

Nevertheless, to accommodate Soviet objections to counting bombers currently deployed for peripheral missions, we believe that it should be possible to reach agreement on certain criteria which would [Page 421] provide the basis for exceptions to the general rule that the Backfire must be counted within the 2400 limitation. As an example, those Backfire aircraft deployed with naval units operating out of bases in the Southern USSR and not supported by aerial tankers might, under certain circumstances, not be counted in the 2400 aggregate.

3. The third set of issues relates to mobile missiles. Quite frankly, we are uncertain of the Soviet position. We assume that the USSR reserves the right to deploy a land-mobile ICBM, and that, if this occurs, all such missiles would automatically be counted against the 2400 limit. At the same time, the USSR takes the position that all air-launched ballistic missiles carried on aircraft other than bombers will be banned, that MIRVs will be banned on air-launched ballistic missiles, and that deployment of long-range ballistic missiles on surface ships will also be banned. This approach, of course, greatly favors the side that has an interest in land-mobile ICBMs.

It would be helpful if the Soviet side could clarify its position more precisely, in light of the following question: Would it be preferable to ban all mobile missile deployments other than SLBMs—land, sea or air-launched—or would it be preferable to permit all of them, but to count them against the aggregate of 2400?

4. One final problem that should be discussed relates to the timing of further negotiations after the present agreement is completed. As agreed at Vladivostok, further negotiations on limitations and possible reductions are to start no later than 1980–81. Since the Vladivostok meeting, there have been expressions in the US Congress of the view that negotiations should, in fact, start earlier—that is, as soon as possible after the Vladivostok accords are completed and ratified. As a practical matter, this would mean that negotiations would probably resume during 1977. It would seem in the interest of both sides to resume discussions on strategic weapons during the year in which the Interim Agreement would expire and the new agreement goes into effect. In any case, it would be of considerable value in facilitating acceptance by Congress if we could specify that negotiations could begin within a year of the ratification of the Vladivostok agreement.3

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, May 19–20, 1975–Kissinger/Gromyko meetings in Vienna (2). Secret. The note was sent to Dobrynin by Scowcroft under a covering letter of May 10. (Ibid.)
  2. On February 28, Johnson reported his presentation of the most recent U.S. proposal on MIRVs in telegram 58 from USDEL SALT TWO Geneva. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number]) Subsequent reporting telegrams are ibid.
  3. During a meeting in Vienna, May 20, 10:20 a.m.–3:03 p.m., Kissinger asked Gromyko to comment on the U.S. note. Gromyko raised concerns that the United States was moving away from national technical means toward injecting international control measures for verification. He also objected to U.S. attempts to re-define heavy missiles and include the Soviet Backfire bomber, rather than use the clauses agreed to in the Aide-Mémoire of Vladivostok (Document 91). His final objection concerned the question of forward-based weapons, which he argued the United States continually refused to discuss. The memorandum of conversation is Document 150 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.