30. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Washington Post Luncheon


  • Department of State
  • The Secretary
  • George S. Vest, Special Assistant for Press Relations
  • Washington Post
  • Benjamin Bradlee, Executive Director
  • Howard Simons, Managing Editor
  • Philip Geyelin, Editorial Page Editor
  • Meg Greenfield, Editorial Page Duty Editor
  • Steve Rosenfeld, Editorial Page
  • Richard Harwood, Assistant Managing Editor For National Affairs
  • Philip Foisie, Assistant Managing Editor For Foreign Affairs
  • Lee Lescaze, Assistant Foreign Editor
  • Ronald Koven, Correspondent
  • Murray Marder, Correspondent
  • Marilyn Berger, Correspondent
  • Dan Morgan, Correspondent

[It was agreed that all comments would be DEEP BACKGROUND, unless otherwise specified.]2

Question: What do we want the Europeans to be, allies or satellites?

The Secretary: We began our effort with the Europeans early last year in the conviction that our relationship was more like that of adversaries than of friends. I felt we required a new vision. That was the essential intent of my April 23rd speech.3 However, the debate quickly degenerated into something weird and almost unbelievable. I set out to initiate a creative dialogue. If I had forseen the results, I would not have begun the process.

People say I did not consult adequately before the speech. In January, 1973, I discussed my ideas on two separate times with Heath. I fully explained them then to Pompidou as is evidenced by his inter[Page 158]view with Scotty Reston in December, 1972. I also discussed them with Brandt. After the speech I tried to proceed in a cooperative way—particularly with France. I saw Jobert four times and his condition for cooperation in May and June, 1973,4 was that we pursue the matter bilaterally with France. Davignon was outraged. The first phase was a bilateral. However, France shifted to a second phase in August and insisted that all work should go through the European Community, that the Community could not talk to the U.S. until after it had a firm united position and then that its designated spokesman could communicate but not negotiate any change in that position. It was like dealing with Vichinsky.5 This turned the whole effort into a theological argument. We do not want a Europe which is a satellite, but we should be able to define our differences and discuss them rationally with the Europeans.

As for the declaration, it was to have been the precursor of a substantive dialogue, not a substitute for it. You ask should we continue with it. We don’t know. The declarations are not important in themselves. If we choose not to finish them or if we don’t finish them, then I would think that we cannot really go to Europe. The issue is whether it makes better sense to pretend there is understanding among us or to let the issue rest for awhile and make another genuine effort later on. OFF THE RECORD: You asked why I was not willing to advertise to you in advance that the April 23rd speech was an important one. You should recall that I was the Special Assistant to the President at the time I spoke and had a natural jurisdictional problem with my predecessor,6 so I was reticent about building up my public statements at the time. END OFF THE RECORD.

You ask, since I have called the Europeans “corrupt and craven”, what is their value? Why are we making such an effort over them? First, family quarrels have a special intensity. In my writings you will find that I have always expressed a special concern with the Europeans. Their behavior has been tragic, legalistic and petty. I may have been extreme in my comment at times but the consequences are of such importance. Consider, what can be the future of Europe. It can become Finlandized, a backwater, or play a helpful Western role.

Always we have to keep in mind the problem of future evolution in the Soviet Union. We cannot dispute the possibility that some young Russians may reach positions of power and say, “Let’s get this country [Page 159] moving again” and then it will be a much more dangerous situation. The third world is anti-Western, if not anti-U.S. The U.S. cannot do everything by itself on the globe. Thus it is extremely important that other centers assume responsibility. I consider it highly important for Europe to be more confident and more active. For me the whole point of the Year of Europe was not to create the conditions for a satellite but to encourage the evolution of allies who could play a role such as I have been mentioning.

As for a prediction about what Europe might become, I think there is a better than even chance Europe will become a historical backwater. Its present course is suicidal. Take the case of oil and consider their own interests. If we in the West engage in bilateral competition for resources, they will lose, but in the end it will be bad for all of us. If they go to a meeting with Arab Ministers, it is bound to turn out badly since the Europeans simply will be forced to back the radical Arab elements. They are not strong enough to do otherwise. The official European story as to how the European Community was drawn into its special effort with the Arabs is hardly believable. It goes back to the moment when the four Arab representatives spontaneously, so some Europeans claim, turned up at Copenhagen.7 The four were ministers from Tunisia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Algeria. And they obviously did not really represent the Arabs. The Europeans only told me about their proposed activity with the Arabs two days before the Washington Energy Conference.8 At that time an FRG official leaked a document (which turned out to be inaccurate) forewarning us and saying his action would be denied if revealed. We never received an official communication.

Now, for the most recent episode in Europe in Bonn.9 I had some general talk with Scheel but no real forewarning of impending action. The next day I was in Brussels, a peculiar situation where the European foreign ministers were present in town but I was left to talk to the ambassadors in NATO. I never attemped to see the ministers and Scheel only informed me of action after the fact.

I do think we have to keep our perspective. Neither we nor the Europeans should have a veto on action by the other. But on matters af[Page 160]fecting vital policy of the other, each should be ready to consult and try to coordinate. In practice the European Community as it now works has not been willing to do this. The problem of the mechanics or an arrangement for consultation is in part the guts of the issue. We do not believe we would have had the differences we have had on the Middle East or on energy if we had talked these issues out fully and freely. But the real issue is that the Europeans it seems cannot define their position except in opposition to the U.S.

OFF THE RECORD: On my relations with the President, I see him every day. Obviously he has many preoccupations now and the intensity of our discussions on foreign policy matters is less. After all, whatever your judgement of events it has been a shattering experience for him. Is he short tempered? Not with me. I have never had such treatment. I would say over the last several months, from the time he came back from San Clemente until this week, he has acquired a certain serenity, none of the nastiness such as your paper has implied from time to time. Is he in charge of foreign policy? I’m getting adequate guidance. There was a period when the public relations people gave the impression he was making every tactical move. In fact he has always concentrated on the big strategic issues and he makes the fundamental decisions, the major ones. On tactical moves, I think I know his mind and what he wants. This way of working is nothing new. It is simply a matter of degree. END OFF THE RECORD.

As I have said before, you cannot continue to attack the central authority without some consequence for our ability to carry out policy. I say this analytically, you cannot do this without paying a price. With all modesty one consequence these days has been an excessive attention to me. But remember when a foreign leader makes agreements, he does so on the basis of his expectation of performance in carrying out that agreement. And, of course, when the central authority is attacked enough, that expectation is reduced.

I have to supply continuity and a sense of steadiness and be true to my responsibility to the President. On the way back from Panama10 a group of Congressmen were holding forth that it would be easier to impeach and that moreover, I would take care of foreign policy so it really didn’t matter so much. I responded that it would be very different to carry on foreign policy for an impeached president than for one who was under attack. I have never said what I would do. But be clear on this. I will not let my office be used as a basis for influencing Congressional action on impeachment.

[Page 161]

Question: What’s happening to détente and what are the Soviets up to?

The Secretary: There has been much argument over who has gained what in the process of détente. You should keep in mind that the Soviets could ask themselves rather searching questions about whether they have gained enough in the process. Grain, yes, they did gain. It was not discussed at the Summit between the President and Brezhnev. But they did put one over on us because of a bumbling bureaucracy. But except for the wheat deal what have they gotten out of détente?

In this country some liberal groups seem unwilling to accept any monument to an achievement by this administration.

I think we have to assess in which direction Soviet attitudes are moving. I think I can detect a certain chill in Soviet attitudes. They are faced with a lot of problems when they look at the course of affairs inside the U.S. and even a compromise with Jackson on MFN may not save détente; without a compromise it is hard to foresee what might happen to détente. As for the form of a compromise, I can’t say now, that is really up to Jackson and Ribicoff.

On SALT, I agree with your editorial.11 Jackson’s pressure was a major factor in increased Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, but beyond a certain point it is not helpful. On SALT, I don’t negotiate with Jackson. We will pay no price in that area in order to get MFN. SALT affects the future of this country for the next fifteen years and we just will not play with it.

I have no difference with Schlesinger—although people try to impute problems to us. He has a different constituency from mine. I have no evidence that he does not see the basic problems of SALT in the same way I do. We have breakfast together every week, plus other frequent meetings together with Colby and Moorer. And there are verification panel meetings which are used to bring out all technical viewpoints. I consider him an ally.

As for a chill with the Soviets, I should emphasize that there are no Soviet actions yet that you can really judge by, it is just a gut feeling, the way communications are addressed, the number of them and this rather lengthy absence of Dobrynin. What could happen next? It could take some form of stiff opposition from the Soviets in all international forums, but most immediately in the Middle East making it difficult to proceed as we do, a push for reactivation of the Geneva Conference, increased détente efforts with the Europeans and an effort to create differences between us and the Europeans. I repeat, it has not showed up [Page 162] as yet. Maybe they’re only waiting for me to get there. Gromyko’s pattern on the Middle East was frantic and a little undignified: in each capital he arrived after me, after the decisions had been made. The Soviet media commentary on the oil embargo which backed a hard line, is it a sign? Maybe. Certainly progress in SALT would be a litmus test—absence of progress on SALT would not be. It depends on how big a bite we want. But we can have a SALT further agreement in time for the Presidential visit to Moscow.

In SALT there would normally be three phases. First, technical discussions, second a conceptual break-through, and the time need not be too long between the second and third phase, final negotiations. However, we have not yet made the conceptual break-through.

You ask if the détente has not loosened the alliance. Well in CSCE, the Europeans have been almost as obnoxious to the Soviets as any one else. The truth of the matter is that détente with its illusion of peace, or perhaps the reality of peace, leaves the nations free to be tougher with the Soviets.

The reaction to the alert during the Middle East war must raise questions in the Soviet minds about how long the U.S. can sustain stiff positions. This is a factor we have to bear in mind. On balance, I expect the Soviets to continue to opt for détente.

You asked what are the benefits for the U.S. in détente? It has enabled us to end the Viet-Nam war, temporarily to calm down the Middle East war, to stabilize the situation in Europe, and to start on the path toward controlling the arms race. The two super-powers have begun to regulate their relationship and to make a beginning of working on problems without pushing to extremes.

What about Ambassador Bruce? He asked some time ago if he could come back for consultation. While here I got his judgment on Europe. His presence here had nothing to do with China. The Chinese have been going to great efforts to signal to us that their own policy initiative to the U.S. is unchanged. It is true that they don’t seem at the moment to have the time to cultivate our relationship as they did last year.

As for the Soviets and the Middle East, I don’t think the Soviets have made up their minds what they want in the Middle East, or what they are prepared to pay in that area. They are in the process of reassessing their policy. They have three choices. One, they can force the issue and drive us to another air lift for Israel, which would be difficult to sustain. Two, they can wait for us to fall on our face. The further down the road we go, the more difficult the tasks become. We have scrupulously avoided saying we support the ’67 frontiers. Three, they could go ahead and accept peace in the area, which is incidentally, quite unlikely. A settlement between Israel and Syria will take a miracle. Israel now has placed settlements on the edge of the Golan [Page 163] Heights. Syria operates on the theory that all of Israel historically belongs to Syria. The chances are slightly better than 50–50 that I can succeed in obtaining a disengagement there.

My timetable for the immediate future is, first, a visit to Moscow later this month with a stop in London on the way back. I do not plan to add a visit to the Middle East on the way back from Moscow. That would be too much of an indignity for the Soviets. I expect to come back from Moscow, deal with a Syrian emissary, and then hope for vacation.

Question: What about subpoenas, and this talk of more wire taps?

The Secretary: I have not been subpoenaed in connection with Ehrlichman12 or any other case and can only be asked questions in connection with the situation in 1970. It would reveal that I took a very dim view of the theft of the Pentagon papers or of unauthorized revelations concerning the China trip or the SALT negotiations. But to go from there to a connection with the burglaries of a psychiatrist’s office is a big step. I think it would be a double-edged sword.

Will the President go to the Middle East in May? There is talk of it, but no date. It depends on progress on Syrian disengagement. As for a trip to Europe, we have not made a decision.

On Viet-Nam, it seems quite clear that there will be no offensive this dry season. Plausibly, if South Viet-Nam doesn’t withstand an offensive now, it will be their own fault. They have the wherewithal.

Back to the Soviet Union, I do not believe the Soviet Union exercised the restraint it could have in the Middle East. On the other hand, if the Soviets perceived that the Arabs would lose the war and didn’t want to further diminish their influence, it could be understood why the Soviets played out their hand as they did. The U.S.-Soviet relationship is delicate, partly antagonistic, partly collaborative, and where the balance is, I cannot judge. I do not think the Soviets provoked the Middle East war. Arab leaders assured me of this. But the Soviets did provide the objective conditions in which the war could happen. I would not be surprised as a result of Gromyko’s visit to Egypt to see more Soviet arms sent to Egypt. I make this comment based on no intelligence sources whatsoever.

As for King Hussein, we’ll give him some more arms but we cannot compete on the Soviet scale. He is paying the price of moderation. Given the Israeli political situation, the Israelis have almost no [Page 164] choice, because their choice is to deal with the King or Arafat. They are doing neither at the moment, which is really a choice for Arafat. I assume someone will speak for Arafat when Geneva reopens. But Israel needs the National Religious Party to govern—so this inhibits the Israelis from making any decision on the West Bank.

Back to Europe, if the Europeans pursue their present course, we’ll disassociate from them for their own good. It is a historic tragedy. For years they complained that we ignored them. Now they complain about being dragged into too close a relationship. The leadership there is obsessed with internal matters and with lesser things. It was prepared to haggle interminably over the word “partnership” and to be obsessed about procedure so that at the Washington Energy Conference, for which we had prepared in great detail, we never reached substance but were hung up on procedure among the Europeans. We were not trying to tell Europe what was best for each of them.

In France there is an inflamed domestic situation in which the French are united only on being anti-American. The FRG wishes not to break with either side. The UK is internally preoccupied with its own politics. If the Europeans go ahead and give technical assistance at a meeting with the Arabs, what will we do? The U.S. has not fully decided; our next course is under study. OFF THE RECORD: As for the declarations, we could stop any more work on them today and have the President go to Europe and have a great success, because 98% of what I asked for in my speech last year could be claimed as achieved. But it would be politically and historically false. It would not mean that the Atlantic nations were moving vigorously toward unity of action and understanding. So I ask, is it worth going on to a big production under that circumstance or is the issue something we have to decide. If we shelve the declaration, people will say it was a great failure. If we go on with them, we contribute to an illusion. There is a 50–50 chance they will be completed but the way in which this is done and the timing will be our decision. The real question is will it be a meaningful activity. END OFF THE RECORD.

As for the Argentine and Canadian application to ship to Cuba, the Canadian request is different because it is a Canadian company with some U.S. directors and using some U.S. parts. The Argentine case involved a U.S. subsidiary. I have made two separate recommendations, not necessarily different, to the President and it is in his hands. It is very possible the question will be resolved by the time of the OAS meeting in Atlanta in the latter part of April.13

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1028, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons 1 Mar 1974–8 May 1974 HAK & Presidential [3 of 4]. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Vest. The meeting was held at the Washington Post building.
  2. Brackets are in the original.
  3. Document 8.
  4. Records of Kissinger’s discussions with Jobert are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–15, part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976.
  5. Reference is to Andrey Vyshinsky, who served as Soviet Foreign Minister, 1949–1953.
  6. Secretary of State William Rogers resigned his position in August 1973 and was succeeded by Kissinger. See Document 16.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 29.
  8. See Document 27 for details concerning the Washington Energy Conference.
  9. Kissinger met with Brandt and Scheel in Bonn on March 3. On March 4, Kissinger arrived in Brussels in order to brief NATO and EC officials on the Middle East peace process. While in Brussels, Kissinger met with Scheel at the West German Embassy and discussed the relationship between the United States and EC nations and the EC’s decision to offer industrial and economic cooperation to Arab nations. Documentation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–15, part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976.
  10. See footnote 6, Document 28.
  11. “Trade, Détente—and Soviet Emigration,” Washington Post, March 10, 1974, p. B–6.
  12. During September 1973, former Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman was indicted on burglary conspiracy charges in California in connection with the 1971 burglary of Dr. Lewis Fielding’s office. Fielding was Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. See Anthony Ripley, “Several ‘Major’ Criminal Indictments In Next 2 Months Hinted by Jaworski,” New York Times, January 1, 1974, p. 17.
  13. Kissinger addressed the fourth regular General Assembly of the OAS in Atlanta April 19–20. For the text of Kissinger’s remarks, see Department of State Bulletin, May 13, 1974, pp. 509–515.