48. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

President: This talk about a war—doesn’t it make the American people realize the seriousness of it?

Kissinger: Yes, but this talk is irresponsible. The press was trying yesterday to make headlines—that it is irresponsible for you to go on a trip,2 that your Middle East policy is bankrupt and you ought to stay here and put it back together.

[There is discussion of Rockefeller]3

Kissinger: Dobrynin says the impact on the Soviets of Rockfeller is very bad. He keeps saying there is stability domestically but they don’t understand. For a Rockefeller to go through this after 40 years in politics, four times elected governor, they can’t believe it.

President: It is a vicious partisan jugular operation.

Kissinger: I told the television executives that we had not had catharsis after Vietnam because of Watergate and the country is awash with negativism. I said they were all responsible, that no idea got followed up, etc. They argued bitterly, but they called last night and apologized and said they would see how they could help. I said they should [Page 253] just support any decent idea we put forth—not simple negativism, nor did we want partisan support.

Bundy 4 called to say the energy speech could be a rallying point if you would get some Democrats around it.

President: In the case of the Marshall Plan, there was always a leadership group outside the White House which mobilized public opinion and supported the policies. That doesn’t exist.

On this trip, let’s talk about some people—labor, news media, academics, access to the board—that we could get to get going.

Kissinger: I would suggest that you put out a few themes to push, not 100.

President: We did a lousy job of selling in October.5 “Fortune” analyzed my October speech and said it was good but not sold.

Kissinger: Self-help is good here and the government doing it is bad. But your opponents are on the side of the government doing it. There is potential here.

On the trip, UNDOF might not be renewed. There will be no war. Nothing will happen before the Egyptian next step. If we don’t get one, we are in trouble. If we get one, we are in pretty good shape.

There is the [less than 1 line not declassified]

We must discuss how to discuss with Brezhnev the Middle East.6 Gromyko is hard-line because of his bureaucratic experience. I told Dobrynin we are fighting for our domestic lives here—if we wanted a stalemate, we would go to Geneva.

Dobrynin asked about you. I said you were more direct but your instinct was more to the right than Nixon. It is better to have them worry a bit. We lost two years with Kennedy because they thought he was too easy and rattled. If you could show you had an option and an instinct to go to the right...

President: I have a tough and bombastic side...

[Page 254]

Kissinger: I wouldn’t do that. I would show him still just a bit then throttle it. Be firm but friendly.

President: How many will be in the meetings?

Kissinger: With President Nixon, we had very few.

President: I would prefer no private meetings for two reasons: I want to show we are close and friendly. This is the big league.

Kissinger: You are in the Brezhnev league right now. I wouldn’t worry about your meeting him alone, but we should have a record of it.

President: I want them to know we are a team and would prefer not to meet alone.

Kissinger: Let’s see how it goes. You shouldn’t let it look like you are afraid to deal with him alone. You could speak alone and say stay in touch—we both have pressures but we must do our best. Take the Middle East: we must not let the Arabs play us against each other. We eventually have to go back to Geneva.

President: Yes, especially if there is a stalemate. They would prove worthwhile only we could make progress.

Kissinger: You don’t have to worry about comparison with Nixon. He was a poor negotiator. He was tough in private, but last June he hardly knew what the subject was.7 Nixon never liked to say no face-to-face. The Soviets respected him not for the negotiations but for his toughness, his daring to mine Haiphong just before his meeting with them.

President: I supported all those hard decisions.

Kissinger: The Soviets didn’t respect Kennedy—they thought he was weak. [Described SALT I crises and Nixon being mad.]8 I wouldn’t get into specifics with him head to head. If you two confront each other, there is no one to fall back on.

Their normal pattern is to start out friendly, then have one tough session, where you just stay calm and strong.

I think he wants a SALT agreement. He wants to be able to report he has established a relationship with you; third, he will want to assess you in a crisis.

President: If you see things heading the wrong way, don’t hesitate to set it straight.

Kissinger: We have a tough problem on the Middle East, and they do have a point. The theme in general for you to hit is that we are willing to cooperate in many areas. Be blunt with them in the crunches.

[Page 255]

President: Can I say I hope they don’t get the impression that the American people are in bad shape?

Kissinger: You shouldn’t do it that way. Act confident. You can say that we always have a unified country in foreign policy on major issues—and that you have great flexibility. You can mention the right-wing problems, and Jackson. You can reaffirm all our commitments and say we have to consider each other’s needs. Tell them you expect to be in until 1980 and our election was on internal issues. Ask him what is on his mind right at first.

Japan I am not worried about.9 Hit them on the energy thing. You won’t get a full endorsement, but this is an opportunity to mobilize the West like anti-Communism was.

You could mention to Brezhnev the danger of a Japanese-Chinese alliance. Say that is why we want to keep Japan tied to us and that is why we support Japan in Siberia.

The Chinese aren’t with us because they like us. They are cold-bloodedly using us. For 10 years we should support the Chinese, then we may have to join the Soviet Union. The Japanese are a great danger. In all their history they’ve never had permanent alignments.

The Japanese can do anything. They have such an unusual society that they can adjust to anything. The basic structure of their society can accommodate to any kind of system.

If we decline in world power, we will lose the Japanese. They have no psychological understanding of other societies—they do every insensitive thing while being very sensitive themselves. Don’t give Brezhnev all this but let him know there are things that only you two can do.

Your big problem will be the alliance thing. You should say you share the interest in preserving nuclear peace. Don’t be too negative. You agree with the objective but this is a monumental issue. I will write out some questions for you to give him.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 7, Memoranda of Conversations—Ford Administration, November 16, 1974—Ford, Kissinger. Secret; Nodis. The conversation took place in the Oval Office. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held from 10:50 a.m. until 12:10 p.m. (Ibid., Staff Secretary’s Office) Also printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 88.
  2. Reference is to the advisability of Ford undertaking a foreign trip—scheduled for November 17–24 to Japan, South Korea, and the Soviet Union—without a confirmed Vice President in office. Former New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s nomination for Vice President had stalled in Congress. During a meeting with the Time editorial board on November 11, Kissinger responded to a query as to whether Ford should follow his scheduled itinerary: “I think he has to go ahead now that it is set up. Of course, it was set up when the President thought Rockefeller would be confirmed before the [mid-term Congressional] election.” Kissinger then termed the equivocation over Rockefeller “a national disgrace.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry A. Kissinger, 1973–77, Lot 91D414, Box 26, Category C—Kissinger Memcons, November 1974–March 1975)
  3. Brackets are in the original.
  4. McGeorge Bundy, former President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (1961–1966).
  5. Presumably a reference to Ford’s October 8 address to a joint session of Congress on economic matters. The President used the address to introduce the administration’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) program, aimed at creating “inflation fighters and energy savers” of the American people. See Public Papers: Ford, 1974, pp. 228–238.
  6. Ford met with Brezhnev at the Okeanskaya military sanitarium near Vladivostok November 23–24. Most of their discussions focused on arms limitation. The November 24 Vladivostok agreement sought to establish an overall limit on ICBMs, SLBMs, and long-range bombers for both the United States and the Soviet Union. The text of the agreement is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1979. Documentation on the summit is ibid., volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.
  7. During the Moscow summit June 27–July 3. See footnote 2, Document 36.
  8. Brackets are in the original.
  9. President Ford stopped in Tokyo for a State visit before traveling to Vladivostok.