61. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • USSR:
  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Georgi M. Kornienko, Director of the USA Department and Member of the Collegium, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Andrei M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Counsellor, Second European Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • Andrei Vavilov, USA Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • US:
  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Amb. Walter J. Stoessel, Ambassador to the USSR
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor, Department of State
  • William G. Hyland, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State
  • Alexander Akalovsky, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • US-Soviet Relations; Middle East; Emigration; Nuclear War

[Omitted here are introductory comments and discussion of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.]

Ford: Mr. General Secretary, I’d like to make some comments first about détente.

Brezhnev: Please.

Ford: In the United States, there is a very encouraging overall attitude as to the progress we have made, the Soviet Union and the United [Page 333] States, in moving in the right direction on détente. On the other hand, I think it is fair—and I want to be frank: we have those on the right as well as on the left, who for various reasons, political and otherwise, would like to undermine what we have tried to implement and to destroy détente.

[Mr. Hyland comes in to join the meeting.]

And critics of détente are Democrats as well as Republicans.2 They would like to slow down or destroy the benefits that come from détente. But I can tell you very forcefully I am committed to détente, and the American people agree with me. I strongly feel our negotiations and our agreements in Vladivostok3 were pluses, were very successful. I believe the CSCE negotiations, the documents we will sign here, are pluses, and I am confident as we talk about SALT II, we can achieve success in this area. Perhaps as in our country, you have some critics in your own government who don’t believe that Vladivostok, CSCE, and SALT II are in the best interests of your country. But I can tell you in my term of office—and I expect that to be the next 5½ years—my aim, objective and total effort on my part will be to narrow our differences and achieve the benefits for your people, for our people, and I believe for the world as a whole.

Brezhnev: [interrupts translation at reference to critics of détente:] The only two people who are against détente are Kissinger and Gromyko. [Laughter].

Kissinger: Because as long as there is no détente, we can keep meeting. [Laughter].

Brezhnev: [interrupts translation at reference to 5½ years:] Why do you say only five years in office? Why not eight years?

[Mr. Akalovsky joins the meeting.]

Ford: Mr. Secretary, of course we have these critics of Vladivostok, the European Security Conference, and SALT, who would like me to have a term of office for 1½ years. But I am convinced beyond any doubt, if we can move the Vladivostok agreement beyond SALT and implement the atmosphere in which CSCE took place, I believe the critics will be pushed aside and the American people will support what you and I want to achieve. If we can make the kind of progress [we seek] on SALT, today and Saturday, it would be a great delight for me [Page 334] to have you visit the United States this fall. I was up in Camp David two weeks ago and Mrs. Ford and I were discussing what a beautiful place it was. I know you enjoyed your visit there before.4 But the main point is to make headway that will result in a fruitful agreement, that will be of benefit to your country and mine, and will make possible a meeting in the United States between us some time in 1975.

Brezhnev: [interrupts Sukhodrev’s translation at reference to Camp David:] I did like Camp David.

Ford: It is beautiful in the fall.

Brezhnev: Quiet and relaxing.

[Omitted here is discussion of Brezhnev’s meetings with European leaders, SALT II, and the Middle East.]

Brezhnev: All right. Maybe we could talk about this: We complete the European Security Conference. But we should not stop at that. We should make further headway. Relaxation of tensions doesn’t stop with Europe, the U.S. and Canada. We should extend further. Maybe we should talk about that. I think it was you who said détente is useful not only for Europe but for all the world, and I certainly associate myself fully with those words.

Ford: I agree. In this connection, I want to note that the United States Senators who met with you in Moscow came back with very favorable reactions to the discussions they had with you, Mr. Secretary. And the Senators join with me in the view that détente is the way our two countries should proceed. They were impressed with the very frank discussions they had with you on energy, economy, trade and other areas. Their impression was that there are distinct possibilities for cooperation in these areas. And I was greatly impressed by the hospitality extended by you and your associates during that visit and the frankness and spirit of cooperation with which these were discussed at the time of their visit.

Brezhnev: In Washington, Mr. President, when I met with a large group of Senators and Congressmen and answered some of their questions, there was one man who sat in the back and asked a question about something. He asked the question in a delicate way, and I said “You are not bold enough. You are obviously referring to the Jewish population in the Soviet Union.” When they were in the Soviet Union, he admitted: “It was me.” It was Senator Javits, and we then had an interesting discussion with him.

Ford: Javits sitting in the back of the room? [Laughter]

Gromyko: He admitted it was him. He was sitting to one side.

[Page 335]

Brezhnev: [To Kissinger] Were you present in Washington during the meeting?

Kissinger: No. I knew about your meeting. You presented some figures to the Senators in that meeting.

Brezhnev: I have some figures on that for this meeting too. It is soon going to be a veritable tragedy!

Ford: Let me say on that point, Mr. General Secretary. I have indicated to you that I intend to submit legislation as to trade and also as to credits. The handling of Congress is a very delicate problem. As you know, it is dominated in our system by the opposition party, so I have influence but not necessarily control. So the matter of timing when to submit legislation on trade and credits is very important. It is my hope this fall to submit remedial amendments so that we can have trade relations as initially contemplated. I think it was very unfortunate that you were forced to cancel the trade agreement,5 although I understand the action in Congress might have compelled you to do this. Perhaps by some appropriate action you could help me convince the Congress to approve the changes we will recommend. That would be a very important step, so détente can proceed and we can move in trade relations forward as we anticipated in a constructive way.

Brezhnev: Mr. President, on the whole let me say, there has been no change in our policy. We want as before to have good relations with the United States.

Ford: Mr. General Secretary, a few moments ago you said you had some figures in mind to discuss. I would be most interested.

Brezhnev: I will look. I do have somewhere a brief on this question. We have already added Solzhenitsyn to the list! [Laughter]

Gromyko: What we won’t do for the sake of friendship!

Ford: I have heard the name before.

Brezhnev: [Reads over his talking paper and confers with Gromyko] Here are some data. In 1972—the first figures are the number of requests for exit permits—in 1972, there were 26,800 requests. In 1973, there were approximately 26,000. In 1974, there were 14,000. In the first six months of 1975, there were 5,000 requests to leave.

As regards the number of people who actually left for Israel—actually some went elsewhere—in 1972, there were 29,000. In 1973, 33,000. In 1974, 19,000. And in the first six months of 1975, 6,000. Some were carryovers from the past year; there were only 5,000 requests.

I have another figure. From the start of the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, which dates back to 1945, until July 1, 1975, a total of [Page 336] 116,000 persons left the Soviet Union. This amounts to 98.4 percent of all requests submitted, 98.4 percent were met. You see, at present there is a process of falling off of requests, and probably it will continue. In your country, there are some to whom you don’t give permission on security grounds; we also have such people.

[Secretary Kissinger gets up to leave briefly.]

Ford: I must say Mr. General Secretary, Mr. Solzhenitsyn has aligned himself—

Kissinger: I am not leaving because you mentioned that name. [Laughter]

Ford: Mr. Solzhenitsyn aligned himself with those who are very severe critics of the policy I and you believe in, détente. Senator Jackson, Mr. George Meany, President of the American Federation of Labor, have spoken out critically. Meany has embraced Mr. Solzhenitsyn. Some of these critics encouraged Mr. Solzhenitsyn to continue his criticism of détente.6 As I said before, it is my firm belief that détente must continue and become irreversible if we want to achieve that kind of world which is essential for peace. The figures you mentioned, of course, are very disappointing to those who criticize détente. And any improvement there—in the requests or the figures of those who get permission to leave—would undercut some of the criticism and enhance our ability to proceed with détente as we want to do. But I repeat: détente can and will work and can be made irreversible—particularly if this Saturday we can make headway on SALT.

Brezhnev: I mentioned Solzhenitsyn just in passing. There was some information that he wanted to change his way of life and become a monk or something. Reportedly there was some priest going around with him at some point. He is nothing more than a zero for the Soviet Union. But why do you feel these figures will be disappointing to the people you mentioned?

Ford: In the case of Senator Javits, and Senator Ribicoff, they want to be helpful in Congress to approve the legislation I want to recommend, legislation that will permit trade, to extend credits, that will be very beneficial. If the figures were more encouraging, Mr. General Secretary, they would provide them with arguments for revising legislation that was so harmful to the continuation of détente.

Brezhnev: Mr. President, maybe you didn’t understand me correctly. I said we are reaching the point where there will be a tragedy. But what are we to do? Start talking people into leaving? I merely made a factual statement: The number of applications has been decreasing. [Page 337] The number of applications we have been receiving since I was in Washington has been declining. I am sure you and Dr. Kissinger realize this is so. I know virtually dozens of people of Jewish origin. Am I to go to Dymshits, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, and say “You’ve got to leave?” And Leibman of the Moscow Soviet—should I grab him by the hand and tell him to go?

Ford: Certainly the figure of 98 percent is a good record.

Gromyko: Ninety-eight point four percent.

Ford: That is certainly a good batting average, as we say in the United States. I am not suggesting ways for increasing the number of applications. All I want to say is that Ribicoff, Javits and others must be made to understand that if the revised legislation is adopted, there will be the possibility, if not the certainty—that the figures will be like those of 1974 or 1973. I understand you can’t take people by the hand and tell them to leave, but the perception, the appearance, makes a difference.

Brezhnev: I really can’t understand what I can do in this regard.

Ford: Let me summarize the situation as I see it from the point of view of détente. I came here, Mr. General Secretary, despite the criticism in the United States, because I believe in détente. The portions I have been connected with—Vladivostok and here—have been concrete forward steps, meaningful progress. As I said, the criticism at home has come from elements in America that can be, as I said, brushed aside. Coming here will contribute to détente despite the détente critics. I hope we will achieve in Helsinki what we talked about in Vladivostok. Thinking people in the U.S. know that Vladivostok was a success which serves the interests of both sides. The American people, the majority of the population, hopes for more progress. The majority feels the same way about this conference, and the implementation of the document we sign will be the most conclusive proof that we are on the right track. So I hope we can make progress in SALT. This will be a good preliminary discussion for what we discuss on Saturday. But I repeat with quiet emphasis, détente must be made irreversible. It was my conviction at Vladivostok. I hope we can leave Helsinki with the same feeling, leading hopefully to a visit by you to the United States this fall.

Brezhnev: [Interrupts the translation] And I appreciate very highly the fact that you came here despite the criticism in the U.S.

[Interrupts the translation at statement that détente is beneficial:] And I agree with you on that.

[Omitted here is discussion of upcoming meetings.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–76, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 20–August 2, 1975—Ford/Brezhnev Meetings in Helsinki (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). Secret; Nodis. Initialed by Rodman. All brackets, with the exception of those describing omitted material, are in the original. The meeting took place at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Ford and Brezhnev met during the summit held at the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The full memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 171.
  2. Republican critics of détente included former Secretary of Defense and Counselor to the President for Domestic Affairs Melvin Laird. Laird published an article entitled “Is This Détente?” in the July 1975 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine, purporting to outline the “unpleasant facts about the true status of détente.” A copy of Laird’s article is attached to an undated memorandum from Kissinger to Ford. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Name File, Box 2, Laird, Melvin)
  3. See footnote 6, Document 48.
  4. See Document 14.
  5. See Document 31.
  6. See Bernard Gwertzman, “Détente Scored by Solzhenitsyn: In a Talk in Washington, He Says Moscow Dupes U.S.,” New York Times, July 1, 1975, p. 6.