75. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Richard Cheney, Assistant to the President

President: I have decided to make a major defense and foreign policy speech before the DAR next Wednesday. Hartmann has done a redraft. It is tough—it takes on Reagan.2 Will you all look at it today so I [Page 406] can have it in final form by Saturday? It is a little tough on the Soviet Union but says we will negotiate . . .

Kissinger: The problem with the Soviet Union is that détente is really right. Second, you will have to deal with them after November. It really isn’t so that they are being irresponsible—except in Angola. And politically, if it is Humphrey and they [the Soviets] decide that Humphrey is preferable, they can be troublesome.

President: I don’t think it really does that. [He describes what is in the speech.]

Kissinger: Schlesinger is now saying the way we play détente is like the cold war.3

President: Reagan, you notice, is not now saying that we are behind strategically. He is now emphasizing the conventional needs.4

Rumsfeld: We need to avoid wild swings from euphoria to an all-out cold war with the Soviet Union.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Eastern Mediterranean, Communist representation in Western European governments, the Minuteman III missile, and Kissinger’s upcoming trip to Arizona.]

Kissinger: I thought I would take Reagan on on the optimism-pessimism issue, but not by name. Say you are realistic, it is tough, but we can make it if we work at it.

President: I am giving a Texas press interview5 and will get at the Panama Canal. I thought I would say that in ’64 there were riots and people were killed and we are working to avoid that and protect our interests. Hit Reagan on irresponsibility.

Rumsfeld: I don’t like it. It looks like any time Americans get killed, we cave in.

Kissinger: I would say it is not just an issue between us and Panama. You have an obligation to explore whether we can reach an agreement which will preserve our interests over the expected useful life of the Canal and preserve our relationships with Panama and with Latin America. We don’t want to return to the climate of ’64 and de[Page 407]stroy our Latin American relationships. It may not be possible to arrive at such an agreement but it would be irresponsible not to try. You can’t sacrifice our interests in the open use and defense of the Canal and any agreement must be submitted to the Congress.

Rumsfeld: I like that better.

President: Okay. I just have to get myself off the hook of using the word “never” and I also want to demonstrate that Reagan is irresponsible or doesn’t understand the issues.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 19, Memoranda of Conversations—Ford Administration, April 15, 1976—Ford, Kissinger, Rumsfeld. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. All brackets, except those indicating omitted material, are in the original.
  2. In a March 31 nationally televised speech on the NBC network, Reagan attacked the Ford administration’s foreign policy, particularly détente. Reagan charged that Ford and Kissinger had been weak on Cuba, compromised American interests in the Panama Canal negotiations, and put “our stamp of approval on Russia’s enslavement of the captive (Eastern European) nations.” Reagan also accused Kissinger of “giving away our own freedom,” quoting him as having stated that “the day of the United States is past, and today is the day of the Soviet Union.” (Kenneth Reich, “Reagan Charges Kissinger Views Nation as No. 2,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1976, p. B1) To the last charge, Eagleburger stated that Kissinger “did not say that,” adding: “it is pure invention and totally irresponsible.” (Ibid., p. B22)
  3. The reference is to an April 13 speech given by Schlesinger at Harvard University in which he stated that “détente means precious little regarding policy specifics.” The Washington Post reported: “If détente really amounts only to avoiding nuclear war, Schlesinger said, it differs little from ‘the Cold War period.’” (Murrey Marder, “Watered-Down Detente Hit By Schlesinger,” Washington Post, April 14, 1976, p. A2)
  4. Presumably the reference is to Reagan’s April 10 speech in Seattle, in which he stated that Soviet forces outnumbered U.S. forces “2 to 1 in service ships and submarines,” and “3 to 1 in artillery and 4 to 1 in tanks.” (Jerry Gilliam, “Reagan Renews Attack on Ford Policies, Says Balance of Power Is Shifting to Russia,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1976, p. 7)
  5. The President was in Texas April 27–30 and had several exchanges with reporters, including a news conference in Houston on April 29.