83. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

Kissinger: First, a few foreign policy things. I spoke to the editorial writers.2 I needled Carter a bit. They asked me if I still believed there was no difference between the foreign policy views of the two candidates. I answered that. I said that when I said that, he had given one speech. Since then, he has displayed the full complexity of his thought! So now I wouldn’t say that. Now Carter is going in several directions at once.

[Omitted here is discussion of the situations in the Middle East and Southern Africa.]

Kissinger: On the debate, you should not go on the defensive.

President: I have no intention of doing so.

Kissinger: He will say you are destroying the moral basis of our foreign policy.

President: I will say: What is more moral than peace? What is more moral than bringing peace in the Middle East? What is more moral than what we’re doing in Southern Africa? There are about five things.

Kissinger: And what is more moral than bringing home 500,000 troops? The Democrats have gotten us into two wars.

President: I am well prepared on that.

Kissinger: He will hit also on secrecy. [Gives statistics on meetings.]

President: Good.

[Page 468]

Kissinger: Another charge is that I am running foreign policy. The White House puts out that no, you overrule me frequently. That makes you look weak, as if we compete. You should look strong enough to have a strong Secretary of State. We are a partnership, with you making the decisions. We shape things in discussion—it is not a case of competing views.

Scowcroft: [Hands the President the 1974 Carter quote praising Kissinger.]

Kissinger: Carter said we were good friends and met frequently. I have met him twice in my life and once was a handshake at the Gridiron3 this year.

He will throw morality at you—using the State Department surveys4 I took. That is not true. We asked for criticisms and that is what we got. We asked what was wrong, not what was right. I told the editors that yesterday and got applause. It was a stupid way for us to go at it, but it shows our interest and a desire to get the views of the people.

Schlesinger is now with Carter.

Scowcroft: So says Dick Perle.5

Kissinger: When Schlesinger went to China,6 I told the Chinese that we didn’t object to his going but not to use it for political purposes. The goddamned Chinese said we officially protested.

Carter might say, “Schlesinger says our relations with China are lousy.” You could say it is based on the Shanghai Communiqué and if they have any complaints they should convey them to the United States Government, not to a private citizen. If he says the Chinese say we are weak on the Soviets, I would say China can’t tell us how to conduct our policy just like the Soviets can’t. The Chinese would like us to be in confrontation with the Soviet Union to take their chestnuts out of the fire.

[Page 469]

I said yesterday to the editorial writers we have to preserve peace both by strength and by conciliation.

If he hits generally on being weak on the Soviets, point out his positions. He wants to cut the defense budget, prevent our giving military aid to Kenya and Zaire, withdraw from Korea, and let Communists into European governments.

I would say there have been two Democratic administrations since World War II and we have gotten into two wars; we’ve had two Republican Administrations and got into no war.

I honestly believe that is no accident. They extend our commitments and reduce our strength. Do you have these statements on Communists in Italy? I would not defend the soft on Soviets charge. I would attack him for making it.

[Discussion of Earl Butz]

Kissinger: [Gives the President the Keyes UPI ticker on secrecy7].

President: Let’s call Schmidt [after seeing a vote projection].

Kissinger: Jack Valenti8 took some opinion polls and told Carter to stay away from me.

[Discussion of asking Carter to name his Secretary of State.]

Our Alliance relationships have never been better. There is not only official trust but close personal relations.

President: We have statistics showing the number of my meetings . . .

Kissinger: Okay, but I would say, “That really is not the central point. I challenge anyone to show that our relations in every aspect are not the best ever.”

I spoke to a Frenchman who said it is amazing that that aristocrat Giscard could have such close affection for a mid-Westerner.

I would not even dignify it. I would say a man who could say this doesn’t know what he is talking about.

[Discussion of Schlesinger]

What I would recommend after the election is that you unilaterally downgrade our representative in Taiwan to a Liaison Office but not make any deal at all and keep our defense relations.

You can be quite tough on the Chinese.

On the China-Taiwan issue, you can say we are moving toward normalization on the basis of the Shanghai Communiqué. The Shang[Page 470]hai Communiqué sets out the goal but leaves the process to negotiations. We will continue toward normalization but the actual process is up to the negotiations, and I am not going to discuss it at this point.

He says we have departed from the moral basis of foreign policy. I would say we have restored the moral basis of our foreign policy. I would blast him on that.

If he raises the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, I would say there is none.9 What we also say is: we encourage the greatest independence and freedom of action but do not encourage a revolution. We have not intervened before during revolutions. Does he want to encourage a revolution? You have taken the responsible course—Presidential visits and trade.

We won’t imply there is possibility of revolution when three times in the past the Soviet Army marched in. Who would be willing to use United States troops for an issue like this?

The greatest possibility for freedom in Eastern Europe is an easing of tensions so they can maneuver. The worst situation for them is when the Soviet Army is on their necks. You visited three countries in Eastern Europe10 to symbolize our commitment to freedom in Eastern Europe. No Democratic President has ever been in Eastern Europe.

President: Didn’t Kennedy go to Poland?

Kissinger: No, Nixon was the first, when he went to Romania.11 I wouldn’t just attack Carter. On foreign policy I would attack the Democrats also. Most Democrats agree our foreign policy is better.

Scowcroft: Isn’t that dangerous?

[Page 471]

Kissinger: On domestic policy yes, foreign policy no. This is the man who wants to cut the budget, bring troops home and advocate revolution in Eastern Europe. This is the way to get us into war.

On Helsinki, the first point is there were 35 nations there, including the Vatican, not just the United States. Second, when he says it recognizes spheres of influence, it shows Carter doesn’t know what he is talking about. Helsinki says nothing about the Soviet Union in Europe. It says that borders can’t be changed by force, but only by peaceful means. To whose advantage is this? Ours or the Soviet Union’s, with 70 divisions on the border? For the first time the Soviets have committed themselves to implementing human rights. They’re not sticking to it right now but it gives us a standard to which we can hold them.

I am getting worked up. But this guy really burns me. He is a super liberal and now he is turning tough.

On grain, I don’t like this answer [in Eagleburger’s paper].12

Scowcroft: He said we messed up the grain deal in 1972. The implications are that he would use grain as a weapon.

You will get a question on an oil embargo.

President: I will say we don’t expect one but we can work with them now to work it out, unlike 1973.

Kissinger: The first part is okay but on the second I would say we won’t accept an embargo, but I won’t telegraph what I would do. Our policy is designed to avoid an embargo, but we will certainly deal with it if it happens.

On nuclear proliferation, he again doesn’t know what he is talking about. We organized the suppliers. You have a policy but you are waiting to announce it until you have coordinated with our allies. Carter would do it unilaterally and in fact against our allies.

If you win this one, the third debate won’t matter.

On human rights: What has any Democratic Administration done for human rights and when? We have brought Jewish emigration from 400 in 1968 to 35,000 in 1973 until Congress interfered. There is a difference: We believe in action, not talk.

When he talks dictatorship, say it is easy to make declarations, but a President has the responsibility for the security of the United States and he must deal with the world as it is. It was the Democratic killing of Diem13 which got us sucked irrevocably into Vietnam. We are working [Page 472] on a practical basis; what Carter proposes is either ineffective, dangerous or both.

On intelligence. He says people have been assassinated. I would say most of that was under the Democrats. Then I would say one of the most irresponsible things ever done to our intelligence was done by a Democratic Congress.

President: They have talked and done not a goddamned thing. I put in the changes.

Kissinger: I would say there was a reckless assault on intelligence by the Democratic Congress and you took responsible action.

President: Did you say all assassinations?

Scowcroft: Except for a little planning under Ike.

Kissinger: If they bring Chile into the assassination business I would say: read your own Church report.14

On the Middle East, I would say the Democrats had no relations with the key Arab states. We have restored the balance and you are certainly not going to play politics with so volatile and dangerous an area.

I don’t have an Israeli policy. I have an American policy. Say Rabin said our relations are at their peak.

President: Can I say the key Arab states didn’t have relations with us?

Kissinger: Absolutely. I wouldn’t use the actual amount of aid except if he does, to show he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

President: I feel good about this one.

Kissinger: Here you can refute you have no vision of the future. Say: I will bring peace.

On the Third World, I would start with the World Food Conference.

On Defense, I don’t know what Schlesinger can have him do.

President: I am ready for him.

Scowcroft: Arms sales.

Kissinger: He is using the wrong figures. He is saying $7.5 billion for the Saudis. Over $6 billion of that is for barracks, etc. I would hit him on it.

The biggest sales go to Israel and Iran, two countries who have made a big contribution to stability in the Middle East.

What is the threat to Iran? The Soviet Union, Iraq. The threat to Iran is from countries we would also consider a threat. Iran refused to [Page 473] impose an embargo in 1973—even on Israel. Truman threatened the Soviet Union on Iran’s behalf in 1946.

Giving arms doesn’t get us involved; not giving them would get us involved because their weakness would invite aggression and we would have to go in to bail them out.

The third category of aid goes to countries like Kenya and Zaire who have Soviet-equipped neighbors.

Most of the aid goes to Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—for infrastructure—leaving only bits and pieces for the rest of the world.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 21, Memoranda of Conversations—Ford Administration, October 3, 1976—Ford, Kissinger, Scowcroft. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except those that indicate omitted material, are in the original. The purpose of the meeting, held in the Oval Office, was to discuss the upcoming foreign policy debate between Ford and Carter in San Francisco on October 6. An October 3 briefing paper produced by Eagleburger for the debate, outlining themes to be emphasized, Carter’s anticipated statements on foreign policy issues, and suggested responses is in the Department of State, Files of Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Lot 84D204, Chron—October 1976. For the full transcript of the debate, see the Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book III, pp. 2408–2436.
  2. For a transcript of Kissinger’s October 2 interview with a panel at the meeting of the National Conference of Editorial Writers at Hilton Head, South Carolina, see Department of State Bulletin, November 1, 1976, pp. 541–554.
  3. The Gridiron Club, a prestigious Washington-based organization of political journalists, is noted for its annual dinner featuring remarks by the President and other prominent politicians.
  4. Speaking before the Washington convention of the national Jewish organization, B’nai B’rith, September 8, Carter attacked the Ford administration human rights record, charging that the administration had placed power politics over human rights and had developed policies toward Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Chile, Cyprus, and South Korea with “insufficient emphasis on human liberties and ‘basic American values.’” (Don Oberdorfer, “Carter Speaks on Human Rights,” Washington Post, September 9, 1976, p. A8) Kissinger’s reference to State Department “surveys” presumably refers to annual country human rights reports prepared by overseas posts. For more on the preparation of the 1976 reports, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–3, Documents on Global Issues, 1973–1976, Documents 257 and 258.
  5. Richard Perle, staff aide to Senator Henry M. Jackson.
  6. Schlesinger visited China at the invitation of Chinese officials September 6–23. (Telegram 217138 to Beijing, September 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760332–0786)
  7. Not further identified.
  8. President of the Motion Picture Association of American and a former Special Assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1963 until 1966.
  9. See Documents 68 and 73. During a discussion of administration policy on Eastern Europe and the 1975 Helsinki agreement in the October 6 debate with Carter, Ford stated: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” When Max Frankel of the New York Times asked Ford if his comments meant that he believed “the Russians were not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence and occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it’s a Communist zone,” Ford responded: “I don’t believe, Mr. Frankel, that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity. And the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book III, pp. 2416–2417) The resulting public controversy over Ford’s remarks was discussed in an October 11 meeting among Ford, Kissinger, and Scowcroft. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 21, Memoranda of Conversations—Ford Administration, October 11, 1976—Ford, Kissinger)
  10. See footnote 5, Document 80.
  11. See footnote 5, Document 80.
  12. See footnote 1 above.
  13. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated November 2, 1963, during a military coup.
  14. See footnote 6, Document 66.