129. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Gaston Thorn, Luxembourg Foreign Minister
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Jean Wagner, Luxembourg Ambassador
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

Thorn: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] I appreciate this opportunity to talk about our relations—European-American relations; there is a malaise at the moment.

Kissinger: Yes. The European ability to produce theological debates amazes me. I really sometimes wonder what can be done. If the pattern in MBFR does not change, I don’t know what will happen. The Europeans keep trying to tie us down with legalisms. But the point is that we cannot be tied down with legalisms but only with substance. For two years we have been conducting the most intensive and meticulous technical studies. We have no preconceived notions. But the best way to keep us in Europe is to get a theory that will keep us there. Otherwise you can be sure that the Congress will drive us out. I keep hearing about US-Soviet deals. If we wanted to get out it would be the easiest thing for us to stimulate a resolution in the Congress.

Now as regards Hungary, we think it would be better to keep them out rather than putting Italy in. But this has become a religious issue now. In fact the troops do not threaten Western Europe. By now Hungary is a religious issue.

Thorn: Some people were thinking of Yugoslavia. There is a fear of a Soviet invasion.

Kissinger: But the cuts would only be 5–10% anyway. So there would be no difference.

Thorn: I have talked to the Dutch Foreign Minister and urged him to be flexible on the Hungary issue. But you know I have to tell you that there is widespread fear of a pre-agreement between you and the Soviets.

Kissinger: I can tell you that the only pre-agreement was to get a deal on a date that was far enough ahead to enable us to prepare the [Page 398] talks properly. So the only pre-agreement was to get dates for CSCE and MBFR. As I told you, if we want to get a deal we can get Mansfield to put in a resolution. We would not need to negotiate with the Russians on MBFR. Now let me tell you another serious thing. The European reaction to our Vietnam bombing deeply offended the President. For him the Alliance is now more a matter of the head than the heart. We stayed in Vietnam for four years to demonstrate the validity of an alliance in the U.S. The only real issue in Vietnam was whether the US could be driven from disadvantage to disadvantage. If that had happened, it would have damaged the Alliance. That is why we did what we did. About the bombing—go to Hanoi. There is no street that is damaged in the city but only in the suburbs. I was frankly astounded by the accuracy of the bombing. We did not even see villages that were destroyed, at least on the route that we took. And there are the casualty figures: 1,000 killed. These are their own figures. That is certainly different from Europe in World War II. So you have to understand how deeply offended the President was by the reaction from the very Allies for whom he was safeguarding the US commitment.

But all of this is behind us now and the question is: how do we start talking? Take CSCE. We never believed in it. We want to get it over with. Otherwise people will think something really important is going on—though no one understands what. Why should there be a long debate about mandates. The best thing is to get nothing or just something banal. Moreover, you know that the Europeans drove us into the Conference. Now they are engaging in some sort of Wagnerian struggle about long or short mandates.

Thorn: So you are saying “not so much detail.”

Kissinger: Well, if it goes on a long time the people will think something is going on. It is better to get it over with.

Thorn: Do you object to “freedom of movement?” I mean, shouldn’t we take the offensive on this?

Kissinger: No, I don’t object. And I think it is all right to take the offensive but I think we should get relatively short mandates.

Thorn: Well it was always your representatives who used to talk about “careful preparation.” This is really a change in position.

Kissinger: Well, I think we are better off with relatively short mandates and with getting the Conference over with or just getting a banal result.

Thorn: What is your position about a follow-on organ?

Kissinger: Well we could consider something low key; something like a clearing house, but no important functions.

Thorn: I see.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 271, Memoranda of Conversation, Chronological File. Confidential. Outside the system. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office.