177. Minutes of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meeting1


  • The Secretary of State: Henry A. Kissinger
  • Kenneth Rush
  • William J. Porter
  • Curtis W. Tarr
  • Jack B. Kubisch
  • Arthur W. Hummel, Jr.
  • George S. Springsteen
  • David D. Newsom
  • Robert J. McCloskey
  • Alfred L. Atherton
  • George Aldrich
  • Thomas R. Pickering
  • Winston Lord
  • Lawrence S. Eagleburger

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

Mr. Springsteen: Sir, we have been hewing very rigorously to the instructions that with the heightened Middle East crisis we slow down on our progress and talks with the Russians on CSCE.2

[Page 527]

Secretary Kissinger: I think we can let that go again.

Mr. Springsteen: Because I have a delegation going off to Moscow next week on the implementation of the Joint Commission.

Secretary Kissinger: No—we can go on that again. Now, the Soviets have told me repeatedly what they are interested in is that they can make concrete proposals in that human rights thing—if we can agree to a statement that nothing will affect the domestic legislation of countries concerned. Now, I know we are in a madness where the intellectuals around the world are not content with messing up foreign policy and now have to get involved in the domestic policy of other countries. But how can we take the position as a country that we are making treaties that affect the domestic legislation of other countries? Since when has that been an accepted American position?

In other words, why can’t we give them that?

I take it for granted that if they didn’t want human contact there is not going to be human contact. They are not going to be like shyster lawyers. If one can establish quotas for exchanges of periodicals and students, why can’t we give them the phrase that none of this interferes with their domestic legislation?

Mr. Springsteen: As far as I understand it, we are prepared to say we will not interfere in their internal affairs, but we went to the point of saying that nothing we would do would be in conflict with their internal legislation. This would give them an out in the future for walking away from any agreements they might make now—

Secretary Kissinger: You suppose they can’t do that anyway?

Mr. Springsteen: I think they probably can. But I think that the atmosphere in the Helsinki talks and again now in Geneva is that that provides them a big escape.

Secretary Kissinger: But the question is if they are willing to do something and they need a face-saving thing, why can one not have a compromise whereby they agree to certain specifics and we agree to saying that these specifics are then achieved in effect in consonance with their domestic legislation. Obviously they can then introduce a law banning or barring what they have just agreed to. This wouldn’t change the fact that they are in violation of that agreement.

Mr. Springsteen: I think stated that way, whenever any country does anything it has to be in consonance with its own domestic legislation.

[Page 528]

Secretary Kissinger: Why can’t we give them that clause? What is it that suddenly possesses the West to believe that it can affect the domestic structure of the Soviet Union through a treaty signed in Geneva of peripheral significance?

Mr. Springsteen: Well, I think some language can be worked out—if they have certain specifics they are prepared to give—

Secretary Kissinger: Gromyko tells me they are willing to give specifics if we are willing to give them the theory of non-interference in their domestic affairs. You think we could have some informal consultation with our allies—

Mr. Springsteen: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: —on that subject without being accused of selling our freedom and liberty?

Mr. Springsteen: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Could we try that?

Mr. Springsteen: There is a difference, sir, between interference in domestic affairs and the question of the legislation. This is where he is constantly putting his finger on—the legislation.

Secretary Kissinger: Who is putting his finger on?

Mr. Springsteen: Gromyko.

Secretary Kissinger: If I understand the Soviet proposition, it is that they are willing to agree to concrete improvements in what we call human contacts—if we are willing to agree to a statement that says that we are not interfering with their domestic legislation. Now, that is a perfectly clear measuring rod. Either these changes and human contacts are going to come about or they are not. If they are not going to come about, they don’t need an excuse—they just won’t come about. I have the impression that at this stage at least they need it for facesaving purposes.

Mr. Springsteen: I think that is probably right, particularly in light of the emigration visa and exit tax problem.

Secretary Kissinger: They want to be able to say what they did they did as an exercise of their own sovereignty rather than foreigners telling them what their domestic legislation should be. That is my reading of Gromyko. Because I don’t believe that a bunch of revolutionaries who manage to cling to power for fifty years are going to be euchred out of it by the sort of people we have got negotiating at the European Security Conference through an oversight.

So the question is how we are going to get a formulation that everybody can accept.

Mr. Springsteen: Well, Boster is here tomorrow and the rest of this week, and I think we will talk to him about how we can handle this within the NATO caucus in Geneva.

[Page 529]

Secretary Kissinger: You want to do that?

Mr. Springsteen: Yes.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Entry 5177: Lot 78 D 443, Box 1, Secretary’s Staff Meetings. Secret.
  2. In telegram 203680 to Geneva, October 14, the Department advised Boster that given the Middle East crisis and war and U.S. concern about Soviet attitudes and actions, “we wish to adopt posture in CSCE meetings this coming week which will be passive and which to extent possible will ensure that no positive action or forward movement is taken regarding the various items up for consideration. We should not refrain from attending meetings and we should not be actively negative in discussing various issues. At same time, we should delay or postpone wherever possible in handling of issues.” On October 16, Boster replied in telegram 5471 from Geneva: “It has been difficult for us to begin implementing reftel instructions as it appears unlikely that any issue would have advanced this week beyond debating stage in normal course of events. In this situation, it is even possible that our passive posture may escape largely unnoticed.” (Both ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 708, Country Files, Europe, Switzerland, Vol. II)