183. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet:
    • Andrey Gromyko, Soviet Foreign Minister
    • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to US
    • Yuly Vorontsov, Minister-Counselor, Soviet Embassy
    • Georgiy M. Kornienko, Chief, USA Division, Soviet Foreign Ministry
    • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Soviet interpreter
    • Vasiliy G. Makarov, Senior Assistant to Mr. Gromyko
  • State:
    • The Secretary
    • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor
    • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • Ambassador Walter Stoessel, American Ambassador-designate to the USSR

(There was an exchange of greetings, a discussion of art in the Secretary’s office and an exchange on how the Secretary was feeling.)

The Secretary: We are very pleased to have you here and to have a general discussion of some of the issues we face. After our general discussion, I would like to meet with you alone.

Mr. Gromyko: I wish to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your kind invitation. You must have noticed that I replied at once.

The Secretary: Yes and I thank you for that. This is a good time for us to meet.

Mr. Gromyko: What sort of matters do you want to discuss?

The Secretary: I think we should touch on our general bilateral relations, SALT, force reductions in Europe, and European security. We can cover the rest in private.

Mr. Gromyko: Do you want to begin or should I?

The Secretary: You’re more disciplined than I am. Why don’t you start?

Mr. Gromyko: I am not sure what that means in this case but since you have mentioned European security, I would like to make some observations. First, let me emphasize our appreciation of the extensive work that was done in the first phase and at Helsinki. There was in [Page 541] fact no small amount of work undertaken in the second stage, but I must say that we are not pleased by the current state of the conference.

The Secretary: I agree with you.

Mr. Gromyko: I would like to discuss several specific issues but also I would like to talk about the broader question which has an impact on our relations in the future.

The Secretary (As cookies were passed): I had always been told that there were cookie-pushers in the Department but I never saw the cookies before today that they are supposed to push.

Mr. Gromyko: The reason that we are not pleased by the progress in the All European Conference—and I will not express myself in diplomatic terms—is that I feel that all these representatives are beating the air without achieving any concrete advancement toward the aim of resolving the real issues. They are going around in circles. This could go on endlessly. It seems to me that issues are being invented out of virtually nothing. This is the impression I have. It seems to me that there are a series of artificial measures which are being put forward with the intent of preventing a solution.

The Secretary: Not by us.

Mr. Gromyko: I would not like to try to gauge how to share the blame among each of the Western Powers but the raising of these artificial issues is enough indication of the fact that some are misbehaving. It is a fact that these actions contradict the often-stated solemn, high-level declarations that we have agreed with most of these States on the necessity of achieving détente and peace. I question whether some of the political forces have forgotten or want to ignore what happened in World War II.

I ask myself is this a negligent attitude? All of us agreed after the conclusion of World War II that we must avoid the possibility of war. We had fought together as allies against a common enemy and we agreed that we must weed out the possibility of war. Can it have been forgotten?

I don’t want to specifically accuse the US of taking this position. As we see and assess the situation, however, we note that the US Representative displays a knowledge of our position and an understanding of our general agreements. Our representatives have numerous contacts and, I must say, that these are highly appreciated. What also strikes the eye, however, is the passivity with which you approach this conference. We appreciate the words but where is the US voice for all to hear? This is not being done. Perhaps this is strategy or tactics. What we can do is voice our own desires and to recall that our common agreements were made at the highest level during the visit of Mr. Brezhnev last year and the visit of the President to the Soviet Union. We hope that the US will accord greater weight and interest in more firmly [Page 542] setting out the position which has the aim of carrying out our agreements. It should not be beyond the means of the US to express its strong views. When the US wants to act is does so and in a loud voice.

We hope that your view will come out in the open in the most appropriate way.

The Secretary: Mr. Foreign Minister, first of all, let me make a general remark and then address the details. We attach enormous importance to maintaining the peace of the world. We do this because it is in the interest of the well-being of all peoples. Since it makes sense for us to do that, it underlies all of our actions.

In Europe, there seems to be a desire to treat most issues in a totally frivolous fashion. People who have maintained their power in a country such as the Soviet Union for fifty years are not going to be unseated by a declaration. Therefore, I want you to know that I don’t attach much importance to the question of declarations as a solution to these problems. Leave aside any ulterior motives. There is just no way that one can proceed to undermine what exists in the Soviet Union.

On the question of the inviolability of frontiers, that is a question of German domestic politics. On human contacts—and I refer specifically to the letter to the President—we favor a maximum increase in these contacts consistent with the domestic laws of the parties. The Allies go farther. They don’t like the reference, not only to “domestic laws,” but also to “customs.” This is a question of domestic politics among our Allies. I I don’t want to say whether it is right or wrong. What we have to decide now is what price to pay to get the Allies to change their minds. I think that you overestimate our influence with the Allies. In our negotiations of the bilateral declarations we are faced with a series of idiotic, juridical positions. In other words, they don’t reserve their tactics for you. For one year, we have been engaged in trying to find a formula to describe our relations.2 It is not easy for us to get them to agree.

We would like to conclude the Conference. We recognize it will not have a world-shaking result. We will not support measures which go beyond our common understandings (at this point the Secretary said he wished to be sure that he sees Ambassador Sherer before he departs). What do you think Art? Is it possible to make some progress?

Mr. Hartman: We have already tried out several formulae for dealing with the question of encouraging human contact and yet making reference to the non-intervention in the domestic affairs of States party to the Agreement. We have not yet had success in convincing the Allies that there is a means to handle this point.

[Page 543]

The Secretary: I have stated and I will state again that we are in favor of an improved situation with respect to human contacts. But I will also say, as I have with many Congressional Committees, that we have trouble enough agreeing on our foreign policy problems without getting ourselves involved in each other’s domestic affairs. We have not after all demonstrated we can handle our own affairs much less those of others. This is our view.

Mr. Gromyko: I would now like to try to turn to the specific issues.

The Secretary: But before you do, let me just say that our representatives should remain in very close contact.

Mr. Gromyko: I certainly share fully and associate myself with the desire for close contact. Now, very briefly on the specific issues, with due regard to the general principles. The first issue has to do with the inviolability of frontiers. There has never been any doubt in our mind that the US position is consistent with our views. We feel, however, that the US should use its influence to prevent certain other countries from burdening this conference with issues and propositions which are unacceptable and, indeed, absurd. Second, we see that the same countries are attempting to raise unacceptable questions with respect to maneuvers, large-scale troop movements, and the exchange of observers. We have the question of what is large and what is small. As to observers, we ought to be able to find some mutual way to solve this problem by invitation. You have discussed this problem with Dobrynin.3 You have made certain statements with respect to maneuvers and large-scale movements. I understand those statements. But what we can see is that the appetites of the Europeans are growing. I can qualify some of their proposals as nothing short of ridiculous. I won’t even discuss these matters. For example, that all of the Soviet Union should be taken into account with respect to maneuvers taking place. We can’t agree. We can’t accept.

The Secretary: Who proposed this?

Mr. Gromyko: It was submitted by the FRG Delegation in the name of the Nine.4

[Page 544]

The Secretary: That is becoming my favorite group of nations. However, I should say that we won’t reject that idea if you want to agree to it.

Mr. Gromyko: We recall that at the outset there was no mention of this question. When the matter was raised by you, we agreed to consider it. We then made some agreements on how to handle maneuvers and observers. All those things have now been put aside and people are suggesting unacceptable solutions but I can tell you that, if anyone thinks that they can attempt to talk us into this position, they should know that it will fail. I hope for more realism. I hope you will try to persuade the others that it is groundless for them to pursue these unrealistic proposals. I have no doubt that your people are familiar with this problem in Geneva. Now my third point.

The Secretary: Let me say on troop movements that you have received a correct report of my conversation with Dobrynin. Your response was forthcoming but the proposals that were made in Geneva were not made at our instigation. They go well beyond our own intention. We will talk internally about how to approach this problem. The trouble is that you have a bunch of bureaucrats in Geneva who are trying to impress each other with their toughness. No one wants to admit that he is any less strong than the next fellow. On the other hand, I don’t want to discourage you from accepting it but you are right that the Ambassador reported our conversation correctly. We must find a way to end this sterile debate.

Mr. Gromyko: The third point for us is the very crux of the problem. How to reach agreement on the rule or principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

If that principle can be met, we can inscribe in the declaration that all States favor maximum ties of cultural, scientific and other kinds. We will do our utmost to promote human contact. We are not afraid of this. Physically we cannot receive as many tourists as you can in the West. What with the war and the subsequent housing problem, we cannot give priority to hotels over housing.

The main point is that we must rule out entirely outside interference in domestic affairs. We have enough to do in the international area without meddling in each other’s domestic affairs. This is a watershed that we must overcome. The crux of the problem is what solution can be found to deal with the third basket. I hope that the obstacles will be overcome and a common agreement found. We sometimes think that some circles underestimate the strength of our position. No one can hope that we will retreat from this principle and fling it to the floor so that others may meddle in our affairs.

The Secretary: The least dangerous people in the West are the intellectuals.

[Page 545]

Mr. Gromyko: You have expressed your sober thoughts in the past. I recognize that you have no interest in attempting to interfere in our domestic affairs. I would say this that if anyone tries, while they might not be medically certifiable, they are politically not normal. These people are divorced from reality. Perhaps you are right that bureaucrats are competing to see who is toughest but they should remember the strength of the diamond because that is how tough we feel on this issue. In short, we must get rid of these artificial problems and get on with the conference.

The Secretary: First, there is merit in this position. The US is in favor of maximum contacts but without the ability to interfere. We recognize that your system will not be transformed by negotiation but that is the limit of the progress we would like to see. Second, how do we move ahead from here. Everyone agrees that there should be contact. There is a question about the use of the phrase “not inconsistent with the laws and customs.” It is much harder to deal with this because it is a domestic political issue in each of our countries. I assume that the Soviets can prevent any contacts they don’t want regardless of what a declaration might say.

Mr. Gromyko: But we don’t want to be in violation of an agreement we have made.

The Secretary: I wonder if it is possible to find some phraseology.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The difficulty is that it is not in the mandate.

Mr. Gromyko: We must find a formula.

The Secretary: Art, can you get this thing going? What are the chances?

Mr. Hartman: We have already suggested several formulations to our Allies but they have been rejected. We have talked in terms of a preamble to Basket Three which would refer back to the principles in Basket One.5 Perhaps we could beef this one up.

The Secretary: This is all about words.

Mr. Gromyko: There is a principle behind the words (at this point the Secretary referred to Sonnenfeldt and Sisco—saying that if they ever got together he, the Secretary would be evicted from his office.)

Mr. Gromyko: It all boils down to whether there will be an opening of the door or whether the principle of non-interference will be left intact. This is after all the basis of all our post-war agreements, including the charter of the United Nations. That is the basic issue. All the rest are words. To sum up, we have the question of frontiers, of maneuvers and what is meant by non-interference.

[Page 546]

The Secretary: Can we build on the principle of non-interference as agreed at Helsinki and drop the reference to laws and customs? Then we might have something concrete. Which of the countries have guts enough to push us on this?

Mr. Gromyko: Let us try jointly in the next few days to work out an agreed formula. Then it can be brought to the conference. I think it would be better if you introduced it at the conference or are you overawed by the Nine?

The Secretary: You certainly know how to raise my ire on one of my favorite subjects. We should try to work out a formula but I think tactically it might be wiser if you introduced it. Otherwise, we will be accused of collusion.

Mr. Gromyko: But we ought to agree between us.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It might be better for you to introduce it. It would help psychologically.

The Secretary: I am not so sure. I would like to think about who introduces it. The Ambassador has the best idea. We will introduce it and the Soviets will oppose it and then everyone will agree. Why don’t Vorontsov, Art and Walt work on the problem this week and see if we can’t get a formula on non-interference.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko 1974. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Hartman. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. The full text of the memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974.
  2. On April 23, 1973, Kissinger proposed the conclusion of a “new Atlantic Charter” between the United States and its European allies as part of the Nixon administration’s “Year of Europe” initiative. Negotiations about the Atlantic Charter were ongoing.
  3. See Documents 123 and 143.
  4. In telegram 651 from Geneva, February 1, the Mission reported: “Warsaw Pact delegations’ criticism of the FRG working paper on CBM’s culminated in a long statement on Jan 30 by Soviet Ambassador Mendelevich, who charged that the measures proposed by the FRG would break the balance of security in Europe.” The telegram noted that “his remarks were ably countered in pointed statement by FRG rep. Discussion of FRG paper now seems to have ended, leaving Soviets in noticeably glum mood, and making complaints about West’s lack of ‘realism’ and its failure to take Soviet positions into account.” The telegram continued: “In corridor conversations with U.S. DelOffs, Soviets stressed their concern over the extent of Soviet territory to be included in the area for notification of maneuvers and attempted to probe us on our attitude towards exempting all but some band of territory along USSR’s western border. Soviets have implied that West is trying to obtain some military advantage by including all of USSR’s European territory.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files.)
  5. See Documents 178 and 179.