190. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Visit to the Soviet Union


  • The Secretary
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department
  • Arthur Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • William Hyland, Director for Intelligence and Research
  • Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Executive Assistant to the Secretary
  • Brent Scowcroft, White House
  • Jan Lodal, White House
  • Denis Clift, White House

(Sonnenfeldt, Hartman, Hyland, Scowcroft enter Secretary’s office.)

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

Secretary: Let’s go through the agenda for the Moscow trip. Hal, the President is yelling for that letter—to Brezhnev.2 I promised it to him this morning. Where is it?

Sonnenfeldt: I have it but I want to take one last look at it to make sure it is what we want.

Secretary: I thought maybe you hadn’t started it yet.

Sonnenfeldt: Bill, give me my copy of the letter. I am going to show it to you, Henry, but you can’t read it.

Secretary: I don’t want to see it. Let me have it when you have taken another look.

[Page 558]

Bill, what did you think of the Pravda article?3

Hyland: It was a low-level account of second-rate journalists and if you read it closely, you will notice it quotes US press and not themselves.

Sonnenfeldt: It is getting a big play because it is the first comment of this kind, but it is unimportant.

Secretary: Let’s leave SALT until Lodal comes in. What about MBFR? What can I say in Moscow about MBFR?

Sonnenfeldt: You have a good analytical memo Ikle did coming to you at the end of the day.4

Secretary: But what can I achieve?

Sonnenfeldt: US-Soviet cuts.

Secretary: Hal, did you hear about the MBFR VP meeting?5 The God damned Defense Department is becoming as cynical about MBFR as about SALT. We cut 29,000 men with no equipment and they cut 68,000 with their equipment. Then we put a ceiling on equipment so we are not penalized and they are. And to top it off, since Reforger is independent of MBFR, we have the right to send 50,000 troops into Europe each year for four months, so we withdraw 29,000 and have the capability to put in that 29,000 plus 31,000 more during the non-winter months when combat is most likely. Do you really think that position can be negotiated? I am willing to try it but I don’t think it has much of a chance.

Hartman: The important thing is to link US-Soviet reductions in the first phase with a second phase.

Sonnenfeldt: In the first phase we get US-Soviet reductions, a commitment to the principle of general equality and ceilings on other than US and Soviet forces.

Secretary: Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. Ten to fifteen percent cut in the first phase of US-Soviet forces; a ceiling on the rest of the participants; and a commitment to a common ceiling in the second phase. But what do we do about the God damned Russian tank army?

Sonnenfeldt: That is probably a non-starter. Unless we are willing to negotiate nuclear weapons, the Russians are going to refuse to talk about pulling back a tank army. So you keep the nuclear option in [Page 559] abeyance until you can buy something in SALT with it. Do you agree, Bill?

Hyland: Yes.

Secretary: What will be the Allied reaction?

Hyland: They have agreed. One of our strengths in MBFR is that we have carefully developed an Allied consensus so they don’t have any room to bitch.

Secretary: Not until we get an agreement with the Soviets. I want you and Hartman to go to NATO after we go to Moscow. You may want to go to London first but I definitely want you to go to NATO.

Sonnenfeldt: Who were you looking at?

Secretary: You and Hartman. I have read the CSCE memo, unless there is a new one.

Sonnenfeldt: There is a new one.6

Secretary: Then I haven’t read it.

Sonnenfeldt: We have to be very careful on negotiating a CSCE summit with the Russians.

Secretary: I agree.

Hartman: I discussed this with the British in London last weekend and suggested we don’t tie ourselves down firmly against a CSCE summit. Our political leadership may decide that they want one at the last minute.

Sonnenfeldt: And we may be able to use it as a sweetener for SALT.

Secretary: But Brandt will probably recommend it himself.7

Sonnenfeldt: That depends on what happens in Basket III. They are now doing a minuet in Geneva on the subject of Human Contacts. All the Europeans who drove us into the conference are now saying, and they repeated it when I was at NATO, that they have to have something on Human Contacts for their parliaments so they are getting themselves in the position of demanding exactly what the Russians cannot give. But the issue on Basket III is being narrowed to some extent.

Hartman: Our proposal …

Secretary: What is our proposal?

[Page 560]

Hartman: To make some reference in the principles to laws and regulations, to avoid reference to customs, and to insert a cross reference in the preamble to Basket III linking it to the principles.

Sonnenfeldt: But as Brezhnev said to Stoessel, Basket III is chickenfeed.8 What really matters to the Russians is the principle of inviolability of frontiers. But I think we are going to have to let the Europeans bleed themselves on that one.

Secretary: Who is siding with the Germans against the Russians on that issue?

Hartman: All the Europeans are backing the Germans.

Hyland: I think the Russians will buy some reference to peaceful change as long as it isn’t juxtaposed with language on borders.

Sonnenfeldt: This is really the Germans’ problem. We shouldn’t get out in front of them.

Secretary: Hal, can we do a back channel to Bahr saying that in view of my trip we would like a rundown of his talks in Moscow and at the same time can we ask Von Staden officially if the German position is the same as Scheel outlined to me at dinner.

Sonnenfeldt: We have got some debriefing of the Bahr visit to Moscow9 but it hasn’t been very specific nor helpful.

Secretary: (Looking at CSCE memo) Shouldn’t we ask for a Soviet draft? Both of us should submit drafts.

Sonnenfeldt: That’s right.

[Page 561]

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

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Program Analysis, Jan Lodal Convenience Files, Box 66, Memcons and Summaries of Discussion. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in Secretary Kissinger’s office.
  2. On March 18, Kissinger forwarded to Nixon the final version of a letter to Brezhnev, a response to Brezhnev’s message (Document 182), and Nixon signed it. The letter reads in part: “As for other aspects of European security, I agree with you that the conversations concerning the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe have proceeded at a slow pace. You are aware that the US has been prepared to move rapidly, and there are no disagreements of principle between our two sides. Yet, for this Conference to be successful, it is necessary that we take fully into account the interests of all the participants, so that the final result will be a truly significant contribution to international peace and security. We have in fact made some progress since Minister Gromyko’s visit to Washington, and during your discussion with Secretary Kissinger we can make additional progress. As you know, the US will not stand in the way of concluding this Conference by a meeting at the highest level, but this decision will depend on the views of others.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 69, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 22)
  3. It is unclear to which article Kissinger is referring.
  4. The paper, which Ikle forwarded to Kissinger with a covering memorandum on March 16, is attached to a memorandum from Ikle to Kissinger, March 21. (Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 15, MBFR Issues)
  5. Regarding the Verification Panel meeting on MBFR on March 14, see Document 347.
  6. Hartman’s memorandum to Kissinger on CSCE for his discussions in Moscow is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 231, Geopolitical Files, Soviet Union, Trips, 1974, Mar., Background Books: CSCE, 1973–74.
  7. In a meeting with Schlesinger on March 6, after they discussed the Middle East, Kissinger said: “What can we do to keep the Soviet Union happy? We have MBFR, but that may be premature. CSCE is cheap. The Germans or French will probably give it away anyway and we should beat them.” (Memorandum of conversation, March 6; ibid., TS 90, Subject File, Schlesinger, James R., Memoranda of Conversation, 1973–75)
  8. Telegram 3185 from Moscow, March 5, reported on Stoessel’s meeting with Brezhnev: “Brezhnev dealt with Middle East and CSCE in routine fashion, except for thinking out loud that it might be necessary to elevate CSCE to Foreign Minister level to get the necessary documents ready for signing. He said he would talk this over with Pompidou and the Secretary. He dismissed Basket III issues as chicken feed compared to Basket I principles of inviolability of frontiers, etc. After noting that Basket III issues were a part of détente and attracted broad public interest, I mentioned the discussion of this topic with Gromyko in Washington and my own talks with the Foreign Office here and I hoped language could be found to meet the needs of everyone for Basket III. Brezhnev stressed the need to abide by national laws and customs in exchange of information and people, recalling his December 1972 speech language on this question. He asserted that a foreign tourist in the U.S. could surely not walk down the street naked, which was illegal, nor could he put his feet up on the table, which was not the custom. He drew the analogy that a foreign tourist in the USSR could not hand out anti-government propaganda, which was illegal.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 723, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XXX)
  9. Telegram 3947 from Bonn, March 12, reported: “Bahr told US, UK and French Ambassadors March 12 of his discussions of CSCE with Soviet leaders during his recent 10-day visit to Moscow. Bahr said he was impressed by how much attention Brezhnev, Gromyko and others focused on the conference. He had the impression that they considered its success of importance. As Embassy Moscow has reported, Brezhnev complained about the slow progress being made in Geneva. Other Soviet officials raised more specific complaints. The FRG came in for heavy criticism for its positions on Basket One, especially the non-violability of borders, on confidence-building measures, which the Soviets charged were designed to create serious problems for the USSR, and on Basket Three, along standard Soviet lines. The Soviets also pressed hard for a summit meeting to conclude the CSCE.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1974)