191. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Visit to Moscow


  • The Secretary
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department
  • Arthur Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • William Hyland, Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research
  • Brent Scowcroft, The White House
  • Denis Clift, The White House
  • Jan Lodal, The White House
  • Robert Blackwill, Notetaker

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

Secretary: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] I am still bemused by our MBFR proposal to the Russians. They take out 68,000 with their equipment, we take out 29,000 without our equipment and Reforger allows us to put in 50,000 for four months each year. It’s preposterous.

Hyland: But if the Soviets push and …

Sonnenfeldt: Bill, I didn’t have a chance to mention to you Dobrynin’s proposition of 30,000 yesterday.2

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

[Page 562]

Sonnenfeldt: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] But MBFR is a problem.

Secretary: Dobrynin’s proposal was that we consider a 30,000 man cut for each side, fifty percent to be made by the US and USSR, fifty percent by the NATO and Warsaw Pact.

Sonnenfeldt: In the paper Lodal and I did,3 we gave you three options. Option 3 is the closest to what Dobrynin told you. That would be a token US-Soviet cut of 20,000 each, which is about two percent of NATO/Pact ground-air manpower, plus a framework for the next phase. The problem is it is unacceptable to the Allies.

Secretary: What did they propose in Vienna?

Sonnenfeldt: Basically in November a symbolic 20,000 man cut by each side, involving all participants and made across the board.

Lodal: That is a more interesting suggestion than the one Dobrynin gave you yesterday. Token cuts by everyone and a manpower freeze between phases.

Sonnenfeldt: The next paper you have there4 gives you the three options and the third is the 20,000 US-Soviet cut and the framework for the next phase.

Secretary: If I say to the Soviets that we propose a 20,000 US Soviet cut, will they accept it? That is not an equal percentage is it?

Lodal: Not exactly. An equal percentage would be about 19,000 for us and 24,000 for the Soviets.

Secretary: So you are giving me two proposals. We either suggest a 29,000 cut for us without equipment and a 68,000 cut for them plus tanks; or a 19,000 cut for us and a 24,000 cut for them without any equipment. That’s certainly splendid analytical work. I wonder which they will choose.

Hyland: But the 29,000 vs. 68,000 cut is an equal percentage cut of US-Soviet forces and is caused by the immense numerical advantage the Soviets have in Central Europe.

Secretary: Isn’t the 19,000 and 24,000 an equal percentage cut of US/Soviet forces?

Hyland: No, that’s two percent of the Warsaw Pact/NATO forces in the area.

Sonnenfeldt: Did Dobrynin say anything about armaments?

Secretary: I only talked with him about 15 minutes and during 14 of them he berated me for deliberately humiliating Gromyko in Damascus.

[Page 563]

Sonnenfeldt: He doesn’t know what a tight schedule you keep.

Hyland: I think the Soviets will eventually accept something like an equal percentage cut, though it may not be 29,000 on our side and 68,000 on theirs, but they may suggest …

Secretary: You really think they will accept those numbers or anything near them?

Hyland: They may suggest something like a five percent cut.

Secretary: What would those numbers look like?

Lodal: About 10,000 for us and something like 20,000 for them. But they’re interested in the subsequent phase and what happens to the German army.

Secretary: Do we make these cuts contingent on the next phase?

Hyland: That’s what the Russians will want; they will want it all spread out.

Secretary: So we cut five percent of US-Soviet forces and try to get them committed to a common ceiling framework. Will NATO accept that?

Hyland: That’s what NATO wants. A link between that and what is in the last phase in some detail.

Secretary: What kind of detail?

Hyland: The Russians want to make sure that the Germans reduce in the second phase.

Secretary: But doesn’t everyone accept that there will be indigenous reductions in the second phase. If there are indigenous reductions the Germans, being indigenous, will reduce.

Sonnenfeldt: The Russians will want your specific assurance of that.

Scowcroft: They don’t want an independent German army.

Secretary: These God-damn jesuitical arguments. Obviously if the second phase cut includes indigenous cuts, the Bundswehr will be included and without it the German Government will cut their army anyway.

Lodal: Of course the Russians realize we may also get cuts through the Mansfield amendment.

Secretary: So we get the Soviets to agree to a common ceiling, 3–1 against them in this stage, 10–1 against them in the second stage. I keep thinking there must be a limit to our cynicism.

Hyland: What hangs us up in dealing with the Russians is that tight procedural format we have in NATO and the Allies’ insistence on staged negotiations eventually leading to a common ceiling approach. The Russians keep saying two stages are not necessary, that we should reduce everyone in one stage.

[Page 564]

Secretary: Why don’t we?

Sonnenfeldt: Because the Europeans don’t want to.

Secretary: But if the Russians were willing to accept a common ceiling …

Sonnenfeldt: If that happens the whole picture changes. The Russians are going to want a clear indication of where the other Allied cuts are going to be. You are going to have national sub-ceilings no matter what you call them and you can bet that under the terms of Dobrynin’s proposal to you yesterday the Russians are going to want definite word of where the other 15,000 is coming from.

Secretary: We will have to give him something on this issue since he gave me a fur hat yesterday.

What happened to it? Are you staffing it? Which reminds me of when we were hunting. The Russians brought out all these sows and piglets—they called them wild boars—and Sonnenfeldt started blasting away. You should have seen it.

Sonnenfeldt: That was a day to remember. Two shots and two carcasses.

Secretary: Hell, they had some guys hidden down in the trees who heard your shots and then threw out the carcasses.

Sonnenfeldt: It will be better in the snow than in the spring. Think of the beautiful sight of all that blood on the snow.

Secretary: I find it revolting.

What is Ikle’s point on MBFR?

Sonnenfeldt: No point. I think you asked him to do an issues paper.5

Scowcroft: That’s right. After last week’s VP meeting.6

Secretary: I haven’t read it yet. And on SALT, will Alex Johnson be there?

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

Secretary: What about CSCE? Art, can you give me five minutes on where we stand?

Sonnenfeldt: You have a memo.

Hartman: I am a little hampered by not knowing what memo you have got there.

Sonnenfeldt: It’s your memo.

Secretary: Never mind about the God-damned memo. Can someone tell me where we stand?

[Page 565]

Hartman: The Soviet position in Geneva seems to be softening somewhat, although Korniyenko took a hard line with Walt Stoessel on our suggested changes in language.7 You remember we want to take reference to customs out and use a reference to laws and regulations in the principles, which would then be referred to in a vague way in the preamble to Basket III to meet Soviet wishes. That’s basically the way this argument was settled in the original Helsinki compromise. They are also very serious about the question of inviolability of frontiers. And they regard peaceful change very much in the context of the indivisibility of their own sovereignty.

Secretary: But what do I tell Gromyko? Does Stoessel know he can sit in on all our talks?

Sonnenfeldt: I am sure he assumes he can but we can tell him definitely. Will he stay out there?

Secretary: No, for Christ sake, he can commute. He has got to understand there are limited facilities.

Hyland: I think the Russians will accept a reference to peaceful change in the principles portion, just so long as it is not juxtaposed with language on frontiers.

Hartman: But the Russian position doesn’t make any sense. If we recognize their complete sovereignty …

Sonnenfeldt: Though the logic on our side may be impeccable, the Russians are not going to accept changing borders on any terms except their own. They are so sensitive about this, of course, because of their problems with the Chinese and language on peaceful change would simply highlight their difficulties. We should have no illusion that they are going to accept anything meaningful.

Secretary: Should our role be that we will accept anything the Europeans accept?

Sonnenfeldt: That’s basically true—especially on Basket III. Secretary: So we put language on laws and regulations into the general principles and refer to them in the preamble to Basket III.

Sonnenfeldt: Of course the Russians are claiming that you agreed to put language on this question into the preamble itself.8

[Page 566]

Secretary: That’s ridiculous. You were there. You know I didn’t.

Sonnenfeldt: We can also give them something on confidencebuilding measures.

Secretary: That’s right. The Europeans want to be told about every God-damn Soviet troop movement, but we accept some general formulation on maneuvers.

What about a summit?

Sonnenfeldt: There is no enthusiasm among the Allies now for a summit. Even the French seem to be backing away.

Hartman: Pompidou did leave a slight opening in Moscow. And I believe that the political leaders of all the Western countries may come around at the last moment.

Sonnenfeldt: The French have suggested a Foreign Ministers meeting at the end of Phase II.

Secretary: But what do I tell Gromyko?

Hyland: I think we simply repeat for the Russians next week the San Clemente formulation, that we support progress in CSCE which will result in holding a meeting at the highest level. That is in effect what Pompidou said.

Secretary: But what results are we asking for?

Sonnenfeldt: To remove all the crappy problems in the document.

Secretary: But am I right that no one is asking for anything that will last two weeks beyond the final meeting. And so, no matter what the Europeans are saying now, there will be a summit. I am just trying to understand how this is going to work out.

Hyland: The Europeans say that if there is a disaster, they will walk away from CSCE. But I think that is just a tactic …

Secretary: They don’t have any tactics; they just want to hang it on us.

Hartman: I think we will get help on this from the current British Government.

Secretary: Let me understand. There are no serious problems in Geneva. What about borders?

Hartman: The Germans are serious about it.

Hyland: It is a real issue in Germany.

Secretary: I thought [less than 1 line not declassified] Scheel said he settled the problems in the first document.

Hyland: The Germans are trying to get through CSCE what they didn’t get from the Russians.

Secretary: [less than 1 line not declassified]

Sonnenfeldt: That was Bahr.

[Page 567]

Secretary: At least Bahr is a deliberate disaster. I really don’t think Scheel means to do any harm. The only problem is that we can’t get stuck with the decision about the summit. There will be a summit and we shouldn’t be the last to agree to it. But we want to prevent the Russians from running around Europe blabbing.

Sonnenfeldt: We shouldn’t go too far …

Secretary: You were wrong about me seeing Gromyko in Geneva—we can’t drive them against the wall every time—with all due respect. What are we giving if we tell the Soviets we agree to a summit.

Scowcroft: That …

Secretary: But if Korniyenko accepts this telegram9 and some compromise on frontiers and then says what about a summit. What do I say?

Hartman: Say we are relaxed.

Secretary: That is fine, Brezhnev asks me what I think about a summit and I say I am relaxed.

Sonnenfeldt: We also have the problem of follow-on machinery. Secretary: What is our policy on that?

Sonnenfeldt: We do not want any special political machinery.

Hyland: We want a small staff secretariat which receives messages but has no political or executive responsibility.

Sonnenfeldt: On the summit we are just talking about nuance. The question is whether you will give the Russians the ability to go all over Europe saying the US agrees to a summit and is pushing it. Or are you more cautious saying that if the issues are resolved, if there is a consensus in Geneva, then our position remains the same, that the conference should close at the highest level; but we should never doubt for a moment that the Russians will use whatever you say against us.

Hyland: We should just give them our existing position.

Sonnenfeldt: That we will go to the summit if progress in Geneva warrants it.

[Page 568]

Hartman: We can say movement on the issues will define the final level.

Hyland: Of course, the neutrals will send who they want.

Sonnenfeldt: Prince Rainier?

Secretary: As long as his wife comes along. I agree, we are talking about nuances. We want to prevent Brezhnev from saying we have already agreed to come. We say instead that if the document is satisfactory, we will support a summit. We have a couple of loose declarations floating around; maybe we could put some paragraphs at their disposal.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 8, Soviet Union, Secretary’s Trip, March. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. The conversation took place in the Secretary’s office.
  2. No record of this conversation has been found.
  3. Not found.
  4. It is unclear to which paper Sonnenfeldt is referring.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 190.
  6. See Document 347.
  7. See Document 186.
  8. On March 19, Sonnenfeldt wrote in a memorandum to Kissinger: “The Soviets have insisted to Stoessel that they would prefer that the idea of respect for laws and customs be reflected in the preamble to Basket III, a procedure which would undo the Helsinki compromise and provoke the Allies into counterdrafts that would only exacerbate differences. Further, they alleged that you and Gromyko had agreed to place such compromise wording in the preamble (there was no such agreement).” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 49, Trip Files, Mar. 25–28, 1974, Misc. Papers)
  9. Reference is to a draft telegram to Moscow, attached to Sonnenfeldt’s March 19 memorandum, which reads in part: “It would appear that Korniyenko is deliberately distorting informal understanding reached between Secretary and Gromyko on this topic. Secretary did not agree to develop jointly with Soviets Basket III preambular language covering respect for national laws and customs and other points Soviets wish to make in that context. Secretary did agree that we would work to develop with the Soviets compromise language which could bridge differences between Soviets and our allies. As indicated in previous instructions, we feel this can most effectively be done not through developing the preamble but in keeping with the Helsinki understanding.” It is unclear whether the draft telegram was sent; no final copy has been found.