196. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the US
  • Andrei M. Aleksandrov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Member of the Collegium of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chief, USA Department
  • Mikhail D. Sytenko, Member of the Collegium of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief, Near East Department
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, USA Department (Interpreter)
  • Oleg Sokolov, USA Department
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., US Ambassador to the USSR
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the State Department
  • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Carlyle E. Maw, Legal Advisor, State Department
  • William G. Hyland, Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, State Department
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary-designate for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Jan M. Lodal, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • Other Arms Control; CSCE; MBFR; Economic Relations

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

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Brezhnev: On the European Security Conference, we seem to have reached an understanding on our joint mode of action.

Kissinger: My impression is, on the European Security Conference we have reached an understanding both on substance and on procedure. That is my impression.

[Page 592]

Gromyko: The important thing, however, is to implement that understanding in practice.

Kissinger: Of course. But we have implemented understandings in the past; it is not the first time we have carried out an understanding.

Brezhnev: But the Conference has been dragging out three years. There is no end to the Conference.

Kissinger: Up to now the issues have not been reduced to such a small number, with such a precise understanding.

Gromyko: You mentioned the possibility of the Conference ending some time in July. Do you see any way we can have it end before President Nixon’s visit?

Kissinger: I think it would be very difficult.

Gromyko: What if we tried to prepare all the documents and have them initialed, and leave until afterwards only the signing? That is, have the documents prepared in substance?

Kissinger: I knew the Foreign Minister for years before I discovered his passion for initialing.

Gromyko: It is a very good thing.

Kissinger: That is more nearly conceivable. That I do not exclude.

Gromyko: Because of the substance of our opinion, and the General Secretary’s opinion too, if President Nixon’s visit is on and the substance of the Conference is still in mid-air, our public opinion won’t understand that.

Kissinger: Of course, the visit of President Nixon has to be seen as in the mutual interest, and we can’t accept it as being conditional on anything.

Gromyko: Yes, but it is a matter of atmosphere. I have fresh information. During the lunch interval, I heard from our delegation at Geneva on the first item, inviolability of frontiers. This refers to the study they are undertaking, that we mentioned, on peaceful change of frontiers. You and we reached a fundamental understanding that the mention of this should not be in the context of the clause on inviolability of frontiers.

Kissinger: That is right.

Gromyko: What they are discussing now is a bare reference.

Kissinger: Right.

Gromyko: The question of where to put it is not yet decided. If you could give your delegation instructions in line with what we agreed. You know best how to work with your allies.

Kissinger: I’ve not exactly proven I know best how to work with our allies! Nevertheless, you correctly understood our discussion yesterday, and we will work in that sense. We already had a preliminary [Page 593] discussion with the Germans in that sense before I came here,2 and we will work with others after I leave. You can count on that.

Gromyko: Good. Incidentally, the French are better in Geneva yesterday than today. It seems our discussion with Pompidou had an effect.

Kissinger: I was going to claim credit for it. It was the result of our discussions last night. We immediately used all our influence with Jobert.

Gromyko: This gives you a chance to show your abilities.

Kissinger: One country at a time. Last night it was France.

In seriousness, we have agreed on this question, and we will proceed along the lines of our understanding.

Gromyko: Good. And during the interval I again looked into the situation regarding so-called “military détente.” The situation is confused to the utmost, and it has been confused deliberately.

When it came to light that some of the Western countries were putting forward impossible proposals, suddenly they put forward new ones putting the whole of the European USSR under control. This proposal is not yet withdrawn. Belgium, Holland, are putting out these ideas.

Kissinger: I have told you we will not support that proposal.

Gromyko: We appreciate that, but could we have an understanding to act more vigorously to eliminate all these?

Kissinger: Yes; this issue will take a little more time, but you have our assurance. I will discuss it in London on my way through.

Gromyko: Very good. Very good.

Kissinger: This may be a good way of proceeding.

Gromyko: Because it is the British who are acting as the motive force behind all this.

Kissinger: That is why I suggest it.

Gromyko: We thought the new Labour Government would see it differently, but the law of inertia was applying.

Generally speaking we like your attitude to this question of military détente and these measures. As you know, the matter has three elements: One is the exchange of observers—that is no problem. Second is presentation of information about maneuvers. The third is the presentation of information about troop movements. We share your view of the third, that is, to send it back for further study.

Kissinger: That is correct. We can weaken these proposals substantially. Basically we should talk about large units or substantial units on maneuvers, not about movement of all military units.

[Page 594]

Gromyko: That would certainly facilitate the situation, because one of the complicated elements would be eliminated.

Kissinger: We will talk about this in London in that spirit and see if we can reach a common position. But it will be better if your Ambassador does not go there tomorrow and support the position we were taking on Thursday!

Gromyko: It will be impossible because he is not in London.

Kissinger: But you should not be active in London until we tell you how it came out.

Gromyko: We will do nothing. We can let one secret out: We believe perhaps the Labour leaders could take a more realistic stance; at least that is what our intuition prompts.

Kissinger: That is my impression. The Conservatives were more difficult for you and for us.

Gromyko: That is a page in British history that has been turned over.

On Basket III, I don’t know whether you have seen the pile of documents they have piled on. If you take this pile here [shows stack of documents] you can multiply it by 10, most of it wastepaper.

Kissinger: I’ve never examined those papers. Because I don’t think the Soviet system will be changed by the opening of a Dutch cabaret in Moscow. [Laughter]

Gromyko: Cabaret! I made myself go through the whole basket. If you clear away the rubbish, the real sense boils down to three items: borders; respect for sovereignty, noninterference; and the third is what we just discussed—matters of military détente. In fact, the third one, until recently, wasn’t there at all. At Helsinki, it was decided merely to give some thought to it. I think it would be a good thing if you could look into this, because you will see a lot of those matters don’t relate at all to the problem of security.

Kissinger: I understand your point about Basket III. It has two aspects: One is to relate it to the principles, and the second is to give it some content. Some of the Europeans think that for domestic reasons they have to give some content to Basket III. You and I discussed once that if we can establish a relationship to domestic legislation, you could consider some content for Basket III. I think that with good will on both sides, this is a soluble problem. The United States will use its influence not to embarrass the Soviet Union or raise provocative issues.

I have not seen any of the papers. I must be frank. I have not studied them. The United States has not put forward one concrete idea.

I will put forward one—compulsory visits by the United States Secretary of State to Leningrad.

[Page 595]

Gromyko: We will be agreeable, if not in the document, but at least in a footnote. It should be bilateral, because I don’t think the French would sign it.

Kissinger: We should initial it. But we should be able to solve it and you will have no difficulty with the United States.

Gromyko: The others have, though you haven’t. But we agree the crux of the matter is something about domestic legislation. But as for what you say about us being prepared to insert substance into Basket III, it has been said on many occasions, as in the statement by Comrade Brezhnev that we are in favor of a broad expansion of cultural ties provided they are consistent with domestic legislation. We are in favor of a wide range of humane questions provided they are consistent with respect for domestic legislation.

Kissinger: We are prepared for substance. But I haven’t studied any of the papers on substance. Because I have assumed we would work it out in practice.

Brezhnev: Dr. Kissinger, I have derived great pleasure hearing the two Foreign Ministers talk at length with each other, and I keep thinking “How are they able to do this?” My conclusion is that I can never be a Foreign Minister. I would have to set aside a couple of years to study the most complicated words from every encyclopedia in the world and insert them one after the other in each phrase. I will set aside a couple of years and maybe then I will be up to it.

My second conclusion is that Foreign Ministers speak in such an interesting way but resolve nothing.

Kissinger: That gives them job security.

Brezhnev: I am really thinking of volunteering for one of these commissions in Vienna. It will be a school of practical study.

Gromyko: But not on Basket III.

Brezhnev: The other day I phoned Comrade Gromyko and I said “My deeply respected Andrey Andreyevich—”

Kissinger: The President never says that to me—but then I am not in office as long as he.

Brezhnev: And I said, “I was quite convinced that as soon as I telephoned, you would raise your phone and reciprocate. And I was so impressed I ventured never to forget that. I was impressed by your gesture for me, and you can be assured of my feelings for you for many years. And availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to know how you feel and at the same time inquire about the health of Lydia Dmitrievna, your spouse, and please pass on to her my best wishes, and please let me express my hope that the forthcoming telephone conversation will give you the greatest pleasure and bring forth no problems. Because my many years of experience give me every confidence [Page 596] you are directing every effort toward these goals that I and my colleagues are seeking, and I am sure our conversation will be a success. Now I will say a few words—but I forget one thing.” But he then broke into conversation saying, “I entirely reciprocate your feelings.” And I said, “Andrey Andreyevich, if I were not assured of your feelings I would not have called.”

Kissinger: He would say to me, “I essentially reciprocate your feelings.”

Brezhnev: My call was to find out when your plane was coming.

[Laughter] He said, “It is coming one hour late.” We talked twenty-two minutes. But I wanted to hear the two Foreign Ministers talk to each other.

Kissinger: But I am a new Foreign Minister …

Brezhnev: I have one shortcoming: I like a precise discussion. But we talked for twenty minutes about our mutual respect and admiration, and we concentrate on the last word. So I listened to you most attentively. You agreed to inform each other. I will inform President Nixon, Korniyenko, Sonnenfeldt.

Kissinger: I knew Sonnenfeldt was communicating with somebody, because he is not communicating with me.

Brezhnev: I haven’t ever been able to suspect Sonnenfeldt of ever engaging in clandestine activity. The only thing I can guess is that he writes you notes and tells you “Don’t agree to anything they say.”

Kissinger: What really happens is, I move my lips and he speaks.

When I speak to your Foreign Minister, he never says, “I entirely agree.” The most I get is, “I essentially agree with you.”

Brezhnev: As I see it, that is again a case of his reciprocating your words.

“Thank you, Mr. Kissinger, for thanking me for my gratitude. I am deeply indebted to you. Thank you for my hearing of these words so pleasant to my soul.”

That is what is called a respite or disengagement.

Kissinger: I don’t think I would achieve this felicity of phrase …

Brezhnev: [referring to Rodman] What is he writing this for?

Kissinger: We need this for our diplomatic language training.

Gromyko: I don’t know what he is writing.

Kissinger: We will initial it. We will introduce it into our Foreign Service charm course.

Brezhnev: I’m quite sure you and all your assistants, and President

Nixon, understand full well the significance and meaning of the All-European Conference and are familiar with all the details to date. [Page 597] I know your so-called allies regularly inform you of all the details of what they are going to do. We don’t refer to our East European colleagues as allies but we get reports from them.

We would now like to hear precise firm words, not on details but on the principle. We want to know whether we can bring the Conference to an end in the next one or two months or whether it goes on and on. It is left a bit vague. I am a practical man and I wanted to know the facts. I have to report back to the members of the Politburo on what is going to happen. We hear about “efforts will be made with allies.”

The situation is like this: Countries like Belgium want to set up a theatre here under their own control without the Soviet administration. You say your allies have put forward this or that proposal; that is just to let it go on endlessly. We can speak our mind. We can say the subject matter is European security, not a matter of organizing restaurants in each other’s country. If the United States isn’t interested in that, then I will take that into account, and that is another question.

When there is a question of who should participate, whether it is just the nuclear powers or others, I said, “No, it should be all European countries.” This was the correct view. Luxembourg, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, should all participate.

This is why we are against all attempts to give evasive answers, which only creates unpleasantness in our minds.

We are not putting forward the question of the [withdrawal of] United States forces from Europe. That is a separate question altogether. Nor do we link it with your “allied commitments.” But in spite of our straightforward approach, others are putting obstacles in the way and trying to gain certain advantages over the Soviet Union.

You know the United States publishes a magazine, “America,” in this country, and we reciprocally publish, “Soviet Union” in the United States. [Brezhnev gets up and fetches a copy of “Soviet Union” and shows it to Dr. Kissinger.] I personally read “America” in my house, and my wife reads it too. So there is no problem about that publication in this country. But now there is a new demand, to set up a printing house in the USSR. Surely that would contradict the principle of noninterference in other countries’ affairs and respect for sovereignty.

So all references to alliances are nothing but attempts to evade the question. What alliance can there be with a country like Holland on setting up restaurants in the USSR? Tell them straight out that it runs counter to the spirit of the Conference. You keep saying you have to consult with your allies.

But I want to be completely objective, Dr. Kissinger, and I appreciate the fact that You’ve made two serious statements. One is that you have the intention to make a serious effort to complete the documents and effect the signing as soon as possible, and second, that you will do [Page 598] everything in your power to ensure the signing of those documents at the highest level. If that is your intention, I certainly welcome it and we can end the conversation on that note.

What is your view on those last words?

Kissinger: My opinion is, we have agreed to use our efforts to bring about an acceptable document, and that in that case conditions will be considered right for signing it on the highest level, as far as the United States is concerned.

Brezhnev: I agree. And I trust you agree in principle that if it were at all possible to achieve it before President Nixon’s visit, that would be very good. Politically it would confirm the ideas President Nixon set out in his last letter to me.3 You will naturally recall the words in that letter—“that we have gone through difficulties but we remain true to the policy we have set, and that there is indeed no alternative to coexistence.” Surely the final document of the European Security Conference would be very important in that respect.

Kissinger: I have said we will act in that direction and I am sure we will achieve it. But I have pointed out that I don’t believe it will be completed before the President’s trip. But we have no fixed view on that subject; it is my estimate. But we can certainly finish it, if not before, then shortly afterward. But you have our assurance we will act in the sense that I have described.

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


Brezhnev: I would like to say a couple of words on this question.

Kissinger: Please.

Brezhnev: On the question of reduction of forces and armaments in Central Europe.

We are gratified at the start of the negotiations in Vienna on the substance of this important problem. And we discerned in them the joint desire of our countries, together with the other European states concerned, to continue the process of strengthening European security and to complement political détente in that continent with measures of military détente. It is only too natural that negotiations should be conducted not for the sake of the negotiations themselves, but to achieve concrete practical results. We have to note, however, that so far there have been no such results. And in fact, people now are speaking of the deadlock that has taken form at the Vienna talks.

[Page 599]

And it is becoming obvious that our Western partners have come to Vienna with clearly exaggerated demands. The approach they are suggesting means nothing short of a desire to alter or amend in their favor the correlation of forces in Central Europe that has taken shape over many years. They start talking about some kind of ceiling or of reduction only of the Soviet and American forces, and also they are calling for a reduction of Soviet forces in a proportion of two-to-one, or even more, compared to American forces. They speak only about the reduction of infantry forces without talking of other types of forces and armaments.

You will realize that if that approach is taken, the talks are bound to end in deadlock. And it is quite obvious that no reasonable or acceptable solution can result from such an approach.

So, therefore, if there is a genuine desire to reach agreement on this problem, it is necessary to take a more realistic view of the situation. I don’t believe you and I can here and now finally resolve this problem, and I have merely described in principle what is happening, emphasizing those things that cannot lead to real results, and I would be happy to hear from you some observations on this score. And then, depending on how you see things, we could decide either to issue our delegations with new instructions or to discuss the matter at a higher level, or take other appropriate steps.

Kissinger: The negotiations on MBFR have, as you pointed out, Mr. General Secretary, many complexities. One is the geographic disparity of the location of the United States as opposed to the Soviet Union. Any Soviet forces would withdraw a few hundred miles, while American forces would withdraw a few thousand miles. Secondly, we start from a base which is disparate: According to our estimates, the forces of the Warsaw Pact are larger than those of NATO, and the forces of the Soviet Union are larger than those of the United States. And there are some disparities also in individual equipment.

On the other hand, we understand the Soviet concern that as a result of this effort there not just be a substitution of other forces for those of the United States—in other words, that if we withdraw a certain percentage of our forces, the other allies not just increase theirs by the same percentage. And we also understand there should not be a change in the relative weight of the various allies as a result of these negotiations.

So we understand the Soviet desire to have some clarity about the process that would be started.

[Food is brought in.]

Kissinger: It’s about time. I was getting hungry.

Brezhnev: When I got home last night, my wife showed me a picture in Izvestia. She said, Dr. Kissinger has lost weight. I said no, it is something in the photograph.

Kissinger: Your wife is a great diplomat.

[Page 600]

Brezhnev: She usually takes no interest in the talks.

Gromyko: Did you tell her Dr. Kissinger was bringing great pressure to bear? [Laughter]

Kissinger: So, we understand that the discussions that have taken place in Vienna may have had some of the attributes that the General Secretary pointed out.

We wonder, therefore, what the General Secretary thinks now of the idea he discussed with President Nixon—of, for example, a cut of 5% of U.S. and Soviet forces, without equipment. In other words, this is a change in our position. With a ceiling to be put on allied forces so they cannot be increased to compensate for this. And with an agreement to move within a specified period to further discussions which would involve also forces of other countries, of all of the participants of the Conference.

Brezhnev: I did talk about this with President Nixon, and I spoke of it to Chancellor Brandt and to President Pompidou. I did indeed suggest that we agree on certain reductions in size of forces, perhaps in the initial stage symbolic reductions, and then let us wait and see several years, with talks continuing in the meantime, and then everybody concerned—the United States, the peoples of Europe, everybody—will see it is possible to live in Europe with a smaller number of armed forces. That would be just one first step.

But some time has elapsed since then, and here I have to use the language of diplomats. First Brandt told me he favored reduction of both national and foreign forces. Now I see there is a certain hesitation in this regard. Pompidou tells me he takes no part in these talks, and he says France is not going to cry over reductions of Soviet and American forces. That is what he told me in the last meetings. That prompts us to think about it.

Kissinger: I think the French army has a long way to go before it strikes terror in the Soviet Army. You can withdraw many forces before that point is reached.

Brezhnev: But I feel at this time we can limit ourselves to just an exchange of views.

Kissinger: Yes.

Brezhnev: Without, however, losing interest in this activity.

Gromyko: And let the talks in Vienna continue.

Brezhnev: And perhaps after we both thought things over, we could agree to both give our delegations new directives. I’ve been hearing it said that the EEC, which is of course not only a commercial but also a political union, feels one could contemplate a Western Europe without boundaries. This was said to me by certain politicians. I said [Page 601] to Pompidou I didn’t agree it would happen, but if it did, every one of them would have to learn German.

Kissinger: That might be one result of the current tendencies.

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

Brezhnev: So perhaps, returning to the subject of troop reductions in Central Europe, we could then agree the conference itself should continue to work. And in the meantime, say at the Ministerial level or other level, we could think of ways to give new impetus to the work and bring rapid results.

Kissinger: So as I understand it, the ideas you discussed with President Nixon last year are in abeyance?

Brezhnev: No, why? But for the time being, no practical solution has been found to that problem.

Kissinger: Including that idea advanced by the General Secretary?

Brezhnev: Yes. Because the suggestion is that only a certain percentage of land forces be withdrawn, which would violate the balance, a balance which has been in existence for 30 years. So obviously there is a need to dig a little deeper into this whole matter.

Gromyko: When Douglas-Home, the Conservative Foreign Secretary, was in Moscow discussing this subject, he said it was best to reduce land forces first, especially the number of tanks. When we asked why, he said, “Because the Warsaw Pact has more tanks.” That is not a good reason.

Kissinger: I have never heard a NATO Minister who disagreed. That is very convincing to NATO people!

The question is how serious we are in promoting these negotiations. If each side wants to freeze the superiority it has, there will never be an agreement.

Gromyko: Then let the other participants take a more objective view instead of saying, “Reduce tanks because the other side has more tanks.” Because all forces and armaments should be reduced. It should be a cross-section of all forces in Europe, including nuclear forces. So it is certainly expedient to give further study, but it is also necessary for the Western powers to take an objective view.

Kissinger: So you think at the Summit no understanding can be reached.

Gromyko: Perhaps as a result of further thought, something could be agreed. Let us agree to think this over. You may want to exchange views with your allies. This is certainly one of the topics we list as for the Summit.

[Page 602]

Kissinger: But our experience is that unless there is a preliminary agreement before the Summit, it is very hard to reach an agreement at the Summit.

Gromyko: True, but surely there can be an additional exchange of views between now and the Summit.

Kissinger: I just told Sonnenfeldt I don’t have the impression we will achieve a breakthrough on this subject tonight. But I don’t want to be hasty; that is why I asked Sonnenfeldt.

Gromyko: A breakthrough today, maybe not. But between now and the Summit …

Kissinger: Because I would have offered to split the difference, if I knew what your position is.

Gromyko: Could you tell your position?

Kissinger: I already told you. Acut of 5% in U.S. and Soviet forces, to be followed by further reductions of other forces.

Gromyko: Yes, but we said that involved additional forces. What about air forces and other arms? We can’t do as Home said.

Kissinger: But in that stage tanks would not be included, only personnel.

Gromyko: But that is not our proposal. When Comrade Brezhnev put his proposal, he said armed forces, not just personnel. Otherwise it is just counting heads.

Kissinger: By air forces, do you mean personnel, or aircraft too?

Gromyko: Those too.

Brezhnev: Because air forces include arms and not just personnel.

Gromyko: The question now in the discussion in Vienna is the question of reductions of armed forces and armaments.

Brezhnev: I am sure Dr. Kissinger is aware that that kind of approach is groundless.

Kissinger: Can I also, just for my education, Mr. Foreign Minister, ask about the content of your 20,000 symbolic cut put forward at Vienna? Is that personnel or equipment?

Gromyko: We named that as an example but we have never divorced the question of personnel from that of arms, and we have always said cuts should include air forces and nuclear weapons.

Brezhnev: That is what we wrote.

Kissinger: My quick impression is reinforced; I don’t think we will find a solution this evening.

Brezhnev: I agree with you. But we should give thought to today’s discussion. [Kissinger nods yes.] So let the Conference go on working, and we should give whatever help we can. [Kissinger nods yes.]

[Page 603]

Gromyko: [Picks up a briefing paper] This is our proposal: “The Soviet Union and other participants in the talks suggest a reduction of 20,000 with appropriate materiel and equipment.” That is in paragraph 2. This is something that applies to both of us.

And in fact, in the past, Western countries themselves never attempted to disunite personnel and arms. Only very recently this question cropped up. It seems they switch positions whenever it is to their advantage.

Kissinger: We are prepared to discuss cuts that move in the direction of equality. But we should consider the consequences if we fail to make progress in any of the fields of limitation of armaments. If armaments on both sides continue to grow while we declare we are in a period of détente … So this is not a question to be settled tonight, but it will have a serious influence.

Gromyko: We are in favor of continuing to give thought to this. Certainly it is quite possible we will have opportunities to make progress.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Office Files, Box 76, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Secretary Kissinger’s Pre-Summit Trip to Moscow, March 24–28, 1974, Memcons & Reports. Secret;Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. The conversation took place in Brezhnev’s office at the Council of Ministers Building in the Kremlin. Brackets, with the exception of those indicating omission of unrelated discussion, are in the original. 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. See Document 193.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 190.