247. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko’s Call on President Ford


  • Soviet Side
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev (Interpreter)
  • U.S. Side
    • The President
    • Secretary Kissinger
    • Ambassador Stoessel

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

Gromyko: Now I would like to touch on European affairs, including European security. Much has been done by the US and the Soviet Union acting together with regard to policy concerning Europe.

The President: I agree. I also feel there are areas where we could make more progress, but please proceed.

Gromyko: There was a time in the history of our relations when we were partners in a joint struggle against the aggressor and we shed blood for a common cause. This is embedded in human memory and always will be. Now, we have reached a level which shows the advantage of cooperation between the Soviet Union and the US in connection with European security in our own interest and in the general interest of other countries. This should not be weakened in any way and nothing should be allowed to disturb this. We feel that together we can do much more which would entirely meet the interests of strengthening European security and improving our own relations.

First, about the conference on European security and the successful completion of its work with positive results. As you know, the second stage is now in progress in Geneva. I would like to say, for the Soviet leadership and for Leonid Brezhnev personally, that we attach great importance to finishing the work of the conference with positive results.

However, we see some artificial and unjustified delays in the conference. We feel that the completion of the conference, and especially holding the third phase at the highest level, would give a new impulse to security in Europe as well as to US-Soviet relations.

We know that some say that the US and the Soviets are acting together in unison. Even if people do say this, we don’t feel we should give up our cooperation or sacrifice the advantages which could accrue from such cooperation.

Secretary Kissinger can confirm that when we have reached an agreement and find a common language, then things move forward as a rule. But when we don’t have agreement, then there is no progress, and we go in circles.

Lately, there have been some hitches in our cooperation in Geneva. We ask ourselves whether this means a change in US policy about what has been agreed or whether this is a chance occurrence. We would like to work for a successful completion of the conference with good results. We would like to urge you to cooperate with the Soviet Union [Page 721] to bring the conference to a successful conclusion. We have many other things to do after the conference and we want to get to them.

The Secretary: I think Ambassador Dobrynin has a microphone in our office!

The President: When I said that we could do more, I had in mind the security conference and also the force reduction talks. I feel we can work together even better than we did in the war. I am not familiar with the difficulties you mentioned at Geneva, although I know there are some problems about Basket III.

The Secretary: I will talk at lunch with the Foreign Minister about this. The trouble, Mr. President, is with our European allies. Speaking very frankly, every country wants to extract something from the Soviet Union. I’ve told all of them that the Soviet Union won’t be overthrown without noticing it, and certainly not because of things like increased circulation of newspapers and so on. I don’t know how many projects have been submitted in Basket III, but there is a big pile. we’ve tried to reduce that and to explain to our allies that the Soviet Union has difficulty in making concessions on one issue when it doesn’t know what else it may be asked to concede on.

We’ve had enormous difficulties with our friends to get one document; now they are going through all of the projects and reading them. There is no deliberate policy on our part to slow down the conference. We remain on the course as we discussed it at the summit.

This whole thing is one of the weirdest negotiations I have ever seen. I talked with one foreign minister in Europe and said we needed one position. I didn’t care what it was, but we needed one position. He objected that the Russians would find out about it. But, of course, that’s the point—we want them to!

We do need more flexibility from the Soviet side, but I also see the Foreign Minister’s problem. He has to know what he is dealing with.

Gromyko: Two or three issues at Geneva have become barriers which have not yet been surmounted.

First is the inviolability of frontiers. We have been in agreement with the US on this going back to the time of Kennedy. Of course, Roosevelt’s position on this was known. At the conference in Geneva, everyone agreed on one formula. But lately, we have heard that some don’t like this formula and we have heard that the US wanted to change it.

The Secretary: That’s not true!

Gromyko: We should talk further about this matter.

Second is the question of military movements. Some countries want us to build a great accounting house and to devote all of our efforts to this so that when one division moves from one place to another we can report on it, as if we had nothing else to do. What does [Page 722] this have to do with security in the present day—what does this contribute to confidence? Initially, we knew Secretary Kissinger’s position on this, but at Geneva, unfortunately, the voice of the US has not been heard. I repeat, that the movement of one or two divisions from one point to another does not affect the real security of a country.

I think the US is under pressure from Luxembourg on this.

The Secretary: We see you are being pressed by Bulgaria!

Gromyko: A country like West Germany, for obvious reasons, is cautious on this and other similar questions. However, they say that we might solve this question with a voluntary exchange of observers on the basis of reciprocity. The Germans mentioned this to me in Bonn in passing.

To conclude on this point, we hope we can work more closely together and achieve greater mutual understanding at the conference.

The Secretary: On the security conference, I would say, first, that you have to be a Talmudic student to understand it. On the question of the inviolability of frontiers, this is a German issue and not a problem for the US. Following the change of government in Germany—in which Eastern Europe was not totally uninvolved—they asked for a change. We gave two versions to you but didn’t get an answer.

On troop movements, the issue is the size of the unit and the area. It is no secret that our means of information are better than those of our allies.

Gromyko: We proceed from that assumption.

The Secretary: This is primarily a European problem. We don’t know what the Germans said to you. If they come to us there will be no problem. I have had instructions from the President to work on the basis of our previous understanding.

The President: That is right. There is no change in our policy. The lack of progress on Basket III seems to be holding things up.

The Secretary: If we could get something on these other points, it might help on Basket III.

Gromyko: On Basket III, I have always favored shaking some things out of the basket, but I believe the issues essentially have been resolved.

The Secretary: Some of our allies have to show that they have extorted from you what you already have agreed to.

Gromyko: Now about the reduction of forces and the Vienna talks. This is a very important issue. You agree that it is complicated and we feel it is, too. Its solution obviously requires time and I feel our efforts should continue. But we believe the Western participants must give up the idea of some kind of a common ceiling for forces on both sides. [Page 723] Some say they don’t like Soviet tanks in Europe. They say there are too many of them and that we should withdraw a full tank division. We should take 1700 out.

The Secretary: I’m for it!

Gromyko: The Western participants say we should reduce our forces twice as much as reductions on the Western side. But they refuse to reduce their air force, nuclear arms and bases in Western Europe. We could demand that these be removed, but we don’t take that approach.

We should scrupulously observe the principle of no harm to the security of either side and we should preserve the co-relation of forces in Western Europe today.

We favor a reduction of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe. We should go in this direction. We should make the best effort we can.

The Western participants say that only the US and Soviets should reduce and the others should be left as they are. Reductions for them would come in the indefinite future in a second phase. There is nothing precise about this and no figures are given. Everything will be subject to negotiations.

We should think more about all of this. Perhaps in the next meeting with Secretary Kissinger we could try to find a new approach to the whole problem which would serve our common interests.

The President: As I recall, we offered to take out 29,000; you should take out 68,000.2 I also recall that the Soviet Union talked in terms of a 5% reduction.

The Secretary: The Soviet Union has gone through an evolution on this point. In the BrezhnevNixon meeting in 1973, Brezhnev proposed a rapid 5% reduction to get things started.3 Since then, the Soviet position has evolved in a more complicated way.

Gromyko: Brezhnev’s suggestion did not constitute a broad program of action. It covered only a partial aspect. It was an illustration of the possible dimension of a first step involving US and Soviet forces.

If the US and Soviet sides reduce, it won’t help if the others increase their forces.

The Secretary: But the Foreign Minister knows that if we reduce, there must be a ceiling on the forces of the others. Whatever either of us reduces cannot be replaced by increases by the others.

[Page 724]

Gromyko: It is not enough to talk about US-Soviet reductions and a concurrent freeze of the others. We should agree on a definite stage for the reduction of the forces of the other countries.

Also, a first step reduction of US-Soviet forces with concurrent conditions poses very complicated problems. In subsequent meetings we should discuss this.

The Secretary: The President met with Stanley Resor on Saturday4 and you can also read what I said in my testimony yesterday.5 It is hard to attest to the success of détente if armed forces are always going up.

All of this really doesn’t make much difference in practical terms. However, we are looking at new approaches.

Gromyko: Your argument works both ways.

The President: I am glad you brought this question up. We are interested in new approaches and this is something we should discuss later.

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

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger and Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 32, USSR, Gromyko File (19). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The conversation took place in the Oval Office.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 345.
  3. See Documents 162 and 163.
  4. See Document 350.
  5. In a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19, Kissinger said that in the coming months the United States would strive, among other things, “to complete the multilateral negotiations on mutual force reductions in Central Europe, so that security will be enhanced for all the countries of Europe” and “to conclude the conference on European security and cooperation in a manner that promotes both security and human aspirations.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 14, 1974, p. 519)