258. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee, CPSU
  • Andrey A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States
  • Andrey M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Georgiy M. Korniyenko, Chief, USA Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Second European Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • Oleg Sokolov, USA Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., US Ambassador to the USSR
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor, Department of State
  • Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • William G. Hyland, Director, INR
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • Jackson Amendment; CSCE; Middle East; Nuclear War

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

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Kissinger: Let me turn to the European Security Conference.

Brezhnev: Please.

Kissinger: The General Secretary stated we were insufficiently cooperative.

Brezhnev: That’s not right; I said “not enough activity [aktivnost’].” There is cooperation; “activity” is another question.

Kissinger: One of the difficulties, quite frankly, on the European Security Conference, is that some of the issues are so absurd that it’s very hard to apply political influence to them. On some issues there are only three people in the world—in whom the Foreign Minister belongs—who understand what they’re all about. I frankly, even after a night’s reflection, Mr. Foreign Minister, don’t understand the difference between “each principle has equal validity” and “each principle should be equally observed.” I tell you now I will accept either formulation if the other participants agree, whichever it is.

Gromyko: That is only part of the general formula being suggested. Because there is also “equally valid and interdependent,” which the Germans want.

Kissinger: [To Sonnenfeldt] Why do the nutty Germans want “interdependent?”

Sonnenfeldt: [To Kissinger] It’s a French point.

Gromyko: Actually we understand the line pursued by proponents of that formula. When they say the principles should be interdependent—actually it’s “each principle should be equally valid and interdependent”—they mean that if someone says, say, that a humane principle isn’t being observed, for example, means that the others should not be observed.

Kissinger: But it works both ways.

Gromyko: It’s like little wheels in a watch. If one stops revolving, the others do.

Kissinger: If you claim one isn’t being observed, you can also say the others aren’t applicable. It’s much more dangerous to the Germans than to you.

Gromyko: Our point of view is different. We believe that even if somebody doesn’t observe one principle, it doesn’t mean an end should [Page 751] be put to observance of all the rest. Let’s say some shouter, say in West Germany—but let’s not name any countries—says because some principle, say a humane principle—someone is refused an exit visa—then all the other principles, like inviolability of frontiers, shouldn’t be observed either. The objective position would be to say that all principles, from A to Z—10 or 11 or what have you—should be equally strictly observed.

Kissinger: My difficulty is I don’t understand half of the issues being argued about. I understand this one, but let me be perfectly frank. If you have a concrete negotiation, you can go and use influence. But when the issue is where to place one phrase, whether to put it before or after another one, it’s extremely difficult to use the prestige of the United States to put pressure and be accused of betraying an ally. What’s happened with the European Security Conference is that every government is using it for purely domestic purposes, proving how tough it can be because it’s running no risk. In Ottawa I told them what the result would be. But it’s impossible to put pressure on a stupid point.

Gromyko: Tell them more energetically.

Kissinger: I don’t want to go through all this before the General Secretary. Let me give you my own prediction. I believe it must be wound up. It’s impossible to keep it going on these issues. It’s an affront to logic. Probably the end of March is a reasonable time it should be wound up. Thirdly, what are the issues? On the principles, it’s “peaceful change” and this point about “equally observed” and “equal validity.”

Gromyko: That’s two separate questions.

Kissinger: That’s two separate questions. These are essentially German questions. No one else is interested in them. Then there is Basket III, and there is Confidence-Building Measures. Confidence-Building Measures will be settled, whatever the proposals are, because the difference between 50 and 100 kilometers, and between 20,000 and 40,000, can be compromised. So we’re talking about Basket III and peaceful change.

With respect to Basket III, after the first reading, we have the approval of our allies to develop a common position. Until there is a common position, we understand your reluctance to compromise.

Regarding the two German points, Mr. Sonnenfeldt is leaving to see Schmidt before Schmidt comes here. He will express my personal view.

Gromyko: [To Sonnenfeldt] We will look at you!

Kissinger: And he may even be on time for Schmidt.

And you’ll see President Ford, and he will see Schmidt in Washington. We think it has to be brought to a conclusion. And it’s between you, us, and Schmidt. Maybe also Giscard, whom we’ll also see on the 15th. December will be a good time to work this out.

[Page 752]

I wonder whether the Foreign Minister’s fertile mind, aided by Korniyenko, can come up with an idea on peaceful change—even if it’s only to move the word “only” around in the center. So Genscher can say he’s got a victory on something. I frankly don’t believe that at the level of the Foreign Offices this can be settled, so when President Ford and Schmidt and Giscard meet, it can probably be settled.

Brezhnev: All right. Maybe we shouldn’t now endeavor to go into every detail on this. Perhaps you and Gromyko and Korniyenko can spend some time on it before you leave.

Kissinger: [To Sukhodrev] Did you translate what I said about the end of March?

Sukhodrev: Yes. The conclusion of the Conference.

Kissinger: All I can do is repeat: The President and you will discuss it at Vladivostok, and by the end of December we can bring it to a concrete point.

Brezhnev: Since the United States is also a participant in the European Security Conference, we have a very earnest desire to write into the European Security Conference that the United States should notify us about all movements of its Navy and all movements of its troops in the United States all the way to California.

Kissinger: Dobrynin knows it anyway.

Brezhnev: Dobrynin hasn’t told me about it. Because otherwise you say it doesn’t concern the United States; that it’s a German question, a French question. Let’s all build confidence.

Kissinger: But the summer house where Dobrynin spends all his time has more electronic equipment … It goes out to the Atlantic. You want to cover California too?

Brezhnev: All the way to California.

Kissinger: I think the question of military maneuvers will be settled.

Brezhnev: You know, the unfortunate thing is, I turned out to be the author of this proposal about notification of troop movements. It sometimes happens that a man proceeds from the best of intentions and makes a mistake in not predicting what form it takes in someone else’s eyes. I am admitting it very frankly. We had a discussion with the late President Pompidou at Zaslavoye, and the question didn’t even exist then. I said to him, “Let’s do something to strengthen confidence. After all, any army doesn’t just live in barracks and go out to mess room. They conduct maneuvers; they move tanks and planes. Let’s invite your representatives, and anyone’s representatives, to attend these maneuvers to observe them, and that would strengthen confidence.” No sooner did I say this than it was turned into an idea of opening up the whole Soviet Union, to the Urals. The question didn’t exist before I mentioned it.

[Page 753]

Aleksandrov: You let the genie out of the bottle!

Brezhnev: I let the genie out of the bottle, and now every country is coming back at me—the Greeks, the Turks, the Dutch, Belgium.

Kissinger: Anyone who can get the Greeks and Turks to agree on anything has already accomplished something.

Brezhnev: If that is so, we have to report to you and Canada about any troop movement.

Aleksandrov: Let you and Canada report!

Kissinger: We already know what You’re doing.

Brezhnev: Of course.

Kissinger: Not every company, but every substantial movement.

Brezhnev: In the last ten years, we’ve had no more than two major military exercises, “Dniepr” and “Dvina.” One was “Dniepr,” when the Kiev Military District was supposed to mount an offensive against the Belorussian Military District. Who won, I can’t say, because there was no real firing. But all the general officers there watched the Air Force come in with correct precision, and other movements. So if Grechko favors the Kiev Military District, he just announces Kiev has won. If for some reason he supports Belorussia, he announces they won. Thank God I wasn’t present; I’d have said they both won.

The only extenuating factor for me is that I came out for that proposal guided by the noblest of intentions. But now others have turned it into a principle.

Kissinger: I’m aware of the differences of opinion that exist.

Brezhnev: Anyway, I raise the point by way of suggesting voluntary observers—that is, if we want to invite them, we do, and if we don’t, we don’t. In short, I think we should at some point discuss it in greater detail, especially taking into account your view of reaching a solution.

One thing that troubles me is that you seem to agree with those who emphasize the great difficulty of reaching agreement on peaceful change of frontiers.

The second point is I’m sick and tired of endless delays in bringing the Conference to a close. It was once to be ended in 1972. Then it was supposed to be in 1973, then in 1974. Now we hear it’s March 1975.

Kissinger: I myself think March 1975 is realistic. Don’t you?

Gromyko: If that is so, it’s only because there are some who artificially cling to that time limit, who try artificially to hold back on it.

Kissinger: There is no issue between the United States and the Soviet Union. If I had a major concern here, I’d insist on it. The General Secretary knows I’m not exactly bashful about stating my views. So it’s a question of how between the two of us we can manage the ending of the Conference. It’s now practically impossible to do it in November.

[Page 754]

May I make a concrete proposal, Mr. General Secretary?

Brezhnev: Please.

Kissinger: We will make an effort in the next two months to move our allies to a conclusion. You will see Schmidt and Giscard, and you let us know what you discussed with them with respect to this Conference. We will see Schmidt and Giscard, and we’ll let you know what we discussed. So as to avoid confusion. Then early in January, you may wish to send Korniyenko, or maybe you’d send Gromyko, to America, and we could after all these discussions see where we are.

Gromyko: The important thing is that in our contacts with Schmidt and Giscard we should act from one and the same position and not in different positions.

Kissinger: I agree. But I think we should do it in parallel, but not give the impression we have an agreement.

Gromyko: The French would be overenthusiastic if they felt we were acting jointly with you.

Kissinger: They would be delighted.

Brezhnev: I certainly agree we don’t need to use virtually the same words in expounding our position with Giscard and Schmidt, but we should act in parallel and in one and the same direction.

Kissinger: I agree.

Brezhnev: Perhaps you could have a word or two with the Foreign Minister.

Gromyko: The basic thing is to talk in parallel.

Kissinger: Our basic talk with Schmidt is not when Sonnenfeldt is there, but when the President meets with Schmidt in Washington. But I’ll send a message to Schmidt through Sonnenfeldt that we believe the Conference should be brought to a conclusion.

Brezhnev: When I say we should act along the same line, I mean while you are here in Moscow, you and Gromyko should agree on the main principles. Because if those basic principles are agreed on between us, Sonnenfeldt can be given more explicit instructions.

Kissinger: We can have a talk, but in our view the realistic time to make progress is when the President sees Schmidt.

Brezhnev: It’s certainly true that more concrete results can be achieved in a summit, but at the lower level some preliminary work can be done.

Kissinger: I agree.

Brezhnev: And I certainly could not conceive of this question not being touched upon when I meet President Ford.

Kissinger: No question. We are prepared to discuss it. Are we finished with this question?

[Page 755]

Gromyko: In effect, you were replying to the observations made by the General Secretary this morning.

Kissinger: That’s correct.

Gromyko: Because the questions we did mention regarding the European Security Conference are the issues that are now holding up the Conference.

Kissinger: I agree. And my point is that your basic problem is not the United States.

[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, October 1974. Top Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. Drafted by Rodman. The conversation took place in the Old Politburo Room in the Council of Ministers Building in the Kremlin. Brackets, with the exception of those indicating omission of unrelated material, are in the original. The full text of the memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.