261. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. Akalovsky
  • USSR
    • General Secretary Brezhnev
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev (interpreting)


  • Middle East, CSCE, Trade Bill

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

The President: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] I suggest, Mr. General Secretary, that perhaps we should now turn to the question of the European Security Conference, a subject in which we both are very interested.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Let’s do that.

The President: We hope that there can be some real movement in this area. I believe we have to work between ourselves to reach possible solutions, and I think we can do it. What is your view as to what should be done to move the Conference to its final successful conclusion?

General Secretary Brezhnev: Mr. President, I would like to turn this question back to you. There are a lot of artificial, invented issues in Geneva. All issues regarding security have been practically solved, but what is braking progress is the so-called Basket III. Let’s clean up that basket and everything will be solved. What is the United States concern in this area?

The Secretary: I would like to see that Dutch cabaret opened in Moscow so that I can visit it.

[Page 760]

General Secretary Brezhnev: Give us time to build it.

The Secretary: May I ask what you discussed with Schmidt,2 since he will be visiting the President in a couple of weeks. As I told you in October, we would be prepared to talk with Schmidt and Giscard to expedite matters. But in order not to work at cross purposes, it would be useful to know what you discussed with Schmidt.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Generally speaking, Schmidt did not object to concluding the conference. In essence, what the Germans are concerned about is the question of reunification. (Gromyko corrected Brezhnev’s terminology by saying that the issue in question was that of peaceful change of boundaries.) So the question is where to place this point in the document. The basic principle is that borders should be inviolable and that states are to remain independent. A reference to peaceful change of boundaries could be placed somewhere, but the Germans came up with language the effect of which is to suggest that the primary purpose of international law is change of boundaries.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: I fully agree with comrade Brezhnev’s comments. I must also say that as of late the United States influence on the conference has diminished and that somehow the United States has become passive in Geneva. We regard this as part of United States policy. When the United States wanted to give a push to the conference, it did it rather well. Dr. Kissinger will remember that when the question of principles was discussed, more specifically that of noninterference, the United States acted together with us and we succeeded in persuading others. But recently the situation has deteriorated. To turn to specific issues, I want to point out that neither in joint Soviet-American nor in separate United States documents is there specific reference to the United States endorsing the holding of the third stage of the conference at the highest level. Even in today’s communiqué there’s no such reference. This is my first point. My second point is that United States representatives in Geneva either don’t have or, if they do, are concealing and not implementing instructions to bring the conference to an end as soon as possible. All delegations should be instructed to conclude the conference by say January 1 or 15, or some other specific date. Many delegations are looking to you for taking the lead.

The Secretary: Here’s another complaint in addition to several others. Never before did I hear praise for our cooperation, but at least today, several months later, we heard that we had done something.

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

[Page 761]

Foreign Minister Gromyko: To continue, all delegations in Geneva should be instructed to finish the conference by a certain definite date. It would be good if we here could agree to act in such a way as to end Stage II by January 1 and have Stage III take place at the highest level sometime in January. As regards Basket III, the United States has demonstrated some sober judgment. But why do certain countries insist on imposing on others foreign institutions, even organizations managed by foreigners? Why would someone come as guest if he is not invited? We will have a cabaret if we want it. That’s my third point. My fourth point is regarding the question of borders. The main aspect of this problem, that is inviolability, has been agreed upon and there are no difficulties. As to peaceful change, one question is where to place that point. But then a new formulation appeared and the Germans told us that it was the United States who had proposed it. In his conversations with us, Dr. Kissinger was indignant and said that this was an FRG and not a United States proposal. Nevertheless, this new language has been floating around ever since, and its thrust is that the main purpose of international law is change of borders. Let us jointly convince the FRG not to drag out this issue. Now let me turn to my fifth point. It relates to the issue of the significance of principles. Some maintain that all principles, be they on cabarets or on inviolability of borders, are of equal significance. Of course, one cannot agree to this proposition. But this is exactly what some are trying to impose on us. In our view, all principles should be strictly observed, so let us both pursue this line, not only in the corridors but at the negotiating table as well. Now to my sixth point. In Geneva, certain measures relating to military détente have been under discussion. They pertain to such things as maneuvers and movement of troops. As regards movement of troops, it seems that this issue is being left for the future, but on maneuvers some people want us to give information about everything that goes on in the area up to the Urals, even as regards the activities of small units. In our view, a solution of this problem should be such as would lessen tensions and suspicions. But the approach I just referred to would have the contrary result. Long ago, we agreed on exchanging observers at maneuvers, but now this issue threatens to become an obstacle, because it is artifically exagerated. So efforts should be made to resolve all these issues. Otherwise, the conference will not be concluded.

The Secretary: I will not give a six-point answer, partly because some of the issues are so complicated that I have a hard time understanding them. In fact, I believe that Mr. Gromyko is the only Foreign Minister who understands all the issues. My comments will relate to three points: first, principles; second, Basket III; and third, movement of troops. The problem of principles is essentially a German problem. The issue of equal validity or placement is a mystery to me, it is one [Page 762] that required Kantian education to understand. We do not believe that it can have any effect on the real situation, because no one will change the borders merely because the word “only” appears at the end of a CSCE document. As the President said, he will raise this question with Schmidt and try to convince the Germans to review their position. Then we will inform you.

The President: I will meet with Schmidt and Giscard these CSCE issues with them in order to try to develop a method for solving all the points raised by the Foreign Minister.

General Secretary Brezhnev: I’ll make only a few brief comments, since comrade Gromyko has made a full presentation on this problem. I was pleased to see in one of your letters, Mr. President, the statement that you will seek the earliest conclusion of the Geneva conference and then sign the documents at the highest level.3 I’m a businesslike man and I believe you. I hope, therefore, that every effort will be made to this end. Do you think that the conference could be concluded by January 1, with the final stage at the highest level taking place in January?

The Secretary: Absolutely impossible.

General Secretary Brezhnev: Why?

The Secretary: Let’s be realistic. The second reading of Basket III has not yet been completed. In fact, you still owe us some formulations regarding that Basket. So, realistically, the conference could be concluded by the end of March, with Stage II terminating by the end of February and Stage III taking place in March or April.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Can we agree that Stage II should end in the second half of February?

The Secretary: With a major effort, perhaps that might be possible, but we will be able to give you an honest estimate after our discussions with Schmidt and Giscard. To be perfectly frank, there is not one United States objective for which we would want to prolong the conference but, on the other hand, we don’t want to antagonize our allies. We believe the conference has been dragging too long and that by now no one really understands the issues, except perhaps Gromyko.

Foreign Minister Gromyko: Can we have at least a tentative date?

The Secretary: Perhaps March or April.

The President: I will talk with Schmidt and Giscard and attempt to get them to move in this area.

(At this point, Assistant Secretary Hartman left the room.)

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, Entry 5403, Box 4, Nodis Memcons, Jan. 1974, Folder 2. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. The meeting took place at Okeanskaya Sanatorium near Vladivostok. President Ford visited Vladivostok for a summit meeting with General Secretary Brezhnev from November 23 to 27. The complete text of the memorandum of this conversation, along with other documentation on the Vladivostok summit, is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.
  2. Schmidt visited Moscow from October 28 to 31.
  3. No such letter has been found.