262. Minutes of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meeting1


Secretary of State Kissinger (presiding as Chairman)

D Mr. Ingersoll
P Mr. Sisco
T Mr. Maw
C Mr. Sonnenfeldt
AF Mr. Blake
ARA Mr. Rogers
EA Mr. Hummel (Acting)
EUR Mr. Hartman
NEA Mr. Sober (Acting)
INR Mr. Hyland
S/P Mr. Lord
EB Mr. Katz (Acting)
S/PRS Mr. Anderson
PM Mr. Stern
IO Mr. Buffum
H Mr. Holton
L Mr. Aldrich (Acting)
S/S Mr. Springsteen
S Mr. Bremer

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

Mr. Hartman: On the CSCE matters that we’ll be discussing on the side in today’s meetings, while You’re talking to Schmidt and to Genscher, Schmidt has brought with him four state secretaries on the economic side and some of the political people from the Foreign Office. So what we’ve arranged is that Tom Enders2 and Jack Bennet 3 will be talking to them in the Cabinet Room.

Secretary Kissinger: Can you explain to them the difference between “equally observed” and “equal validity”?4 It passes my understanding. What is the intellectual difference?

Mr. Hartman: The intellectual difference is that if you say that all the principles have equal validity—

[Page 764]

Secretary Kissinger: Yes.

Mr. Hartman: —then You’re saying that the Soviet Union cannot say that the inviolability of frontiers is the most important principle. And that’s the one that has to be applied above all.

Secretary Kissinger: If you say they must be equally observed, how can they say it then?

Mr. Hartman: Well, you see, if you observe the inviolability principle strictly—

Secretary Kissinger: Yes.

Mr. Hartman: —it makes it less likely that you can persuade people that there is a case for peaceful change, because the Soviet Union will interpret that as saying that really inviolability means no change.

Secretary Kissinger: I mean, you guys are of course professionals, having worked in this field for so many years and having seen amateurs come and go.

Does anyone here understand that difference? If it’s equal validity, then you cannot say one is more important than the other. But if they’re equally observed, then you can say it’s more important than the other?

It’s beyond my comprehension.

Mr. Hartman: Well, it’s a political issue.

Secretary Kissinger: Does anyone understand it intellectually? I mean, at least, the peaceful-change argument is nuts, but understandable. (Laughter.)

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The difference is between subjective observation and objective observation—regardless of whether you observe them or not.

Secretary Kissinger: And they must be equally observed?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It depends on how you act with respect to them, which is why the Germans don’t like that.

Secretary Kissinger: But, in other words, as long as they have equal validity, observation doesn’t make any difference.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: You have a legal and metaphysical case for arguing they’re all equal. (Laughter.)

Secretary Kissinger: Until there is some failure to observe.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: Like the difference between a traffic law and laws against murder.

Secretary Kissinger: You might want to reconsider that! (Laughter.)

Mr. Maw: I understand the physics of this, but not the law.

Secretary Kissinger: I remember an intelligence report at the end of the war that said the the secret dream of every German is to be hit by a car, with a light in the street in his favor. (Laughter.)

[Page 765]

I don’t know—my problem is I do not know how to resolve these issues. The one on peaceful change is only absurd, but at least I can grasp it intellectually. The absurdity of that is the placement of the word “only” will not determine whether there is a change in frontiers in Europe. In fact, there isn’t going to be a goddamn thing written in these principles. It isn’t going to make the damndest difference as to whether there is peaceful change or not.

No one is going to point to a clause of principles and say only because it qualifies international law it prohibits peaceful change, while it only qualifies peaceful change. It permits it.

I think this is childish. This is German domestic politics.

Mr. Hartman: Exactly. So let’s forget the substance.

Secretary Kissinger: It’s absurd. I must say in Vladivostok the President turned to me and said, “What’s going on here?” (Laughter.)

Mr. Ingersoll: You couldn’t explain it, heh?

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I can explain.

Speaking of “equal validity,” as I understand the German position, they will accept a sentence on peaceful change if it is in the section on inviolability of frontiers—although if You’re a metaphysicist, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference where it appears if it’s “equal validity.”

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: It doesn’t have any equal validity, in the first place. It has psychological and [omission in original minutes] validity. You are modifying the inviolability principle, but if you put it there—if you put it someplace else—

Secretary Kissinger: As long as you change the frontier.

Mr. Hartman: Only if you put in the French sentence, which says the principle should be interpreted in terms of the other principles. In other words, there’s a connection between the other principles.

Secretary Kissinger: Oh, come on; the whole thing is totally ridiculous!

Mr. Hartman: It is. I think the Germans are coming around to the view that the longer they stick on these questions dealing with the principles, the more the finger is going to be pointed at them for holding up this conference.

Now, if we can get an early agreement on a minimum package in the humanitarian third basket—

Secretary Kissinger: Yes. But we can’t get there until we get a common position.

Mr. Hartman: Well, there are indications now that the French are now saying the conference ought to be brought to an early conclusion.

Secretary Kissinger: There’s only one issue: Who’s going to sell out whom?

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And I think Giscard is selling out us.

Mr. Hartman: Fine.

Secretary Kissinger: Unless Schmidt has already sold out in Moscow.

Mr. Hartman: Well, if he has, he doesn’t seem to have gotten anything for it in terms of his own concerns.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: I think the Europeans are all taking a position—I think with two exceptions: Norway and Denmark—that we must no longer hurry.

Secretary Kissinger: Because we’ve gotten so much up to now? What have we gotten; what exactly have we gotten? (Laughter.)

I heard Trudeau on this subject. He said—

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: He’s got a real domestic issue.

Secretary Kissinger: Which is what?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The family issue. And that’s an issue for him. He and the Germans there are the only ones that have an issue on Basket 3. Everyone else is pursuing—

Mr. Hartman: But if over this period someone from the Western side—and it doesn’t necessarily have to be us; if we can keep the French out, it would be fine—he could come to the Soviet Union and say, “Here is what You’ve got to accept in Basket 3, but to really wind up this conference you have to show some sensitivity to these ridiculous issues that the Germans are raising. Make that the trade. This is how you can end that conference early. Otherwise you drag it out.”

We may not want to, but that seems to be the position, it seems to me.

Secretary Kissinger: I just want someone else to get blamed for ending it late. What do we get for ending it early?

Mr. Hartman: Except to get rid of it.

Secretary Kissinger: I wouldn’t mind extending it beyond the next extension.5 They may not want to blow up the Middle East before the European Security Conference.

Mr. Hartman: They’ve got every other linkage; you might as well have that one! (Laughter.)

Mr. Hyland: Keep it open until after Brezhnev’s visit to the Middle East.

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Secretary Kissinger: That for sure.

Mr. Hyland: Then we shouldn’t try to straighten out that language. We should let that stalemate continue.

Secretary Kissinger: But we can discuss that with Schmidt and tell him we shouldn’t settle it before early February. But isn’t it true that after it’s all settled that it would still take months?

Mr. Hartman: I think the Finns said that it would take six weeks for them to get ready for a final meeting.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s going to be the most unbelievable circus. You have how many heads of state there?

Mr. Hartman: No—but someone was suggesting that we ought to get a cruise ship and send it up to Helskinki with the number of people.

Mr. Hyland: 34.

Secretary Kissinger: Why are we going to have so many people?

Mr. Hartman: Because if the President goes there, we have a lot of people.

Secretary Kissinger: But they’re all going to speak, aren’t they?

Mr. Hartman: Oh, yes.

Secretary Kissinger: There’s no way of terminating a conference like this without having every head of state having spoken at least once. Is the Pope coming too?

Mr. Hartman: It could be. I just want to make sure whether we should bring Butz! (Laughter.)

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Entry 5177, Box 5, Secretary’s Staff Meetings. Secret. Kissinger chaired the meeting, which was attended by all the principal officers of the Department or their designated alternatives.
  2. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic-Business Affairs.
  3. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Monetary Affairs.
  4. The word “identity” was crossed out by an unknown hand and replaced with “validity” here and in Hartman’s response.
  5. After the staff meeting, Kissinger met with President Ford in the Oval Office from 9:20 to 10:15 a.m. (Ford Library, President’s Daily Diary) Kissinger told Ford: “On CSCE, no deal with Brezhnev. We don’t want it done before early February, but then we should work together to get it settled.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 5; ibid., National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 7)