270. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Andrey A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Andrey Vavilov, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • CSCE; Cyprus; China and Japan; Germany and Berlin; Emigration; SALT II

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

Gromyko: Could we discuss the European Security Conference over the blini?

Kissinger: Could I tell one story about Vladivostok?

Kovalev: It seems that the texts at the European Security Conference are being done much more slowly than the blini.

Kissinger: Could I tell one story about Vladivostok? The Foreign Minister was explaining the difference between “equal applicability of principles” and “equal validity of principles,” and the President turned to me and said, “What the hell is he talking about?” [Laughter. Gromyko looks slightly embarrassed.] My trouble was I couldn’t [Page 792] explain it to him either. [Laughter.] You’ve ruined my prestige! Now the President has lost confidence in me.

Gromyko: The Americans at the highest level decided they’re above principles!

Kissinger: we’re going to enter a reservation that they don’t apply to the U.S.

Sonnenfeldt: Good idea.

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

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)

Kissinger: What about the European Security Conference? We can settle it over the sturgeon.

Gromyko: If we speak seriously about this subject of the European Security Conference, I would say that after a certain rise in activity there, which was not sufficient, and happened before the last interval, a certain tranquility has set in.

Kissinger: [Interrupts the translation] Especially in the Russian delegation, I’m told.2

Gromyko: Of course, we think this is connected with the policy of certain countries. And this is not by accident. The European Security Conference reflects the state of mind of certain capitals. And we can conclude that not all possibilities are being utilized. Perhaps I’m being too frank.

Kissinger: Since I know the Foreign Minister isn’t talking about Washington, I wonder what capitals he is talking about.

Gromyko: After a year, it’s being relegated to next year, and then a third year, and then a fourth year, and then a fifth year. This cannot but reflect on policies in other areas.

Kissinger: Let’s be concrete—what capitals?

Gromyko: I’ll give an answer to that. We have a definite view that the FRG in certain questions is playing a negative role, and certain negative impulses proceed from her representatives. we’ve said the same [Page 793] thing as we say to you to representatives of the FRG at the highest level—to Chancellor Schmidt and Minister Genscher. And the same thing we said to the British, at a high level—to Prime Minister Mr. Wilson and Foreign Secretary Mr. Callaghan. I do not know how the British Government will conduct itself in the future, but up until now on many questions, I would like to say their attitude was negative. We thought for quite a long time about the differences between the line of the Labour Government and the Conservative Government on questions of European security and in particular the European Security Conference, and up to now not noticed the great difference. However, I should make a reservation—we have detected signs of perhaps a greater degree of interest in the talks in Moscow on some matters which are of general interest to countries and on certain matters signs of interest in a positive outcome of the Conference. And we hope certain practical steps will come out in the future. And we have told this to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Of course, we said this to them to a greater extent than to you now.

And I would like to mention about one more capital: Washington. I’ve spoken to the leader of our delegation, Comrade Kovalev, who is my Deputy. And so we feel the pulse of the European Security Conference. On certain questions there are good contacts between our representatives. Our representatives feel that when there is desire on the part of the American representatives to help promote progress on certain questions, this makes results. We do not always feel this desire. And sometimes we feel that the attitude of your representatives is somewhat like the attitude of observers, people who look at things happen and wait and see how things proceed.

In a nutshell, we think not all possibilities and opportunities are being utilized, and it’s not by chance. The reasons are not clear but we think it has reasons. Perhaps you can answer. We think you can give more help. Sometimes there are impulses to help but the impulses go down and weaken until the next cycle.

Kissinger: No, Mr. Foreign Minister, sometimes toward the conclusion of a negotiation which is where we are now, the questions left to the end are the most difficult ones, and this is what is happening. Secondly, I’d be interested to hear what specific issues You’re talking about, because there is no directive from Washington to slow down cooperation. On the contrary, our intention is unchanged to speed up cooperation. So I would appreciate hearing what issues you refer to.

Gromyko: I can answer that. We believe today there are a number of questions which are blocking further movement. Three. Or four perhaps. The first is formulations which pertain to the right of states to change frontiers peacefully only by agreement and in accordance with international law. Second is the measure of military détente or [Page 794] confidence. Third is the question of the correlation of principles. That problem, by the way, is the one that created liveliness on the part of certain of the Vladivostok participants. In a good mood.

Kissinger: It was deliberately designed to undermine my prestige.

Gromyko: I can’t question the intentions of the President. That is not my responsibility. [Laughter.]

Then there is the Third Basket. There are certain remnant questions in this Third Basket, not all of the same character, but they are blocking progress. Some countries probably are trying to show strong character, but it blocks progress.

Kissinger: Can I give you my impression of these issues? On peaceful change, we can give you another formulation tonight—or tomorrow. But it is a matter of principal interest to other countries, as you know, and connected to their domestic politics. So it’s not an issue on which the U.S. is the principal agent.

Second, on the equal validity of principles, I frankly thought this was on the way to being solved. And there was the IPU Conference in Belgrade which had yet another formulation.3 So I thought it was moving toward a solution.

Gromyko: Not yet.

Kissinger: Isn’t the Belgrade formulation acceptable?

Gromyko: [To his colleagues:]What is the Belgrade formulation?

Kissinger: We had the impression perhaps that that formula …

Gromyko: We can’t negotiate it in Belgrade.

Kissinger: No. Tomorrow we’ll give you the two formulas that we thought will lead to a solution.

Gromyko: All right.

Kissinger: We’ll give them to you. In our internal discussions we genuinely thought those would solve it. We’ll have it for you tomorrow at 10:00. Our Ambassadors will discuss it. Ours will be handicapped by the fact that I genuinely don’t understand it.

Gromyko: Even after Vladivostok.

Kissinger: You expressed it, didn’t explain it.

[Page 795]

Gromyko: [To his colleagues:]What is the Belgrade formulation?

Dobrynin: [To Kissinger:] No one on our side is familiar with it.

Kissinger: We’ll give it to you.

Hartman: There was another one which was discussed at the Conference.

Kissinger: [To Hartman:] What made you think it was acceptable?

Hartman: Because their delegation was there and accepted it, and it was advised by their Foreign Office.

Kissinger: Maybe it was an honest misunderstanding. Our people genuinely thought, when the IPU accepted it and your delegation was there….

Gromyko: We weren’t interested in this matter at Belgrade at all.

Kissinger: There is no point debating it; why don’t our Ambassadors give you the two formulas on which we genuinely thought a convergence of views was developing? We’ll do it tonight. And you look at it, and see.

Gromyko: Of course.

Kissinger: On Confidence-Building Measures, didn’t the British discuss this with you in Moscow?

Gromyko: Callaghan said that maybe information about maneuvers can be exchanged on a voluntary basis.

Kissinger: Movements?

Hartman: No, both.

Gromyko: Maneuvers too. We didn’t think it was against your line of thinking. We discussed it once.

Kissinger: I know.

Gromyko: He wasn’t specific but it was worthy of consideration. Then, what is the point from which states should proceed when they exchange information?

Kissinger: The number of days?

Gromyko: The number of troops.

Kissinger: Number of troops and….

Gromyko: For Luxembourg, maybe one regiment is a terrible force. For us, if five divisions are going from their winter to their summer quarters, we don’t notice them.

Kissinger: We don’t notice them either, as long as they don’t come West.

On this issue, if we’re willing to show some flexibility on both sides….

Gromyko: This is not an important general matter. We think this was introduced rather artificially. In the long run it can be considered. [Page 796] It’s possible to consider other problems. In a sense it’s a symbolic one, they said. But if symbolic steps should be considered, reasonable ones should be done.

Kissinger: What do you think?

Gromyko: We think it should apply to all countries equally and 100 kilometers from the borders. 100 kilometers. All this fantastic part about the European part of the Soviet Union and 500 kilometers, is fantastic. This is supposed to be about confidence but all this undermines confidence.

Regarding the number of troops, we think a corps. Do Americans have a corps?

Dobrynin: A corps or Army.

Gromyko: In the neighborhood of 30,000–35,000. This is not a terrible force. Otherwise you and probably you and we can report every day. And you should build skyscrapers to accommodate the staff who shall be engaged in such unproductive business.

Kissinger: Well, we have no agreement on this point. But I have always believed it was a point on which a solution should be possible. And I think if we both look again at the figures we gave to each other and try to find a compromise between the two positions, we’d be willing to cooperate. And if you want to instruct your Ambassador to be flexible, we’ll instruct ours. But these talks should be kept quiet.

Gromyko: Naturally they should be quiet, but it seems we’re remaining at the same old positions.

Kissinger: No, if your Ambassador is instructed to show some flexibility, ours will, and we should find a compromise between the numbers and the distances. And if we agree, we can use our influence with other delegations.

Gromyko: Why not report to them tomorrow?

Kissinger: [To Hartman] Is Sherer here in Geneva?

Hartman: Yes.

Kissinger: All right, we’ll do it tomorrow.

Gromyko: Do not discount this idea of voluntary.

Kissinger: they’ll meet tomorrow.

Gromyko: The remaining two principles: On borders—we’ll comment when we receive the text.

Kissinger: Then Basket III—it’s too intellectual for me. There is a French text and there is a Russian text, so it’s between you and the French. As for the rest, our people aren’t causing any trouble, are they? Seriously, our people aren’t causing any delay. we’re staying out of it.

[Page 797]

Gromyko: It’s true. And we don’t reproach you with creating difficulties. And it seems you have a more realistic approach to the problems than some others. But you seem to act as observers.

Kovalev: Sometimes they give help and sometimes they’re passive.

Kissinger: It’s a difficult problem for reasons with which You’re familiar. We can’t block the proposals of others in that area. Our impression is your delegation perhaps hasn’t made all the efforts it could make in that area.

Gromyko: I think we have exerted so many efforts that if you read a memorandum of our concessions in the field of cultural contacts, information contacts, no one should wait for concessions only from the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries. Other countries may have a less flexible attitude than you, and we agree, but compromise should be the prevailing factor. We don’t think you will worsen your relations when you pronounce your authoritative word. Because we have stated our view. And I can quote certain examples. There was a whole constellation of islands in the Pacific and there was a moment when the Soviet Union after the Second World War actively supported trusteeship by the U.S.—the Marshalls, the Marianas and the Carolines. I remember; I voted for this in the UN. But it was not an easy matter to explain, and public opinion was opposed. But it was a matter of allied relations and both of us were speaking on peaceful cooperation in the world. This was a striking example. In comparison with this, the questions being discussed now are extremely small.

Kissinger: As the Foreign Minister said himself, we have supported the Soviet view on several issues in Basket III and we have not opposed it on any issue in Basket III. And we’ll be genuinely cooperative. But it is a difficult situation for us, given our domestic situation, to be too visibly active.

Gromyko: What can I say to that? We would like to express the hope that the U.S. will be more active than before on questions relating to culture, information and humanitarian contacts. It is up to you whether it should be tied to domestic considerations and to what extent. In a word—and we have a record of exchanges with you—we think you operate lower than your possibilities.

Kissinger: Frankly, our people think the same of you.

Gromyko: Read the list of what we’ve done and what others have done.

Kissinger: Let me review the subject. It eludes me from time to time. I read it before, and I will see what can be done.

Gromyko: All right.

Kissinger: What other issues are there?

Gromyko: It would be good to clear up these European matters.

[Page 798]

Regarding the timing of the final stage of the Conference at the highest level, it doesn’t seem that people are sticking to the dates discussed. There was agreement, and two months have passed and there is no agreement. This doesn’t bring benefit to anybody when they are not complied with. The agreements bring some tranquility to public opinion, but the reaction is sharp when they are not complied with. Not much time has passed since Vladivostok.

Kissinger: I don’t understand. Not much time has passed?

Gromyko: Only two months—and now we see the agreement is going to be broken.

Kissinger: That was a sarcastic remark.

Gromyko: Perhaps we’ll sit together in the next room with notetakers and discuss this question.

Kissinger: About the Security Conference.

Gromyko: It is unlocked. They will not bind us.

Dobrynin: He’s a flexible man.

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

Gromyko: [Omitted here is an unrelated comment.] I would like to tell you, Henry, we are very unhappy with the progress at the European Security Conference. This is a great contrast with the Vladivostok meeting which, you are aware, was of very great significance. Look how many years this has been going on now. As we see the situation, the procrastination being done is artificial and this doesn’t correspond to the interest of the whole cause. We think there are some political calculations, and it is happening not by chance. Maybe I am being too straightforward.

Kissinger: No, I appreciate it.

Gromyko: If you think it isn’t right, maybe it’s London, Bonn, but we don’t understand why this is being done.

This is the personal feeling of our leadership and the personal view of General Secretary Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, whom I saw yesterday before I left.

Kissinger: Tell him my personal regards. I admire him for his courage.

Gromyko: Even now it is not known when the Conference will end. Let us settle the date of the final ending at the highest level.

Kissinger: I want to say first of all that when I saw the toast of Leonid Brezhnev when he referred to the European Security Conference I was somewhat surprised, because I thought things were going normally—not quickly but normally. Because with so many countries there, I thought it was progressing toward a conclusion this year.

[Page 799]

Perhaps one mistake we made was to give deadlines which are too short, given the procedures and readings that are required. Let’s discuss a realistic date. Look, we agree there will be a summit, without clauses. Let’s find a date—say, late July or early September—a firm commitment. Or what is your idea?

Gromyko: I must say what you said about dates puts us on our guard. You remember the dates we discussed some time ago. Now you want July, September. I must say the Soviet leadership is discouraged with the situation—for want of a stronger word; I won’t mention it. We think there is a possibility to finish the conclusion of the European Security Conference two months earlier. Look at—it’s now half of February, so June or July means five months. Should we continue it five months? We don’t understand this.

Kissinger: Your idea is June?

Gromyko: We think it is better in April, or at least May. It is better in April. This is possible. This is possible. Work remains for two weeks that is all.

Kissinger: It is not possible. I mean the third stage.

Gromyko: To complete the second stage, a couple of weeks are needed. Of course we are talking about the third stage. To conclude the second stage, we only need a couple of weeks. Maybe there is no wish. The orchestra is too large. Some countries do one thing; some do another.

Kissinger: Our people thought the second stage, with all the readings, couldn’t be done until mid-April.

Gromyko: Today, one country inserts one comma, tomorrow another country inserts another comma.

Kissinger: Can we do this? I’ve noted what you say. We have no interest in a delay. Why should we create suspicion in the minds of the Soviet leadership? It is not a substantive issue. We agree there will be a summit.

Gromyko: I appreciate what you say.

Kissinger: So the only issue is the time. I’m seeing Giscard and Wilson in the next three days. Let me be in touch with you no later than a week from today with a proposal.

Gromyko: By the way, Giscard considered April.

Kissinger: May I be in touch with them? I’ll give it to Vorontsov and it stays in our channel. But we will make a firm commitment for a realistic date.

Gromyko: I’m glad you say there are no calculations. We were guessing. We thought for basic reasons, Washington should not delay.

Kissinger: No.

Gromyko: But we thought there were some reasons we do not see from Moscow.

[Page 800]

Kissinger: What do we gain?

Gromyko: Within a week?

Kissinger: Next Monday I’ll give a proposal. Then you can reply to me.

Gromyko: I spoke on this with Callaghan.

Kissinger: What do they say?

Gromyko: They are having a Common Market referendum in June, and so they say they will be busy April and May. I said it’s only two or three days; he didn’t have another date. He said he would think over the matter. We have the impression—not the only impression—that if Washington gave the word for April, it would be accepted by London and Paris and the FRG—and Italy.

Kissinger: Let me get their views.

Gromyko: All right. All right.

Regarding the question we discussed in the dining room, on frontiers. One can look at the matter and say: “Let Bonn and Moscow settle this.” You are saying this and Britain is saying this and not only they. But the question of borders is a very important one. Remember World War II started over the question of frontiers. It is not right to say that countries should settle the issue among themselves. World War I too started on the sorrowful question of frontiers. It is not accidental that the Kennedy Government and the Johnson Government and the Nixon Government took a stand on this very positively. The Ford Government hasn’t made any clear presentation on this matter, but we believe it should have some interest in the matter.

Kissinger: It is only neglect. We stand by the statements of our predecessors. We will mention it in the next letter. Within the next two to three weeks, he will write again.

Gromyko: Good. I’ll be waiting for a reply from you. I only wanted to express our deep anxiety and to underline the huge importance of the matter—the date of the ending of the second stage and of the third stage at the highest level, and in particular the resolution of the questions of frontiers and Confidence-Building Measures and measures that pertain to it. So we will be able to come back to these questions tomorrow when I see your formulas on the peaceful change of frontiers and Confidence-Building Measures.

Kissinger: Confidence-Building Measures … well, yes.

[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. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. The conversation took place in the Soviet Mission. Brackets, with the exception of those indicating omission of unrelated material, are in the original. The complete text of the memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.
  2. A February 10 briefing item for President Ford, based on telegram 830 from Geneva, February 8, reads in part: “CSCE registered no new agreed text last week for the first time in many months as the Soviet dug in their heels on all Conference subjects. They are assuming widespread acceptance in principle of a summit conclusion in June–July and appear confident this will force Western and neutral delegations to give up their more ambitious proposals and agree to the minimal positions advanced by the East. The Soviets thus have refused any flexibility of their own and added to the frustration that once again dominates the Conference.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Staff for Europe, Canada and Ocean Affairs, Convenience Files, Box 44, Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe)
  3. Telegram 553 from Belgrade, February 6, reported that the International Parliamentary Union conference was closing with “substantial degree of Soviet/EE acceptance of Western formulations on several key issues” with regard to CSCE, “e.g., equality of principles and Basket III proposals.” The telegram continued: “After initial hesitation, Soviets accepted language referring to these 10 principles [of European security from the multilateral preparatory talks] ‘which are of equal importance and each of which should be applied unreservedly by all countries, regardless of their social system, and interpreted in the context of each other.’” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)