36. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US:
    • The President
    • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
    • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • William D. Krimer, Interpreter, Department of State
  • USSR:
    • A. A. Gromyko, Soviet Foreign Minister
    • A. F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
    • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter, Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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

European Security Conference

Mr. Gromyko inquired about the attitude of the United States Government toward the idea of convening a European Security Conference. He did not know whether the President had had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the Soviet proposal to call such a conference. The substance of that proposal was to call a conference of all European states, as well as Canada and the United States, in order to see if there was a chance of improving the relations between various states in Europe in the interests of a political détente. The United States had said that it favored such a détente, and so had the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he had the impression that the U.S. was somewhat apprehensive in regard to the ESC. It should be clear that any decisions adopted at such a conference would be joint decisions, taken in the interests of all the states concerned. There was no question of trying to impose a one-sided solution on any state during this conference. For this reason, he believed the U.S. apprehensiveness was quite unfounded. According to information he had received, the United States seemed to be bringing its influence to bear on some other countries, to discourage them from taking a positive attitude toward the ESC. He wanted to emphasize that the Soviet Union had no intention of trying to claim the major credit for calling such a conference, that it was the position of the Soviet Government that a détente in Europe, which [Page 86] could result from the ESC, would benefit all interested parties and the world as a whole.

The President wanted to tell Mr. Gromyko quite directly that in our view the success of such a conference would depend primarily on the United States and the Soviet Union. Mr. Gromyko’s impression that we were trying to discourage the convening of the conference was incorrect. We took the position that for the successful conduct of a conference it would be necessary to sit down and explore an appropriate agenda. By saying that the success would depend on our two countries primarily, he did not mean to speak of a condominium of the two powers in Europe.

Secretary Rogers remarked that there was no point in having a conference unless we could foresee what results would likely be achieved. In this respect, our Berlin negotiations could serve as a good indicator. If we could make progress on the question of Berlin, the prospects for a European conference would improve. But, if no progress was achieved on Berlin, what would be the purpose of holding another conference?

Secondly, we were not too sure that the Communiqué of the Warsaw Pact Powers2 had indicated a willingness to discuss reduction of military forces in Europe. Was the Soviet Union suggesting that this question be included on the agenda of a European Conference? With respect to reduction of forces, what did the Soviet Union mean by foreign troops? Did this include Russian troops in Eastern Europe? Mr. Gromyko replied that in the Soviet view, it would be better not to consider military questions at the European Conference. We could agree, however, that if some kind of a body—perhaps even permanent—were created at the European Conference, this body could discuss the question of troops. The Soviet Union would be agreeable to such a procedure. As for the term “foreign troops,” it had been meant to include Soviet troops as well.

President Nixon remarked that a Soviet-American understanding on primary issues, such as SALT and Berlin, would have a beneficial influence upon any possible conference of European states.

Secretary Rogers said that if complex questions were to be excluded from discussion at a European Conference, it was difficult to see what could be accomplished. In brief, if we could foresee the achievement of positive results, we would be interested. If not, we would have doubts about the usefulness of such a conference.

Mr. Gromyko said we could not ignore the fact that for 25 years the Soviet Union had discussed disarmament questions in the United Nations with the United States, and with other countries, without [Page 87] being able to find any solutions. For this reason, the question of disarmament and force reduction was not perhaps quite suitable for discussion at an ESC. Should a body be created by that conference, however, he would have no objection to force reduction being discussed in that body. The President said that in principle we were not opposed to the conference. We would be in favor of it if preliminary discussions showed that it would be helpful.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger 1970, Vol. 3. Top Secret; Sensitive. The conversation took place in the Oval Office. The full text of the memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 30.