54. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • GromykoBeam Conversation on MBFR

Ambassador Beam’s conversations with Gromyko concerning Brezhnev’s remarks on mutual force reductions,2 confirms the apparently complete reversal the Soviets have now made on the link between a Conference on European Security and MBFR. Gromyko alluded to their former position, linking the two issues, but continued that “if the Western powers agree that the question (MBFR) should be examined outside a CES, this would be much simpler and more productive.” Since questions such as scale of reductions of foreign or national troops as well as other questions arise, Gromyko said, “a non CES forum would be better.”

Beyond this, however, nothing much was clarified. Gromyko was given NATO’s broad criteria for MBFR. He was obviously prepared to deal with them because he fixed on one point, the use of the term “balanced” reductions. Apparently the Soviets suspect that balanced may mean asymmetrical or unequal, and Gromyko noted that this concept could prevent reductions. He said the Soviet view was that there should be no “preconditions” set up for the very idea of discussion.

No particular urgency was conveyed by Gromyko. He suggested both sides review each other’s position and should feel free to discuss the question further, “between us,” i.e. bilaterally.

It may be that the reversal of the Soviet position is related to SALT. The prospect of MBFR talks in Europe could be a justification for the [Page 145] Soviets circumventing the forward-based systems issues in SALT, as they may now be doing.

Also the Soviets may have felt that the inclination in NATO to accept the former Soviet position and add MBFR into the CES (thereby making it subject to the Berlin precondition of a satisfactory Berlin settlement) conflicted with the kind of simple declaratory CES that the Soviets want. Thus this move gives the Soviets good leverage for a separate MBFR negotiation whenever they are so disposed—with such a negotiation inevitably upgrading the GDR. The Soviets appear to be wising up to the fact that MBFR negotiations, whatever their concrete outcome, could give them most of what they want out of a CES.

As a result of this publicized meeting between Beam and Gromyko we are rapidly being cast in the role of the leading champions of MBFR, though our major Allies (Paris, London and Bonn) are cooling to the project and our own studies give ample reason for being skeptical on the substance.

In short, after the Mansfield furor is over, we will have to decide how specific an offer we and our Allies should make to start negotiations. We must bear in mind that in light of the new Soviet position Moscow can force early negotiations, and we have been put on notice by Gromyko that intricate, asymmetrical approaches will certainly be resisted.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret; Sensitive; Outside System. Sent for information. A notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.” Sonnenfeldt drafted this memorandum and forwarded it to Kissinger on May 18 for his signature. In a covering memorandum, Sonnenfeldt wrote: “As you requested, I have redone my memorandum to you on this subject as a memorandum for the President. I have omitted the comments on Secretary Rogers’ remarks.” In his original memorandum to Kissinger, May 17 (also attached), Sonnenfeldt wrote that “our own position” on MBFR “is becoming highly confused, since the Secretary of State on Sunday stated that we had always favored MBFR as part of CES (completely wrong), and if the Soviets now come around to that position we would favor it (also wrong since we are maintaining the Berlin precondition).” For Rogers’s comments to journalists on the National Broadcasting Company’s television and radio program, “Meet the Press,” see Department of State Bulletin, June 7, 1971, pp. 734–736.
  2. As reported in telegram 3243 from Moscow, May 17; attached but not printed. See also footnotes 4 and 5, Document 50.