1. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

To General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev

As I take up my duties as President of the United States, I want to share with you my view on relations between our two countries.

I want to express my appreciation for the informal messages I have received from you2 and in this connection I want to affirm that it is my goal to improve relations with the Soviet Union on the basis of reciprocity, mutual respect and benefit. That goal will have my close personal attention, as well as that of Secretary of State Vance.

I have read your public remarks with great interest, and they encourage me to believe that we share a common desire to enhance and preserve the prospect of lasting peace.

As I understood your very important speech at Tula,3 the Soviet Union will not seek superiority in arms, will oppose the concept, and [Page 2] will require only a defense sufficient to deter any potential adversary. The United States seeks nothing more or less for itself. With perseverance and wisdom therefore our two countries should be in a position to avoid a new armaments race. I have said to the American people that my firm goal is to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

There are three areas where progress can be made toward this goal. A critical first step should be the achievement of a SALT II agreement without delay, and an agreement to proceed toward additional limitations and reductions in strategic weapons.4 Moreover, I hope we can promptly conclude an adequately verified comprehensive ban on all nuclear tests, and also strive to achieve greater openness about our respective strategic policies. It is also important to renew efforts for progress in the negotiations for a balanced reduction of forces in Central Europe.

We also have a responsibility to pursue policies that will prevent the troubled areas of the world from exploding into dangerous conflicts. The United States will work to promote a peaceful settlement in the Middle East on the basis of appropriate UN resolutions. Similarly in Southern Africa we are encouraging all parties to negotiate a peaceful settlement which promotes security and justice for all.

It is my belief that the USSR can contribute to the realization of progress toward peace in both of these critical areas.

My Administration attaches importance to the improvement of our bilateral economic relations, on the basis of mutual and equivalent benefits to the peoples of both our great countries. At the same time we cannot be indifferent to the fate of freedom and individual human rights.

We represent different social systems and our nations are different in background and experience. Competition over ideals and ideas is inevitable between our societies. But it need not prevent a common effort to shape a world that is more peaceful, just and humane. We live in a world that increasingly requires collective responses to basic human problems, and my hope is that our countries can cooperate more closely in order to promote development, better nutrition, and a more meaningful life for the less fortunate portions of mankind.

[Page 3]

I look forward to meeting you and to discussing with you both our differences as well as our common interests. Meanwhile I propose that we both do all that we can to further the progress of improving US-Soviet relations. I have asked Secretary Vance to prepare to meet with you, if you wish, in the spring to review the progress being made, to discuss key issues which are outstanding. At that time we will want to exchange views on a subsequent meeting between you and me.

Any specific suggestions you may wish to communicate to me on these or any other issues will be welcomed and carefully studied.

With best personal regards.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 69, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR): BrezhnevCarter Correspondence: 1–2/77. Confidential. Brzezinski recalled in his memoirs: “Carter would be the first to admit that he came to the White House without a detailed plan for managing U.S.-Soviet relations. He was, however, determined to move on SALT, and he firmly supported the concept of detente. At the same time, Carter was critical of the way the previous Administration had allowed the Soviet Union to exploit detente, and in campaign speeches developed by me, he had stressed that detente inevitably had to involve both cooperation and competition and that it had to be both more comprehensive and more reciprocal.” (Power and Principle, p. 147)
  2. No messages were found. However, Podgorny sent Carter a letter of congratulations on January 20. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 20, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Chairman Nikolai V. Podgorny, 1/77)
  3. In his January 18 speech in Tula, Brezhnev addressed détente and the desire for an arms agreement. See The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XXIX, no. 3 (February 16, 1977), pp. 1–5.
  4. SALT II negotiations began in November 1972 with the primary objective of creating a permanent strategic-weapons-reduction treaty that would replace the earlier Interim Agreement. While significant progress had been made between President Ford and Brezhnev at the 1974 Vladivostok Summit, Carter wanted to reduce the agreed upon restrictions further. For the Interim Agreement, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Documents 317 and 318. For the agreements from Vladivostok, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Document 91. For a brief overview of the SALT Negotiating History, see Brzezinski’s memorandum for the Secretaries of State and Defense, February 2, 1977, in the Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 4, PD–08 [4].