102. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vance-Gromyko Meeting


  • U.S.
  • Secretary of State Vance
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Ambassador Paul C. Warnke
  • Ambassador Ralph Earle, II
  • Mr. Leslie H. Gelb
  • Ambassador Marshall D. Shulman
  • Mr. Reginald Bartholomew
  • Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny
  • DAS of Def. Walter B. Slocomb
  • Mr. Mark Garrison
  • Mr. William D. Krimer (Interpreter)
  • U.S.S.R.
  • Foreign Minister Gromyko
  • First Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko
  • Dep. Foreign Minister Semenov
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
  • Marshal N.V. Ogarkov
  • Col.-Gen. M.M. Kozlov
  • Mr. V.G. Makarov
  • Mr. N. Detinov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • Mr. A.A. Obukhov, Note Taker
  • Mr. V.F. Isakov, Note Taker

Before proceeding to substantive matters, Minister Gromyko informed Secretary Vance that Brezhnev would like to see him tomorrow at noon.

Middle East

The Secretary said he wanted to discuss the Middle East situation and asked Gromyko how they should proceed.

Gromyko agreed that this question required discussion, but suggested they be economical in words since they had a number of other questions to discuss as well.

The Secretary said that insofar as the current situation in the Middle East was concerned, the positions today were stalemated. Discussions between Israel and Egypt continued on a sporadic basis but no progress was being made. The last visit of Defense Minister Weizmann to Cairo had produced no new results. On his way back from Africa to London, the Secretary had stopped and met with Foreign Minister Kamel for 45 minutes. The Foreign Minister’s impression was the same as the Secretary had just described. As Gromyko knew, several weeks ago Prime Minister Begin had come to the United States for a set of meetings that lasted two days. As a result of these meetings, sharp dif[Page 324]ferences on a number of items emerged and were made public. These differences were three in number:

1. The meaning of UN Resolution 242. The position of the present Israeli Government is that 242 does not necessarily cover withdrawal from the West Bank. This is contrary to our view that 242 applies on all fronts. It had also been the constant position of all Israeli Governments since 1967 that 242 applied to all fronts. Thus, the position of the present Israeli Government had changed from that of previous governments. If Israel adhered to the position that Resolution 242 did not apply to the West Bank, then in the Secretary’s view no solution is possible. We had reaffirmed our position to this effect publicly on a number of occasions. The Secretary knew that the Soviet Union held the same view; in fact, it was a view almost universally held by world public opinion.

2. The second area of difference concerned the Palestinian question and how to resolve it. We believe, as we indicated in the Joint Statement issued with the Soviet Union, that the Palestinian question had to be resolved in all its aspects, that the legitimate fights of the Palestinian people had to be recognized, and that the Palestinians have the right to participate in determining their own future. There is a difference of views between us and Israel on this question. That difference appears in two respects:

a. our reference to legitimate rights; and

b. the question of whether or not the Palestinians are entitled to participate in determining their own future.

3. The question of settlements. Our view is that settlements in the Sinai, the West Bank and Golan are contrary to international law as reflected in the Geneva 4 Conference, that all further work on settlements must stop, and that there should be no new settlements. The Israelis take a different view of the legality of the settlements. They say that they will not stop all construction on existing settlements and will not agree to refrain from starting new ones. When Begin was in the United States, he had said that in the future, insofar as the West Bank was concerned, no new settlements would be started without a Cabinet decision. Since that time he has changed his position, no longer requiring a Cabinet decision, but merely a decision by the Defense Council. Israel has informed us that it would refrain from establishing new settlements in the Sinai, but would continue work on expanding existing settlements.

The Secretary said that these three differences were fundamental, had surfaced and were now known in our country, in Israel, and, in fact, throughout the world. We supported the principle of reaching agreement on a Declaration of Principles to create the framework for reconvening a conference of all the parties in order to achieve a compre[Page 325]hensive settlement. We continued to believe that the only true and lasting solution to the Middle East situation was a comprehensive settlement.

Gromyko asked what were the principles in the declaration.

The Secretary said the declaration would deal with the nature of the peace, resolution of the Palestinian question, and the principle of withdrawal from occupied territories on all fronts in accordance with 242 and 338,2 as the basis of reconvening the Geneva Conference. This was the same position we had held all along. Finally, as Gromyko knew, in the so-called political meeting in Jerusalem several months ago in which we participated, the subject of discussions between Israel and Egypt had been the attempt to draft an agreed Statement of General Principles. Further work has been continued, but it has not proved possible to reach agreement. The Secretary had kept Ambassador Dobrynin informed of the various meetings.

Gromyko had the following question to ask and would ask the Secretary to reply if he felt it advisable to do so. How did he see the Middle East situation in the immediate future? What steps was the Secretary thinking of in terms of normalizing the situation there?

The Secretary said that he would, of course, reply. Our own feeling was that for the present one should let the intellectual ferment in Israel continue. A real debate was going on in Israel regarding the three key points he had mentioned. We felt it better to let discussions in Israel mature for a few weeks before taking the next step.

Gromyko remarked that in Israel they loved to discuss things, preferably for years rather than weeks.

The Secretary expressed his belief that one could not let things drift much more than a few weeks. He had one more point to make. Since he had left on his trip to Africa and Moscow, he had received a request from Foreign Minister Dayan to meet with him on April 26 and 27. He said he had some new ideas to present. The Secretary had replied that he would be happy to listen. After that meeting he intended to communicate with Gromyko about the results, if any. He came back to his point that the only ultimate solution is a comprehensive one, which can only come out of a meeting of all the parties.

Gromyko asked what forum the Secretary had in mind, the Geneva Conference or something else.

The Secretary replied that he meant the Geneva Conference, if all the interested parties could be pursuaded to attend. A declaration of general principles would serve as a framework for the Conference. This was the subject of discussions between Egypt, Israel and ourselves. [Page 326] Such a framework would be wholly consistent with the joint Soviet-American statement.

Gromyko said he would be brief in his reply, because there was not much time.

First, Gromyko wanted to present a complaint, a serious complaint. This was occasioned by the fact that the U.S. side had violated the Joint Statement he and the Secretary had worked out together toward the end of last year. Only a little time had passed after that Statement was issued, weeks or even days, before the United States had overturned that Statement. As he saw it, the U.S. side was taking a rather lackadaisical attitude toward such a document. The Soviet leadership would have to take that into account in the future.

Last fall events had been moving toward reconvening the Geneva Conference, where all the aspects of a Middle East settlement would be considered. The only thing lacking at that time was a firm and consistent policy on the part of the United States and firm efforts by the United States to bring a strong influence to bear on Israel. Now Gromyko did not know how a Geneva Conference could be convened without a sharp turnabout in the policies of the United States, Israel and, of course, Sadat. He would say that the Geneva Conference was now “paralyzed”, not to say “buried.”

Gromyko said that it was quite understandable that the Secretary did not agree with some of the extremist positions Israel had taken. What needed to be done was to give some thought to how the situation could be rectified. Without the participation of all interested parties, and without the participation of the United States and the Soviet Union, it would be impossible to secure a lasting peace settlement in the region. The Secretary had mentioned a Declaration of Principles as a first step, and envisaged the authorship of that Declaration to consist of Egypt, Israel and the United States. Was the Secretary sure that all the parties concerned in that region would accept the idea that the United States, Egypt and Israel prepare a Declaration of Principles, and then everybody had to sit down at a table and sign it? Was he not being excessively optimistic?

Gromyko would say further that the Secretary had, of course, acted correctly in objecting to Israel’s position on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. On the other hand, he was not overly inclined to praise the Secretary for this, because he did not believe that the United States and the Soviet Union had the same position with regard to either Resolution. The Soviet Union believed that Israel should withdraw from all occupied territories. The U.S. position was somewhat different. As for the Palestinians, the Soviet Union not only held that the Palestinians must participate in a Middle East settlement in order to be in a position to defend their legitimate rights, but also that the Palestinians had the [Page 327] right to establish an independent state, albeit a small one. The question of legitimate rights could be understood in different ways. The United States had mentioned this in terms of representation in some form or other, but not in terms of independent Palestinian representation as such. Evidently the United States wanted to hitch the Palestinians onto somebody rather than ensure their independence.

On the whole, Gromyko could not recall any occasion when he and the Secretary had had the opportunity of discussing Middle East matters in detail. They were always touching upon them in some hurried fashion, in passing as it were. He hoped that they would find the time to have a thorough discussion if the United States was willing. He repeated that the Soviet Union wanted the Palestinian people to enjoy its legitimate rights, including the right to establish an independent state. Such a state would certainly not be a threat to anyone. He thought that all concerned knew this very well. He did not know if the Secretary had ever had occasion to see how the Palestinians lived. As for himself, he had seen that in refugee camps in Syria—they lived in almost inhuman conditions. The U.S. press frequently voiced apprehensions to the effect that if a small Palestinian state were established, it would become a Soviet base, even a Soviet satellite. Where did such nightmares come from? He would say that a person must have spent many sleepless nights to come up with such nightmares. This particular idea was a pure concoction. The Soviet Union had no special ties with the Palestinians. If anyone did, it was perhaps France, Great Britain, other Arab states, even the United States, but certainly not the Soviet Union.

Gromyko said it was necessary to reflect on how a broad forum could now be revived. The Soviet Union was very much in favor of reconvening the Geneva conference with all interested parties participating, including the Palestinians. If that were done, there should be no concern about anyone’s attempting to “bite off” the U.S. position. The U.S. would certainly participate in the Conference, which would be a forum for serious discussions. It was better to be discussing problems for six months or even for a year than to fight a war for just one day. As matters stood now, each passing day increased the potential for violence.

The Secretary said he would respond. First, he had to take issue with Gromyko’s saying that he had reasons to complain about U.S. policy. Gromyko had said that things last fall had been proceeding satisfactorily toward reconvening the Geneva conference. The Secretary, too, had thought for a while that this was the case. However, the Syrians had refused to discuss details concerning the Geneva Conference. Thus, matters had dragged on. In order to get things moving and resolve the question of Palestinian representation at the Geneva Conference, we had suggested a Pan-Arab Delegation in which the Pales[Page 328]tinians would be represented. We believed that this was a realistic and practical way to proceed, because Israel had stated that it would not sit down at a negotiating table with a separate Palestinian Delegation. The Secretary had thought that we were making some progress to resolve this problem, but the Syrians had not agreed. As a result of lack of progress President Sadat had taken the initiative of going to Jerusalem. Since the Secretary had informed Ambassador Dobrynin, Gromyko surely knew that we had not known in advance that Sadat would take this step. He had taken it because he had become fed up with waiting for the Geneva Conference, since the parties involved could not agree on procedures and a framework for that Conference. President Sadat had made it very clear by his statements that he reaffirmed his advocacy of a comprehensive solution. As the Secretary had said before, the objective we had been pursuing since Sadat’s initiative was to develop a declaration of principles and guidelines for negotiations with Resolution 242, so as to make possible a comprehensive meeting and a comprehensive settlement. We continue to recognize the importance of Syrian and Palestinian participation in negotiations. It is our hope that if a suitable framework can be developed, they would join in the negotiations.

Regarding Gromyko’s question as to acceptance of such a declaration of principles by others, the Secretary believed that others will accept the resolution if Israel does. The problem now was to get Israel to sign it.

On another point, he knew that there was a difference between us regarding one aspect of Resolution 242. He knew that the Soviet position was that 242 applies to “all the territories” occupied during the 1967 war. As Gromyko knew, our position was somewhat different. We believed that it applied to “territories” occupied in 1967. The question of what these territories are is a subject for negotiations between the parties. This question of different interpretations, of whether or not 242 applied to all territories or merely territories goes back, as Gromyko would recall, to the discussions in the Security Council in 1967. The Soviet proposal to say “all territories” had not been accepted by the Security Council and finally the word “territories” was included in 242.

Another difference between us concerned the view of whether there should be an independent Palestinian state as opposed to a Palestinian state affiliated with Jordan, for example. Finally, regarding Palestinian representation in the Geneva Conference, he still believed that the practical way to solve this problem is to include the Palestinians in a Pan-Arab delegation. We believe this is the only practical way to overcome the hurdles in the way of the Geneva Conference. The Secretary would quite agree with Gromyko that the situation of the people living in camps is sad and serious. He had seen this personally in both Syria [Page 329] and Lebanon. Therefore it is essential that we resolve the Palestinian question in all its aspects and find a way to take care of Palestinian refugees no matter where they are. This could best be done at a broad international conference.

The Secretary had one final point. He would be happy to have a full discussion of Middle East problems with Gromyko at some suitable time. Perhaps this could be done when Gromyko comes to the United States to attend the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament. Perhaps they could then set aside the time required to have a full discussion of the Middle East which would not merely be a part of discussions of other problems.

Gromyko said that while he did not want to repeat himself, he did want to draw the Secretary’s attention to the fact that when our two countries had adopted the Joint Statement last year, the chances for convening the Geneva Conference were better than at any other time except the time when it had actually been first convened. The question of a Pan-Arab Delegation had indeed been discussed between various Arab countries, and the Soviet Union had also discussed it with a number of Arab countries, coming out in favor of that solution as facilitating overall resolution of the Middle East problem. The Arabs were at one time inclined to accept such a solution; he would not say all the Arabs, but the overwhelming majority. Then a strange situation had developed: if Syria took one position, Egypt immediately took an opposite position, and that had gone on and on. After a relatively short time had come Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem. Then it became quite clear why Egypt had been acting in that manner. In words Sadat was for reconvening the Geneva Conference, but in actual fact he was against it. The United States, too, had not been too much in favor of reconvening the Conference once it found out what was going on, not to mention Israel. Thus he would suggest that it was not necessary retroactively to belittle the chances existing last fall for reconvening the Geneva Conference.

The Secretary said that was not true.

Gromyko asked what had happened to the Joint Statement of last year. Was it still alive?

The Secretary said it was alive, and he had said so publicly. He had to take exception to what Gromyko had said about U.S. attitudes. We had really been trying hard to get the Conference going, but the Arabs could not themselves agree on the necessary framework.

Gromyko said that the U.S. did, however, know what Sadat had done. He suggested that he and the Secretary find the necessary time to discuss this subject from a practical point of view and in a businesslike manner. The Secretary agreed.


Gromyko said that just a few days ago the Soviets had received the new proposal of the Western Powers at the Vienna negotiations. That [Page 330] proposal contained some new elements and was currently under study here. Once the Soviet position had been determined, the United States and others would be informed accordingly. The only thing he could say in this regard today was that the Soviet side was getting the impression that these new proposals, too, were not free of a one-sided approach. That was all he was going to say at this time.

The Secretary wanted to say briefly that he had been glad to see the question of data exchange settled. It was essential for forward movement. That having been done, the Western Powers had taken their new initiative. He would like the Soviet side to give that proposal serious consideration, and was confident that it would do so.


Gromyko noted that the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament would be convened shortly. He did not know how the Secretary viewed it, and what he thought the prospects were for a successful outcome. If the Secretary had any ideas on this score, he would be pleased to hear them. The Soviet side regarded the SSOD as a broad worldwide forum, and would, of course, set forth its views on disarmament in that forum. It would be very good if the countries of the West as well as the East approached the SSOD in a serious and businesslike manner and adopted positive decisions on the questions involved. The important thing, of course, was not just to adopt decisions but also to implement them. The U.N. adopts quite a few good decisions, but subsequently, when the Secretary General circulates them to member governments, all too often they pile up on desks in various government offices and nothing much happens. He was not trying to reproach anyone in this regard, but simply would not like to see this happen in the case of the SSOD. As he had said, the Soviet side attached great importance to the SSOD and believed that it should in no way be used to belittle a subsequent World Disarmement Conference.

The Secretary said that he felt very strongly that the SSOD was of great importance. We very much hoped that somehow positive and concrete decisions can come out of the SSOD and that it not simply end up in general statements that had no flesh and bone. Some other unnamed countries have submitted proposals that could not be understood. However, he believed it possible to make real progress at that conference. Ambassador Leonard3 would be coming to Moscow on the 27th of this month in order to talk to Gromyko’s people about the SSOD. At the United Nations he is working on our preparations for the Special Session.

[Page 331]

Gromyko said that Soviet representatives would be prepared to discuss the various issues with Ambassador Leonard.

Press Reports

Gromyko wanted to touch on a matter he believed to be important. The Secretary would soon return to the United States and the press will be speculating about the success or non-success or half success, or even one-quarter success, of the present talks. He thought the Secretary himself could not determine now just how the press would describe what had been done here in Moscow. He sincerely hoped that the situation at these talks would be presented in an objective light. The Secretary was surely aware that a number of questions here had been discussed in complex, i.e., in combination with certain others; this was true, for example, of the question of providing an exemption for one new type of missile, which was discussed in the context of the levels and sublevels for MIRVed missiles. The main thing was that no one should present the situation in such a way as to say that one issue had been settled while the other remained unagreed, when both sides clearly knew that the two issues were linked. After all, they had not been able to reach agreement on providing an exemption for a new missile with a single reentry vehicle; therefore it should not be said that the other elements, i.e., the levels, were agreed. He would hope that no such imprecision would be permitted. Should such inaccuracies appear, however, particularly concerning major issues, the Soviet side would be forced to restore the truth and accordingly inform its own public opinion and the public opinion of other countries. He hoped that the Secretary had understood him correctly, because such a way of proceeding was consistent with our mutual interests.

The Secretary said he understood exactly what Gromyko had said. He would himself describe the current talks as having been helpful and useful. He would say that we have made some progress without going into detail of what had been done on the various issues. It will be better to say simply that as a whole the talks had been helpful.

Gromyko agreed this was the best way to proceed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 8, Vance to Moscow, 4/20–22/78. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting took place in the Kremlin.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 48.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 57.