11. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Lunch with Ambassador Dobrynin February 18, 1977
At the lunch with Ambassador Dobrynin, to which he invited me, much of the time was spent on social conversation and reminiscences, especially wartime. However, the Ambassador was armed with a copy of the President’s letter2 which he said he wished to discuss.
He specifically raised the following issues: he stressed that it would be easier to conclude a SALT 2 agreement on the basis of the Jan[Page 33]uary 1976 proposals,3 in which context some accommodation on Backfire could surely be reached. He stressed again the Soviet willingness to give us additional assurances, even though the weapon, in his view, is clearly not a strategic one.
In addition, he asked for clarification as to the implications of a deferral of an agreement on cruise missiles and on the Backfire beyond the SALT 2 agreement. He specifically wished to know how much later thereafter, in our judgment, would such an agreement then follow.
He stressed that a proposal for a SALT 2 agreement on lower levels than those envisaged in Vladivostok would in all likelihood benefit the U.S. much more than the Soviet Union, and hence some additional U.S. accommodation should be necessary. He stressed that on the Soviet side, particularly the military would be against such an agreement since the tangible concessions would in effect be Soviet.
He was curious to know why so many new issues were being introduced by the U.S. side and whether this was not in effect an effort to delay a SALT 2 agreement.
He was also curious to know what was meant by the reference to minimum strategic forces on both sides and wished to know what levels and what composition of strategic forces this might entail.
It was obvious from the foregoing that the President’s letter was being subjected to extremely detailed scrutiny before a reply would be forthcoming. I stressed to Dobrynin that I was not in a position to discuss the letter from the President to the General Secretary, since the letter was a highly personal one and meant for the Secretary himself. Moreover, it should not be viewed as a negotiating document, to be subjected to the critical exegesis to which a negotiating document is normally subjected. Dobrynin, in response, indicated that it was important for the Soviet leaders to understand what was the meaning and the intention of the letter and this is why he was making these inquiries; in effect, he indicated he was trying to facilitate the process of communication and attempting to limit misunderstanding. It was obvious from his comments that the Soviets were seeking to establish the nature of our likely position at the forthcoming SALT discussion and the degree to which the President’s letter was foreshadowing a new position.
Finally, and at the very end of the lunch, he brought up the issue of the President’s letter to Sakharov,4 saying that Brezhnev noted that correspondence was being conducted on two levels at the same time. Dobrynin said he was doing his best to make the Soviet leaders understand the reasons why the President was taking the stand that he was [Page 34] on human rights, but he was fearful that it would be very difficult for the Soviet leaders not to become highly upset and not to view this as an attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs. He quickly dropped the subject, indicating that he was not instructed to discuss it with me, that he preferred not to do so, and that he had already communicated yesterday to the State Department all that he was instructed to communicate on that subject.5 He merely added that he hoped that the atmospherics in the U.S.-Soviet relationship would not be adversely affected with negative effects on such tangibles as the SALT negotiations.