13. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

To General Secretary Brezhnev

Your letter of February 25th2 caused me some concern because of its somewhat harsh tone, because it failed to assume good faith on my part, and because there was no positive response to specific suggestions contained in my previous letter. The differences between our countries are deep enough, and I hope that you and I never compound them by doubts about our respective personal motives.

The fact is that no final agreement was ever reached at Vladivostok nor in the subsequent negotiations regarding cruise missiles or the Backfire bomber. I am confident that such agreements can be attained in the future, and I am eager to seek them. I appreciate your concerns regarding the deferral of these issues to later negotiations but I do believe that something is to be gained from generating momentum through a more rapid agreement and I want to emphasize that a deferral of these two contentious issues would be designed only to facilitate a more rapid agreement, with all its positive political conse[Page 40]quences. I am also confident that with mutual good will, we should be able to reach agreement regarding such matters as conventional armaments, tactical nuclear weapons, and throw weight.

I do not underestimate for a moment the difficulties that stand in our way. The resolution of these issues will require perseverance, patience, and determination. It is with that consideration in mind that I would like to make two further suggestions, both designed to help in resolving the differences between us.

First of all, I think it would be extremely useful if you were to indicate to us your views regarding greatly reduced strategic force levels which we might reach four or five years from now. In previous strategic arms limitation talks, we have tended to take small steps toward an uncertain future. I am suggesting that instead we seek to define a specific longer-term objective which we can then approach step-by-step with more assurance of success.

Secondly, our search for a stable accommodation would be enhanced by the rapid conclusion of a formal agreement between us on those issues on which both of us seem predisposed to agree.3 We should exploit the fact that we are in agreement or might reach an early agreement on such issues as:

a) a limit of 2400 (or a mutually agreeable lower limit) on strategic delivery vehicles;

b) a limit of 1320 (or a mutually agreeable lower limit) on launchers with multiple independent warheads;

c) provisions for mutually satisfactory verification;

d) prior notification of missile test launchings;

e) a comprehensive test ban, including a temporary provision for the conclusion of ongoing peaceful programs;

f) agreement not to arm satellites nor to develop the ability to destroy or damage satellites;

g) the demilitarization of the Indian Ocean;

h) a limit on civil defense efforts;

i) mutual restraints on arms sales to Third World countries;

j) elimination of mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The above list is certainly not all-inclusive, and other relatively noncontroversial matters could easily be added to it. The point is to move forward without delay on those issues on which we are able to agree, thereby generating the needed momentum for coping immediately thereafter with more intractable questions.

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We are working on these problems with the greatest possible effort, preparing for Secretary Vance’s discussions with you in Moscow.

I hope you will4 not predicate your future correspondence on the erroneous assumption that we lack sincerity, integrity, or the will to make rapid progress toward mutually advantageous agreements. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the substantive issues or the technical details, but I am determined to succeed in laying the foundation for a stable and peaceful relationship between our two countries. We do not seek any one-sided advantage.

I do not think of our letters as official negotiating documents, but if exchanged on a personal and completely confidential basis they may very well help us both to chart the needed sense of historical direction. It is in this spirit that this correspondence was initiated, and I want you to know that I am committed to arms reduction as a matter of personal belief and because it represents the desire of the people of my country. I hope and believe that you and your people have the same commitment.


Jimmy Carter5
  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. No classification marking. In the upper right-hand corner, Carter wrote, “Zbig—O.K. to transmit as amended. J.C.”
  2. See Document 12.
  3. The end of this sentence originally read “substantial consensus already exists.” Carter struck through these words and substituted “both of us seem predisposed to agree.”
  4. This sentence originally began “Please do.” Carter struck through these words and substituted “I hope you will.”
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.