154. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State and the White House1

Secto 12111. Dept. please pass NSC JCS and DOD. Pass NSC for Dr. Brzezinski. SecDef for Secretary Brown. JCS for Gen Jones. Subject: SALT First Plenary With Gromyko on 22 October 1978. Ref: Secto 12109.2

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Summary: Gromyko’s presentation was generally tough. This has been standard fare at each initial meeting we have had over the past 20 months. He made constructive proposals on heavy mobiles, depressed trajectories and advance notice of launches and may have implicitly accepted averaging concept for ALCM numbers limits, but strongly rejected the number of 35. He repeated Soviet positions on new types linkage to ALCM numbers issue (without referring to the 10/6 issue) and cruise missile definition. He rejected the concept of irreversible inoperability, but said that reductions would take place throughout the period. He rejected any fixed date for protocol expiration. He rejected the U.S. draft of the Backfire statement, agreeing only to omission of the flight profile and radius, and said that there would be no Soviet confirmation of the production rate number or anything else. On telemetry encryption, he was confused, saying there is no necessity for agreement and nothing will come of attempts to reach agreement. End summary.

1. Expressing recognition that there were some positive elements in the proposals made by the President 30 September,3 and the hope that our meetings would be marked by “a major step forward,” Gromyko also said the obstacles to progress lie in the unrealistic nature of some U.S. positions, unreasonable linkages, and the raising of new questions. On substance, his presentation was generally tough, especially on Backfire, cruise missile definition, protocol expiration, and telemetry encryption. Septel reports his agreement on heavy mobiles, etc., and his proposals on advance ICBM launch notice and to defer depressed SLBM trajectory issue to SALT III along with other measures to reduce danger of surprise attacks.

2. After repeating familiar point that Soviet agreement to non-increase in RV’s on existing ICBM’s is linked to U.S. agreement on ALCM numbers limits, he rejected our first alternative, the unilateral U.S. statement, as unacceptably linking limits on strategic arms to the non-strategic issue of air defenses. As to the second U.S. alternative, the averaging approach, he said the fixing of the obligation to limit ALCM numbers in the treaty text was a positive step but the specific figure proposed is unacceptable because it would make it possible almost to double the number of 20 per aircraft. Comment: This seems a clear signal that the averaging concept is acceptable with only the number in dispute.

3. Gromyko in his brief discussion of new types did not refer to either definition issues or to the 10/6 question.

4. Gromyko strongly rejected the U.S. cruise missile definition position, saying that no argument would change their minds, because it [Page 480] was impossible to verify the distinction. The U.S. offer of distinctions by externally observable design features he rejected as no more than word of honor.

5. Noting a positive shift in the U.S. position on timing for reductions, he rejected the requirement of irreversible inoperability by June 30, 1981. He observed that the Soviet reductions would take place throughout the period, but emphasized that this did not mean they would necessarily take place at a steady rate. He repeated Soviet condition that Treaty must enter into force by March 31, 1979 for Soviets to be willing to complete reductions by December 30, 1981.

6. He rejected a fixed date for protocol expiration other than three years from entry into force, but repeated earlier formulation that it was impossible to consider protocol expiration when we do not know when Treaty will be signed, much less when it will enter into force, which may suggest they have in mind three years from date of signature as the result.

7. Backfire. Gromyko rejected the text Warnke had given Dobrynin, saying that since what was involved was a unilateral Soviet statement, they would decide what went in it. He said his discussions with the President had established that the issue would be resolved on the basis of the text previously given, but with omission of the radius information and flight profile. He read the following text, which, although he did not mention it, also admits the “good will gesture” point: Begin text. The Soviet side informs the U.S. side that the Soviet TU–22–M aircraft, called Backfire in the United States is a medium-range bomber and that the Soviet side does not intend to give this airplane the capability of operating at intercontinental distances. In this connection, the Soviet side states that it will not increase the radius of action of this aircraft in such a way as to enable it to strike targets on the territory of the United States. It does not intend to give it such capability in any other manner, including aerial refueling at the same time, the Soviet side states that it will not increase the production rates of this airplane as compared to the present rates. End text. This statement would, he said, be handed to the U.S. side at the time of signing the Agreement and giving it must completely exhaust the issue. There could be no changes in the text; it was, for example, essential that it state that the Backfire is a medium-range bomber. Nor would the Soviet side agree to confirm in any way any statement by the U.S. side that arbitrarily interprets the Soviet statement and introduces concrete numbers. His only reference to the U.S. intention to send the statement to Congress along with the Agreement as part of the ratification process was to say that the Soviet side had no objection to the U.S. desire to present the matter in the best possible light, but we could not do that at the expense of the USSR.

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8. I began my reply by saying that I was sorry to have to state that I felt that the Soviet side had not taken appropriate account of the very substantial moves made by the President in the meetings in Washington. In my statement, I reviewed those efforts, noting that they dealt with almost every major outstanding concern of the USSR and, in our view, represent a major effort to reach a fair and mutually beneficial agreement. I then summarized the U.S. positions and the areas of agreement and disagreement on the issues. It may be significant that, although he interrupted at a number of other points where he claimed I had not correctly summarized agreed points on Soviet views, Gromyko did not challenge my statement that the Soviet proposal to drop the 2,500 km range limits applied to both testing and deployment and meant that there would be no range limits for cruise missiles in either the protocol or the full agreement, except the 600 km limits.

9. Telemetry encryption. When, in the course of my statement, I said that the exchange between Warnke and Semenov indicated agreement that the already-agreed ban on deliberate concealment applies to deliberate denial of telemetric information, such as by encryption and that telemetric information can be important for verification purposes, Semenov interrupted to say that was not an accurate report of their conversation. Gromyko later said that nothing would come of attempts to reach agreement on telemetry, that there was no necessity for agreement, and that both sides will be in the same situation in the absence of agreement.

10. We will of course discuss the telemetry issue again with them. I don’t think Gromyko understands the issue and rather than dealing with the underlying concept is concerned that we are charging them with a current violation of the Interim Agreement. I believe this issue will be satisfactorily resolved.

11. Now that we have gotten through the usual opening exchanges, we will be able to get down to real business in the talks among the smaller groups, that is, Vance, Warnke, and Toon opposite Gromyko, Korniyenko and Dobrynin.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–1523. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent to Carter at Camp David in telegram WH81378, October 23. Vance recalled this meeting in his memoirs: “In late October, I went to Moscow. I told Gromyko bluntly that the Soviets had missed an opportunity to conclude a SALT Treaty. I said that the Russians did not seem to understand that Carter had made a serious attempt at the last meeting in Washington to make an agreement possible, particularly with our movement on cruise missiles. Cruise missile limits were politically and militarily difficult for us, but we had tried to meet Soviet concerns and had gone as far as we could, consistent with our security interests and those of our NATO allies. The Soviets should have understood the importance of this move, as well as our proposal of a comprehensive negotiating package.” (Hard Choices, p. 107). The full memorandum of conversation for this meeting is in the 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, VanceGromyko Moscow 10/78.
  2. Secto 12109 from Moscow, October 22, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–1530.
  3. See Document 150.