173. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1

WH90292. Hold for the President’s return.

Memorandum for: The President

From: Zbigniew Brzezinski

Attached is the final translation of the message Brezhnev sent you this morning.

His Excellency

James E. Carter

President of the United States of America

Honorable Mr. President,

I feel it necessary to express the following with regard to your message of 17 February2.

We note that, as you wrote, the U.S. opposes the military actions undertaken by China and is insisting on the withdrawal of its forces from Viet Nam and that you brought this position to the attention of the Chinese leadership. Of course, we react to these words positively.

But we must frankly state, that we cannot agree with the fact that you have not given the necessary qualification to the main point—namely, the fact of China’s armed aggression against a sovereign state—the Socialist republic of Viet Nam. The events in Kampuchea to which you refer, are only a pretext for Peking. The Chinese aggression against Viet Nam and those events which took place in Kampuchea are completely different questions and there is no basis whatsoever to link them. Kampuchea is a turned page. Old Kampuchea is no more. There is a new Kampuchea with a government which expresses the will and aspirations of the people of that country. The Chinese invasion into Viet Nam is a direct manifestation, if we are to call things by their names, of the expansionistic, hegemonistic aspirations of Peking. We have repeatedly brought to the attention of the leadership of different countries, including the USA, the danger of closing ones’ eyes to its (Peking’s) true goals.

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In this regard, I would not be candid if I did not call your attention to the fact that China’s aggression against Viet Nam was undertaken soon after Deng Xiao-Ping’s visit to the USA, during which he made pronouncements openly inimical to the cause of peace, including direct threats to Viet Nam. And is this a simple coincidence?

We and others must, of course, draw from this the appropriate conclusions. Therefore, we do not understand why you are appealing to us to exercise restraint. Such an appeal must be directed only to the aggressor—that is, to China.

Opposition to aggression is the only way to prevent a further dangerous development of events. Therefore, if, as you say, the USA is in opposition to the actions which China has undertaken, then it would be logical for the U.S. Government to officially declare this, to publicly condemn the aggression and demand the immediate withdrawal of Chinese troops from Vietnam.

For our part, the Soviet Union cannot remain indifferent. Our position is laid out in the declaration of the Soviet Government, the text of which has been published, and is, I presume, at your disposal.

We should like to hope that the Government of the USA, and you personally, Mister President, will treat our concerns with all seriousness and objectivity.


L. Brezhnev

18 February 1979

Moscow, The Kremlin

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, China: Sino-Vietnamese Conflict—Heads of State Exchanges: 2/79. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Specat. Carter initialed the message. Sent from the White House Situation Room. President Carter traveled to Mexico, February 14–16. Shortly after his return, he went to Camp David, February 16–19.
  2. See Document 172.