180. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

Dear Mr. President:

I believe you will agree that we are on the threshold of completing a SALT II Agreement that will enhance US/Soviet relations and contribute to world stability and peace. I am writing to you directly concerning an issue, telemetry encryption, which is critical to a SALT II Agreement that will serve these important purposes.

There have been long discussions between us on how to resolve this important matter. My own personal belief is that any encryption of telemetry from the testing of strategic missiles is unnecessary and ill advised.

Nonetheless, we had considered this issue acceptably resolved on the basis of the Common Understanding tabled by Ambassador Earle on January 31, 1979, and the statement he placed on the record in connection with this.2 This arrangement confirmed the understanding [Page 530] reached by Secretary Vance and Foreign Minister Gromyko in December in Geneva. However, Ambassador Karpov subsequently appeared to undermine this agreement by stating, on instructions, in Geneva “. . . this common formulation does not require additional interpretations.”

I must tell you in all candor that the terms and future observance of our agreement concerning telemetry encryption is an issue that goes to the heart of the prospects for SALT II ratification, the verification and viability of the SALT II treaty, and the future stability of the strategic relationship between us. I believe that Secretary Vance and Ambassador Earle have placed on the record our complete position on this question and have made clear our view of the Common Understanding. Therefore, I intend to stand on that position in publicly explaining and defending the SALT Agreement. Moreover, this will constitute the United States position in regard to compliance with the provisions of the SALT Agreement when it enters into force. Because of the seriousness of this issue, if your view differs with mine I need to be so informed now.

We are near the end of a long and difficult process. I think a final effort by both of us can rapidly settle the outstanding issues.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 19, U.S.S.R.—(Vienna Summit Briefing Book, 6/79) (1). No classification marking.
  2. The statement made on January 31 on the amendment of the common understanding, was transmitted in telegram 1614 from Geneva, January 31. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790047–0595) The common agreement stated that both sides agreed to the use of telemetry, except in instances where the denial of telemetric information impeded the verification of compliance with the treaty.