199. Memorandum of Conversation1

Carter-Brezhnev Meeting with President Kirchschlaeger and Chancellor Kreisky


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Ambassador Wolf
  • Hamilton Jordan
  • Interpreters: Krimer and Obst
  • U.S.S.R.
  • President Brezhnev
  • U.S.S.R. Ambassador to Vienna
  • Two interpreters
  • Austria
  • President Kirchschlaeger
  • Chancellor Kreisky
  • Two interpreters

After some initial banter and welcoming remarks by President Kirchschlaeger, President Brezhnev asked if Kirchschlaeger could not make a speech so he could reply with a speech of his own, pulling out some prepared written remarks.

Kirchschlaeger replied that Austria was just a small country, therefore his speech would be very short, but he would be happy to accommodate Mr. Brezhnev. He hoped that Vienna would furnish a climate conducive to successful completion of the talks. Austria very much wished this visit to be a good one. Traditionally Austria had tried to [Page 577] serve as a bridge between East and West and was willing to continue with that role.

Brezhnev started to read his statement haltingly and laboriously. He started by thanking the Austrian government for their hospitality and for having provided the opportunity for him to talk with President Carter. Twenty-five years ago the U.S.S.R. and the United States had been signatories of the state treaty guaranteeing Austrian neutrality in perpetuity.2 Since that time contacts in many fields and cooperation between the Soviet Union and Austria had steadily improved. The treaty had provided the foundation for Austria to make a significant contribution to cooperation between other countries.

The motive of furthering international understanding which was the foundation for coming to Vienna and talks with President Carter was the same motive underlying the treatment of Austria by the U.S.S.R.

The central purpose of the Vienna summit was to try and find means to slow the arms race and to try to debate and possibly resolve other matters. The most important purpose, of course, as he had already indicated yesterday, was to sign the SALT TWO accord. He felt sure that all the people of the world, including the Austrian people, would welcome this agreement.

He was sorry that this visit would give him little time to see anything of Austria, but he was glad to be able to get a glimpse of Vienna. He would like to take this opportunity to officially and formally invite President Kirchschlaeger to pay a visit to the Soviet Union. He wanted him to not only see Moscow, but also visit other Russian cities.

Kirchschlaeger thanked Brezhnev for his remarks and for his invitation to come to the Soviet Union, which he was gladly accepting. Would President Carter also like to make a few remarks?

The President stated that that he felt that this meeting with President Brezhnev had long been overdue. It had taken two and a half years to reach the point where the two great powers could meet in Vienna. He felt sure that there would be considerably less delay in convening the next summit meeting between the two countries.

He felt certain that both the United States and the Soviet Union had come to Vienna determined to make this summit meeting a success. Brezhnev had a strenuous schedule ahead of him with four hours of negotiations each day plus nhaving to go to the opera this eve[Page 578]ing. He was sure (said somewhat teasingly) that Brezhnev’s vigor would measure up to the schedule.

His meeting with Brezhnev would offer an opportunity to discuss in depth not only SALT and disarmament, but also other matters of interest to the two countries and to the entire world.

He was struck by the beauty of Austria and by the genuine hospitality of the Austrian people. He was personally gratified that the Vienna Opera, of which he would get a first sample tonight, had agreed to come to the United States in the fall. The American people were looking forward to this event with great excitement. This was but another demonstration of the many ties of friendship existing between the Austrian and the American peoples.

Kirchschlaeger thanked President Carter for his remarks. Turning to Brezhnev, he repeated one more time that he was happy to accept the Soviet invitation to visit the Soviet Union. He was struck by the fact that President Carter in his arrival statement and President Brezhnev in his remarks just made had voiced very similar views on the importance of the state treaty of 1955 and of maintaining the neutrality status of the Republic of Austria. One could therefore conclude that the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union had already come to their first agreement during their Vienna summit meeting. (After Brezhnev began to understand the significance of this remark after two translations, he laughed heartily and turning to President Carter, said, “good!”) Would the Chairman come to the opera tonight?

Brezhnev said that he was rather tired.

The President interjected he should really not go if he was feeling tired.

Brezhnev (turning to Carter) said, “Will you go?”

The President: “Yes, I and my wife will go. We have an advantage over you, as we have had one night’s rest in Vienna.”

Brezhnev (haltingly and after some deliberation): “then Brezhnev probably will go, too, at least for the first act.”

Kirchschlaeger interjected that one did not need to sit through all operas until the bitter end.

The President (to Brezhnev): “As I told you before, I came here one day earlier and have had more rest than you. But if you could come just for the first act, that would be very nice. It would give us an opportunity to be together and shake hands.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 19, U.S.S.R.—Vienna Summit: (10/78–6/79). Secret. Drafted by U.S. interpreter Harry Obst. The meeting took place in the Office of the Austrian President at the Hofburg. Brezhnev and Carter met in Vienna from June 15 to 18. Carter described meeting Brezhnev in his memoirs: “I met President Leonid Brezhnev for the first time at the palace of Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschlaeger, where we were to pay a formal call on him and Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. I had carefully studied the latest intelligence reports about Brezhnev and his supposedly failing health, and had also heard from the French and German leaders that on his recent visits to their countries he had been frail and not always alert. Eager to see him, I hoped that he would be vigorous and able to conduct the long discussions that lay ahead. “There was no need for me to worry. By arrangement, I arrived a few minutes ahead of Brezhnev. We greeted each other before an enormous contingent from the news media. He walked toward me slowly and carefully, but at a steady pace. Brezhnev seemed a little hesitant about approaching me, but I moved forward immediately and greeted him warmly.” (Keeping Faith, pp. 243–244)
  2. The Austrian State Treaty, signed May 15, 1955, by Austria, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, eliminated four-power occupation, established Austria’s sovereignty, and guaranteed its neutrality. See Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. V, Austrian State Treaty; Summit and Foreign Ministers Meetings, 1955, Documents 74 and 76.