20. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East, Arms Control


  • Secretary Cyrus R. Vance
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. Paul Warnke
  • Assistant Secretary Arthur Hartman
  • Mr. William Hyland
  • Mr. Leslie Gelb
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers L.V. Smirnov
  • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
  • Notetaker—Name Unknown
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
[Page 84]


The Secretary agreed that an end to the state of war was most important; establishment of normal relations was no less important, however.

Gromyko said this did not contradict what he had said. He would say that they understood each other on this question.

The Secretary said he understood what Gromyko had said on this score, except that the Secretary would put more emphasis on the importance of normal relations.

Gromyko said that the Soviet side emphasized the importance and significance of peace, which includes normal relations. He did not want to belittle the importance of normal relations; the Soviet Union might even trade with Israel; it was his understanding that the Israelis produced good oranges and, given normal relations, the Soviet Union would buy some.

The Secretary asked why they didn’t buy them.

Gromyko said that right now the Soviet Union had neither diplomatic nor commercial relations with Israel, and answered the Secretary’s question if it would not be good for the Soviet Union to reestablish such relations by saying that some preliminary movement in Israeli policy would have to be made before relations could be resumed. Otherwise Soviet people would not understand. He thought the Secretary knew that he had conveyed this to Allon when he had met him in New York. If the Soviet Union were to start trading with Israel, literally thousands of questions would be asked. How could one explain normal trade while a state of war existed in the Middle East, while Israel occupied Arab territory? All these questions would have to be resolved before the Soviet Union could establish normal relations, but there had to be some substantial forward movement in Israeli policy. He hoped this would occur, but he was careful in terms of predicting the timing. He thought that in this respect Israel appeared to live according to its own calendar.

The Secretary wanted to bring up one or two items. Although they were of a procedural nature, they would have to be faced before too long. One such question was how the delegations at the Geneva Conference could be divided and organized to deal with the various issues on the agenda. This was not a simple matter, because the Arabs were divided on how to proceed. The sooner Gromyko and the Secretary knew how to resolve this issue, the better.

Gromyko agreed to discuss this. He said that not only the Secretary was going to see the Arab leaders; he also intended to see them, and [Page 85] then the two of them could discuss this issue during their special meeting on the Middle East in May. There were evidently differences on this procedural question between the various Arab leaders. But it would be up to the Soviet Union and the United States to steer a true course, and not allow questions of substance to flounder in procedural matters.

The Secretary agreed that our two countries would have to exercise leadership in order not to get bogged down.

Gromyko said that the Soviets were not afraid of these matters. He was sure we would survive these procedural difficulties. He would point out that it sometimes happened in the United States that people preferred to look at very major issues through very small ones, with the result that minor issues were assigned a significance one million times more than they were worth. He believed that procedural difficulties would not be hard to overcome.

The Secretary hoped Gromyko was correct. He had seen too many conferences spend months and months on procedure, when they should have been discussing substance.

Gromyko said he was afraid that in that respect he had set a record at one conference, but the real reason for that only appeared to be procedural, while in fact it had been a matter of policy.

Secretary Vance recalled that it was only with Gromyko’s good help that we had managed to settle the question of the shape of the table in Paris.

Gromyko demonstrated how he had done this, using pencils. The Secretary was right; such situations did arise. Translating this into serious language, if our two countries pursued a policy aimed at peace, a really bold policy, then this kind of thorn, the Middle East problem, impeding the development of our bilateral relations, simply could not exist. The situation there was not of Soviet creation, and it seemed to be disturbing not only the Soviet policy, but also US policy as well. However, the Secretary would be the better judge of US policy.

The Secretary thought that this concluded the Middle East discussion. He and Gromyko would pick it up again in the not too distant future.

Gromyko agreed, and hoped this could be done with a view to settling the issues on the basis of a general settlement. Perhaps he was anticipating events, but he thought he could say that the United States would also be interested in a general settlement. After such settlement, it should also be possible to resolve the question of arms deliveries, arms sales to the Middle East. Without a general settlement, it was not possible to do so. If another war broke out, how could our countries possibly resolve this question? That would be fantasy. But if there was [Page 86] an overall settlement, the question of arms deliveries could be solved, given a desire on both sides to do so. He had explained Soviet policy in this regard. It was an important question in itself, and he would not deny its significance, providing, of course, it was viewed in a correct perspective.

The Secretary said he would like to say a lot on the broader question of arms sales.

Gromyko agreed to discuss it on the basis of President Carter’s statements that the US was the number one exporter of arms to foreign countries.

The Secretary reminded him that the Soviet Union held second place.

Gromyko said this certainly was true. It meant that theirs was a backward country.


Gromyko said that, as the Secretary would know, the Soviet Union was in favor of resolving the problem of completely stopping nuclear weapon testing. The USSR had proposed that all nuclear powers, without exception, enter into discussions as soon as possible, with the participation of non-nuclear states, with a view to conclusion of a treaty on this subject, providing for a complete and universal ban on testing nuclear weapons. In connection with that proposal, the question of verification would arise, and the Soviet Union had taken it into account, although he was convinced that given today’s level of technology, verification by national technical means should be sufficient. Still, the Soviet Union was prepared to go further and find mutually acceptable understandings that would preserve the framework of voluntary decisions in the context of on-site investigation of certain phenomena. This should be aimed at providing assurances for all parties to the treaty that obligations under the treaty were being complied with. Something of this kind had been suggested by the Swedes. The Soviets would suggest that our two countries act promptly, considering the fact that this issue was currently under discussion in the Disarmament Committee. To translate these considerations into the text of a mutually acceptable treaty would be a major step forward.

Gromyko wanted to suggest an idea that the Secretary might not be able to answer now. Perhaps he could reflect on it, and reply after he returned to Washington. Such a treaty could initially be signed by our two countries, and be accompanied by a simultaneous appeal to other nuclear states, and even to non-industrial countries, to accede to it. When signing the treaty, the United States and Soviet Union could declare that for a specified period of time, say one and a half to two years, they would refrain from testing nuclear weapons; in other words, they [Page 87] would declare a moratorium on their own testing. If other nuclear powers did not accede to the treaty within that period of time, the Soviet Union and the United States would be released from their obligations under such a moratorium. Gromyko believed that such a step would impel certain powers to take positive action and would, in general, favorably influence the whole international situation. That would be a good thing. It was hard to imagine who could criticize the new Administration for taking such a step. In the Soviet Union, and he was quite sure in saying this, such a step would meet with understanding; people would regard it as positive. However, one could not consider peaceful nuclear explosions in one and the same category with the testing of nuclear weapons. Peaceful nuclear explosions were used in the Soviet Union to accomplish major economic tasks. Certain plans had been made involving PNEs. He would point out that, taking into account US views, the Soviet Union had agreed to limit the yield of such explosions under an agreement signed last year. At the same time, that agreement provided that nuclear explosions for solely peaceful purposes would be subject to a system of verification that would be worked out in detail, envisioning in certain cases access by the representatives of one side to the explosion site of the other. It would represent a substantial step forward, a radical solution to the problem of ending nuclear testing, curbing the arms race, and protecting people against the harmful consequences of such tests, if ratification of the Threshold and PNE agreements already signed by our two countries were completed. The Soviets did not lack readiness to do so. They were waiting to see when the new Administration in Washington would become more active in this area. Who could deny the positive significance of the agreements already on the table in signed form? He thought that each member of the US Senate and House of Representatives would approve. The US could take this important step toward strengthening peace and security, strengthening Soviet-American relations, and thus reinforce some of the positive statements made in the US. It seemed to the Soviets that the Carter Administration could do this if it wished.

The Soviet Union had tabled a draft treaty banning all nuclear weapon testing. Surely the Secretary was aware of it, and Gromyko would not repeat its provisions. It was now before the appropriate international organizations.

The Secretary said with respect to the two treaties we had already signed, that, as he had indicated yesterday, he had urged the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take positive action to ratify these treaties. The Chairman had indicated that he would take the necessary steps to move Congress to act. In addition, the Administration will indicate its support for this ratification, so as to assist in urging that Congress take prompt action in the near future. The Secre[Page 88]tary said he would be less than frank if he did not tell Gromyko that there will be some in Congress who will ask why these treaties should be signed, in view of the fact that a comprehensive test ban treaty was being urged by the Administration. The comprehensive test ban could be strongly supported by the administration and he believed that this would be an indication of our wish to cooperate with the Soviet Union and strengthen our bilateral relations.

Gromyko suggested that the Secretary explain to those who do not understand that these agreements do not run counter or contradict the other one.

The Secretary said that we will argue that these agreements are steps on the way to a comprehensive test ban.

Gromyko said it would be good if progress were achieved. He would also point out that their own instruments (national means) here in Moscow had so far registered even weak explosions.

The Secretary was sure that our efforts to get ratification would be aided if both our countries were clearly cooperating toward achievement of a comprehensive test ban.

Gromyko suggested that we not only cooperate on the technical aspects of verifying peaceful nuclear explosions, but also make the cooperative work much more intensive than it was now.

The Secretary said he found this idea very interesting. He would point out, however, that we had grave concerns for allowing exceptions for peaceful nuclear explosions. The reason for that was that it was almost impossible to conduct peaceful explosions without weapons-related benefits. Therefore, we favored elimination of all nuclear explosions.

Gromyko asked what exceptions the Secretary had in mind. After all, there were provisions for verification. He would suggest that those who shouted the loudest in the US be sent along as observers on PNE verification assignments.

The Secretary agreed that verification was one of the matters that needed to be pursued further. However, experts in the area said that even with verification it would be possible to develop information that was contrary to a comprehensive test ban. Therefore, he would suggest that we have our respective experts get together for bilateral discussion of this subject in the near future.

Gromyko did not believe there would be any insuperable obstacles in the way of resolving this problem. One should not forget that all along in the course of discussing these matters on a bilateral basis the Soviets had proceeded from the premise that there was a significant difference between weapons testing and PNE. It was for this reason that they had signed the two treaties. He would suggest to the Secretary [Page 89] that we should avoid taking any step that would turn us backward. One could find skeptics on any question. He supposed one could even find someone who would maintain that Earth was not turning around the sun, but that it was the other way around.

Smirnov said that this was probably asserted by those experts who did not want to see that kind of treaty signed. He pointed out that this was a specific technical problem. “Let your experts come and see, they could even take the top off the cylinder of the explosive device to make sure that it was not a weapon.” (The Secretary asked Gromyko if he agreed; Gromyko did not reply.)

Gromyko said that, put in other words, the sooner the US Government obtained ratification of these treaties, the better. If that were done, there would be nothing but applause for both sides.

The Secretary said he would be happy to respond. If we could agree upon a satisfactory CTB treaty, we would be very much in favor of signing it with the Soviet Union, even though others did not sign it initially.

Gromyko said that if the US was ready to accept the idea in principle, he would suggest that the two sides agree to hold bilateral discussions at the level of experts. He asked when the US would be prepared to begin.

The Secretary consulted with Mr. Warnke, who informed him that we could do so very rapidly. He would accordingly inform Gromyko and would assure him that it could be soon.

Gromyko said that Mr. Warnke had given the Secretary good advice. The Soviet side would await advice as to when the experts would be ready.


Gromyko suggested that the subject of non-proliferation required some discussion.

The Secretary said he would be happy to start. As he had indicated the other day, the question of non-proliferation was a matter of major concern for our government, for the Carter Administration. As a consequence of the priority we attached to this issue, we had begun a study immediately upon taking office. That study was about to be completed. We would be prepared to discuss such things as international fuel assurance arrangements, international spent fuel storage and strengthening IAEA safeguard arrangements. As a result of the study, we had come to the following conclusions, which would be announced very shortly: First, we would indefinitely defer commercial fuel reprocessing; Secondly, we intended to restructure our breeder reactor program in such a way as to stress designs other than plutonium-related; Third, we would redirect the funding of nuclear research and develop[Page 90]ment programs in such a way as to concentrate on alternative nuclear fuel cycles that would not involve materials that could be used for weapons purposes; Fourth, we planned to increase US production of nuclear fuels. We believed that these steps will be constructive and that they should be discussed in international fora, to see whether international action could be taken to strengthen control on sensitive technology with the objective of stopping further proliferation. That in brief was where we stood today. We would, of course, continue to urge those who had not signed the NPT to sign and ratify the treaty in view of its great importance. We would continue to encourage widest possible use and adherence to the treaty and urge strengthening and improving safeguards for enforcing sanctions against violators of such a treaty.

Gromyko said that he had listened to the Secretary’s communication on this issue with interest, and so had his colleagues. Soviet views on this issue were as follows: the task of preventing nuclear war demanded most insistently that insuperable obstacles be placed in the path of the spread of nuclear weapons. Above all, this was the task of making the NPT, already in effect, truly all-embracing and universal. It was well-known fact that countries such as the People’s Republic of China and France were outside the treaty; so were a significant number of other countries. The Secretary knew this well and also surely knew that there were some countries that were very close to starting the building of their own nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union was prepared, together with the United States, to continue efforts aimed at insuring that these and all other states so far outside the treaty become parties to the treaty. Why could not our two countries think of some new forms of influencing them, perhaps even on a trilateral basis (i.e., the US, the USSR, and UK) or on a bilateral basis only, with the Soviet and US governments approaching the governments of non-participating countries to speed up adherence to the treaty. Speaking quite frankly, Gromyko would say that the Soviet side had not yet observed any energetic measures on the part of the United States to exert its influence in the right direction. It was quite true that occasionally some statements were made urging adherence, but this was only a small part of what could be done. He would not say that the United States had acted wholeheartedly in this matter so far. The danger remained that non-nuclear countries which received nuclear materials from other countries would utilize such materials for purposes of weapons development. The Soviet Union was resolved to make sure that international cooperation in this field and in the field of peaceful nuclear explosions not become another channel for nuclear weapons proliferation. He was convinced that this was not a commercial question, but a major question of policy.

[Page 91]

By way of example, Gromyko thought it would be appropriate to mention the current nuclear deliveries by the FRG to Brazil and by France to Pakistan, deliveries that could not but give rise to concern. In the Soviet view, what was needed was effective nuclear control over any receiving country. The Soviet Union had advocated and now advocates all-embracing improvement of the system of control in this field, and was prepared to cooperate with the United States and others.

The Secretary interrupted to say he appreciated hearing this from Gromyko. As Gromyko would know, we had worked with Brazil, Germany, France and Pakistan to see to it that sensitive materials and information transfers through creating processing plants not be brought to fruition, and that other measures be taken to guarantee fuel supply so as to eliminate the danger in this area.

Gromyko said it would be hard for the Soviets to believe that the United States was not able to bring greater pressure to bear on Brazil in these matters. Had the Brazilian leaders really come to the conclusion that they could not live without nuclear weapons? He thought the Brazilians must be fully aware of the fact that their action might set off a chain of events, thereby worsening the situation. Of course, he knew that some positive statements were being made in the US from time to time, say every six months or so, but it seemed to him that the United States was not fully using its options to bring pressure to bear. Perhaps the new Administration would need some time before it could do more in this respect.

The Secretary said he disagreed with the Minister. His deputy had gone to Brazil to discuss this issue. We had asked Brazilian leaders to stop their arrangement with Germany and find an alternate solution. We had told them we would guarantee fuel supply. As a result of this maximum pressure, Brazilian-US relations had become quite strained. It was difficult to see how we could have done more.

Gromyko said that, of course, the Secretary was a better judge of what could be done. He would suggest that in addition to the contacts we had on this subject within the framework of international organizations, it would be useful to hold Soviet-American consultations on the whole complex of the problem of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. It was true that we had not had too much contact in this respect. Some meetings were held a long time ago and at infrequent intervals. In the course of such consultations, the Soviet Union and the United States could agree on joint action in the direction of improving the already operating London understanding between the exporting countries, in which the Soviet Union, the United States and others were active. In the course of such consultations we could also review the effectiveness of IAEA functions, and discuss the question of sanctions. We had a great deal to do.

[Page 92]

The Secretary said that he would welcome that.

Gromyko said that was very good. He would ask that both sides specifically reflect on when they could consult on setting a specific schedule.

The Secretary agreed to do that.

Gromyko said he wanted the US Government and President Carter to know that the Soviet Union attached signal importance to the entire issue of non-proliferation. The Soviet leadership liked it when the President, or the Secretary, or others, stressed the importance of this issue in the view of the United States.

The Secretary said that was very good. The President will be very pleased to hear of this Soviet position.


Gromyko said he would briefly touch upon a question the Secretary would be familiar with—possible conclusion of a treaty or agreement on banning new types of weapons or weapons systems of mass destruction. The Soviet Union had raised this question in all seriousness some time ago. It had hoped that the US would also emphasize the importance of this question and would join in working on the problem. From time to time, representatives of past administrations had sporadically touched on this subject, perhaps sometimes at Soviet initiative, at other times on their own accord, and had told the Soviet Union of their views in this regard. An exchange of views had taken place in the CCD in Geneva and in the United Nations in New York, but these discussions had been of a very general nature. At the same time, some serious discussions were held in Geneva. At first, the US reaction had consisted in asking the Soviets question after question and in evading discussion of specifics. Gromyko noticed that and had been amazed at such an approach. Then, probably after those who had asked the questions realized that this could not go on endlessly, another question was asked—what was meant by new types of weapons systems? Soviet representatives found themselves forced to name several such types, stating that theirs was by no means an exhaustive list, and that representatives of all other countries were equally free to name what they felt could be weapons of mass destruction. What serious man could deny the existence of this serious problem? Should we simply permit rocks to roll down the mountain without our doing anything to stop them? Surely we should attempt to take steps to restrain all countries from developing new types of weapons of mass destruction; otherwise, everything that had been accomplished, most notably in the field of strategic arms limitation, would become worthless. If we were on the one hand to attempt to limit strategic arms, while others produced new types of weapons of mass destruction, this would be tantamount to the right [Page 93] hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. He did not know whether he had expressed his thoughts clearly, but it should be clear that the United States and the Soviet Union should combine their efforts. If that were done, other nations would join in, and that would benefit the general cause of world peace and the peoples of our countries. Gromyko hoped the Secretary would not think that the Soviet Union was pursuing some sort of advantage or political capital in this. He thought that a solution that would benefit all would be facilitated by developing cooperation between our two countries, provided, of course, that the United States was interested and willing. The Soviets would even be prepared to consider the question of concluding separate agreements banning the development and manufacture of radiological weapons, taking into account the interest in this question which was displayed by the US side. Repeated contacts on this matter had already taken place. It had also been discussed in the UN General Assembly. This was a major question, one that had significance not only for today, but also for the future.

The Secretary said he would respond briefly by saying that we had found on the basis of experience that for arms control agreements to be effective, they had to be precisely defined and capable of verification. Quite frankly, we had problems with the Soviet proposal because of its broad and general nature. It would be difficult to deal with. However, we continued to be interested in banning specific weapons categories, such as the radiological weapons Gromyko had mentioned.

Gromyko said that when the US was ready to engage in specific discussion of this concrete issue, it should inform the Soviets accordingly. As for the Soviet draft treaty which appeared to the Secretary to be general in nature, in the context of exchanges of views already held at the level of experts, some specific information was developed. He would suggest that the Secretary take a look at these materials. Soviet experts had named some very specific weapons categories. He would ask the Secretary to signal him when the specialists were ready to exchange views.


The Secretary agreed. He wanted to say before we got too far away from the issues of non-proliferation and CTB, that agreement on a comprehensive test ban without an exception for peaceful nuclear explosions would do much to stop proliferation and discourage others from following India’s example. He feared that if an exception were permitted for PNE, we would soon find other threshold countries.

Gromyko said the new treaty would require careful discussion and drafting but, completely to preclude PNE—could that really be done?

Smirnov said the time would someday come when Americans, too, would realize the benefits of PNE for national economic purposes.

[Page 94]

Soviet scientists had suggested using PNE to provide storage space for wastes and for other purposes. He repeated his suggestion that an expert be assigned to monitor a peaceful explosion for verification purposes. An expert could always determine by examining the explosive device whether it was a weapon or not. He pointed out that the Soviet Union had also made use of conventional explosives for peaceful purposes. There were no technical difficulties here, only a desire was needed for verification to be effective.

Gromyko recalled some films that had shown PNEs. Any expert who could not assure himself that an explosion was not carried out for weapons purposes either did not understand the subject or did not wish to see an agreement of this sort. He recalled that a few years ago a representative of the United States had talked with him about the possibility of using PNEs to dig a new Panama Canal. He asked if the US did not expect that PNEs might be very advantageous in the future.

The Secretary responded that he was familiar with the suggestion for construction of a new Panama Canal. The project had been examined in great detail and we had come to the conclusion that the results of digging a canal in this manner would be unacceptable—PNEs would produce fallout dangerous to people in the area. Consequently, the plans had been abandoned. We also had acquired a great deal of experience in testing PNEs, but had concluded that such explosions presented environmental dangers. We had also concluded that the problem of weapons-related information were quite real. One of the problems that arises with the weapons aspect was the fact that it would be necessary closely to examine the explosive device itself. This created many problems.

Gromyko suggested that the Secretary inform him when the US side would be prepared to enter into discussions of all the questions arising in this connection.

The Secretary agreed.

Gromyko suggested that several groups of experts could examine the non-political questions involved.


The Secretary took up the problem of demilitarizing the Indian Ocean. In this question, we would be interested in exploring the subject with the Soviets. We believed that if we could have some ideas on how one could proceed to demilitarize the Indian Ocean, it would help us understand the Soviet position and to decide how one could develop further discussions on this subject. There were a number of items that logically came to mind. First—elimination of naval bases in the area. Another item was the possibility of agreeing on limiting the number of ship-days for warships in the area. Of course, one would have to define [[Page 95]the geographic boundaries and a number of similar items. We would be very interested in pursuing the matter further. Therefore, he would like to hear Gromyko’s views.

Gromyko thought the Secretary would know the Soviet Union attached importance to this question. The problem had become more acute when the United States started construction of the Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean. The Soviet Union, of course, understood the purpose of that base and at whom it was aimed, and had vigorously condemned the US action. In the Soviet view, it had not been dictated by the security interests of the United States. The Soviet Union was against military confrontation involving the coastal states, and against military bases in that area. The Soviet leadership believed that this had been a badly mistaken and harmful decision on the part of the United States—to establish the base at Diego Garcia. It knew and understood very well that it was aimed at the Soviet Union. If that were not so, it could only be the product of the sick imagination of the American military. The Soviet Union had resolutely condemned it and, in fact, that decision had injected a negative element into the relations between our countries. The only military activity permitted in that area should be innocent passage by warships, as provided by international law.

The Secretary inquired about the Soviet base at Berbera. He said the Soviet Union had facilities there that could be used for military purposes.

Gromyko said that Berbera was a rest base for Soviet personnel and a place for taking on food and water. There were no military facilities at Berbera, and the Soviet Union did not plan to construct any such facilities there. If the United States had received information that was not in accord with what Gromyko was now saying, it had been simply misled. In fact, he did not believe that the United States had any such information. The Soviet Union did not have a military base there or anywhere else in the Indian Ocean. That was his reply—an official reply—and a categorical one. In fact, the Soviet Union would not accept an invitation to build a military base there if it were offered.

The Secretary said that we had information to the contrary. He would be happy to present it to Gromyko. Perhaps it was erroneous, but in any case we were ready to present it to the Soviet side.

Gromyko remarked that what had happened here was somewhat similar to what had happened with the Backfire bomber, which had suddenly become a “strategic” aircraft.

The Secretary continued by pointing out that we had information that there were missile handling facilities at Berbera that quite obviously were not required by the Somalis.

Gromyko said that the equipment there was for handling the loading of food and water. He repeated that even if the Soviets were of[Page 96]fered a naval base there, they would not accept, simply because they knew that if they accepted, they would be facing many more negative consequences than positive ones. That was contrary to their policy. In any case, whether the Secretary believed it or not, he had provided an official, categorical answer to the question asked. He trusted that the Secretary would treat it with respect.

The Secretary asked whether he would be correct to say that he understood the Soviet position to be that the Soviet Union would be willing to forego all military bases in the Indian Ocean.

Gromyko said: “We have none there, and we have no intention to set up bases there.” He only wished that the United States not have any bases in that area either.

The Secretary asked for Gromyko’s views on warship stationing in the Indian Ocean area.

Gromyko said he had already told the Secretary that the Soviets proceeded from the premise that innocent passage according to international law had always applied in the Indian Ocean, and should continue to apply.

The Secretary said he certainly agreed to maintenance of the right of free passage. His question had referred to limiting numbers of ship-days in this area.

Gromyko said this question had not been raised before. It was separate and distinct from the question of naval bases, and was one that should be looked into. Perhaps the two sides could exchange views and look into the possibility of reaching agreement.

The Secretary said it was certainly a question that needed to be considered if we talked about a demilitarized area.

Gromyko, replying to the Secretary’s question as to definition of the Indian Ocean area and whether it extended as far as the Philippines, said that he was not a geographer and would not want to be one.

The Secretary said that certainly if we wanted to talk seriously about it, we would have to define the area.

Gromyko thought that if a geographer were present now, he would have an answer. He would ask a counter question: where did the Atlantic begin and end? Did it reach as far as the Arctic, and where was the boundary? Gromyko asked how the Secretary proposed to explore the second aspect—limits on ship-days.

The Secretary thought it should be done at less than the ministerial level, and he would have to see if it might best be done on a bilateral basis.

Gromyko said he was prepared to listen to considerations on this score, and would himself reflect on the appropriate level.

[Page 97]

The Secretary thought it would be good if Gromyko could give it further thought.

Gromyko asked if he would be correct in assuming that President Carter and his Administration attached importance to this question and were prepared to pursue it further.

The Secretary said Gromyko could assume that President Carter was interested in pursuing this matter further and discussing it with the Soviets.

Gromyko said that was good, but we should not lose time on this issue. It would be good to have one problem less.


The Secretary suggested they now take up the question of arms transfers to third world countries. He said that we were concerned that arms transfers by the US and USSR to other countries, into the third world, could in the long run only lead to misunderstandings and difficulties. In our judgement, we had to find a way to exercise restraint in transferring arms to third world countries. Our restraint would depend on restraint by the Soviet Union, and it seemed to us that we should also enlist the cooperation of other sellers of weapons. As President Carter had said, we would be prepared to take unilateral steps in this direction. But in the long run, unilateral action could not succeed without the cooperation of other countries supplying arms. He proposed to use a specific example. In our judgement, providing arms to countries in southern Africa would fuel the flames and possibly lead to a broad conflict. We believed that this was not in the interest of either our two countries nor in the interest of people in the area. We believed that such actions could only strain relations between our two countries, which was not in our mutual interest. Therefore, we wanted to get the situation under control, either on a multilateral or bilateral basis. The United States would like to begin a serious dialogue on the question of arms transfers. He would appreciate learning Gromyko’s thoughts on how we could exchange views on this subject. We would emphasize our interest in how one might reach a multilateral agreement among arms suppliers, and how one might best proceed to organize such an accord. We had already raised our concerns with the Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain and France.

Gromyko acknowledged that the problem did exist. No one could deny that. Much weaponry was supplied to many countries. The biggest arms supplier, as President Carter has said on various occasions, was the United States, and had been for some time. In this connection, he would ask a specific question by way of example. Who was it that forced the United States to supply billions of dollars worth of armaments to Iran—was it any action on the part of the Soviet Union or [Page 98] some other country? Was this really indicative of any desire to exercise restraint? The Soviet leadership had been surprised and concerned when it learned of these massive arms sales. In effect, these sales had aggravated the problem. That was his first remark. Secondly, it was obvious that this question should be posed within the context of the military clashes that were taking place in the world. There were some countries that, whether we wanted it or not, were involved in military conflicts, and this fact was greatly related to the question of arms transfers. Only on paper could these two questions be separated. In any case, very frequently this linkage was obvious. Thirdly, the Soviet Union would be prepared to consider any concrete proposal the US Government wanted to table with a view to resolving this problem. Whenever the United States was ready, the USSR would be happy to take a look at it. The more specific, the better. Before involving others, it would perhaps be better to talk between our two countries; otherwise, third parties might ask for our own joint views, which might not exist.

The Secretary said that one of the problems one faces in the area of arms transfers was that it was often said that should we not sell arms to some country or another, the Soviet Union, or France, or Germany, would certainly jump in and do so. As a result, arms sales continued. One simply had to find a way to cut the Gordian Knot.

Gromyko said he realized the problem did exist and it was necessary to take a look at it.

The Secretary asked if it might be looked at in the context of the Middle East, perhaps.

Gromyko said that if it were done in the context of a peaceful settlement in that area, the Soviet Union would be in favor of it.

The Secretary asked: “Why not before?”

Gromyko said that it could not be done before, simply because it would be wrong from a political, factual, or any other aspect now. For example, on February 18, 1977, Reuters reported a statement by Prime Minister Rabin of Israel that Israel had received 1½ billion dollars worth of weapons since the 1973 war, as against 300 million before that. Gromyko thought the Secretary would agree that arms transfers and conflicts were interrelated.

The Secretary pointed out that this was certainly not a one-sided issue. The Minister would know that the Soviet Union had supplied massive arms to Middle East countries.

Gromyko said he would not deny that, and suggested our two countries find ways to do something about it.

The Secretary asked: “What about Africa?”

Gromyko said the same thing applied there, except that in that whole area there were 100 times more American weapons than Soviet.

[Page 99]

The Secretary suggested that was something that we must jointly examine in the future.

  1. Source: 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, Vance to Moscow, 3/28–30, 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer; approved in draft by Hyland; approved by Twadell on May 9. The meeting took place at the Kremlin. Sent to Schulman under a covering memorandum which read: “Attached is an advance copy of the March 29 afternoon meeting. This document has not been officially distributed yet because S/S is waiting for the completion of page 1. FYI—apparently the interpreter arrived late. Hyland will be providing notes for the beginning of the discussion.” None of the memoranda of this conversation found include the Middle East portion on page 1. Another copy is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR and East/West, Hunter/Rentschler Trips/Visits File, Box 17, 3/25/77–4/2/77, Vance Trip to Moscow: 3/28–31/77. In Secto 3033 from Moscow, March 29, Vance summarized his meeting for Carter, Brzezinski, and Christopher. The telegram is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter/Rentschler Trips/Visits File, Box 17, 3/25–4/2/77 Vance Trip to Moscow: 3/28–31/1977.
  2. A blank half page follows this heading; see footnote 1 above.