203. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Third Plenary Meeting between President Carter and President Brezhnev
  • Topics: SALT III and other arms control issues


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • General David Jones
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • General G. Seignious
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. Joseph Powell
  • Mr. David Aaron
  • Mr. Wm. D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • U.S.S.R.
  • President L.I. Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Marshal D.F. Ustinov
  • Mr. K.U. Chernenko
  • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
  • Marshal N.V. Ogarkov
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
  • Mr. A.M. Aleksandrov-Agentov
  • Mr. L.M. Zamyatin
  • Mr. V.G. Komplektov
  • Mr. A.M. Vavilov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

The President said he was grateful that a successfully completed SALT II agreement would be signed tomorrow. For the first time, this agreement places ceilings on nuclear arms and provides for reductions of certain nuclear arms. However, it is obvious that SALT II does not go far enough. It still permits a massive buildup in nuclear arms and a buildup in warheads, and we are concerned about the future and very eager to make progress today in deciding ways to explore how we can have a meaningful SALT III agreement. As President Brezhnev would know, under SALT II both nations are permitted to develop and deploy more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. This is a waste of national resources, but each nation is inclined to match the potential nuclear strength of the other. In addition to great numbers, technological advances, which are almost inevitable, can be very destabilizing in the future. With cruise missiles, new types of submarines with missiles, our own MX missile, improved accuracy of warheads, air defense systems, civil defense commitments and the very large ICBMs, like the SS–18, all these advances can be very destabilizing in the future. So, under SALT II, the nuclear arms race will continue, but the United States is ready to stop the arms race. The President was sure that Brezhnev understood the military and technical aspects of this problem. He would now like to outline briefly some steps they might explore together as they approached the SALT III negotiations.

The President said that, first of all, there was a need to improve the ability of both sides to verify compliance with the technical constraints that will be necessary in the future. Hopefully, they could eliminate all encryption of telemetric information. They might agree on pre-notification by both nations to the other of all missile flight-tests and of massive bomber exercises; they might find ways to improve monitoring stations, thereby increasing mutual trust, and perhaps might be able to provide for on-site inspection under certain circumstances. The President wanted to explore with Brezhnev every possible way of improving the quality of verification and to establish mutual trust.

The President stressed to President Brezhnev that the United States was ready for an agreement that would ensure large reductions in numbers of launchers, numbers of warheads and throwweight. As a matter of fact, the United States would be willing to explore an immediate moratorium on the construction of any new nuclear launchers and missile warheads. As a prelude to SALT III, we would be glad to explore with the Soviet Union a step-by-step approach to reductions even below the SALT II levels, perhaps 5% a year, provided such reduc[Page 593]tions were balanced, so that the agreement is in the interest of both sides. As far as the number of nuclear weapons which might be reduced, the President would like to explore with Brezhnev means by which the remaining nuclear weapons could be made less vulnerable to possible attack from the other country.

Marshal Ustinov interrupted to note that President Carter had mentioned the possibility of reducing the vulnerability of the remaining nuclear weapons to attack from the other side; would this not require new weapons, and would this not be inconsistent with the first part of the President’s statement?

The President said that only in a defensive way was he talking about making missiles less vulnerable to pre-emptive attack. One example of what he meant would be a safe haven or sanctuary for strategic submarines in certain areas of the ocean that could be excluded from activities involved in anti-submarine warfare. We would also like to explore with the Soviets the possibility of prohibiting the testing of missiles in depressed trajectory, because such launches from submarines might abbreviate the time required for the flight of attacking missiles. We would also like to include further constraints on the modernization of weapons systems, a process started in the SALT II Treaty.

The President said that these were proposals that should be explored privately, perhaps between our respective military leaders. They were not designed for propaganda advantage but were designed to open up the prospect of real weapons control for the future. He was sure that the Soviet Union will have similar proposals to make, which he would be eager to explore with them.

Further, the President said we would like to proceed with a comprehensive nuclear test ban agreement, either with or without the participation of Great Britain. We will do everything possible to induce other nations, France, Great Britain and China, to join in substantial reductions in nuclear weapons development and deployment. Obviously he could not speak for them and would think that the Chinese would be difficult to persuade. But it is obvious that for several years now the United States and the Soviet Union had such massive nuclear inventories that their predominance over the other nuclear powers is adequate. Moreover, the Soviet SS–20 missiles and other medium-range systems constituted a formidable means for dealing with these nations. But the absence of nuclear cooperation from other countries should not be allowed to interfere with progress on a bilateral basis toward the SALT III agreement.

The President thought that, along with SALT III negotiations, we should join publicly in an effort aimed at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and agree not to make sales of nuclear fuel or technology ex[Page 594]cept to those nations that were under the terms of the NPT or agreed-to IAEA safeguards.

The President said we were ready to sign a partial agreement with the Soviet Union on anti-satellite systems, an agreement to bar any damage or destruction of satellites and announce publicly that neither side has plans to test anti-satellite missiles or systems.

Finally, in his opening statement, the President wanted to mention the talks here in Vienna on mutual and balanced force reductions, negotiations which have now been carried on for more than five years. With consultation with our allies, the United States was ready to make progress in this effort. We would be willing to consider a first phase step limited to just the Soviet Union and the United States, if the Soviets agreed. This can be discussed between Secretary Brown and Marshal Ustinov, but it would be necessary to overcome the need for agreed data, based on a common definition of what a soldier is and who should be included. These obstacles should be overcome if the leaders are willing to make progress. The President added that we would have to agree on associated measures to verify an MBFR agreement. (Marshal Ustinov missed part of the translation so the President repeated his statement on the definition of armed forces to be included in MBFR so as to resolve the data question.) The President said that this concluded his presentation.

Brezhnev said that both he and President Carter had given a high assessment of the importance of the SALT II Treaty, and quite rightly so. But it must be admitted that on the whole, very little—in fact, almost nothing—had been done in terms of curbing the arms race. It was true that there had never been so many ongoing negotiations on arms control measures as today. But, in most cases, these talks have been marking time for years and going around in circles. In the meanwhile, the arms race continues. To Brezhnev, this appeared to be a disquieting situation. He believed it especially important to halt and reverse this tendency. In this respect, our two countries can do a great deal and there is every reason to take advantage of the success in SALT in order to provide an impetus to progress on other arms limitations.

Brezhnev wanted to draw the President’s particular attention to the Soviet Union’s proposal to halt the production of nuclear weapons and to gradually reduce nuclear stockpiles up to and including their complete elimination. In this process, the Soviet side proposed to take into consideration the difference in levels of stockpiles so that the balance is preserved and no harm done to the security of this or that state. He would repeat further that it was necessary to avoid a situation in which our two countries would be reducing their nuclear arsenals while other countries could continue to build up theirs.

[Page 595]

Brezhnev noted that the Soviet proposal was on the negotiating table in the Committee on Disarmament. He would like to hope that the United States will add its word in support of that proposal. In this respect, the Soviet Union would not wish to claim any monopoly. If advisable, it could be presented as a joint proposal. Acting together, the Soviet Union and the United States can achieve a great deal to the benefit of all.

One of the key tasks at this time is to strengthen the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Where we have a common interest, let us go on acting jointly and in parallel to attract more countries to accede to the NPT. Here we had a clearly common interest to establish strict controls over materials, equipment and technology that can be used for making nuclear arms. The appearance of such weapons in areas in which there are acute conflicts, and in countries which assert territorial claims against other countries would be particularly dangerous. In this connection, it was enough just to mention the Middle East and South Africa. Disturbing news in this respect was coming out of Pakistan; perhaps the President had more information on that matter than did Brezhnev. He had already drawn the President’s attention to current plans to supply China with nuclear reactors produced under American license. Unfortunately, he had to note that he still had not received a satisfactory reply. But he would ask the President to take a look at the knot that was being tied there. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had urged Pakistan and India to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But Pakistan was now working on the development of its own nuclear weapons and was referring to India in this context. In fact, however, this was just a pretext. The Soviet leadership believed the statement made by the leaders of India to the effect that their country did not intend to produce nuclear weapons. This had been reaffirmed again just recently by Prime Minister Desai.2 At the same time, India was reluctant to sign the NPT at a time when the Western countries were engaged in helping the Chinese to build up their military might, including their nuclear potential. After all, the Chinese harbored territorial claims against India and were not at all averse to resorting to outright aggression against neighboring countries.

Turning to another subject, Brezhnev said it would be very important promptly to complete and sign a treaty on the general and complete prohibition of nuclear weapon testing. The Soviet Union had done a great deal in that direction, having met Western positions on a number of important matters. Speaking frankly, he would have to say that the CTB negotiations were being slowed and delayed, and by no means through any fault of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev expressed the [Page 596] hope that the United States and England will change their inflexible approach, in particular, to questions of verification. If that were done, all three partners could jointly and without further delay finalize their agreement on this important and necessary measure.

Brezhnev turned to the negotiations on reduction of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe. Together with its allies the USSR had made many efforts to reach an agreement that would be fair and equitable to all. President Carter, himself, and other leaders in Western Europe had noted the constructive nature of the Soviet proposal tabled in June 1978. Nonetheless, the negotiations are still marking time. Quite recently in Washington, the Soviet side had set forth its considerations on how to move things forward in this field by proposing that our two countries reduce their forces and armaments in Central Europe by way of a first step, without thereby prejudicing the fundamental positions of the sides at the Vienna negotiations, and for the time being, to leave aside everything that has been slowing down these negotiations. Unfortunately, in response, the Eastern countries had heard only the very same unacceptable demands on which the West had insisted all along at the Vienna talks. Brezhnev expressed the hope that this had not been the last word of the US side. If the United States was willing to reach agreement, the Soviet Union could take some very substantive steps in the context of the reduction of the level of forces in the first phase. Brezhnev asked Foreign Minister Gromyko to comment on this subject.

Gromyko noted that Brezhnev had already drawn attention to the importance of this matter and to the difficulties the Soviet side had come up against in Vienna. If one tried to get to the bottom of the complications besetting the talks, one would have to note that the Soviet Union was being told that it and its allies have a certain number of forces, and actual figures have been named. However, the figures cited exceeded by more than 150,000 the real strength of our armed forces and that of our allies. Gromyko repeated and stressed the figure 150,000. He pointed out that the East had said that it did not have those 150,000 troops, so how could it admit to their existence? Then, the East was told that if it did not recognize that number, it will be impossible to reach an understanding on the other matters being discussed in Vienna. The President interjected, “how do you suggest we reconcile this issue?” Gromyko continued by saying, when the East asked where that 150,000 figure came from, it received no answer. He could only conclude that the West had unreliable sources.

Gromyko said that in order to move these negotiations forward, the Soviets had recently made a second proposal. That proposal was a response to the questions the West had asked. The Soviet Union had suggested to circumvent the difficulties that had arisen at the negotiations by reaching a first understanding concerning the armed forces and ar[Page 597]maments of only the Soviet Union and the United States. In this context, the Soviet Union had made a specific proposal, suggesting specific numbers. But, in response, it had been confronted by the very same conditions that had been put forward at the general talks in Vienna; i.e., the question of current numbers. As a result, the talks are bogged down, and no progress is made. He would ask the President to take a fresh look at this business, because he felt that the present delay was entirely artificial. The Soviet Union felt that it would be a good thing if agreement could be reached by way of a first step between our two countries alone. The Soviet Union would like to see this happen and this is what President Brezhnev had emphasized in his statement.

President Carter thought that this was something that could be resolved today. He would ask Secretary Brown to represent him and meet with a Soviet representative this afternoon to engage in serious discussion and see if this matter could be moved forward.3 He believed that the suggestion of the Soviet Union that our two countries agree on a first step of reductions was a good one. Gromyko had asked what the difference in numbers in terms of data base consisted of. Secretary Brown would be prepared to discuss that, as well as the Soviet proposal, in an effort to move rapidly on this matter. The US side would be prepared to begin immediately after this meeting. Secretary Brown would represent the President and perhaps Brezhnev could choose someone to represent him in an effort to resolve this matter—perhaps today.

Marshal Ustinov remarked that Gromyko had somewhat underestimated when he said the difference was 150,000 men. The actual difference was closer to 180,000.

Gromyko said that he had named 150,000 as a minimum figure.

Marshal Ustinov said it would still be possible that Secretary Brown and he might fail to reach agreement, unless a decision of principle was taken at this table on a percentage reduction or on specific numbers of forces.

Gromyko pointed out that the Soviet side had named specific figures; i.e., 7% or 10%, or so many divisions and warheads on the Soviet side, and so many brigades and warheads on the US side. What was needed now was a decision in principle.

President Carter said he would like to see if this matter could be clarified. In his view, we did not have nearly so wide a difference as was assumed. Soviet troop strength could be discussed between Mar[Page 598]shal Ustinov and Secretary Brown, and he would agree that the first step be confined to Soviet and US forces. Secondly, we would like to explain to the Soviet side the basis for the disparity in numbers in detail. It might or might not be possible to agree on data. Third, we would like to discuss actual reductions that would be acceptable to both sides. To answer Gromyko’s other question, we had no choice between a proposal to reduce specific numbers or, if preferred, to reduce by certain percentages. Either method was acceptable to us as a basis for discussion. The Soviet proposal to reduce specific numbers was satisfactory to us in principle.

Brezhnev said that an understanding on these matters would be a first practical step by our two countries and would set a good example for the other countries involved in the negotiations in terms of lessening the high concentration of forces and weapons in Central Europe. He was certain that a step of this kind would have great political significance and would be widely applauded throughout the world.

The President said he agreed and suggested we try to resolve this today.

Brezhnev said he would welcome that.

Turning to other disarmament issues, Brezhnev first wanted to remind the President that the Soviet Union was firmly in favor of disarmament and in favor of a comprehensive agreement prohibiting the development of new types of weapons of mass destruction. The Soviet Union considered this to be a correct way of proceeding and was prepared at any time to begin practical discussions of this matter. Unfortunately, the United States and its NATO allies had not manifested such willingness to date. Well, the Soviet side would have to wait until the appropriate situation matured. But in the meanwhile, as he saw it, it might well be possible to reach agreement on such partial measures as prohibition of radiological weapons and prohibition of chemical weapons, mutual renunciation of the manufacture of neutron weapons and some other actions to reduce the scope of military competition between our countries and in the world at large. Here, again, he would ask Gromyko to review the general state of affairs.

Gromyko noted that the Soviet Union was engaged in negotiations with the United States on some other partial disarmament questions, apart from mutual force reductions. The radiological weapons negotiations were scheduled to begin literally three days after conclusion of the current meeting. In general, at these negotiations, the situation was encouraging. There were a few minor remaining differences which could probably be eliminated quickly. He hoped that this would be so and that both sides would make a major effort to achieve the goal of bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion. What was con[Page 599]templated in this area was the signing of an international convention on the prohibition of radiological weapons.

Turning to neutron weapons, Gromyko noted that the Soviet Union had tabled a proposal at the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, proposing that these weapons be prohibited and that both our nations be a party to such an agreement. The Soviet Union had stated its views on this matter more than once and, in particular, this had been emphasized repeatedly by President Brezhnev. The Soviet Union believed that the manufacture and deployment of weapons of this kind would be a major negative step that would adversely affect relations between our two countries and the international atmosphere as a whole. He would therefore express the hope that President Carter personally and the United States approach this matter seriously and that an agreement be reached which would serve the interests of improving relations between us and the interests of detente and peace.

Turning to chemical weapons and the possibility of reaching agreement to prohibit such weapons, Gromyko noted that the negotiations on this question are proceeding badly and in an unsatisfactory way. It would evidently be difficult to go into detail at this meeting, but he wanted to make two points in this connection. First, we had major differences between our views on questions relating to verification in this connection and, secondly, for an agreement on chemical weapons to be effective, it was important that all major powers, and certainly the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, join in such an agreement. What kind of an agreement would that be without the participation of China? Could one really agree to a situation in which the Chinese alone would have a free hand to manufacture chemical weapons? These were the major points to which he wanted to draw the President’s attention.

Turning to anti-satellite systems, Gromyko said that Secretary Vance and he had discussed this matter just two days ago. He did not believe it necessary to repeat what he had said to Secretary Vance. The President was well aware of the Soviet position. The difference between our respective positions was very great indeed, and he would ask the President to take a more objective look at this matter. An agreement could not possibly be one-sided, benefiting the United States alone.

When Gromyko turned to conventional arms transfers, the President interjected a few comments on the anti-satellite talks. We had not complained about the Soviet-manned Soyuz/Salyut flights, and had not asserted that they were anti-satellite systems. Our space shuttle will not be designed as an anti-satellite system. It was the very center of our space effort in the future. The President hoped that this would not be allowed to block progress in the talks because we are going to continue [Page 600] developing this vehicle. This was not a departure from our overall space effort, and if the Soviets took the position that the shuttle was being developed as an anti-satellite system, we would only assure them that it definitely was not.

Gromyko said that the Soviet Union was in favor of continuing these negotiations, but it would be impossible to reach agreement on the basis of the US position.

Returning to conventional arms transfers, Gromyko noted that the negotiations had begun some time ago and seemed to move right along, but then the representatives of the United States had proposed to discuss conventional arms transfers on a regional basis. In brief, the regions mentioned were those in which the United States was interested. When Soviet representatives mentioned other areas and countries of concern to both sides, US representatives had simply refused to discuss them. Such a unilateral approach could not possibly be acceptable to the Soviet side, so US representatives had simply walked out of the talks and had returned home. Thus, the conventional arms transfers talks were now in a state of suspense.

The President said with respect to conventional arms transfers that our position has been that we should not begin with areas where each country was deeply involved. We provide military assistance to South Korea and Japan, for example. The Soviet Union provided military assistance to Vietnam and Ethiopia. We would want to concentrate in the beginning on areas where there was not that much controversy, where our two countries were not involved by commitments of long standing.

Gromyko said the Soviet Union would be prepared to resume the conventional arms transfer negotiations.

Gromyko turned to the talks on the Indian Ocean and limitation of military activities in that area. He noted that the talks on this subject had begun at a lively pace, but then the U.S. had unilaterally suspended them and no discussions were in progress at this time. He thought that perhaps the United States might be prepared to resume the talks, but pointed out that in the absence of these negotiations the United States had continued its activities aimed at strengthening the Diego Garcia base, and in general had intensified naval activities in that area. The Soviet side was prepared to continue negotiations on this subject, but he wanted to draw the President’s attention to the fact that it would be impossible to do so without a change in the position of the United States.

As for the Indian Ocean, the President said that we had never renounced developing the Diego Garcia base. What had occurred was massive Soviet arms supply to Ethiopia and before that to Somalia, along with the presence of thousands of Cuban troops in the Horn. Now the Soviet Union was building up arms in Afghanistan. Thus, the [Page 601] situation had changed. In order to bring about a stable situation there had to be nonintervention and respect for international borders, and the Soviet Union nor Cuba would not inject themselves into regional military altercations. Such involvement caused us deep concern.

Brezhnev wanted to present another idea, suggesting that the two sides take a broad look at naval affairs. At one time he had already said that he did not think it was an ideal situation where the navies of the great powers cruise thousands of miles from their home territory for long periods of time, and the Soviet Union was prepared to resolve this problem on the basis of equality. The Soviet Union had proposed that Soviet and U.S. naval ships carrying nuclear weapons be withdrawn from the Mediterranean. The United States had not responded to this idea, however, but he still believed there could be an exchange of views on a bilateral basis and then involve other maritime countries as well. He would ask the President to consider this carefully. If that could be agreed in principle, he and President Carter might instruct their representatives to engage in a more detailed exchange of views.

In conclusion, Brezhnev said he recalled an idea put forward by President Carter in their correspondence, the possibility of exchanging advance notifications about the strategic exercises of the two countries. He said the two sides would need to specify such a discussion, but as for strategic forces proper, there is already a certain measure of agreement. There is a special clause in the SALT II Treaty on the advance notifications of test launches of missiles, but it would probably be worthwhile discussing further steps. Brezhnev said this concluded his considerations on the entire complex of issues involved in curbing the arms race but he wanted to say a few words regarding the Backfire.

Reading from a prepared statement, Brezhnev had the following to say on the subject of Backfire: as agreed in advance, he had made a relevant statement regarding this airplane yesterday. It would go without saying that the Soviet Union would proceed precisely from the exact text of that statement and cannot be bound by any unilateral interpretation of that statement.

Brezhnev then turned to a different subject. He said that, taking into consideration yesterday’s exchange of views, he suggested including in the Communique that each side states that it will not be the first to use nuclear or any other weapons on the other side or the allies of the other side.

President Carter asked that the U.S. have an opportunity to think about that wording. The President then turned to the Backfire issue. He said that it had been agreed before Vienna that the Soviet Union would confirm at the highest level that the production rate of the Backfire airplane would be no more than thirty per year. We had not received such [Page 602] confirmation, and that created a serious problem for us. He asked Brezhnev if that was his understanding.

Foreign Minister Gromyko interrupted and said there was no problem at all. What had been agreed before Vienna and what had been done in accordance with that understanding was that President Carter would make a statement to the effect that it was his understanding the Soviet Union would not produce more than thirty airplanes of this type per year. The Soviet side, for its part, would not rebut that statement. That is precisely what had been done, or rather not done, yesterday; the Soviet side had not refuted President Carter’s statement. This was strictly in accord with the previous arrangement, and therefore there was no difference between the sides. The Secretary of State knew very well that there had been one word in the statement that had stood in the way of complete agreement, but that word had since been removed, and therefore he could see nothing that would indicate any difference in views.

Secretary Vance wanted to state his understanding of what had been agreed. It was that the word “approximately” would be removed from the Soviet statement, and that the Soviet side would confirm here in Vienna that our statement was correct.

President Carter noted that now Brezhnev had said that the Soviet Union would not be bound by any unilateral interpretation of its statement. Gromyko said that they would not be bound by any unilateral interpretations of the Soviet statement but that would not apply to the U.S. statement on the rate of production.

Secretary Vance said his understanding was that the Soviet Union would not produce more than thirty Backfires per year. President Carter had stated that, but had received no confirmation from the Soviet side.

Brezhnev interrupted to state that the two sides had an identical understanding on this score. He said that the Soviet Union will not produce more than thirty per year.

President Carter said that was perfect.

Foreign Minister Gromyko said this should end the discussion of the Backfire. He added jokingly that President Carter loves concessions.

President Carter said that resolved the Backfire problem and it need not be addressed again.

The President wanted to make one more comment. He had outlined to Brezhnev several very specific and important thoughts and suggestions regarding future arms negotiations leading to SALT III.4 [Page 603] Brezhnev had not responded, but the President saw an area of agreement in Soviet willingness to halt the production of nuclear weapons and to reduce stockpiles, taking into account current stockpiles and the security interests of the sides. Secondly, he believed it very important that we agree and publicly say that we will not deliver nuclear fuel to any nation that is not under the NPT or under IAEA control. We needed to move forward on the comprehensive test ban. Personally, the President thought that a requirement for ten stations in a small nation such as Great Britain was excessive. Great Britain shared this view. If the talks failed for that reason, we were prepared to discuss with Prime Minister Thatcher the withdrawal of Great Britain from the talks so we can proceed to reach agreement on a bilateral basis. Third, the President thought that good progress could be made today on mutual and balanced force reduction if the discussions were continued between Secretary Brown and Marshal Ustinov. We needed to follow up further on President Brezhnev’s suggestion concerning notification of tests and exercises. The President hoped that before he left Vienna these proposals could be pinned down so that our discussions could be fruitful and not wasted.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 9, Vance EXDIS MemCons, 1979. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer on June 20; approved by Aaron. The meeting took place at the Soviet Embassy.
  2. Morarji Desai, Prime Minister of India.
  3. The memorandum of conversation for this meeting, June 17 at 3:30 p.m., is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Presidential Advisory Board, Box 75, Subject: Box 8.
  4. See Document 202.