204. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Fourth Plenary Meeting International Issues


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Mr. Hamilton Jordan
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. Joseph Powell
  • Mr. David Aaron
  • Mr. D. Arensburger, Interpreter
  • Gen. David Jones
  • U.S.S.R.
  • President L.I. Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Marshal D. Ustinov
  • Marshal Ogarkov
  • Mr. G. Korniyenko
  • Mr. L. Zamyatin
  • Mr. Ye. N. Kochetkov
  • Mr. V. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

President Carter said that he was very gratified with the spirit of detente which had originated in Europe under President Brezhnev’s leadership, and with how this spirit contributed to peace. He hoped that detente could spread elsewhere in the world. Brezhnev had pointed previously to protecting the interests of our countries and our allies. The best way to do this is to have full and frank discussions. This will be done this afternoon. Though some of these discussions might be unpleasant, the President believed that it would be best to speak in a full and frank fashion.

There were some areas in the world where the U.S. and its allies had absolutely vital interests, for example, the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. In areas like these, which were so sensitive, maximum restraint on both sides was essential to avoid a serious confrontation.

In other troubled areas, peaceful solutions were always preferable. He was referring to such areas as the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. In these areas it was important for both of us to try to discourage armed combat and bloodshed, and to encourage peaceful resolution of differences.

The extensive military activities of Cuba were of deep concern to the American people. We regarded Cuba as a proxy of the Soviet Union, a surrogate or at least an ally, which was being supported, financed and equipped by the Soviet Union. There were some 40,000 Cuban military personnel throughout Africa, and Cuba was becoming increasingly active militarily in interfering in other countries, including in the Caribbean area and in Central America.

The President said that we have been deeply concerned by the violation of international borders in Southeast Asia. Vietnam had fifteen divisions in Kampuchea and shows no inclination to withdraw from this incursion. We were also concerned by the violation of the Vietnamese border by the People’s Republic of China. At this time the Soviet Union was becoming more and more active in naval and military activities, using Vietnamese ports and facilities which causes us grave concern.

[Page 605]

The President realized that in some instances our two countries had different perspectives, but he wanted to consult with the Soviet Union and cooperate where possible.

In Namibia, we were trying to achieve through the UN an independent country with a government of its choice. Similarly, in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia we were trying to resolve that conflict to the satisfaction of the people of that area in a peaceful way. On the Middle East, our two countries have had differences of opinion in the past and in the present. The President had tried to bring together all parties in Geneva, including the Soviet Union, with a view to finding a solution to the differences in the Middle East. This was some two years ago, but Syria and a number of other countries refused and no progress had been made. President Sadat had taken an initiative—the President would add that this was without consultation with us—and went to Jerusalem. Much progress had been made by Israel and Egypt. This was consistent with UN Resolutions 242, 338 and others, as well as the Joint Statement between the U.S. and the USSR. It was a fact that Israel was withdrawing from the Sinai. Israel was prepared to negotiate treaties with all its neighbors. Palestinian rights, under the Camp David accords, would be preserved. Security of all states was to be guaranteed. The President hoped that the Soviet Union would give its support and encourage other states to join in this process. Total Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was part of a process as prescribed by the UN. UN supervision was important. We would expect all Security Council members to approve such UN supervision by UN emergency forces. But the U.S., in the interests of a peaceful resolution of these differences, was pledged alternative supervision if that was necessary. However, our strong preference was for a UN force.

The President continued that the United States had an interest in stability throughout this entire area of the world. In the past we always had good relations with Iran, though now they were not nearly as close as before. We had no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Iran or Afghanistan, but would endorse the independence of both these countries. It endangered U.S. lives for Soviet broadcasts to allege the contrary. This was of concern to us.

The President, turning to the People’s Republic of China, said that he was aware of the Soviet concerns as Brezhnev had stated on several occasions in his letters, but we felt that after 30 years, normalization of relations between us and the People’s Republic of China was long overdue. We believed that this new relationship would contribute to peace and stability not only between the U.S. and PRC but in the whole world. It was not directed against other countries of the world. We expected an increase in trade and an expansion of scientific and technical and cultural exchanges, but this would not be done at the expense of re[Page 606]lations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union which we considered very important. We had nothing to conceal from the Soviet Union regarding that relationship.

The President concluded that he hoped that an exchange based on those views which he had given and which no doubt Brezhnev would be presenting today, would be productive. Inevitably, we would have differences on how to resolve some problems between us and among other countries. But the President wanted Brezhnev to understand and trust our intentions. He was eager to listen to Brezhnev in order to understand the Soviet concerns. He was sure that peaceful solutions of these differences would serve better relations between the U.S. and the USSR.

In fact, the President hoped that Brezhnev would agree with everything he had said.

Brezhnev said that before setting forth his considerations on international problems, the subject of this meeting, he wanted to refer briefly to the questions he had mentioned earlier this morning regarding further negotiations on SALT,2 that is, in addition to the considerations he had already expressed in Vienna. He did not want to address in detail all the questions raised by the President. There could be differences of view on all of them and it was difficult to predict what decisions will come out of the forthcoming negotiations. However, it was impossible to escape the fact that before these talks developed into full scale negotiations it was necessary to consider a number of questions of principle. For one thing, the follow-on agreement had to involve not only the systems of the U.S. and the USSR, but also those of other nuclear powers. Second, there must be full clarity to the effect that the follow-on agreement must relate substantively to the forward-based systems of the U.S. and its allies, because, as was widely known, these systems were targeted against the Soviet Union and its allies. Third, underlying the follow-on negotiations—and this was the holy of holies from which the Soviet Union would not depart—must be the principle of equality and equal security and the necessity of taking into account all factors affecting the strategic situation. At present, it would be abnormal to negotiate some kind of annual reductions, say by 5 percent, in the levels of strategic offensive arms, independently of the other problems involved in SALT III. In other words, it was necessary to give further consideration to the follow-on negotiations. At this time, we should ensure prompt entry into force of the SALT II Treaty which has been fully approved and which we will be signing tomorrow.

[Page 607]

Brezhnev wanted to begin his discussion of international problems by making several general observations. The Soviet Union approached very seriously the matter of reaching some common understanding and even a degree of cooperation with the U.S. in world affairs. The Soviet Union attached major significance to this and was prepared to act in the appropriate spirit. This made it all the more important to make note of the factors which were preventing this. He already had occasion to note that mutual understanding and, to an even greater degree, cooperation between our two states, including cooperation in international affairs, was greatly hampered when one of the sides was attributing changes in the world, movements for national liberation and independence, as well as for social progress, to the malevolent will of one of the sides. Brezhnev had been told that a rather strange theory had gained currency in the United States, a theory known as the arc of crisis, according to which the Soviet Union was allegedly reaching from Western Africa to Southern Asia, seeking to surround the Middle East, to the detriment of the United States and western countries in general.

Brezhnev wanted to say that this entire theory was an absolute fairy tale. Given such an approach to international events, it was hardly possible to make progress in international relations, including the settlement of world problems in which our two countries certainly could cooperate. Frankly, the Soviet Union was quite amazed at how light-heartedly some corners of the world were being declared spheres of vital interests of the U.S. This was not only contrary to elementary norms of international law, but also complicated the international situation even more when there were sufficient complications as it was.

Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union was sure that the U.S. and the USSR were able to make a major contribution to present international developments, not by sowing fear and by suspecting the intentions of the other side, but by strengthening understanding and businesslike cooperation. That would help to resolve pressing international problems. In this connection, it was always necessary—not in words but in deeds—to respect the independence and sovereign rights of every state and not to permit a manifestation of great power politics nor interfere in the affairs of other states. The Soviet Union wanted to interact with the U.S. in international affairs and if relevant understandings were reached and carried out—without an attempt to gain at the expense of others—Brezhnev was sure that there would be no lack of areas of cooperation of regional and worldwide importance.

Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union attached particular importance to European affairs. This was understandable, of course, because a large part of the Soviet Union was located in Europe and because its destiny was linked to Europe. Moreover, the situation in Europe has always exerted a major, at times a decisive, influence on the situation in [Page 608] the entire world. It was the chief concern of the Soviet leadership that neither the Soviet people nor any other people in Europe ever live through what the Soviet people had experienced in the years of World War II as a result of the Hitlerite aggression. That was the firm resolve of the Soviet people and the Soviet leaders. Brezhnev was able to say with satisfaction that the political situation in Europe today was better than ever in the past and that the normalization of relations between our two states has played a role in that process.

Brezhnev continued that naturally, the Soviet Union, as well as the U.S., had to take into account reality. This reality was that Europe included neighboring countries with different social systems and that both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had allies and friends in Europe. Brezhnev could say for his part that the Soviet Union accepted this situation as constituting reality. Whether within the framework of the socialist commonwealth or in its relations with Western countries or in terms of its European policy in general, the Soviet Union did not pursue an anti-American course or try to prejudice legitimate interests of the United States. And certainly the Soviet Union was not spreading among the public the thought that the United States was an adversary or an enemy of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev wanted to expect a similar approach on the part of the U.S. with respect to the Soviet Union and its interests.

Brezhnev continued that the European situation did, of course, include elements which raised concern, such as efforts aimed at lop-sided, Brezhnev would even say self-serving, interpretations of the provisions of the Final Act of the European Security Conference, when some provisions were emphasized more than others in order to use them as part of an effort to interfere in the internal affairs of other states. In Brezhnev’s view, it was in our mutual interest to implement all the provisions of the Final Act and to do so in a spirit of constructive cooperation and good will. After all, that was the very essence of the Helsinki conference and of the document adopted at that conference. It was in this spirit that the Soviet side planned to approach next year’s Madrid meeting. He trusted that the U.S. would pursue a similar approach and that there would be no repetition of the negative experience of the Belgrade meeting.

Today the climate in Europe was quite healthy, but such a climate could hardly be imagined in the absence of military detente on the continent. The Soviet Union saw the situation as follows. There long since has taken shape an appropriate balance of forces between the two military groupings. The Soviet Union accepted that balance, did not upset it and did not intend to upset it. However, of late, NATO countries have accelerated their military preparations to such an extent that questions arise about these military preparations. Could it be that the United [Page 609] States and its allies were no longer satisfied with such a balance and that they had decided to gain military superiority? If that was the situation, what sort of cooperation, what sort of strengthening of peace was that? That would mean a new round in military competition. The Soviet Union, for its part, believed that the only way of ensuring security and lasting peace in Europe was to preserve the existing balance of forces and to reduce them on both sides without changing the existing correlation of forces. Accordingly, the Soviet Union was in favor of military detente.

Brezhnev continued by saying that it was his particular wish that the States-Parties to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe conclude a treaty on refraining from first use of nuclear or conventional arms in Europe. Was it not clear that this would create a healthier climate in Europe and between our two countries? To be quite honest, what objections could there be to that? In this area, in addition to the Vienna discussions that had been discussed, the USSR and its allies had submitted a package of specific proposals to the Western countries. All these proposals were still on the table and an answer was being awaited.

Brezhnev recalled that the Warsaw Pact members had recently proposed holding a conference at the political level with the participation of all the European countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada, to discuss and agree on practical measures of military detente in Europe, including confidence-building measures. Could a favorable reaction to this initiative be expected from the U.S.?

In conclusion, Brezhnev wanted to note that not everything was well with implementation of the Quadripartite Agreement regarding West Berlin, yet that was an important element in European stability. We had created that agreement in a spirit of cooperation and clearly it was in our mutual interest to suppress attempts to undermine that accord.

Turning to the Middle East, Brezhnev said that he presumed the President was well acquainted with the Soviet position of principle in its appraisal of the U.S. policy. Brezhnev had written to the President about it. Now, at this personal meeting he wanted to re-emphasize it. The fact that the October 1977 Soviet-U.S. understanding on joint action in the Middle East was violated and supplanted by an anti-Arab policy argued nothing good for the people of that region nor for the relations between us. Brezhnev thought that it was clear to everyone now that the Egyptian-Israeli treaty3 had failed to tranquilize the Middle Eastern [Page 610] situation, but it has aggravated it. He called attention to the indignation and determination of the Arabs and noted the war which Israel, protected by Egypt, was in effect waging in Lebanon. This could at any time grow larger. It was necessary to prevent a resumption of armed conflict along the lines of the 1967 war, to prevent a major conflagration.

Therefore, unfortunately, said Brezhnev , the positions of the U.S. and the USSR were fundamentally different at this time and not through any fault of the Soviet Union. To be frank, the Soviet Union would resolutely oppose any efforts to use the UN to bolster the separate deal between Egypt and Israel, be it by using the present UN troops in the Sinai or in any other manner.

The position of the Soviet Union with respect to the Middle East remained the same as it was all along. The Soviet Union believed that there would be no firm peace there without the complete vacating of the Arab territory occupied in 1967 and without an opportunity for the Palestinians to set up their own state, without ensuring the security of all nations in that region, including Israel. As before, the Soviet Union considered it desirable for our two countries to interact on Middle East issues, using earlier UN resolutions as a foundation.

Brezhnev then turned to Southeast Asia saying it was again becoming a dangerous flashpoint of tension because of the dangerous expansionist and jingoist policy of Peking in this region. It had proved possible to put a stop to China’s aggression against Vietnam and the Chinese were forced to withdraw, though not from all of it, from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Nevertheless, Peking once again is threatening to teach Vietnam another lesson, evidently having failed to learn the lesson that it itself had been taught. China has assumed the right to teach lessons and Peking is the seat of constant military aggression. So long as there was any claim to a right to intervention, there would remain a danger of war, especially in Southeast Asia. In fact, Peking makes no secret that its goal is to involve the world in a war so they can remain on the sidelines. This time the people of Vietnam have heroically rebuffed the Chinese aggressors. In this instance, the Soviet Union had manifested great restraint and had acted very responsibly in its actions. However, there was a limit to all self-restraint. The Soviet Union had assumed obligations with respect to Vietnam under its treaty of friendship with that country. He was sure that if the Chinese leaders were firmly told that methods of dictation, blackmail and threats were inadmissible in international relations and that the world would not tolerate Chinese aggression, there would be no need to be concerned over the situation in Southeast Asia. Brezhnev believed that it was on this that efforts should be focused in the first instance.

[Page 611]

Brezhnev said that as far as Soviet cooperation with Vietnam was concerned, this was quite normal between two friendly countries, especially taking into account the military threat to Vietnam from Peking. As for Kampuchea, it would seem that one could only be happy that the people of that country had revolted and had finally freed themselves from a regime of rapists and killers imposed by Peking, a regime which the U.S., too, has called abhorrent and inhumane. The new government of Kampuchea was trying to end the chaos and restore the economy and the dignity of its people.

Brezhnev concluded by saying that their one and only concern is that enduring peace should reign in Southeast Asia and he called upon the United States to endorse that goal.

Brezhnev turned to Africa by saying that clarifying the situation with respect to Africa was long overdue. The peoples of this area were asserting national independence and overcoming the economic and political legacy of colonialism. The question is whether to promote the process or slow it down. As for the Soviet Union, it has consistently spoken out for full liquidation of the legacy of colonialism and racism in Africa and it respected the rights of all the peoples of Africa, without exception, to peace and independence. The Soviet Union did not pursue any other goal. The President should not believe absurd tales to the contrary. The Soviet Union did not seek economic or strategic advantages in Africa. The Soviet Union did not strive to infringe on anyone’s interests. This applied equally to Southern Africa, but wherever colonialists impose bloodshed on the African peoples, the victims are free to take the path of armed struggle and in this they deserve the support of the Soviet Union. But no one could accuse the Soviet Union of being opposed to a peaceful solution, if it is a genuine transfer of power to the Africans and welcomed by the Africans themselves. The Soviet Union would welcome it if the Western powers would make efforts to this end. But the Soviet Union opposed neocolonialism by the former colonial and racist regimes. If this was a full implementation of the UN resolutions regarding the Republic of South Africa, Rhodesia and Namibia, which called for an end to the delivery of arms and to assistance to racist countries, no one could claim that the African Continent was a center for conflict between the forces of the USSR and the U.S. After all, in the face of acute and explosive events such as those which occurred in Iran, our countries had succeeded in remaining calm and sober and thereby had prevented a confrontation. Brezhnev believed that such a policy should be adhered to in the future as well.

Brezhnev went on to say that the Soviet Union’s traditional friendship with Afghanistan was not aimed against any third country. In this country the people had made a social revolution of which, as Brezhnev had occasion to tell U.S. Senators, the Soviet leadership had first [Page 612] learned from foreign broadcasts and from the wire services. He added, “yes, that is the way it was.” Naturally, it was in the nature of revolutions that a struggle was taking place against the forces of the old regime. But this did not provide grounds for outsiders to incite or provoke anti-government riots. Unfortunately, such interference was occurring. Brezhnev wanted to hope that the United States would not participate in such actions, that instead it would develop normal relations with Afghanistan.

Brezhnev said that again and again the U.S. was raising the matter of Soviet relations with Cuba. He wanted to say that the Soviet Union complied strictly with the 1962 understanding. It had done nothing nor was doing anything that would be contrary to that understanding. This understanding should be continued without eroding or unilaterally interpreting this understanding. Here and there it was asserted that the Soviet Union was using Cubans to interfere in other areas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cuba was an independent country and as an independent country Cuba rendered assistance at the request of legitimate governments which were threatened by aggression. This was fully in accord with international law and the UN Charter. Perhaps those in the U.S. who were so vociferous concerning the Cuban actions have forgotten that during the American War of Independence the ranks of General Washington’s army contained foreign units. On the other hand, Brezhnev could cite genuine instances of U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries and, of course, he could draw on them to cause tensions in U.S.-Soviet relations. But the Soviet Union had no desire to do so.

One concern that the President had spoken of today pertained to a military buildup in Vietnam. The Soviet Union could not understand such a concern. The Soviet Union had no bases in Vietnam and had no intention of establishing such bases. Soviet ships entered Vietnamese ports for business and for friendly visits. Individual Soviet aircraft landed at Vietnamese airfields. But that was normal and generally accepted practice in international relations. It was not aimed against the interests of the U.S. or its allies. The threat to peace came from China, which had already carried out blatant aggression against Vietnam and which was now openly threatening to teach Vietnam a new lesson. As for Soviet assistance to Vietnam, it was being provided to a victim of aggression, under the friendship treaty with that country, and was designed to compel China to come to its senses and to refrain from its expansionist policy.

Brezhnev continued that there was one other destabilizing factor in the Far East, one which did not originate with the Soviet Union. He was referring to the major military bases in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Many such bases were being maintained by the U.S. near the [Page 613] borders of the Soviet Union. Aircraft carriers with nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines were cruising the seas near Soviet territory and calling at ports of other countries located near Soviet territory. He asked who in these circumstances has cause for concern. Brezhnev said in conclusion that these were the considerations he had wanted to express on some international problems.

The President thanked Brezhnev for his remarks. He had listened with great attention and trusted that Brezhnev, too, had listened with equal attention and interest to our concerns. Obviously, there were differences of opinion on a number of issues, but the President believes this only emphasized the importance of continued consultations in the hope of understanding each other’s attitudes. Despite regional differences, which caused real concerns, the meeting in Vienna and the signing of the SALT II Treaty constituted an important step toward peace and could serve as a foundation on which further progress in our relations can be based. The President promised to hand over to Brezhnev after the meeting a private note, discussed this morning, outlining some ideas which could be pursued in future negotiations. He hoped that we could continue our efforts and that future success in SALT could be realized more rapidly than in the past.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Presidential Advisory Board, Box 75, Subject: Box 8. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Arensburger. The meeting took place at the Soviet Embassy.
  2. See Document 203.
  3. The Egyptian-Israeli Treaty was signed March 26, 1979, and provided for, among other things, each country’s recognition of the other, cessation of the state of war, and Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.