206. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Carter-Brezhnev Private Meeting


  • U.S.
  • The President
  • Mr. Wm. D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • U.S.S.R.
  • President L.I. Brezhnev
  • Mr. V. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
[Page 616]


President Brezhnev, reading from prepared notes, noted that the meeting between him and President Carter was now drawing to an end. He thought that the President and he had good reason to say to themselves, as well as publicly, that this meeting had been necessary, useful and productive. Apart from the document they were going to sign today, which would be the visible and greatly important product of this meeting, it was also of great significance that the President and he had been able to exchange views on a broad range of issues. Of course, it could not be said that their views on all these issues coincided or even that they were close. However, they now had a better understanding of the positions and thought processes of each other, and that was also very important.

Prevention of War

In this private meeting Brezhnev wanted to present some additional thoughts. It was his view that the most important element that should determine the relations between the two countries, the ultimate objective here, as it were, was to establish the kind of level of mutual understanding and confidence that would completely rule out the possibility of war breaking out between the Soviet Union and the United States; and, even more, to create the kind of relationship that would bring about an understanding that in the event of attack on either of the two countries by a third nuclear power, or in the event of the threat of such an attack, the Soviet Union and the United States would join forces in repelling the aggressor. Ultimately, such a situation was entirely possible. If the United States and the Soviet Union had the kind of understanding he was talking about, it would hardly be likely that any third power would embark on such madness. Brezhnev recalled that he had already expressed this thought to Secretary Vance, and the Secretary had promised to convey it to President Carter. He would be pleased to hear the President’s reaction.


Partly in this same connection, Brezhnev wanted to speak to the President quite frankly about China, in particular, what in fact was ensuing from what the United States referred to as “normalization of relations with China.” He would not repeat everything he had already said on this subject in the correspondence between them. He would only say that, as time went on, it was becoming very clear that the warnings he had conveyed earlier had been fully justified. Rapprochement with China, which looked at world affairs through the prism of the inevitability of war, was a dangerous thing.

Brezhnev wanted the President to know that if some people in the United States ventured to use Peking’s anti-Sovietism to their own ad[Page 617]vantage, he would have to say outright that such schemes would not bring any benefit to the United States, but could inflict a great deal of harm. China’s very first acts after normalization of relations with the United States and Japan, particularly its aggression against Vietnam, have graphically confirmed that a policy of smiles and bows in the direction of the Chinese was totally unproductive, as demonstrated by events in Kampuchea and by China’s cynical aggression against Vietnam. These were graphic examples of China’s policy when it felt it could act from a position of strength. The Chinese leaders are given to taking up arms very easily, pursuing their own designs and relegating the United States to the doubtful role of covering their rear. Even now connivance with China is turning into aggression against neighboring states, and it is clear that China strives for complete hegemony in Asia. Of course, the Soviet Union was quite capable of standing up for its own interests, but could that also be said of India, Japan or the Philippines, for example? What would happen if the Chinese obtain access to Western markets, Western materiel and Western military technology? And yet, some allies of the United States manifest a great deal of active interest in providing China with such access, evidently with the approval of the United States. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that China is not bound by any international agreement relating to the limitation of nuclear arms, although even now China had many such weapons and also had good sources of primary materials.

Brezhnev said that he would not be frank with the President if he were not to point out that future encouragement by the United States of China’s hostile policy toward the Soviet Union would seriously aggravate Soviet-American relations, not even to mention the fact that headway in the area of limiting and reducing arms would become quite impossible. In brief, as he saw it, U.S. policy toward China has now reached a threshold beyond which it could only produce a drastic deterioration of the entire international situation. Brezhnev expressed the hope that Washington would not prompt events in that direction.

Brezhnev had another point to make in this connection. The President was surely aware of the fact that the Soviet Union consistently pursues a policy of peace and cooperation with all states and therefore was certainly in favor of normalizing relations with China. As the President probably knew, right now the government of China, after repeated proposals for normalization of relations by the Soviet side over the past several years, has expressed its willingness to engage in negotiations. The Soviet Union had agreed, although its leadership was not too convinced of China’s sincerity. The Soviet Union will try to reach agreement with China to put their mutual relations on an honest and correct basis of mutual respect, sovereignty of each other’s territory, non-use of force and non-interference in internal affairs. The Soviet [Page 618] Union had always been in favor of such relations. It will simply have to wait and see what the Chinese position will be.

Brezhnev wanted to emphasize to the President that if Soviet relations with the Chinese People’s Republic improve, the United States and other countries will have no grounds whatsoever for concern. The Soviet Union has never given the Chinese any opportunity to drag the Soviet state into any anti-American adventures, and will not do so in the future. The President could rest assured on that score.

Human Rights

Brezhnev now wanted to turn briefly to the so-called question of human rights. He did not consider this question appropriate for discussion at the official meetings between them. However, so as to leave nothing unclear, he wanted to tell the President the following: it would go without saying that each of them had his own views on human rights and freedom of the individual. The Soviet leadership did not object to these and other questions becoming the subject of ideological argument. Indeed, that was inevitable due to the different development of the social systems of each country. It was an entirely different matter, however, when questions of that kind were elevated to the level of official state policy and when attempts were made to exploit them in the relations between states. Brezhnev was far from any wish to engage in polemics, but he would trust that the President would agree that there could be little progress in our bilateral relations if, for example, the Soviet Union were to link trade and other ties with the United States to such questions as unemployment in the United States, resolution of the racial problem in the United States or equal rights for women. Naturally, the Soviet leadership could easily draw up a whole list of complaints of that kind, because there was a great deal they did not like in the social system of the United States. However, what would that lead to? It would be much better to leave questions of this kind outside of the framework of state affairs and to concentrate the efforts of each country on safeguarding the right of people throughout the world to live without war, under conditions of peace. Both countries must make every effort to safeguard that right. President Carter himself had said in one of his recent speeches, and quite correctly, that the most fundamental human right is the right to life. He would therefore call on the President to do all in his power to prevent the outbreak of another war.

Further Meetings and Contacts

Brezhnev now wanted to turn to the question of further meetings. As he understood it, the President favored holding such meetings on a regular basis. Brezhnev, too, believed that meetings between Heads of State should be held on a regular basis, but thought that they should not attempt now to set a rigid schedule. The important thing was to [Page 619] agree in principle, but as for specific timing for the next meeting, that could always be discussed and agreed upon later.

Naturally, Brezhnev would like to see the President visit the Soviet Union, and therefore tendered him an invitation to visit the Soviet Union whenever he considered this to be appropriate and at a time when such a visit was convenient for both sides. As for the President’s wish for regular contacts between the two countries at other high levels, he could see no problem with that suggestion. The two Foreign Ministers could continue their established practice of meetings and, if necessary, they could meet even more frequently, depending on the existence of specific matters requiring discussion. As for the idea the President had expressed concerning meetings between the military leaders of the two states, Brezhnev could state now that in principle he was not opposed to expanding contacts along that line as well, if that would be useful and properly reflect the development of Soviet-American relations. After all, the development of contacts of that kind was something new, and it must be properly understood and appreciated by public opinion in our two countries and in the world at large.

General, Further Contacts

President Carter wanted to say first of all that he had enjoyed getting to know Brezhnev personally and that he believed their meeting here in Vienna had been successful and will have great historic benefit for the world in the future. (Upon hearing this remark, Brezhnev seized the President’s hand and shook it vigorously.) The President noted that Brezhnev had invited him to come to the Soviet Union, and [he?] would like to do so, but since our President had made the last visit to the Soviet Union, he would ask if it would be possible for Brezhnev to visit us in the United States.

Brezhnev responded that it certainly will be possible. Whenever conditions for such a visit were ripe, he would be pleased to hop aboard an airplane and come to the United States. This was something he could not refuse.

The President said that we have appreciated this almost unprecedented chance for our military leaders to meet. We had not attached particularly great significance to their meeting, but thought that when circumstances in the future dictated such meetings, they might be very important.


The President now wanted to discuss the China situation. We believed that our having normal relations with China was good for us, good for China, good for the Soviet Union and for world stability and peace.

[Page 620]

Brezhnev interrupted and said: “Not for the Soviet Union.”

The President believed that it was good for the Soviet Union, too, and he would explain why. Whatever influence we have at this time or will have in the future on the leaders of China will be used to urge peaceful relations between China and the Soviet Union and all other countries. We will never let relations between us and China be at the expense of the Soviet Union, nor will we ever permit an alignment to develop between us against the Soviet Union.

Brezhnev interrupted and asked: “Why don’t you prod them to sign an agreement with us?”

The President said he will be pleased to do so, because we believe that this would be good for the United States. We will keep the Soviet Union informed about our relations with China and would appreciate it if the Soviets keep us informed about their relations with China.

Brezhnev said they could well do that.

The President said that we had nothing to conceal from the Soviet Union. There are some relations between the Soviet Union and the United States that are of both symbolic and substantive significance and are very important for us. The President had no desire to embarrass Brezhnev, but would like to speak frankly on these issues.

Telemetry Encryption

The President noted that all our missile test firings are over the ocean and the Soviet Union is able without obstacles to monitor the firings of our missiles. We do not encrypt telemetry data and until quite recently the Soviet Union had never encrypted data from missiles covered by SALT. Only with SS–20 missiles did the Soviets formally encrypt telemetry data. Of course, SS–20s were not covered by SALT, but during the last few months encryption of telemetry from strategic missiles had caused us great concern. As Brezhnev knew, we have peaceful observation stations at sea, in space, and in a few nations in his part of the world—formerly in Iran. The Iranian stations used to verify the SALT agreement could no longer be used. This has not been a secret operation, nor was it designed to act against the Soviet Union. It was only used to verify compliance with the very important SALT agreements. In order partially to replace this capability we would like to fly airplanes over Turkey on peaceful missions for the purpose of verifying compliance with our bilateral agreements. We were not asking the Soviet Union to approve, but only to let the Turkish government know that the Soviet Union would not object to such flights, or let us inform the Turkish government to that effect without the Soviet Union contradicting such information.

(At this point Brezhnev was handed a typed briefing paper by his interpreter, selected from what was evidently a stack of talking points on various subjects.)

[Page 621]

Flights over Turkey

Reading from a typed brief, Brezhnev said he had the following to say with regard to so-called additional measures on verification related to SALT II. From the very beginning of the strategic arms limitation process the two sides had agreed to adhere to the principle of verification by national technical means. There were no grounds whatsoever to alter that principle in any way. He would have to say objectively that the efforts of the U.S. side appeared to be aimed at altering that principle, when the U.S. seeks to combine verification by national technical means with cooperative measures. This does not mean, of course, that the Soviet Union is against such measures. In fact, some cooperative measures are already provided for in the SALT II Treaty. They can also be the subject of further consideration during SALT III, but they should fit into the framework of verification by national technical means. As for the specific question raised by President Carter, the Soviet position regarding flights of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over Turkish territory, close to the borders of the Soviet Union, is well known and hardly needs to be set out again. Brezhnev would only add that nothing in that position would change even if the U.S. side were to propose that this matter be resolved on the basis of reciprocal exchange, providing for flights of Soviet airplanes from Cuban territory. Questions affecting the sovereign rights of other states cannot be the subject of an exchange of operations between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.

President Carter said that this is an important matter to us. It is important in building mutual trust between our countries, and it is important for ratification of the SALT II Treaty. Although he would not pursue this matter further today, he would ask Brezhnev to consider carefully the mutual benefit to be derived from a more forthcoming response from the Soviet Union.

Brezhnev said that he could not refuse the President’s request to consider this further. He would do so and see if some way could be found to resolve the matter. This was as far as he could go now.

U.N. Forces in Sinai

President Carter said he had another difficult subject to raise with Brezhnev. That involved the United Nations monitoring Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. We did not expect the Soviet Union to approve the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty; we were aware of Soviet concerns in that connection. However, the United Nations force was there now, specifically charged with monitoring Israeli withdrawal. We simply wanted to ask that the Soviet Union not veto in the Security Council an action to continue their present function.

(Brezhnev was handed another brief by his interpreter.)

[Page 622]

Brezhnev said that in the course of the correspondence between him and President Carter he had not concealed that the Soviet Union was resolutely opposed to any attempt to sanctify a separate Egyptian-Israeli deal through the authority and prestige of the United Nations, inter alia through involvement of the U.N. forces presently in the Sinai. Whatever arguments are marshalled in favor of continuing the presence of U.N. troops in that area, such presence would mean complicity of and association by the United Nations in actions which cannot lead to lasting peace in the Middle East, but only the opposite. To expect the Soviet Union to support such a force in this matter would be hopeless.

President Carter said he understood but disagreed with2 Brezh-nev’s response. We will do whatever is necessary to assure that monitoring of the withdrawal is adequate, and will attempt to work as closely as we can with the Soviet Union in this matter, and also concerning Lebanon and other troubled areas of the Middle East.

Soviet-American Cooperation

The President said he wanted to mention three other subjects that should not be difficult for Brezhnev. He hoped that Brezhnev and the other members of the Politburo will examine very carefully the statement the President had made yesterday regarding the trouble spots of the world and the need for the Soviet Union and the United States to consult closely and, whenever possible, to cooperate. Also, he hoped that very careful consideration will be given to the written note the President had given Brezhnev concerning the possibility of future arms agreements.3 We consider this to be very important, and the President hoped that it would be given careful consideration. He hoped that as early as possible the two sides would provide some means to consider these ideas together.

Brezhnev said that the Soviet approach to SALT III, based on principle, has been set forth here, inter alia last night. As for the specific questions President Carter had raised and included in the memorandum referred to, Brezhnev doubted if he could go into them today. They require further reflection and analysis in the context of other SALT III issues.

The President agreed and said that as he had listened to Brezh-nev’s statement, he had seen much in common.

[Page 623]

Human Rights

Finally, the President wanted to say a few words regarding human rights. He had been very careful while in Vienna4 not to make any statement that would embarrass Brezhnev or aggravate the situation. The people of our nation had been warmly gratified by the actions the Soviet Union had taken on its own initiative and without any pressure from us. The President pointed out that he was a Baptist. Fourteen million Baptists had been very happy to welcome Mr. Vins in our country. Nothing the Soviet Union could do to increase friendship between us would be as significant as allowing Mr. Shcharanskiy to come to our country. The President recognized the difficulty for the Soviet Union posed by the human rights question. He simply wanted to let Brezhnev know that the more liberal human rights attitude5 referred to had been gratifying to us, once it became known that the Soviet Union had taken the action referred to.

Reading from another typed brief, handed him by his interpreter, Brezhnev said that the Shcharanskiy matter dealt with a man who had been convicted by a Soviet court for espionage for the benefit of a foreign nation. He said that he could not do anything that would violate Soviet laws.


Summing up, Brezhnev thought this morning’s discussion had been very good.

The President acknowledged that he, too, believed they now understood each other better as a result of the Vienna meetings. There were some things of particular importance to us and some things that were important to the Soviet side.

Brezhnev said that he had been told a great many things about President Carter and President Carter had probably been told as much, if not more, about Brezhnev. Now that they had seen each other and spoken to each other, they knew that they could speak frankly without offending each other. If at times some question or other did not lend itself to immediate solution at their level, it might best be left for discussion and, if possible, action by the experts of the sides.

Brezhnev presented President Carter with a few copies of the books he had written, in the original and in English translation, each copy autographed by himself.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, President’s Personal Foreign Affairs File, Box 5, USSR (SALT II Summit, President’s Personal Notes), 6–10/79. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer on June 19. The meeting took place at the U.S. Embassy. Carter initialed the memorandum.
  2. Carter added “but disagreed with” to this sentence by hand.
  3. See Document 202.
  4. Carter added “while in Vienna” to this sentence by hand.
  5. Carter crossed out the typewritten word “occurrence” and inserted “more liberal human rights attitude” by hand.