23. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT


  • Secretary Cyrus R. Vance
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
  • Mr. Paul Warnke
  • Mr. Philip C. Habib
  • Mr. William G. Hyland
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, (Interpreter)
  • General Secretary L.I. Brezhnev
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Mr. A.M. Aleksandrov-Agentov
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko
  • Mr. O.M. Sokolov
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, (Interpreter)

General Secretary Brezhnev opened the meeting and said to Secretary Vance that it was now time again to talk about business. Foreign Minister Gromyko had kept him fully informed of the current talks on SALT, as well as a number of other issues. Secretary Vance had given the Soviet side quite a long list of things to be discussed.

Turning to SALT, Brezhnev rhetorically asked what he could tell the Secretary on this subject. To his regret it was necessary to recognize that the discussion of this most important issue had so far not been very satisfactory.

The main reason for that was the unconstructive, one sided and, he would even say, non-objective nature of the position taken by the [Page 116] United States. Brezhnev had to tell the Secretary that the considerations the US side had set forth had been very carefully considered by him and his colleagues, and what he had to say here represented their common opinion.

That which Secretary Vance had set forth in his talks with Foreign Minister Gromyko was a repetition of a previous US proposal, regarding which the Soviet side had already informed President Carter and the Secretary that it was completely unacceptable; as for the new variant presented by the US side, it was equally unacceptable for the Soviet Union because of its one-sided nature. The United States was proposing things which, if one got to the bottom of them, objectively, and without indulging in propaganda were advantageous to one side only, i.e., the United States, and would harm the security of the USSR.

Brezhnev said that he had carefully followed the entire course of the current talks, and he had to point out that, just as earlier, we were here witnessing manifestation of a desire to pretend that there was no Vladivostok understanding; and yet, that understanding had been achieved as a result of the immense efforts of both sides, involving a great deal of hard work. How could one discard that to which the United States had given its consent at the very highest level? The Soviet leaders had wanted to believe the word of the United States as a state.

By way of another example of a one-sided, non-objective position at the talks, Brezhnev wanted to refer to the course taken by the United States and its NATO Allies at the Vienna negotiations on the Mutual Reduction of Armed Forces and Armaments in Central Europe. He knew that the Secretary and Gromyko had discussed this question as well. Indeed, the NATO countries did not even try to conceal the fact that they wanted to use these negotiations to improve their military positions in Europe, to the detriment of the Soviet Union and its allies. Did the US side really consider the Soviet leaders to be naive simpletons? Had the Secretary believed that the Soviet Union would agree to this? The answer was no; no indeed. It would be much better in a businesslike way to consider the possibilities of reducing the armed forces of the two sides, while still retaining the existing correlation of forces. This was the only reasonable and realistic way out of the present situation, and was in fact why these negotiations had been started in the first place. Brezhnev would most sincerely and insistently call upon Secretary Vance and President Carter to approach the major and important issues being discussed here, above all the problem of limiting strategic arms, in a less one-sided manner, and with an account for the legitimate interest of both sides, so as not to discard what had already been achieved.

Naturally, the Soviet leadership did not believe that, because the two sides had not been able to agree on the question of strategic arms [Page 117] limitation this time, the negotiations were doomed to failure altogether. There was still time to reconsider, and once again to talk. Brezhnev would like to hope that in time, in particular by the time of the Secretary’s forthcoming meeting with Gromyko in May, reflection might produce a wiser course.

At the same time, Brezhnev noted with satisfaction that on some of the specific issues discussed during the talks, as he saw it, some favorable prospects for further constructive discussions had emerged, and he wanted to express the hope that such discussions would lead to good results. He felt that objective possibilities were present, notably to reach an understanding on joint action on the Middle East problem where, as he understood it, both our countries were interested in seeing a lasting settlement achieved. As he understood it, Secretary Vance, too, had expressed the view that without interaction (vzaimodeystviye) between the US and the USSR there could not be an effective settlement in the Middle East.

On the whole, Brezhnev thought that the talks had been useful in terms of enabling the two sides to understand each other’s views, but that was not enough. If we wanted to move further in developing our relations and strengthening peace it was necessary to bring these views closer together, and that required new efforts by politicians and diplomats, as well as an appropriate psychological climate in the relations between our two states. Brezhnev wanted to call upon the leadership of the United States to promote such efforts and create an appropriate climate.

Brezhnev wanted briefly to address two more questions to which the Soviet side attached great importance, and which had already been touched upon in the course of the current talks. The first question concerned the transfer of strategic arms to third countries and non-circumvention of agreements through third states or in any other manner. This was not a new question. From the very outset the Soviet side had assumed, and had said so to the US, that without including appropriate provisions on non-transfer and non-circumvention in an arms limitation agreement, that agreement would lose its meaning to a significant degree. In the Soviet draft of the new agreement specific wording had been proposed to deal with these matters. He wanted to emphasize once again that the Soviet Union could not contemplate any agreement not containing such provisions. The other question concerned nuclear forward-based systems. Before Vladivostok and after Vladivostok the Soviet side had stated clearly that it did not regard the forward-based nuclear weapons issue as having been removed from the agenda. Moreover, as he had already stated, the Soviet side had proceeded from the premise that the US side would, at the time of signature of the new agreement, state that during the term of the new [Page 118] agreement it would not only not build up forward-based nuclear systems which, due to their geographical location were capable of reaching the Soviet Union, but would take steps to reduce them. The current position of the United States completely ignored this issue, once again confirming that Soviet concerns on this score were well grounded. In addition, this led the Soviet side to conclude that the question of US forward-based nuclear systems (the Soviet Union had no such systems) would have to be resolved within the framework of the agreement currently under preparation. Such were the thoughts that inevitably arose during an analysis of the current US proposals.

In conclusion, Brezhnev would ask Secretary Vance to transmit his greetings to President Carter, and to tell him of Brezhnev’s sincere conviction that an improvement in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, establishment of good-neighborly cooperation between the two countries, was entirely possible, given the necessary effort.

Secretary Vance said that he concurred with Brezhnev that the results reached in the current talks with respect to strategic arms were not satisfactory. Indeed, we were deeply disappointed that no progress had been made in our discussions of this subject, which was important not only for our two nations but also for world peace. The proposals we had presented had been prepared with seriousness and good will, and no intention at all to try and enforce a one-sided approach. We believed that the two proposals we had presented were fair and equitable to both sides. The proposal about deferral, we believed, was fully consistent with the accord reached in Vladivostok. The Secretary recognized that Brezhnev held a contrary view, but he would tell Brezhnev that we held our views with all seriousness. He said that he could not accept the suggestion that we had gone back on the word of the United States, and that we had cast it aside or had suggested matters that were inconsistent with the Vladivostok accord in our proposal to defer. In so far as our comprehensive proposal was concerned, we had indeed suggested steps that did go beyond the agreement reached previously, but this had been done with the objective of moving boldly toward true arms reduction in a fashion that would result in a balance fair to both sides, and in greater stability in the area of nuclear weapons. Brezhnev would note, of course, that our comprehensive proposal contained restrictions on cruise missiles, and that it also accepted as part of the package the earlier Soviet proposal regarding the Backfire bomber. The Secretary looked forward to meeting Foreign Minister Gromyko in May. At such time, they would be discussing questions relating to the Middle East, as well as any other subject that either party would choose to raise.

Referring to the Vienna talks on Mutual Balanced Force Reductions, the Secretary said that we had not asked the Soviet side to be [Page 119] naive. We were suggesting that the guiding principle at these talks be parity of manpower in the area, in other words, equality; equality had been the guiding principle in the strategic arms limitation talks from the very beginning, and should also be the guiding principle at the Vienna talks on conventional arms in Central Europe. According to our estimates, there was currently a difference of more than 150,000 in the land forces of the two sides in Central Europe. We believed that there should be an exchange of data to ascertain if our estimates were correct. If they were correct, of if they needed correction, then necessary steps could be taken to reduce manpower to equal numbers for both sides.

The Secretary also wanted to note with satisfaction that progress had been made on some matters, and a basis laid for further work which would advance our common interests in some areas. As he had already said, he looked forward to meeting Mr. Gromyko in Geneva to discuss how to proceed and work in order to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We had common interests and a common responsibility as co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference to bring about reconvening of that conference and to see to it that the Geneva Conference produced a solution that would give a just and lasting peace to this troubled area.

The Secretary noted that Brezhnev had asked two questions, the first concerning non-transfer and non-circumvention, and the second concerning forward-based systems. As for non-transfer and non-circumvention, the Secretary had already said, as Brezhnev knew, that this was one of the remaining issues to be resolved at the strategic arms talks in Geneva. That was one of the issues that could be addressed once the basic provisions of the new agreement had been determined. As for forward based systems, it was our view that they were not an appropriate subject for SALT, because these negotiations dealt with intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers, and heavy bombers. These negotiations did not involve our forward-based systems any more than they involved Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles or intermediate range ballistic missiles, such as the SS–20. If forward-based systems were to be included in the strategic arms talks, then obviously the Backfire bomber would also be covered, even though not deployed for intercontinental ranges. We believed that we should stick to our task, i.e., control strategic intercontinental nuclear weapons, and not theater weapons. Finally, the Secretary would point out that the Vladivostok Aide-Memoire contained no mention of forward-based systems.

Brezhnev said that in his remarks he had referred to many questions that had been the subject of discussion. He did not think there was any need to repeat what had already been said. He only wanted to say that he had listened very attentively to what the Secretary had said, and [Page 120] wanted to say again that the Soviet position was set forth very firmly in his concluding statement. He would ask the Secretary to convey these remarks to President Carter. He also suggested that the two sides issue a brief joint press communique regarding these talks.

Secretary Vance said he agreed. He had also listened very carefully to Mr. Brezhnev’s remarks, and would convey his message to President Carter.2

  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; reviewed in draft by Hyland; approved by Twaddell on April 16. The meeting took place at the Kremlin. Vance described this meeting in his memoirs: “I expected that after a day of study and discussions in the Politburo, the Soviets would come back with objections to specific aspects of our proposal and to our numbers and possible with counterproposals. This could provide a basis for serious negotiations. Consequently, when I next met with Brezhnev on the evening of March 30, I was angered at the vehemence and finality with which he rejected our SALT proposals. There was not even a hint of a counterproposal. He called our position ‘unconstructive and one-sided,’ and ‘harmful to Soviet security.’ It was evident there was no point in attempting to pursue serious negotiations on this trip.” (Hard Choices, p. 54)
  2. In Secto 3053 from Moscow, March 30, Vance summarized his meeting for Carter, Brzezinski, and Christopher. The telegram is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Trip File, Box 41, Vance, Europe and Moscow, 3/27/77–4/4/77: Cables and Memos, 3/15–31/77.