26. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT Negotiations


  • US
  • Marshall Shulman, S/MS
  • USSR
  • Georgiy A. Arbatov, Director of the Institute on USA and Canada

SUMMARY: At a dinner meeting in New York, Giorgi A. Arbatov, Director of the Institute on USA and Canada, filled in some background on Soviet reactions during and following our Moscow meetings and discussed some possible terms for future SALT negotiations.

I had dinner with Giorgi A. Arbatov, Director of the Institute on USA and Canada, on April 10. His account of the reaction in Moscow to our meetings largely confirmed information received from other sources, but in some respects went further.

The main elements of a common reaction of anger and puzzlement, Arbatov said, were:

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1. Disbelief that the US would cast aside the Vladivostok + January terms2 that had been reached with so much difficulty on their side. He said they kept waiting until the third day of the meetings to see whether “Vance had not brought something more.”

2. What loomed largest in the comprehensive proposal was the proposed cut in their ICBM force, which seemed transparently one-sided in its effect. If the intention was to encourage a shift to a more stable sea-based force on both sides, this could have been understood if we had not tried to accomplish it so fast.

3. From the Soviet point of view, the absence of proposals for ground and sea based cruise missiles seemed cavalier, and not even in the US interests, taking into account the situation that would exist in a few years in the absence of such limitations.

4. Brezhnev felt he had gone to great length to explain candidly the Backfire limitations and was angered that his efforts seemed to be ignored.

5. The Soviet intention had been to reject the two US proposals, not to close off negotiations or to create a crisis in Soviet-American relations, but they felt the President’s press statements immediately after the meetings’ close3 seemed to suggest that the US proposals had been deliberately intended to evoke a Soviet rejection for propaganda purposes. These statements contributed to Soviet uncertainties about the intentions of the US Administration. Background factors, he said, were the human rights campaign and the request for funds for VOA and Radio Liberty timed to coincide with the beginning of the Moscow talks.

Arbatov said he and his colleagues had debated two main theories about US intentions:

1. That the President may have genuinely wanted a substantial agreement, but because of inexperience tried to move too fast and ignored the logical starting point of the discussion as of January 1976, and may have been encouraged in this by people who did not want an agreement; or

2. That the President wished to produce a Soviet rejection that would justify further US military buildup and a general return to a confrontation relationship.

In discussing possible ground for future negotiations, Arbatov thought some elements of the US comprehensive proposal could be ac[Page 129]cepted, if the negotiations started from Vladivostok + January. As long as cruise limitations, ground and sea based, along with air launched, were included, he thought the Soviet Union could accept some reductions in the aggregates. He thought it possible that some parts of the comprehensive plan could be accepted in principle (on the Vladivostok model) at the time of the signing of SALT II, and other parts could be accepted for negotiation in SALT III. Speaking personally, he thought the Soviet side might consider limitations on flight testing, although with different numbers, and might be willing to consider limitation on mobile launchers, although he said some Soviet advisors thought mobiles could be stabilizing and could be made verifiable.4 (He added that they had not been inclined to consider separate elements of the comprehensive proposal at Moscow because they understood it was being presented as an integral package.)

With regard to procedure for the next steps, he was concerned that the May meeting with Gromyko was not the best forum, since people who knew more about SALT details needed to be involved, but he thought the process could at least be started through Dobrynin. He hoped the US would take the initiative and he thought it unlikely that the Soviet Union could or would.

He expressed personal regret that the circumstances were such that a warmer reception could not have been given to the Secretary, who was held in general high regard.

Arbatov will make what he describes as a “dull speech” at MIT this week, and will come to Washington April 16 for two weeks, during which period he mainly wishes to form a judgment about the intentions of the Administration.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 39, SALT—Chronology: (1/24/77–5/9/77: Tabs 11–19). Secret. Drafted by Shulman. A “C” in the upper right-hand corner indicates Carter saw it.
  2. Reference is to the SALT terms discussed by Kissinger and Brezhnev in January 1976. These are outlined in Brzezinski’s memorandum on SALT Negotiating History, February 2, 1977; see footnote 4, Document 1.
  3. See the March 30 press briefing, “President Carter Discusses Strategic Arms Limitation Proposals,” in Department of State Bulletin, April 25, 1977, pp. 409–414.
  4. Carter underlined “limitations on flight testing” and “limitation on mobile launchers” in this sentence.