3. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Anatoliy Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Affairs Assistant

Strategic Issues

President Carter began by stating he would like to move rapidly—aggressively—on arms control issues with the Soviet Union. He mentioned that he had been encouraged by the messages he received this summer from Secretary General Brezhnev. He would like to see Brezhnev’s good wishes translated into positive results. The President [Page 7] added that his Inaugural Speech2 and his recent letter to Secretary Brezhnev3 expressed his views on U.S.-Soviet relations.


Ambassador Dobrynin asked if the President had a timetable for SALT. The President was non-commital.

Cruise Missile, Backfire, and Missile Reductions

The President asked how Dobrynin felt about the cruise missile and the Backfire bomber in relation to SALT II. Dobrynin responded that the cruise missile should be included within the SALT II framework. With respect to the Backfire, Dobrynin said that the aircraft does not have a strategic capability. The President asked if the Soviet Union had tankers to refuel the Backfire. Dobrynin replied that he was not prepared to answer the question. He did, however, add that the Soviets would not go “intercontinental” with the Backfire. Secretary Vance asked if that meant the Soviets would not deploy the Backfire so that it would have a return capability. Dobrynin responded by asking “where would we put them?”

The President said that he preferred to separate the cruise missile and Backfire issues from SALT II. He indicated he wanted to confine SALT II to numbers, but that other issues would be open to negotiation later. Following a successful conclusion to SALT II, the President said, he would like to move quickly to reduce the size of our respective nuclear arsenals. The President said he would like to see the total number of nuclear missiles reduced, to several hundred. He added that we could, at that time, decide which would be sea-launched, land-based, etc.

The President stated his desire to reach a minimum number of missiles, one that would allow each nation to feel secure from a preemptive strike. He wanted the remaining missiles to be easily monitored and secure from destruction.

Dobrynin raised the question of ceilings on MIRV and the numbers of ICBMs. The President said he would like to see ICBMs reduced to 1,000 with one warhead apiece (100 kts).4

Dobrynin asked about range limitations for sea-based cruise missiles. The President explained that our population is located on the sea [Page 8] coast; the Soviet Union’s in the interior. A 600 kilometer range is, therefore, a threat. The President said that if we could agree on a lesser range for the sea-based cruise missile . . . 300–400 kilometers instead of 600—this might alleviate our concerns.

Throw-weight and Accuracy Advantages

The President commented that the Soviets have a throw-weight advantage. Dobrynin responded that the United States has an accuracy advantage and, therefore, their throw-weight advantage is necessary.

The President asked whether the Soviets would consider reducing their throw-weight advantage if we would forego escalating our quality advantage. Dobrynin responded that this might be considered after SALT II. To include this equation in SALT II would make it more complicated, he said.

Fixed and Mobile Missiles

The President asked whether the Soviets would forego the use of mobile ICBMs. Dobrynin said the Soviets have mobile medium-range missiles because of China. The President then asked about the SS–20 and the SS–16. The SS–20 is mobile; the SS–16 is not. The SS–16 has the range to hit the United States. The President mentioned that it is difficult for us to tell the difference between the two missiles.

Dobrynin stated that he didn’t see any difficulty in medium-range mobile missiles. He added that the Soviet Union has no need for long-range mobiles because it has sufficient numbers of fixed ICBM missiles. The President asked how we could confirm the difference between the two. Dobrynin said, “I will pass the question to my people.”

The President suggested the Soviets might consider keeping their present SS–20s, but adding no additional ones or new types of mobile missiles. He added that he would like mobile missiles eliminated. He again asked if Dobrynin could tell us how to distinguish between the two missiles.

Advance Notice of Missile Test Firings

The President indicated that he would like to reach a formal agreement with the Soviet Union to have advance notice—at least 24 hours—of missile test firings. This, according to the President, would allow us to avoid any misunderstandings on intentions. This advance notice would include sea-launched missiles. Dobrynin responded: “that is a good idea.”

Comprehensive Test Ban

The President asked about the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB). Dobrynin raised the issue of French and PRC compliance. The Presi [Page 9] dent responded that a CTB might be initialled for a limited time, such as 2–4 years. It would be subject to renewal. Both the United States and the Soviet Union would attempt to get France and the PRC to comply with the CTB. The President said he envisioned the test ban applying to peaceful nuclear explosions. Dobrynin mentioned that the Soviets have two peaceful nuclear explosions scheduled, although the dates have not been fixed. The President said his preference would be to stop all testing.

Dobrynin asked about the two nuclear treaties pending before Senate. He asked if the President supported them. The President said he did, but as first steps. Dobrynin said that he was not prepared to offer a Soviet view on peaceful nuclear devices. The President indicated that the United States had tested peaceful devices and had not been encouraged. The President went on to say that he would be willing to include in the Comprehensive Test Ban an understanding that would allow the Soviets to conduct their two tests, if observers were present. Dobrynin responded that “this is fair enough.” The President added, “We’ll try to get France and the PRC to comply.”

Compliance and “Matters of Concern”

The President asked for some assurance of compliance. He mentioned that Gromyko has said consideration should be given to on-site inspection. The President went on to say that he would like to be able to write Secretary General Brezhnev on “matters of concern,” such as compliance and other sensitive activities which might be susceptible to misinterpretation. Dobrynin responded that this would be “a good idea.” The President added that each side would reserve the right not to reply.

Civil Defense

The President said that he had another area of concern—Soviet civil defense. He told Dobrynin that Congressional leaders argue against arms control proposals citing the Soviet’s superior civil defense capability. Dobrynin said their capability was poor. The President said ours is worse. The President asked Dobrynin to consider the question of foregoing civil defense efforts: no future construction. Dr. Brzezinski mentioned this could be seen as an extension of the ABM agreement.


The President summarized his arms control views:

—a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons;

—reduction in the possibility of a preemptive strike;

—do the above in tangible terms so that “the world can see”;

—at the same time, reduce conventional weapons;

—also, both sides should cut down on international arms sales.

[Page 10]

Personal Correspondence

Dobrynin asked whether the President would be willing to state his arms control positions in a formal way before Secretary Vance went to Moscow. The President responded by asking whether it would be appropriate for him to put his thoughts in writing in a personal letter to Brezhnev. Secretary Vance said this letter would be a suggestion of things to be considered. Dobrynin said this would be “a good idea.” The President said that he would wait for Brezhnev to answer his first letter and then send a second letter with specific suggestions. He added that no one but Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, and Vice President Mondale would be privy to the correspondence.

Past Experience

Dobrynin mentioned that Brezhnev had raised several arms control proposals with Kissinger and others—including one on the Indian Ocean—and all had received “nos.” The President said this is a different Administration and he would like to pursue every proposal that Brezhnev initiates.

Functional and Regional Issues

Arms Sales

Dobrynin asked if the President had a proposal to reduce arms sales. The President said that any such proposal is complicated due to third nation involvement—France, Germany and to some extent the UK. He said that he would like to draft a specific proposal.


The President stated that our present concern is not so much a nuclear attack, but the Soviet buildup in the European theater. Dobrynin asked if the President really believed the Soviet Union would start a war in Europe. The President replied that the Soviet preponderance in Eastern Europe is not necessary merely for defense. Dobrynin said that the President should understand the psychological scars left by World War II. He said the Soviets have “no such idea” to start a war in Europe. The President said he would like to see substantial reductions in conventional arms in Europe.

The President said he would like to see the MBFR talks get off dead center and that we should make an effort to agree on force levels—minimum levels for mutual defense. Dobrynin said perhaps the Soviet Union and the United States could look at this issue on a bilateral basis. The President said we can’t conclude any MBFR agreement without full consultations with our NATO allies, but that we can, as leaders, move forcefully to reach an agreement.

[Page 11]

The President informed Dobrynin that the United States is going to address more attention to NATO.

Middle East

The President indicated that he would like to reach a Middle East agreement this year. He added that the Israeli elections complicate the situation. He said he would like to have Soviet support in reaching a Middle East agreement. Dobrynin commented that the Soviets are co-chairmen at Geneva.5


The President expressed concern over possible problems in Berlin. Vance referred to the quadripartite government in Berlin. Dobrynin said that under the quadripartite agreement,6 West Berlin is not a part of West Germany but Bonn apparently does not agree. Dobrynin said that that is “completely wrong.”

Africa and the Indian Ocean

The President mentioned that he is concerned about arms going to Africa and the Indian Ocean and the presence of Cuban soldiers in Africa. He said that if the Soviets would include Berbera in demilitarizing the Indian Ocean, then we could agree.

Secretary Vance said that the African situation is an explosive one and is crucial to our bilateral relations. Dobrynin said the Soviets are not interested in a confrontation in Africa. He added that the United States has connections with Mr. Smith,7 not the Soviets. Secretary Vance mentioned that putting conventional arms into Africa will hurt us all. Dobrynin said he would pass this word to his government.

Soviet/U.S./PRC Relations

Dobrynin asked the President to summarize his views on the present state of Soviet/U.S./PRC relations. The President responded that he was not experienced enough at this time to comment on the question but added that “we can’t ask the Chinese to do much until we [the Soviet Union and the U.S.] do.”

[Page 12]


Secretary Vance asked Dobrynin to convey to the North Vietnamese our interest in exploring relations. Secretary Vance asked Dobrynin to suggest to the North Vietnamese that they not push their admission to the UN too early and asked that the Vietnamese help us on the MIA question.

Human Rights

The President told Dobrynin that it is not his intention to interfere in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union by making human rights statements. He said he did not want to embarrass the Soviet Union, but that he felt it was necessary for him to express human rights concerns from time to time.

The President went on to say that he would like to restore normal trade relations with the Soviet Union and it would be helpful if the Soviet Union would respond on human rights issues. He told Dobrynin this would help him in dealing with Congress. He said he was encouraged by recent Soviet emigration rates.

The President said our commitment to human rights and our necessity to make public statements—on occasion—should not be misconstrued by the Soviets. Dobrynin responded that the Soviets have an abundance of human rights in their country, such as in health and housing. He mentioned that at some time the Soviets might feel it appropriate to comment on the Equal Rights Amendment.8 More seriously, Dobrynin said that he was concerned that the public debate on this issue would be disadvantageous to both sides. He said he believed that Brezhnev does not want to see the human rights issue become a test of wills between the two countries because then Brezhnev would be “forced to answer.” The President said we will try to be reticent and Dobrynin asked for “quiet diplomacy.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, Chron: 2/77. Top Secret. Brackets in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. In his memoirs, Dobrynin described Carter: “American historians describe his presidency as erratic, and in my country it is considered one of the unfortunate pages in Soviet-American relations, an assessment with which I am inclined to agree, although at the start he had had good intentions and wanted to develop stable relations with the Soviet Union. One of the main reasons for his failure was the incompatibility between his ideas, some of which were very good, and his ability to put them into practice. He lacked flexibility. Seeking to achieve the best, he would underestimate tangible assets. The most egregious example was in the field of disarmament. As he pursued the wonderful bird of his dream—a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons—he let go of the bird in his hand, the ratification of the SALT II treaty.” (In Confidence, pp. 374–375)
  2. For Carter’s Inaugural Address and his remarks to other nations on U.S. foreign policy, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 1–5. See also Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.
  3. See Document 1.
  4. An unknown hand wrote, “emphasized—Just as one tentative possibility” immediately following this paragraph.
  5. The Geneva Peace Conference failed to reconvene after its December 20–21, 1973, meetings. For documentation on the Geneva Peace Conference see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Documents 414416.
  6. Reference is to the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin, signed September 3, 1971, by the United States, Soviet Union, France, and the United Kingdom. The Berlin negotiations, which preceded the agreement, dealt with the status of West Berlin and access to and from the city. For more on the Berlin negotiations, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Documents 136 and 215. For the text of the Quadripartite Agreement, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 1135–1143.
  7. Reference is to Ian Smith, member of the Rhodesian Executive Council.
  8. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first proposed in Congress in 1923. It would guarantee that one’s rights would not be denied based on sex. Although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, the ERA was not ratified by enough states to become a constitutional amendment before the June 30, 1982, deadline mandated by Congress.