302. Summary Memorandum of Conversation1


  • United States
  • Secretary Muskie
  • Marshall Shulman Special Adviser to the Secretary
  • Reg Bartholomew Director, Political-Military Affairs
  • Robert L. Barry, Deputy Assistant Secretary, European Affairs
  • Dmitri Zarechniak, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • Minister Gromyko
  • G.M. Kornienko First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • A.N. Dobrynin Ambassador to the U.S.
  • V. Isakov Deputy Director, USA Division
  • V. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

Secretary Muskie opened the conversation by pointing out the importance he attached to face-to-face meetings as an effective way of moving toward accommodation. The President had called him this morning and asked to have his best wishes passed on to Brezhnev and Gromyko.

The Secretary said that he and Gromyko had listened to one another’s speeches and thus their discussion had already begun. There were many differences but both sides also sought positive results. He wanted to begin the discussion where possibilities for accommodation were greatest.


Pointing out that we wanted to avoid new areas of misunderstandings Secretary Muskie said we were deeply concerned about the unfortunate outbreak of hostilities between Iraq and Iran.2 This conflict was taking place in an already unstable part of the world and could endanger our hostages as well as Western oil supplies. Our aim is to end hostilities immediately and we are pursuing this goal through the UN and other international efforts. We favor a meeting of the UN Security Council and a cease-fire resolution as a means of obtaining an immediate end to hostilities.

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Gromyko said he wanted to begin by giving the Soviet perspective on the current international situation. Both the international situation and US-Soviet relations have become more complex lately and tension in the world is to a large degree due to the deterioration in US-Soviet political relations. US-Soviet economic relations have virtually been broken off. Cultural relations which had been maintained in earlier periods of tension were not disrupted. Contacts on various levels—which had earlier served as a means of developing relations as well as demonstrating their level—had withered away.

The cause of this deterioration is US policies directed at the worsening US-Soviet relations, Gromyko said. The US has recently violated many agreements, understandings, and promises. The US administration has set out to destroy the principles of equality and equal security on which relations between two great nations must be founded. Brezhnev and Carter both recognized this principle in Vienna and formally declared their allegiance to it. Now, as demonstrated by the rapid growth of US military budgets, the US is not observing this principle.

Gromyko pointed out that the new tension in international relations was reflected here at the UNGA. This is not the fault of the Soviet Union, which does not want a deterioration in US-Soviet relations. This is demonstrated by the decisions of the 25th Party Congress, Plenums of the CPSU and decisions of the Supreme Soviet supporting the development of normal and good relations with the U.S. The USSR wants to put relations back on a normal track where both sides respect each other’s legitimate interest. We call upon the US government and the US President to follow a similar policy.

Turning to the Iraq-Iran situation, Gromyko said that despite recent tense relations, the outbreak of military conflict had been somewhat unexpected at least to us. It is in the interests of the region and the world not to let the conflict spread but to extinguish it. In the Soviet view, no country—neither great powers or others—should interfere in the conflict. The USSR will follow this course on the understanding that others do so as well. From US statements it appears that the US intends to pursue this same line. If so, this would be a positive development.

Gromyko went on to say that in the Soviet view it would help the situation if the US would withdraw its very powerful Naval force from the Persian Gulf. Its very presence creates greater tension. So far neither Iran nor Iraq has cut oil communications or access to oil resources. The USSR was opposed to the presence of the US fleet in the area before but is all the more persuaded that its presence is unjustified at present.

Secretary Muskie responded to Gromyko’s comments on the general international situation by pointing that attitudes of governments are affected by their peoples’ perceptions of actions of other governments. As superpowers, the US and the USSR are especially sensi[Page 885]tive to each other’s actions. Once confidence has been undermined, it is very difficult to restore.

The Secretary said that he had long believed in a policy of accommodation and before the SALT process had begun had urged a delay in deployment of MIRVs as a means of avoiding a new spiral in the arms race. As Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he had watched Soviet defense expenditures climb steadily from the early 1960s to the present. Throughout this period the US had been ready to accept equality, although a minority disagreed with this policy. Most Americans supported increased contacts and saw the prospect of building an enduring peace.

Since then, a single act—the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—had turned the situation around. There had been a good prospect of getting SALT II ratification in January after televised TV debates in the Senate had shaped public opinion. The Soviets have their version as a justification for invading Afghanistan, but the US sees it differently because we and our Allies rely on Persian Gulf oil. This is a vital US interest in an area far removed from us logistically. This explains our naval presence in the region, although we had tried to hold this to a minimum before Soviet actions in Afghanistan.

Naval powers create fleets to defend their vital interests, Muskie continued. The Soviets have been recently developing a Navy which sailed the Pacific, appeared near the straits of Malacca and off US shores. We see this as legitimate. The US Navy in the Persian Gulf is not contributing to war but may restrain the combatants. The fact that Iran has declared the Straits a war zone is causing shipping to back up and threatening a cut-off in oil flows. If Iran and Iraq began to stop vessels, what would happen? The presence of the US fleet is designed to restrain, not to provoke. It makes no sense to argue that the US presence is provocative.

The Secretary repeated that it was urgent to call for and implement a cease fire as soon as possible before one side gained an advantage over the other. At present, both parties want to obstruct a Security Council meeting. (Gromyko said he agreed.) It would be best if the non-aligned called such a meeting or the Islamic countries, but everybody wants someone else to take the first step. Thus we are immobilized.

Muskie said that US relations with both Iran and Iraq were poor. We had cancelled the sale of civilian planes to Iraq as well as the sale of US engines for Iraqi ships in hopes of exercising restraint.

In sum, Muskie said, the US was making two contributions in order to end hostilities:

—Encouraging a Security Council meeting.

—Using diplomatic channels to promote a cease fire.

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Gromyko agreed that our countries need to have confidence in each other. But he decried the flood of US hostile propaganda against the Soviet Union. All aspects of Soviet life are attacked by people totally unconcerned about facts. This takes place every day in the US, including at the top levels. The Soviet Union and its foreign policy are described as the epitome of evil. This kind of propaganda is “not our style,” Gromyko said, and we carefully weighed our reaction. Finally we concluded that it would be a sign of weakness not to reply.

In the US we recognize that the tone of the media is set by the Administration, which is following a policy designed to prejudice the legitimate interests of the USSR. It is true that our confidence has been undermined by this official Washington line and we do not know how much time it will take to restore it.

Turning to SALT II the USSR believes that if the US Administration took a stand for ratification this would not be hard to achieve. But we are uncertain if Administration statements to the Congress are designed to support ratification or undermine the Treaty. Objectively they undermine it. A typical statement devotes one phrase to saying the Treaty is mutually advantageous and then devotes 25 phrases to undermining it. In fact the Administration pigeon-holed the Treaty before the Afghanistan question arose. In this connection, Secretary Muskie’s references to the Afghan question won’t work.


Gromyko went on to say that he would like to state the Soviet position on Afghanistan so that it would not be necessary to return to this question. The USSR has described the real situation in its correspondence with the President and the Secretary and Gromyko explained it to Muskie at Vienna. The USSR sent in its limited contingent in accordance with the Soviet-Afghan Treaty and Article 51 of the UN Charter—a very good article which the US and the USSR wrote at San Francisco. We said from the outset that we would withdraw as soon as there is a guaranteed end to armed intrusions from the outside and if there are effective agreements between Afghanistan on the one hand and Iran and Pakistan on the other.

Gromyko said that he believed that the US did not in fact doubt that the Soviet Union would live up to its word. If we didn’t, what position would we be in? The US simply does not wish to admit this publicly.

The continued incursions into Afghanistan are the fault of Pakistan and Iran is also not without sin. While large-scale gangs no longer cross the border, small bands of terrorists burn and loot the villages. You won’t win this war, Gromyko said. We will keep our word and won’t get out until there is a guaranteed and secured end to outside intru[Page 887]sions. The Soviet Union questioned whether the US could not look seriously at this question and give its good advice to Pakistan so that they would enter into contact with Afghanistan and develop good relations with them. Recognizing the state of affairs between the US and Iran, the USSR would not ask us to use our influence there but Iran would follow Pakistan’s lead. The Pakistanis should not use the excuse that they do not like the present Afghan leadership since the Afghans hardly respect Pakistan’s leaders.

If agreement can be reached, Soviet forces would withdraw and Pakistan would have nothing to fear. Pakistan should have no apprehensions about Afghan territorial claims against them. The Soviets knew there were no such claims. However, if this remains a question in Pakistani minds they can raise it when talks begin.

Gromyko said there had been some talk on an international conference on Afghanistan which the USSR considered totally unnecessary. There could be no question of such a conference discussing the internal situation in Afghanistan. As for the situation between Afghanistan and its neighbors, this must be discussed between them.

Indian Ocean

Gromyko went on to describe the US effort to build bases far from US shores as an effort to threaten the USSR and encircle it. This poisons the general atmosphere between our countries and is opposed by countries of the region. The US has refused to discuss the Indian Ocean while it is grabbing a new military bridgehead. The US should approach this question from a broader perspective.

Secretary Muskie said that if the USSR thought it was being treated badly in the US press, they should pay more attention to President Carter’s press clippings. Skepticism about one another’s intentions is easy to generate but based on his long experience in the Senate, the Secretary said he could testify to this Administration’s good faith on SALT II. It took time to head off amendments and convert them to understandings which would not destroy the Treaty. But SALT II was never pigeonholed and had been ready to be acted on.

Concerning the future, the Secretary said the President had made SALT ratification an issue in the campaign. This was not an easy decision since promoting a Treaty while Soviet intentions were in doubt was unpopular. The President took a courageous decision because he believed in the issue. The President, the Vice President, Secretary of Defense Brown on “Face the Nation” Sunday,3 the Secretary in his many speeches had begun an effort to build support for SALT II. They hoped [Page 888] to make the Treaty better understood and to make people understand the consequences of a no SALT world. We would make an effort to obtain ratification early next year or before; it was a long shot but worth the effort.

On the question of equality or equivalence, the US is committed to it. We can’t have Arms Control on any other basis. This is common sense—though not to all. Some believe in superiority but this is impossible.

Turning to Afghanistan, the Secretary said that we see no basis for saying that self-determination is at work in Afghanistan. The government which the Soviets say invited them in did not survive their arrival. Babrak was installed by Soviet forces. Gromyko interjected that Afghanistan did not have a tradition of elections and Muskie responded that they didn’t have tradition of governments installed by outside invaders either.

Muskie said we agree on the need for political settlement. But the question was how to arrive at this point and gather support in Afghanistan. A political settlement without the support of the Afghan people would simply lead to new Soviet intervention. There might be a basis for further US-Soviet dialogue on this question, but the Secretary wanted to eliminate all misunderstanding. Withdrawal was essential to the normal, good US-Soviet relations we want to have.

Concerning the Indian Ocean, Muskie said he understood how US deployments might be misunderstood by the Soviets but when a nation has vital interests far from its shores, it logically uses its Navy to defend these interests. The Soviets assert a right to be involved in Cuba close to the US. The US is prepared to discuss Naval limitations in the Indian Ocean when the Afghan situation is resolved.


Muskie went on to propose talks in Geneva to begin at an agreed date in October on TNF. The US proposed that its delegation would be at the level of ACDA Deputy Director Keeny and that the initial round would last about one month. We are prepared to deal positively and constructively with the issue. We did not think the description of the talks should be a problem. Questions of scope could be addressed in the negotiations themselves. We wanted to describe the discussions as preliminary since we did not want to give the impression of moving to SALT III before SALT II was ratified. This would only encourage those Senators who wanted to avoid a vote on SALT II.

Gromyko began by objecting to what was published in the US concerning Soviet military budgets. He went on to raise a question which he said was relevant to SALT II or SALT III, claiming that the US has taken steps to undermine SALT II by developing a new type of strategic [Page 889] weapon which goes beyond the provisions of SALT II. Both SALT II and SALT III had to be founded on the principle of verifiability by national technical means. The US is underestimating the importance of that principle, and the Soviet Union has not yet said its final word on that subject.

Concerning TNF, Gromyko said that the Soviet Union had not developed any new type of weapon but had only more or less compensated for steps the US had taken to modernize its weapons in Europe. At no time had the Soviets achieved equality, given the presence of US bases in Europe. Referring to the Brezhnev-Carter exchange of letters and Gromyko’s exchange with Muskie in Vienna,4 Gromyko said Soviet views had been clearly formulated. We are prepared to discuss US FBS in Europe and medium range nuclear systems organically as one problem. In the US, one sometimes hears that you want to discuss medium range systems only and overlook the other half. We are not simpletons to forget the second half of our position. We want you to take this into account so that you will see what is going on.

We have agreed to an exchange of views. It is up to you whether you call them preliminary or not. We agree that whatever can be agreed to would be implemented only after SALT II has been ratified. We are agreeable to be represented at the same level as you. Our man will have the rank of our representative at SALT II negotiations at the latter stages in Geneva.

Gromyko said the Soviet side was agreeable to start talks in the week beginning October 13 in Geneva. The decision should be made public by a short joint formulation which could be worked out now or in a few days.

PD 595

Gromyko asked to continue to make one more point. There is a strange and worrisome thing going on in the US which is new. It is a cult of war, and a nuclear war at that. The concept of limited nuclear war and a lowering of the threshold of nuclear war is being drummed in to the ordinary American man. The Americans are beginning to think about the acceptability—or the inevitability—of nuclear war. There is a military fever with civilians scaring the military and the military scaring the Administration. This really worries the Soviet Union and we cannot fail to reach the conclusion that the US is preparing for [Page 890] the first strike. If the Soviet Union did the same thing, nuclear war would become inevitable.

Gromyko asked the Secretary to inform the President on behalf of Brezhnev that the Soviet leadership wants to know where this doctrine is leading. They want a reply to the question. This is not like allocating agenda items to committees in the UN but a truly serious matter. Gromyko asked the question be posed to the President.

Gromyko then turned over Brezhnev’s reply to President Carter’s recent letter.6

Secretary Muskie said that the Soviets posed a legitimate question about PD 59, one he had looked into himself. The US had no intention of acquiring a first-strike capability and didn’t believe the Soviets did either. In any event, strategic capabilities are determined by weapons, not by doctrine alone.

The purpose of the new US doctrine was to cover the full range of deterrents. PD 59 succeeds NSDM 2427 issued at the end of the Ford Administration. It reflects an evolutionary change from this doctrine, not a sharp departure. The evolutionary change is caused by changes in weapons themselves—their accuracy and numbers.

The US does not believe that a limited war is conceivable and thinks that use of nuclear weapons will escalate to a full scale exchange. But we believe that a flexible doctrine is necessary in case someone else may consider nuclear war conceivable. The Secretary said he would convey Gromyko’s comments to the President and that he recognized the need to avoid any misunderstanding. This could be explored in the context of the SALT process.

Iran and the Persian Gulf

The Secretary turned over a copy of the attached non paper8 which he first read aloud to Gromyko.

Gromyko said the US statement had “piled word upon word.” In light of what he had already said concerning Soviet policies, the US statement was wide of the mark. He urged the United States not to intervene and to keep hands off the region. Gromyko said he had already set forth Soviet policy concerning Iran and the Persian Gulf.

Gromyko asked if we planned to publish our statement and said the USSR would make a suitable response in that case.

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Secretary Muskie said we had no intention of publishing our statement and agreed that it should be considered part of their confidential conversations.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of alternate formulations for an announcement concerning TNF talks. Secretary Muskie objected to the Soviet draft on the grounds that it specified limitations on nuclear arms “in Europe.” Gromyko objected to the US draft on the grounds that it did not specify what nuclear arms were to be discussed and thus left the impression that we were moving into SALT III.

The following formulation was subsequently agreed upon for release at 5:30 p.m. September 25.

Joint U.S./Soviet Announcement

At their meeting on September 25, Mr. Muskie and Mr. Gromyko had an exchange of views regarding the beginning of discussions on questions of limiting nuclear arms which were raised in previous contacts between the parties. As a result, an agreement was reached that representatives of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. would meet in Geneva the week beginning October 13, 1980 in order to begin the discussion of this question.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 58, Chron: 9/21–30/80. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Barry. The meeting took place at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. In the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum, Carter wrote, “Predictable propaganda. J.”
  2. In September 1980, clashes took place along the common Iran and Iraq border, concentrated most heavily along the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Territorial possessions along the border were contested by Iraq, who had repealed just a few days prior the 1975 treaty which mutually agreed on a common Iran–Iraq border in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. (John Kifner, “Iraq Asserts it Sank 8 Iranian Gunboats, Shot Down Fighter,” The New York Times, September 22, 1980, p. A1)
  3. September 21.
  4. See Documents 298, 299, and 301 for the Brezhnev and Carter letters. See Document 278 for the meeting between Gromyko and Muskie in Vienna.
  5. Presidential Directive 59, “Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy,” was issued on July 25. PD 59 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy.
  6. See Documents 299 and 301.
  7. National Security Decision Memorandum 242, “Policy for Planning the Employment of Nuclear Weapons,” was issued on January 17, 1974. The text is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973–1976.
  8. Not found attached.