315. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

38. Subject: Ambassador Watson’s Farewell Call on Foreign Minister Gromyko.

[Page 922]

1. (S-entire text)

2. I received word late Sunday morning, January 4, from the MFA that Gromyko was prepared to receive me for a farewell call on him at 3 pm that same day. At the meeting Gromyko explained he was going on leave and that, unfortunately, he would not be available to attend a farewell luncheon that the MFA wanted to give for me, so he wanted to take this opportunity, with apology for the short notice, to say goodbye. He was very courteous, friendly and in a relaxed frame of mind. I expressed my appreciation for the working relationship we had established during the number of meetings we had together, despite the fact that many of those meetings were confrontational because of the issues involved. Gromyko quipped that although some of our encounters may have been confrontational, “at least we didn’t pound our fists on the table and the people waiting outside the room didn’t hear such pounding.”

3. I informed Gromyko that Jack Matlock was coming here as Charge prior to the designation by the incoming administration of a new US Ambassador. I also told him that I expected to remain active in US-Soviet affairs at this particularly difficult time in our relations. I was saddened by the state of the relationship, but hopeful that ultimately we could work out our differences on some of the key issues which separated us. In any case I wanted to do what I could to develop US-Soviet relations.

4. Gromyko, while avoiding any mention of the word “detente” commented on US-Soviet relations as follows: You came here as Ambassador when some cold streams of air blew into our relationship. I do not want to use harsher words than that. I personally feel that when there were sharp turns in our relations you did not consider this a very inspiring situation. Indeed it did not inspire anyone who wanted to develop good relations between the two powers. I don’t want to dwell further on the matter but wish to concentrate on a positive point. It is the view of the Soviet leadership—the State, the Party, and President Brezhnev personally—that, objectively, there exist conditions for the US and for Soviet Union to find a common language on international issues, especially the crucial issues. But if such a common language is not found, we believe that these issues—even if they have to be left open—should be considered on a policy plane. Confrontation should be entirely ruled out of our relationship. This is what we mean when we say we want to have peaceful coexistence with countries of different socio-economic systems. I believe the same formula has been prevalent in the US as well. It is the view of the party and of the leadership that we want to live in peace with the US. Of course it would be even better still if we could maintain friendly relations. Nevertheless, and even without friendship in the profound sense of that word, we believe we [Page 923] can live in peace with one another and seek solutions to common problems. That is to say that we can have normal relations. I listened with satisfaction when you said you favor the positive development of US-Soviet relations. If this will continue to be your position, it will be to the mutual benefit of our two countries.

5. I made the point to Gromyko that there should be no misunderstanding: my basic position on US-Soviet relations has not been in variance with that of my own government’s and I was in agreement with my government’s policies. Gromyko commented that he did not wish to imply that I have ever taken a different position from that of the US Government, but that he was referring mainly to the inauspicious circumstances of the situation between our two countries. I emphasized that among the crucial issues facing our countries I want to give primary attention to strategic arms control. Both sides are grossly overarmed and, given the differences in the political systems of our two countries, we could easily turn toward a collision course. The present challenge was to do what was necessary to get relations on a better track and to establish a viable and coherent relationship which would respect the basic security interests of both sides.

6. At the end of the meeting, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, Gromyko said that he, personally, and the Soviet Government, in general, would work with my successor in a cooperative and businesslike manner.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 84, USSR: 11/80–1/81. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.