36. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US-Soviet Relations


  • US
  • Marshall D. Shulman, Special Consultant
  • USSR
  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin

SUMMARY: Dobrynin stressed the need for a quiet period in US-Soviet relations. SALT was the touchstone for progress in the relationship, and downgraded other issues as secondary in importance.

Ambassador Dobrynin came to see me at his request, following the signing ceremony of the US–USSR Science and Technology Agreement.2 He appeared to have two missions in mind: to review current US-Soviet relations, and to discuss possible measures for their improvement.

Administration Intentions

On the first score, Dobrynin quite obviously was occupied with gathering material to answer queries from Moscow about the President and his intentions. “Does he really want a SALT treaty, or is he using the issue for political and propaganda purposes? Does he really want to improve relations? If so, why does he repeatedly violate our sensitivities, and particularly, Brezhnev’s?” He added, “I don’t want to make invidious comparisons, but although Henry [Kissinger] was as strong an anti-communist as anyone, he understood and observed the civilities of the relationship, whereas it is hard to know whether this Administration deliberately violates them, or does so out of inexperience.”

I replied first by affirming that it was my impression that the President was strongly committed to serious arms control negotiations, and to an improvement in relations. I said that we are also puzzled about Soviet actions. I cited the negative Soviet reaction to the President’s B–1 decision,3 and the overreaction to the CSCE monitoring report. On the [Page 157] B–1 issue, he said that what caused the negative Soviet reaction was the way Secretary Brown treated the cruise missile issue. “Why did he have to say that the US will proceed to develop the 1500-mile air-launched cruise missile, SALT or no SALT, when this is not an issue in SALT? I had difficulty in restraining my military attaches from reporting that SALT was dead.” On the CSCE monitoring report, he said he had reported that the President and the Secretary had made efforts with the leadership on the Hill to handle the report quietly, but what created the difficulty in Moscow were the two personal references to Brezhnev in the report. (COMMENT: This is puzzling, because the references to Brezhnev are minor and neutral) and because any document signed by the President is assumed in Moscow to carry his personal views.

Moscow Atmospherics

“You must understand,” he said, “that the atmosphere in Moscow at the top is as emotionally wrought up as I have ever known it to be. It is, however, better than it was a month ago, when Brezhnev was close to saying, ‘the hell with them, we’ll go our own way without them!’”

He said that there had been a strong debate in Moscow about whether to send Patolichev on his recent visit to Washington, and that his own cabled recommendation had swung the decision. “I told them that there could be no movement on the trade issue right now, but that the visit could be useful anyway in improving the atmosphere.”

A Quiet Period

In turning to the future, he urged that we try for a month or two of quiet relations, damping down the public statements and counterstatements (he emphasized that all the Soviet statements had been reactions to things said in this country) to let the feelings in Moscow subside. He urged us not to take TASS statements as necessarily representing the views of the Soviet leadership.

The Summit

He thought the prospects for a summit meeting were good, that both sides wanted it, and expressed personal conviction that it would be useful. He reiterated the familiar Soviet position that Brezhnev would want documents (presumably SALT-related) to sign at a summit. He hoped that he could have a tete-a-tete with the President before a summit, to give him a feeling for Brezhnev’s personality and ensure that the two men bring a reasonably light touch to the discussion of their differences.

Future Moves

I asked what measures he thought the two countries could take now that would have a useful effect. He tended to dismiss the CTB and [Page 158] Indian Ocean negotiations as not very promising, because the United States, in his view, did not seem prepared to make any substantive movement. “It appeared to us that in the case of the Indian Ocean, the US only wished to ratify the status quo.” Movement on MBFR negotiations could be a useful step, he said, but again the US was too concerned with building up Germany to respond to the fact that the Soviet Union had “indicated its willingness to accept the Western first-phase proposal.”

I asked whether some measures of cooperation on global and North-South relations could be possible. He said that it was his personal view that in Moscow this would be regarded as an effort to create minor diversions from the main business of SALT.

We discussed a number of other possible measures to improve relations, one of which seemed to have some tentative enthusiasm behind it—an exchange of interviews by the President with a Soviet newsman, and by Brezhnev with an American newsman—which he thought might help to dispel current misapprehensions on both sides.

The most important measure, he emphasized again at the conclusion of our conversation, was to have a period of quiescence in the relationship for the next month or two.

  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 3, MDSDobrynin, 7/8/77. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. For the text of the US–USSR Science and Technology Agreement, signed July 8, 1977, see Department of State Bulletin, August 8, 1977, p. 190.
  3. On June 30, President Carter announced his decision to cancel the B–1 bomber program. Carter’s statement and the Soviet reaction are summarized in Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1977, pp. 28591–28594.