44. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US-Soviet Relations


  • US—Dr. Marshall Shulman, S/MS
  • USSR—Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

At his request, I had lunch with Dobrynin August 23. His main purpose appeared to be to get an additional reading on the Administration’s approach to the forthcoming negotiations on SALT, and to the general relationship.

Dobrynin first asked whether the dates he proposed to Secretary Vance for Gromyko’s visit to Washington (September 22–23) would be convenient for the President. I said that I would try to find out.

Later in the conversation, Dobrynin came back several times to the question of what the President really wants of the Soviet-American relationship, and of a SALT agreement. Although I repeated the strong impression I had several times expressed to him before that the President seriously desired a stabilization of the strategic military competition, and an improvement in Soviet-American relations, it was clear that this question remains a continuing uncertainty in his mind.

In the discussion of SALT, Dobrynin opened by asking my impression of the prospects. I said that from the American point of view, it was discouraging that the Soviet Union had been negative and uncre[Page 186]ative; that we had no sense of feedback to our ideas. I had the impression that the Soviet Union was hoping that public pressure would bring about a shift in the American positions, but if this is so, it represented a serious misreading of US public opinion, the main force of which was in the other direction. I expressed the hope that at Vienna Gromyko would address Soviet concerns and American concerns in a forthcoming spirit, with ideas of how we might find common ground on the main issues. If this were done, I expressed confidence that he would be met by the same spirit on the American side.

In reply, Dobrynin emphasized that we must understand the psychology of Brezhnev’s situation. He had invested a great deal of effort, and against substantial opposition, to reach the Vladivostok agreements and, said Dobrynin, he simply could not go to the Politburo and say: “Well, the Americans have rejected the agreement we reached. What other ideas shall we put forward?” The only chance of forward movement, Dobrynin thought, would be for the US to say to Brezhnev: “We understand your commitment to Vladivostok, and we start from there. But there have been changes in technology and other factors in the three years since Vladivostok, and this is how we propose to take account of those changes.” I said this was essentially what the framework agreed upon at Geneva sought to do, but he replied that our proposals, to have a reasonable chance of acceptance, had to reflect a willingness to accept parity, whereas it appeared to the Soviet leadership that what we sought, in our effort to reduce the Soviet heavy missiles, was to prevent the Soviet Union from attaining a strategic capability equal to ours.

We then reviewed the American concerns centering on Soviet heavy missiles and the Soviet unwillingness to consider a reduction in the MIRV aggregate. Dobrynin’s response covered familiar ground: the US had at first agreed to count the air-launched cruise missiles individually against the MIRV aggregate, and now were unwilling even to count a plane-load of them as one MIRV against the total, etc., etc. Dobrynin also covered Soviet concerns about GLCMs as a problem exacerbated by the way the B–1 decision was handled.

Dobrynin expressed the hope that the US could transmit its proposals through him in ample time so that Gromyko could have them studied in advance, if we wanted the Vienna meetings to be productive.

He also inquired whether the Panama, Taiwan and Cuba issues would make the President’s problem with domestic public opinion on SALT more complicated. At this point, we broke off to watch the President’s press conference on television.2

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 38, SALT—(3/77–8/77). Secret. Drafted by Shulman on August 23. An unknown hand wrote, “W. Hyland FYI.” in the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. The text of the President’s August 23 news conference, which covered the Panama Canal, Israel, Rhodesia, and the People’s Republic of China, is in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 1486–1494