53. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Arms Control Issues: SALT, ASAT, Conventional Arms No. II of IV


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Marshall D. Shulman
  • USSR
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

Dobrynin came in Monday afternoon, October 17, at the Secretary’s request. The meeting lasted from 4:00 to approximately 6:15.

1. SALTDobrynin wanted to know whether the ratification of the Panama treaty would interfere with SALT negotiations or ratification and expressed the hope that early progress could be made at Geneva. He hoped that Warnke would stay in Geneva until agreement was reached. The Secretary replied that it was the President’s desire to have SALT proceed on its own two feet and that, although Warnke would be coming home for consultation, he would stay on duty as long as necessary. Dobrynin said that he had received a copy of the instructions issued to Semenov and that they called for the speediest possible conclu [Page 208] sion. He thought only one or two difficult questions remained and that these could be dealt with promptly and flexibly.

On Backfire, the Secretary mentioned the questions being raised in the Congress and stressed the importance of having the clarification from the Soviet side. He cited the questions raised by Senator Stevens of Alaska about whether Alaska would be within Backfire range. Dobrynin replied that Alaska was almost within rifle range. The Secretary said he understood Gromyko to say that Backfire’s current radius of 2200 km would not last indefinitely, but that it would never be given a range that would enable it to attack the US. The Secretary said there is still a general question as to what “intercontinental range” means. Dobrynin replied that in the Geneva discussions it had been generally agreed that intercontinental range meant 5500 kms.

The Secretary also pointed out that there had been discussions in the Congress of the Backfire’s retractable refuelling capability and that this would present a verification problem. Dobrynin said he did not know how this would be handled, but he left the impression that he was expecting to receive some additional explanations on this and other Backfire questions. He added that there could not be 100 percent verification on either side, but that it would be stupid for the Soviet Union to cheat on Backfires. He was sure that specialists could find a way to deal with the verification problem. He cited the Soviet Union’s willingness to accept a radical solution to the Derazhnya and Pervomaisk problem, even though it would cost the Soviet Union quite a bit of money to get another site, but they had decided it was worth it.

With regard to the discussion of the differences between the American proposal for banning the testing of all new missiles, and the Soviet proposal that only MIRVs be banned, the Secretary asked if this issue was understood and what the Soviet problem was on this point. Dobrynin first said, “Some of our missiles are old fashioned,” but then went on to make the argument that it would be technically difficult to substitute a whole new MIRV system for a “mono-block” that had been tested only with a single warhead. On the differences between the 1200 and 1250 figure for the MIRVed subceiling, Dobrynin said that this was not only a question of the US getting 120 as against 70 ALCM bombers, but that the US would be getting a double bonus, since the Soviet Union would not be deploying any ALCM bombers.

2. Anti-Satellite Systems—The Secretary said he wanted to let Dobrynin know that a proposal would soon be transmitted to the Soviet Union regarding limitations on ASAT systems. He underlined the importance of the subject, saying that in his recent testimony before the Congress on SALT, he had been interrogated at length about the continuing capability of the US to monitor compliance with the SALT agreement by satellite observation. He had replied that this was very [Page 209] important and this had led to the question of the effect on satellite monitoring of the development of an ASAT system. Dobrynin asked whether the American communication would add further concrete thoughts and suggestions. The Secretary replied in the affirmative and said that this would have a significant bearing on the ratification of the SALT agreement.

3. Conventional Arms Transfers and Sales—The Secretary noted that Gelb had raised this point with Bessmertnykh and that Bessmertnykh had said that it might be a long time before a reply was received from Moscow. The Secretary said the President attaches considerable importance to this subject and urged Dobrynin to do everything possible to speed up a reply. Dobrynin replied that he would do so, but he went on to say, in what he described as an unofficial reaction, that the US was selling more and more arms around the world, including to some of the neighbors of the Soviet Union. In this connection, he cited sales to Iran. He noted the Administration’s declared intent to reduce arms sales and asked why the US had been speeding up the process. The Secretary said that many items had been in the pipeline, but an effort was being made to hold sales and transfers down. This was reflected in the fact that the total would come to about $9.8 billion this year, instead of the $11 billion originally projected. This includes some very expensive items, such as AWACS. There would be further reductions next year, he said. Dobrynin asked why not show some restraint as a good will gesture. The Secretary replied that restraint was being shown and that AWACS, for example, had a purely defensive function.

  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, DobryninVance, 10/17/77. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman; approved by Anderson on October 31. The meeting took place at the Department of State. Part II of IV; parts I and III are printed as Documents 52 and 54. Part IV is not printed; see footnote 1, Document 54.