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

16276. For the Secretary from Ambassador. Subject: Message to Brezhnev. Ref: State 264784.2

1. With one hour’s advance notice I was received by Brezhnev in his Kremlin office at 1230 on November 9 for a 65-minute conversation. Also present were Brezhnev’s aide A.M. Aleksandrov and his interpreter Sukhadrev. (It is noteworthy that no representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attended.) I was accompanied by my political counselor.

2. After the usual opening courtesies I presented Brezhnev with the text of President Carter’s letter (reftel). Brezhnev informed me that he was already familiar with the contents since Secy Vance had given the text to Dobrynin. This enabled him to make some preliminary considerations which he would ask me to transmit to President Carter.

—First he wished to express his gratitude for the President’s congratulatory message on the sixtieth anniversary of the Soviet state and for the best wishes which the President had expressed both in his official message and in this letter

—He would of course carefully consider the contents of the President’s letter and will soon give an official reply.

3. Reading from a typed statement of 7–8 pages Brezhnev said he noted with satisfaction that one of President Carter’s main goals was for greater cooperation. “We welcome this positive shift in Soviet-US relations during the recent period.” He also took satisfaction from the fact that agreement on a series of mutually acceptable principled understandings was found in the recent meetings which Gromyko had with the U.S. side in Washington and New York.3 As for the Soviet Union, its line vis-a-vis the U.S. remains consistent and unchanging: “We want these relations to be good, more friendly and hallmarked by the spirit of cooperation” regarding bilateral questions and important international problems. This Brezhnev had restated in his (November 2) speech marking the sixtieth anniversary celebration.4 The Soviets are ready to maintain and improve relations so as to meet the aspirations of [Page 222] both peoples, for reduction of international tensions and strengthening of world peace.

4. SALT—Today, said Brezhnev, there are difficult tasks for both sides to work out. Re SALT, he considered that Gromyko’s recent meetings on major unresolved questions with Pres. Carter and Secy Vance had opened the path to complete success, to the signing of a SALT agreement and on this the Soviet side wanted to [accept?] without delay or procrastination. “Our delegation in Geneva has been given instructions to discuss and coordinate all remaining questions and we hope similar instructions have been given to the American delegation.” The main thing now was to abide by the understandings of principles already achieved and not to alter them. He was sure that in the nearest future there could be the complete preparation of a SALT agreement. In this connection Brezhnev noted that the two sides were also discussing a number of other questions related to arms limitation and disarmament. In all of these talks the Soviet side stood for mutually acceptable, practical solutions.

5. CTBPNE’s—Brezhnev said he wanted to call special attention to his Nov. 2 statement of readiness to reach agreement on CTB including a moratorium of PNE’s. “Speaking directly, it was not easy for us to take such a decision, as it directly affects our national economic plan; and we expect that the U.S. and the U.K. as participants in the talks which are underway will in the end respond with appropriate reciprocity” so as to achieve agreement on this major issue.

6. Anti-satellite—Referring to the paragraph of the President’s [letter] dealing with anti-satellite developments, Brezhnev said he did not wish to dwell at length on this. Claiming that the Soviet side was “strictly adhering to the provision of existing agreements” and acting in accordance with the principles of the SALT negotiations which were underway, he stressed that the Soviets were not doing anything to destabilize the situation. “I emphasize that the Soviet Union is not seeking unilateral military advantage for itself.”

7. NUF and NNFU—in his Nov. 2 speech, Brezhnev said he had re-emphasized the Soviet goal of promoting and strengthening international peace and security by practical measures. He had in mind such measures as

—a world treaty on non-use of force

—an agreement by all participants of the European (Helsinki) Conference on non first use of nuclear weapons.

These were part of the Soviet objectives in the consolidating military detente. “We expect that the U.S. will give positive consideration to these proposals” whose implementation would serve to avoid a nuclear war and to further the interests of universal peace.

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8. Geneva conference—Of late, Brezhnev noted, there had been considerable movement toward reconvening a Geneva Middle East conference thanks in large part to joint efforts by the USSR and US as Geneva co-chairmen. “We proceed from the assumption that, as agreed, it should be reconvened before the end of this year.” Of course in seeking agreement on practical matters related to the preparation and conduct of the conference “we act so as to assure the legitimate rights and interests of all, I emphasize all, parties without exception. No one has the right to dictate conditions to others and this applies to Israel as well.” Only on this basis could the Geneva conference attain its objective—the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Our two countries should continue to coordinate their efforts in this direction.

9. Microwave radiation—Regarding certain other matters in the President’s message, Brezhnev declared he’d merely like to say the following: Concerning the allegations of certain “ill-disposed” people about supposed unfavorable working conditions of U.S. Embassy personnel, “you live here and it’s for you to judge” Embassy working conditions. For some reason this matter had been raised four or five times (Aleksandrov intervened to claim that each time the Soviet side had given an answer). “Let me just say that we have set forth our position exhaustively and there’s no need to return to this.” The question was being used, claimed Brezhnev by “certain agencies for unseemly purposes” which are very remote from improvement of relations.

10. Amnesty for dissidents—Lastly, remarked Brezhnev, he wanted to refer to one question in the President’s letter the very posing of which was incomprehensible and unfounded. “I must emphasize that if we want our relations to develop normally there must be no attempts to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. As experience shows, only when both sides really follow this principle can we avoid needless friction and find solutions to questions, including those which are most important to the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

11. Repeating that he would give President Carter’s message additional consideration and communicate a reply, Brezhnev requested that I transmit greetings and best wishes to the President from him and his colleagues.

12. After a brief exchange of quips on the toasts we both had consumed at his Nov. 7 reception, I thanked Brezhnev for receiving me and for giving me the opportunity to hear his views. These and his best wishes I would transmit to the President promptly. With his permission I then said I wanted to comment briefly on a few of his remarks and to ask a few questions:

(A) Gromyko talks—Recalling that I had attended Gromyko’s talks in Washington, I said I thought they were very useful and I knew that the President did as well;

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(B) SALT—I assured Brezhnev that before I left Washington Warnke had been given instructions similar to those given the Soviet delegation and we could both therefore hope for an early agreement (Brezhnev interjected “Good”);

(C) CTB, and Brezhnev’s desire for peace—We recognize, I said that Brezhnev’s Nov. 2 proposal for a moratorium on PNE’s was not easy and we believe that it will be of great help in reaching agreement on unresolved questions. As I started to mention the anti-satellite issue, Brezhnev turned to Aleksandrov and in an aside said the sooner we could agree on such matters “the sooner we (meaning President Carter and himself) can meet each other.” He then turned to me and said somewhat emotionally that as I could see from the media coverage of the sixtieth anniversary celebrations the people want “peace, peace, peace, peace, peace. Down with the neutron bomb and other things like that. It wasn’t I who arranged all this—truly this is what the people of the whole world including Asia and Africa want. What does this mean? My fervant hope is that President Carter will understand what guides me”. (In an aside to Aleksandrov: “What do we say to the people?”) I reminded Brezhnev that I had told him on Nov. 7 that I was sure Pres. Carter shares his desire to establish a permanent and just peace in the world. There were some at this table (meaning my political counselor and Sukhadrev) who were too young to experience World War II. But Brezhnev had played an active part as had I, and we both knew what world war meant. (At this point, 1310 hours, Brezhnev was seized by heavy coughing for about a minute.);

(D) Anti-satellite—I said I was somewhat puzzled by Brezhnev’s remarks on this score. It seemed clear from the President’s letter that we have firm evidence that the USSR has tested anti-satellite devices in outer space. Was I to understand from Brezhnev’s remarks that this was not the case? (Brezhnev replied “this is not the case at all. I’ll reply in detail to Pres. Carter.”)

(E) PLO position—referring to Brezhnev’s remarks on the Geneva conference and the need to exchange views, I noted press reports that PLO official Qaddumi had recently visited Moscow for talks with Gromyko and others. I wondered if Brezhnev could tell me something on the current attitude of the PLO as revealed by Qaddumi which I could pass on to the President? (Brezhnev was genuinely unknowledgable. “Gromyko hasn’t told me anything. My honest word.” In an aside Aleksandrov explained to Brezhnev that Qaddumi was “The Palestinian”);

(F) Microwave radiation—I said I found my life in Moscow to be comfortable and I was proud to be Ambassador here but I did not like to be the target of microwave radiation. Brezhnev was right in noting that we had raised the question before and that the Soviet side had [Page 225] given replies but I must state in all frankness that these replies had not been satisfactory. (Thumping the table, Brezhnev interjected: “Excuse me. Your own specialists came here to test. They came to the conclusion that your radiation dosage is higher in the U.S. than here.” Aleksandrov added that our dosage here was below the “sanitary norms” of both the U.S. and USSR. Drawing a rectangle on paper Brezhnev said he couldn’t understand the U.S. position. Radiation could not be (merely) aimed at a particular object for it also affected the people living around that area. “This is stupidity.”) I said that in view of his further remarks I was compelled to show some evidence. Presenting photographs of the Soviet microwave radiation projection both east and south of the Embassy, I said I was not complaining about the general level of radiation in the general vicinity: I was complaining about radiation beams specifically aimed at the Embassy from these two sources. I hoped he would examine the evidences for the issue was of great importance not only to me but to all in the Embassy. (Pointing at the photos Brezhnev exclaimed: “To be silent is to indicate tacit consent? This is just not true. Your former Ambassador—what’s his name? (Aleksandrov: “Stoessel”)—also participated in these studies and he said it was not true. Now there’s a new Ambassador and the same old story. Not one person has fallen sick or will fall sick. You should heed us, heed me, heed the facts of the matter. These stories are put about by ill wishers who want to worsen relations.”) I said that I must take issue. These were not put out by ill wishers. They were a fact of life. I could not believe that Stoessel had made the statements attributed to him and I hoped Brezhnev would study the matter. (Brezhnev: “All right, I’ll study it.”)

(G) Amnesty for dissidents—Regarding that portion of President’s letter implicitly touching on this subject (Note: The words amnesty and dissident were never mentioned in the entire conversation) I said I could assure Brezhnev that the President has no intention of interfering in Soviet internal affairs. He simply wanted to call attention to the fact that certain developments here have a bearing on our bilateral relations and give rise to considerable concern in the U.S. This question had been discussed at length when Gromyko was in the U.S. (At this point Aleksandrov remarked that Brezhnev had exchanged letters with many heads of state but none of these had ever raised a question pertaining purely to Soviet domestic matters “and that is why this evokes such a reaction”).

13. In closing I again thanked Brezhnev for receiving me and for the frankness of such exchanges which can only lead to better understanding, not to misunderstanding. Brezhnev said he agreed. Asking me to convey best regards to the Pres. he said he hoped we could accelerate steps toward greater peace and security throughout the world [Page 226] which met the interests of billions of people. After side prompting by Aleksandrov he noted that Patolichev was leaving for the U.S. today (I interjected I had seen him off at airport this morning) and hoped that he could “do big business there.” When I said I hoped to see Brezhnev himself soon visit the U.S. he replied that “the sooner we prepare materials for agreements” the sooner such a meeting could take place.

14. As we stood up Brezhnev said that TASS would put out a brief account of our meeting and that I was free to do the same.

15. Comment: Apart from his rather emotional words on the need for peace and security, Brezhnev was visibly angry and disturbed in his interventions on the radiation and amnesty issues. After a tough week of anniversary celebrations he seemed physically fit; his speech was no more slurred than usual; he read his text well and his ad hoc remarks were lucid, cogent. Sometimes he thumped the table with the fingers of his right hand to drive a point home. Three times during the conversation he coughed heavily, once bringing a handkerchief to his mouth. Again, I saw no evidence of an incision on his left cheek or any sign of makeup.

16. I was also struck by several cases of prompting from Aleksandrov but these in no way indicated that Brezhnev had lost track; rather they were supportive of points he was already in the process of making.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0378. Secret; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Sent by the Department of State to the White House.
  2. See Document 58.
  3. See Documents 50 and 51.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 58.