6. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Luncheon with Minister Counselor Vorontsov, February 9, 1977

I had lunch at the Soviet Embassy with Yuli Vorontsov. Compared to many previous encounters in which Vorontsov spent his time probing me, this luncheon was almost entirely a monologue on the problem of human rights. What he said at great length can be reduced to two points he emphasized. First, he felt this would become a “Frankenstein”, that US policy would be dictated by the human rights monster rather than controlling it as the President had said. Second, that the cumulative effect on Brezhnev would be disastrous. He was already being told, according to Vorontsov, that after making a number of gestures to President Carter, the response was a number of “insults”. People around Brezhnev in the Politburo were saying, “Lenya, how can you meet with such a man if he continues to interfere in our affairs and make heroes out of people such as Ginzburg, Bukovsky, Solzhenitzen, etc.” (Obviously, we must take much of this with more than a grain of salt.) In elaborating on these themes he did acknowledge that the Soviet leaders would ascribe a certain amount of human rights agitation to domestic politics, but if a pattern emerged or a trend developed it would have a deep impact on Soviet-American relations. There are those, he alleged, who argued we can live without SALT. He constantly came back to the point that what was being affected was not so much the prospects for SALT or any other issue, but the “atmosphere”.

In reply I tried to make two points. First they should not interpret our stand on human rights as being pointed solely toward the Soviet Union. I assumed that they would see over time that this was a general principle of the new Administration’s policy and that we would speak out on matters concerning other countries. The fact that this was not anti-Soviet in origin or focus was something the Soviet Embassy had to impress on Moscow. Second, there was a change in approach and it was reflected in the statements by the President and the State Department. They ought to analyze very carefully what had happened in this country over the past year or so. There was definitely a resurgence of opinion that could be described as extremely conservative or hawkish. This opinion had come quite close to nominating Ronald Reagan. It had [Page 19] definitely influenced the orientation of the Ford Administration in the last year, and as a consequence it was no longer possible to conceive of Soviet-American relations as simply business as usual. There were substantial numbers of influential Americans who were concerned at the Soviet build-up in military affairs, at their intervention in Africa, and who were concerned about their treatment of political dissent. The present Administration obviously was going to speak up from time to time and this would become simply a fact of life. The Soviet leadership was certainly flexible enough and intelligent enough to deal with this new fact. Expelling an American correspondent and arresting a prominent dissident could not simply be ignored, and I speculated what the motive behind this might be in Moscow.

Vorontsov made a particular point of noting that in the President’s letter the economic relationship was linked to human rights.2 He said this led them to conclude in Moscow that having begun with complaints about emigration we were now linking trade with an even broader subject. I said I thought he was misreading the letter, that it did not represent an escalation but was restating what should be obvious in Moscow, that any progress on the economic side could not be totally uncoupled from emigration.

He spent a little time asking how we were organized in the NSC, who would do what, and specifically the relationship between Vance and Brzezinski. On this latter point I told him they should not assume conflict between Vance and Brzezinski or that they could play one against the other. He said specifically, however, that Dobrynin would like to talk with Brzezinski and would I inquire about a meeting. I said I would pass it on.

We also briefly discussed SALT. Vorontsov said he could not understand why the President was reverting to a position which Brezhnev had rejected last year. He said Dobrynin had explained their opposition to deferring or omitting Backfire and cruise missiles, whereupon he went through the entire argumentation about cruise missiles being tested, developed, deployed, and then becoming a strategic fact which could not be reversed.

I said in response that the situation differed from last year. First of all the new President was seriously looking beyond SALT II to SALT III, and the prospects for substantial reductions on both sides. Second, in this light, he wanted to move on as rapidly as possible, and therefore setting aside contentious issues and protracted negotiations seemed the best way to settle Vladivostok and move on to the more serious problem of reductions. Therefore, what the President was saying about [Page 20] omitting cruise missiles and Backfire was quite different from the proposal put forward by President Ford in February because the overall context was different.

Introducing a personal note, Vorontsov said why had I, as a holdover, not explained to the new Administration how close to an agreement we had come in January. He reminded me that Brezhnev’s proposal at that time was obviously a bargaining offer, and he stated specifically that Brezhnev had a fallback already prepared.

I said that that had been my feeling at the time, but he understood as well as I did why we had become diverted onto a different path. I said if the Soviets had in fact a proposal along the lines of the January negotiations, they should not simply sit back but should introduce it into the dialogue while we were studying our own position. He was careful not to agree to do so.

He asked who would accompany Vance to Moscow and specifically whether Warnke would come and whether they could expect to get in advance of the meeting an outline of our SALT position. I said I assumed Warnke would go, but that I was no longer in a position to say who the Secretary of State would or would not bring, that I understood the reasons why submitting a proposal in advance would be helpful to Brezhnev in preparing for the meeting, but this would depend on the President.

He said Vance had suggested to Dobrynin that he would give the outline in advance, and I said in that case I assumed that would happen.


My conversations with Vorontsov and Dobrynin over the years have been rather frank and straightforward. We have discussed some extremely sensitive intelligence and political and strategic issues. I assume that Vorontsov hoped I would convey the intensity of his apprehension about the effect of the human rights issue. Even though he is skilled in agitprop I conclude that he has a genuine uneasiness that Brezhnev will explode at some point. My guess is that both he and Dobrynin will be counseling Moscow to be patient and not lose their cool.

On the strategic arms control issues, they are obviously disconcerted by the fact that they have been outflanked for the first time in history by an American President. They seem to be somewhat disconcerted and unsure of how to respond. They do make a connection, however, between the new approach on human rights and a reversion to an old, rejected approach on SALT. And I suspect their fear is that they will be asked to make concessions on both accounts.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Name File, Hyland, William G., 2/77. Secret. Drafted by Hyland, who transmitted a copy to Brzezinski under a covering memorandum.
  2. See Document 1.