61. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Brezhnev Letter and the Middle East


  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • The President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Reginald Bartholomew, NSC Staff

Dobrynin presented the President coins commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Revolution and commemorating the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Dobrynin said that he wished to present Brezhnev’s letter in response to President Carter’s earlier letter.2 Before doing so, Brezhnev had asked him to say the following. First, Brezhnev extends his best personal wishes to the President. He was pleased to resume the exchange of personal letters since it had been some time since the last exchange.3 Second, on Senator Jackson’s possible visit to the Soviet Union,4 a Soviet Parliamentarians group will invite the Senator to [Page 230] Moscow. The Senator could come either before or after the New Year—the time would be left to him. As for whether the Senator would see Brezhnev, Dobrynin had to say that was not a good possibility. Dobrynin asked whether in extending the invitation to Jackson he should mention the Administration’s role in it. The President thought it would be better to have it be an invitation from the Soviets. Dobrynin said that he would follow this and extend the invitation to Jackson on Tuesday morning. The President said that he thought the visit will help Senator Jackson’s understanding of the Soviets and that he knows the Senator wants to go to the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin then presented the Brezhnev letter, which the President read.

The President said that he appreciated the letter—it was positive and constructive. He had also found Brezhnev’s oral response to Toon encouraging.5 He felt that there was increasing ease of communication and mutual trust, and that this was developing at an increasing rate. He thought that it was especially useful to have private communication on important questions before taking public positions.

The President said that the Middle East was the most immediate question. He was discouraged by the delay of a reply from Brezhnev on convening the Geneva Conference. (In response to Dobrynin’s query, Secretary Vance specified that the President was speaking of the request relayed to Gromyko.) The President said that the Soviets had not even answered. He said that if Brezhnev would look into this and let us hear, it would be very helpful. Delay would mean problems in keeping the parties together on track toward Geneva. The President said that he did not know about Sadat’s visit to Israel beforehand, but that he favored the visit and had told Sadat and Begin this. It would be very helpful if the Soviet government took a positive position on the visit so that if it were fruitful, the world would know that both we and the Soviets hope Israeli/Egyptian talks can be productive.

The President said he thought it important for the US within the bounds of our influence to encourage the parties to go to Geneva without delay and that he thought it important for the Soviet Union to use its influence to encourage the parties to go to Geneva without delay. It would be valuable to have the Middle East nations and the rest of the world recognize that the US and the Soviet Union are acting in concert on this and that there are no differences between them. (Dobrynin agreed.) The President said that he thought this was an accurate description (of US and Soviet agreement) but that the public was uncertain about it. The President said that the PLO and the Syrians looked to [Page 231] the Soviets for guidance. Soviet support and encouragement of them to go to Geneva is important to us.

The President said that Brezhnev has his personal good wishes. The letters between them were helpful. As he had told Patolichev,6 movement on SALT, CTB, and the Indian Ocean, and possible talks on anti-satellites, cooperation in the Middle East, and enhancing trade relations, all go hand in hand and we are making good progress. The President was eager to get Brezhnev’s advice on how we go on from here. Congress and the American public support this. The President said that the most immediate concern is the Middle East—a reply from the Soviet Union on convening the Geneva Conference, support for the Sadat visit, and help with the PLO and Syrian response.

Dobrynin said that one cannot know the results of the Sadat visit. Some Arabs welcomed it (Morocco and others); others such as the PLO and the Syrians had made strong statements. Secretary Vance said this is why it is important to make it clear that both the US and the Soviet Union think the Sadat visit is a constructive step toward Geneva. If others see us talking and agreeing, this has its effect.

Dobrynin agreed and said that that was Soviet policy as Gromyko had discussed with Secretary Vance and the President and as reflected in the Joint Statement.7 The Soviet Union had consistently supported the Joint Statement and had never criticized it. But the Soviets were uncertain about Sadat’s visit: will it lead to Geneva or away from it. Dr. Brzezinski said that we want to avoid a polarization of opinion around the visit that would lead away from Geneva. Dobrynin reiterated that the question was whether the Sadat visit was a plus or minus for Geneva. Dr. Brzezinski said that we should try to exercise influence on how it is played.

Secretary Vance said that even if the Sadat visit does not help, it is still important to go to Geneva. Dobrynin agreed and said that was the Soviet belief as well.

The President said we have been holding up on steps to Geneva until we hear from the Soviets. We do not want to act unilaterally.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 11–12/77. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Drafted by Bartholomew on November 21.
  2. For Brezhnev’s letter, see Document 60; for Carter’s letter, see Document 58.
  3. See Documents 29 and 35.
  4. Jackson was scheduled to visit the Soviet Union in March 1978. As a condition of the visit, Jackson wanted to meet with Sakharov and other prominent dissidents. The Soviet Government denied this request, and the trip was cancelled.
  5. See Document 59.
  6. The meeting between Carter and Patolichev took place on November 10, during which they discussed U.S.-Soviet relations and the Jackson-Vanik amendment. The memorandum of conversation is in the Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Trilateral Commission File, Box 6.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 52.