70. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

I have carefully studied your letter of December 22.2 First of all I wish to thank you for your New Year greetings and good wishes to the Soviet People and to me personally. On my own part, I sincerely wish you, Mr. President, your family and the American people peace and well-being in this year.

Our point of view on a number of specific questions raised in your letter has already been brought to your attention lately. Recently I considered it necessary to address you specially on the question of neutron [Page 251] weapons,3 to the solutions of which in the interests of peace we attach most serious importance.

Now, that we stepped over the threshold of the new year, I think, it would be timely to share with you some thoughts of a broader context as well—on how relations between our countries are developing in general.

Looking at the general results of the past year one may note with satisfaction that—although not without stallings—predominant in Soviet-US relations remained the trend to their constructive development on the basis laid down by joint efforts of both sides.

Of special importance seems to be the fact that general understanding has been reached between us concerning main directions of mutual action and application of joint efforts of the USSR and the US. Those are measures to reduce the danger of war, to limit and subsequently reduce armaments, to prevent and eliminate dangerous hot-beds of international tensions. It is an undisputable positive that on these and other questions a dialogue between our countries at various levels continues and further develops.

But one cannot fail mentioning something else. A situation can hardly be considered satisfactory when negotiations on problems which are indeed urgent and acute are being conducted for protracted periods of time, in some cases for more than one year, and so far there have been no practical results.

I am sure that such state of affairs meets neither the interests of our two countries nor the broader interests of international peace. And here the task, as we see it, is to exert energetic efforts to achieve already in the near future significant specific agreements.

This relates above all to the problem of strategic offensive arms limitation. There is mutual understanding between us as to the direction of a new agreement and its main components. Nevertheless, the preparation of the agreement has not yet been completed. As is known, Mr. President, taking into account your wishes we moved last fall to meet the US position on a number of important questions. A certain flexibility on some questions was also displayed on your part. In the course of subsequent negotiations we again showed readiness to seek mutually acceptable solutions to the outstanding questions. Unfortunately, in all candor, we do not see equivalent steps from the US side towards us.

Naturally, we took note of recent remarks by US representatives regarding the possibility of completing the work on the agreement next March. As to us, we are prepared to complete the working out of the [Page 252] agreement even earlier. But since the US side thinks in terms of that timing it is necessary in any case to do everything possible to keep to this schedule.

It is evident that concluding a new strategic offensive arms limitation agreement remains for both sides the number one task.

These same ends would be served by achieving practical agreements also in the ongoing negotiations, in which our two countries take part, on other issues of disarmament—such as comprehensive cessation of nuclear weapon tests, prohibition of chemical weapons, banning new types and systems of the weapons of mass destruction, limiting military activities in the Indian Ocean. There is no lack of readiness on our part to seek agreements on this set of questions and you are aware of the constructive steps taken by the Soviet Union for finding appropriate solutions. Here again we would like to count on a higher degree of reciprocity, on a constructive approach of the US side. We also expect a positive response to those of our proposals on which the US has not yet given us any reply at all.

Quite a lot is to be done this year also in the domain of international problems. Time and again experience confirms that practical solutions to these problems cannot be found without close interaction and cooperation between the USSR and the US. On the other hand, the efforts of our countries aiming in the same direction, undoubtedly, help the development of Soviet-US relations to have a beneficial influence upon the world situation.

Recently I already expounded to you in detail our attitude toward the developments in the Middle East and there is no need to go into that again now. I would like only to say that the course of the latest events in the area fully confirms the correctness of our appraisal of the situation, i.e. the policy aimed at separate deals in no way brings closer, but on the contrary, puts off the achievement of an effective comprehensive settlement. This policy is directed at circumventing key problems without the solution of which there cannot be a just and, consequently, a lasting peace in the Middle East. Therefore a sharply negative reaction of the majority of the Arabs to those deals is quite understandable. It cannot be any different. And the matter is not at all of their extremism of some kind but of the policy and designs of those who retain the occupied Arab lands.

In your letter you express disagreement with the point of view that the latest US actions in the Middle East are in contravention with the principles set forth in the Joint Soviet-US Statement of October 1, 1977.4

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But to get convinced that it is indeed so, suffice it to refer to the text of the said document. It explicitly sets down agreement between the Soviet and the US sides that the only right and effective way for achieving a fundamental solution to all aspects of the Middle East problem in its entirety is negotiations within the framework of the Geneva Peace Conference, specially convened for these purposes, with participation in its work of the representatives of all the parties involved in the conflict, including those of the Palestinian people.

The argument to the effect that a settlement in the Middle East should ultimately be achieved within the framework of the Geneva Conference with cooperation of our two countries does not change the heart of the matter. I must say it straight: the calculations to use the Geneva Conference as a cover for separate deals, as a kind of a parade-like forum are groundless.

We are convinced that there can be only one way out from this situation: it is necessary to put negotiations back on the track of a comprehensive settlement within the framework of the Geneva Conference with the participation of all the parties concerned, on the basis of respect for their legitimate rights and interests. The sooner it is done, the better. If the US is ready to follow this path, which is the only right one, then it will find in the Soviet Union a solid partner.

As to the conflict in the Horn of Africa which you also mention in your letter, Mr. President, I want to stress once again that we are for having peace restored in that area of Africa. The USSR does not seek any advantages there for itself, it does its best to avoid the escalation of the Somali-Ethiopian conflict. A really just solution should, of course, provide first of all for cessation of hostilities and for withdrawal of Somali troops from Ethiopia.

I would like to express the hope that the year we just entered will see the continuation, also through joint efforts of our countries, of the process of consolidating the relaxation of tensions and developing peaceful cooperation in Europe. The immediate goal in that regard is to conclude constructively the meeting in Belgrade.

Still a lot can and should be done in a number of practical spheres of our bilateral relations. Here, there continue to exist obstacles and artificial hindrances—for example, in the field of trade and economic ties—which it is high time to remove. There are potentials for more active cooperation in the field of science and technology, parliamentary and other contacts called to serve the cause of strengthening mutual understanding and trust between our countries and peoples.

To say it short, not a small work lies ahead. And it is important for us to move steadily forward building upon what has already been achieved in our relations.

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Those are, speaking about the main things in Soviet-US relations, the thoughts and wishes which I would like to express in connection with your letter of December 22 and which come to mind when we are summing up the year just passed and want to visualize what the new year of 1978 will bring.

We sincerely hope that this year will be marked by important achievements on the road toward consolidation of peace and cooperation between peoples, will become a year of significant development of the relations between the USSR and the USA.


L. Brezhnev5
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 69, USSR: BrezhnevCarter Correspondence: 1–12/78. No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. Found attached to a translated note from Dobrynin transmitting a message from Brezhnev to Carter regarding the characteristics of the Soviet satellite Cosmos-954. Brezhnev’s message, apparently transmitted by Dobrynin, is not printed.
  2. Carter’s backchannel message, sent just before midnight on December 21, is Document 67.
  3. See Document 76.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.