77. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

Dear Mr. President:

I was pleased to receive your letter of January 12.2 I was particularly gratified by your view—which I share—that the predominant trend in U.S.-Soviet relations is a constructive one, based on our jointly shared determination “to reduce the danger of war, to limit and subsequently reduce armaments, to prevent and eliminate dangerous hot-beds of international tensions.” Our personal dialogue is dedicated to these ends.

Let me add that I am also gratified by the progress that we made in 1977. Despite the complexities inherent in SALT, our delegations have moved forward—and Foreign Minister Gromyko’s visit to Washington was particularly helpful in overcoming some obstacles. We also initiated a wide range of additional negotiations, all of which have the purpose of shaping a more stable and cooperative U.S.-Soviet relationship, an objective that I consider essential.

I hope, therefore, that we can move expeditiously toward a SALT II agreement. I have so instructed the U.S. delegation. At the same time, I am sure that Ambassador Dobrynin keeps you fully informed regarding the strong domestic opposition already generated by the concessions we have made. U.S. willingness to count heavy bombers with air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) within the 1320 total for both MIRVs and ALCMs and to limit cruise missiles has been perceived by many Americans as insufficiently offset by Soviet concessions, complicating the eventual process of ratification. This is why I hope that the Soviet side will adopt a very positive attitude regarding the outstanding issues, notably on the questions pertaining to MIRV sub-limits, modernization, and the Backfire bomber.

Agreement in SALT would doubtless help us both generate a wider movement in many of the other negotiations between our two governments.

I am concerned that several developments may already be generating needless complications in our relations:

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The first involves the Soviet propaganda campaign directed at the United States and its Allies against the defensive tactical nuclear weapon called by you “the Neutron Bomb.” That particular weapon is defensive; it is a tactical weapon of limited range; it is designed against concentrated tank formations; it is meant to be used primarily against military targets; and it is not even being produced. In every respect, it contrasts vividly with the Soviet SS–20, which can be used in an offensive attack; which has extensive range; which can be targeted against industrial and urban centers in Western Europe; which generates three times as much radiation and more than ten times the blast damage; and which is already being deployed. I am quite prepared to discuss the issue in a serious and thorough manner, but I do not believe that public campaigns, designed to inflame emotions, are helpful to a constructive dialogue on as complicated a matter as theater or tactical nuclear weapons of either NATO or the Warsaw Pact.

Secondly, I am concerned that our respective policies in the Middle East may be pointing in different directions. We are not promoting “separate deals.” We are seeking a comprehensive settlement, to be worked out within the Geneva framework. We believe the current Egyptian-Israeli negotiations can be channeled in that direction and enlarged in their scope to embrace, as you say, “all the parties,” including moderate Palestinians prepared to accept the existence of Israel. This is why we have kept you fully informed regarding our initiatives and attitudes, and we continue to hope that the Soviet Union will use its good offices to encourage Syria and the Palestinians to adopt a moderate and constructive attitude. Such a development would make the holding of an early Geneva conference more likely.

Finally, let me turn to the most worrisome concern: the Horn of Africa. The United States is not supplying arms to either side, nor have I been exaggerating when I expressed U.S. reservations regarding Soviet and Cuban involvement. That involvement is a fact, and is very troubling to us.

At the same time, the United States has abstained from becoming involved and has not encouraged concerned neighboring states to become involved. We do not wish either to intensify nor to perpetuate the Ethiopian-Somali conflict. Our preference is an early and peaceful settlement respecting the territorial integrity of the African states, and the complete removal of all foreign military personnel from both Ethiopia and Somalia. We intend to promote such a peaceful resolution of the conflict—and I think it would be a most constructive development if our two countries could join in proclaiming the need for a negotiated solution, based on respect for the territorial integrity of both Ethiopia and Somalia, accompanied by the immediate recall of both Soviet and Cuban military personnel from Ethiopia.

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Otherwise, I fear that it can give rise not only to additional tensions in the region but adversely affect our relations more generally. Let me be quite direct: I believe it essential that our two countries continue to widen our collaboration—but that collaboration is not compatible with the unilateral use of force, direct or through proxy, designed to exploit local turbulence or local conflicts for ideological or other purposes. Such one-sided actions can only breed similar counter-reactions, with unavoidably negative effects on our bilateral relations.

I discuss these difficult matters frankly in the earnest desire for a more cooperative relationship between our two countries. That relationship will not be easy to establish and to maintain. It will take consistent and continued efforts to avoid needless friction, and it will require the generation of mutual confidence.

You put it well in the concluding paragraphs of your recent letter: “. . . it is important for us to move steadily forward, building upon what has already been achieved in our relations.”

I wish you an early and complete recovery from your recent illness.

With best wishes,

Jimmy Carter
  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.
  2. See Document 70.