84. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

Your latest letter transmitted through the US Embassy in Moscow on January 30,2 has evoked, I will put it straight, mixed feelings and some reflections which I consider necessary to share with you in the spirit of frankness inherent in our correspondence.

As it follows from the letter, you share our assessment of the predominant trend and main direction of Soviet-US relations at present and for the future. This cannot but cause satisfaction. Agreement on the basic approach, it would seem, should facilitate to a considerable extent the solution of specific issues which are on the agenda of our relations. In its turn, an active advance in those issues would not only be a logical continuation of all the positive things that have already been done through efforts of both sides in recent years, but would also open new prospects for fruitful cooperation in the interests of both our countries and the entire world.

We generally consider that the central task of international relations of today—if we do not want the world to be again overflowed by the wave of mutual fears, suspicions, by uncurbed arms race—is exactly to take, and without any delay, practical steps which would deepen emerging relaxation of international tension, consolidate what is new in relationship among nations, which constitutes the only alternative to returning to the “cold war”.

For understandable reasons the most important role here belongs to our two countries, to their ability to find mutually acceptable solutions based on the account of each other’s legitimate interests, on the understanding of actual realities of the developments. This, of course, requires constructive political will, determination to act proceeding from broad interests and long-term perspective of the world development, and not under the influence of some or other momentary factors.

I say all this only because the current situation in relations between our countries prompts me to do so. Indeed, one cannot fail to see that in specific and, for that matter, major problems of these relations a progress is either hardly noticeable or is not there at all.

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Let us take the main problem—the state of affairs with the preparation of the strategic offensive arms limitation agreement. In my previous letters I have already noted that after agreement of principle on a number of major issues was achieved during the meetings with you of the USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs last September, from the US side, notwithstanding the readiness we showed to seek mutually acceptable solutions to outstanding questions, there followed no equivalent steps towards the Soviet position.

Moreover, judging by your letter, now an attempt is made to introduce into the preparation of the agreement, as a new factor, references to the domestic opposition in the US, for the satisfaction of which we are called upon to make further concessions. And among unsolved issues such questions are again mentioned (as the Backfire, for example) which should have been closed long ago. Such approach is in no way helpful. It is easy to imagine what would happen if the Soviet side acted in a similar manner.

We, of course, are prepared to continue to seek mutually acceptable solutions to outstanding problems. We are also ready to contribute—to the extent it depends on us—to creating a favorable atmosphere in the US around the future agreement. But successful completion of the agreement, in which objectively both our countries are equally interested, requires that the US side also make its part of the road. And, of course, our efforts in favor of the approval of the agreement in the US can by no means be regarded as a substitute for efforts in the said direction by the Administration itself which, naturally, is fully responsible for that.

Frankly speaking, I also expected a more constructive reply to the letter I had sent to you specifically on the question of neutron weapons.3 I shall not repeat now our stated assessment of this new variety of weapons of mass annihilation. I wish, however, to stress again one aspect of principle. If we take purely military characteristics of that weapon, to which the matter is actually reduced in your letter, even then such an approach clearly shows its pernicious consequences for international peace and security. In fact, the production and deployment of that weapon would inevitably lead to reducing the so called nuclear threshold, to a temptation to use it at earlier stages of a conflict and, consequently, to increasing the risk of a nuclear war. Is this alone not sufficient to cause concern that prompted the proposal I put forward? And it is not the matter of propaganda here at all.

We confirm our proposal to agree on a mutual refusal to produce neutron weapons and we would like to hope that this proposal will be [Page 287] considered by the US side with due attention, impartially and without attempts to link it with other questions.

A few words concerning other issues of disarmament which are the subject of negotiations between our countries. In addition to the agreement on strategic armaments which is under preparation, the achievement of practical results at these negotiations would in itself mean a step forward towards restraining the arms race. This has been recognized more than once also by the US side. The more unjustified are its attempts lately to link in some way or other the solution of these questions with the development of the situation in various parts of the world. Artificial linkage of such kind has never brought about anything good in the past, nor will it be of any benefit now. There may be only one result—complication, delay in negotiations. But is this what our countries should strive for?

No less puzzling is the attempt to represent the Soviet Union as allegedly trying to get some advantages from the conflict in the Horn of Africa, and even to speak of a possibility of negative consequences for Soviet-US relations. We have already on more than one occasion brought to your personal attention, Mr. President, as well as to the attention of the US Secretary of State, that our policy in the questions related to the Somali-Ethiopian conflict pursues the sole purpose of restoring justice and peace in that region. It is precisely for that reason only that we are helping Ethiopia as a victim of aggression on the part of Somalia. If Somalia withdraws its troops from Ethiopia—and the sooner outside support of Somali aggressive actions is discontinued the earlier such withdrawal would occur—then the cause of the conflict would cease to exist.

A settlement in the Middle East undoubtedly remains an important question urgently requiring mutual efforts of our countries. In your letter you would seem to reproach us for the fact that actions of the USSR and the US go in different directions. And this is said despite the fact that it is the United States and not the Soviet Union that has departed from the Statement jointly adopted on October 1, 1977,4 has embarked upon the path of encouraging separate negotiations between Egypt and Israel. Can this be regarded as an objective approach to the issue? Of course, not.

Whatever is said in an attempt to justify those separate actions it is perfectly obvious that the present course of events seriously complicates the achievement of a genuine peace in the Middle East. Even if the negotiations of Egypt with Israel deal not only with working out a separate agreement on Sinai but also with some general “principles of a [Page 288] settlement” this does not in any way change the substance of the matter. Besides, it is well known that other Arab sides in the conflict on whose behalf Sadat is trying to act not only have not authorized him to do so but clearly state that they will not agree to any arrangements worked out without their participation.

For our part, we continue to believe that a way out of the present situation is to be sought on the road of returning to a comprehensive Middle East settlement within the framework of the Geneva Conference with the participation of all parties concerned, that is on the road agreed upon between us last fall.

I have considered it necessary to address the questions raised by you, Mr. President, not for the sake of polemics, of course. I have done this because, in our opinion, the necessity of practical constructive measures in Soviet-US relations is becoming ever more urgent, and I would like to hope that the exchange of views between us on the most pressing issues of these relations will help to make steps in right direction.


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. Carter initialed the letter indicating he saw it. Dobrynin delivered the letter to Vance on February 28; see Document 85.
  2. See Document 77.
  3. See Document 76.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.