284. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting Between Secretary of State Muskie and Foreign Minister Gromyko


  • U.S.:

    • Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie
    • William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR:

    • Foreign Minister Andrey A. Gromyko
    • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter

Foreign Minister Gromyko opened the conversation by suggesting that he and Secretary Muskie conduct their talks in compact form since they did not have much time at their disposal. It was his understanding that there was no formal agenda for this meeting; thus they would be free to choose whatever topics they wanted to discuss.

[Omitted here is material on topics unrelated to Iran.]


Turning to the question of Iran, Gromyko said that some political leaders had frequently asked him why the Soviet Union had not publicly advocated release of the American hostages, saying that this would ease tensions throughout the world. Gromyko would tell the Secretary that the Soviets had made very clear statements to the effect that the holding of U.S. hostages by Iran violates international law and all relevant international conventions. Moreover, the Soviet Union had undertaken a private démarche with the Iranian leadership through restricted channels, calling for the release of the American hostages. At the time of this démarche Washington had been informed to that effect; that was several months ago.2 But, instead of hearing thanks for its initiative, the Soviet leadership had heard nothing but an avalanche of unfriendly statements against the Soviet Union. True, there was a minor assistant who had expressed appreciation, in passing as it were, but the Soviet leadership had heard nothing from the President of the United States or from the Secretary of State. Let no one throw stones [Page 778] at the Soviet position with regard to hostages.3 But, the Secretary knew very well that the Soviet leadership did condemn military methods of liberating the hostages. It believed that such methods cannot help the United States and can only damage U.S. prestige. That also applies to the recent action undertaken by the United States. In his judgment, had the mission proceeded, it would have resulted in the death of all the hostages and probably in the death of many other people as well.

The Soviet Union did not need anything at all from Iran. Let Iran develop its own country peacefully and live in peace with all its neighbors and everyone else.

[Omitted here is material on topics unrelated to Iran.]


The Secretary said that he was aware of Soviet support and opposition to taking hostages last January. He appreciated that support in spite of other difficult problems we have with each other. But he had to tell Gromyko that two questions were being raised in the United States in connection with Soviet actions with respect to Iran. First, there was a feeling among some that the Tudeh Party of Iran was an instrument of Soviet policy in that country, and that part of the problem with the hostages was the fact that no one in Iran today had authority. The Iranians have not finished structuring their government; perhaps when they finish we might be able to do business with whoever emerges. Secondly, the Secretary had been told of radio broadcasts from the Soviet Union that were provocative in nature and fed anti-American feelings in Iran. He would make one final point in conclusion. The rescue effort we had undertaken was not regarded by us or intended as4 a military effort against Iran. It was strictly a rescue effort. It was his view that any government would be remiss in its responsibilities if it did not consider and implement efforts to rescue its citizens. It was unfortunate that our effort had failed, but no one could say with certainty what would have happened had it succeeded. In any case, the rescue effort had served a useful purpose in expiating some of the frustrations felt by the American people.5 The hostages have now been held for more than six months and it must be clearly seen that the United States as a great power had displayed extraordinary patience toward a much smaller power such as Iran. The course of patience is what we must follow and hope that diplomatic contacts [Page 779] with Iranian authorities would demonstrate to them that their own best interests dictated release of the hostages. The Secretary did not know whether we will succeed or not. In any case, the failed effort had bought us some time.6 This was an election year in the United States and he did not know whether in the heat of the contest a policy of patience can survive. Gromyko knew who the contestants were and he could draw his own conclusions. Conservative opinion in the United States is on the rise and it has had its effect on questions involving détente, arms control, and defense spending. There are pressures on the President who is running for reelection and he cannot ignore those pressures.7 The Secretary suspected that he had been selected for the office of Secretary of State precisely because he had a political constituency that would take pressure off the President.8 He was willing to do that. In that spirit he had come to the present meeting in order to explore possible solutions. He hoped that its result would be more than simply he and Gromyko gaining confidence in each other. He hoped that some ideas for solutions would emerge from this meeting, enabling both sides to pick up the policy of détente, which in the Secretary’s view was the only sensible and serious course to follow. Both of them had said things to each other that were unpleasant, trying to be frank. Perhaps they would be able to communicate some of these sentiments to those they represented.


Gromyko first wanted to reply to the Secretary’s comments about the Tudeh Party. This was an internal domestic political force in Iran, and the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it. It seemed to be an old habit of political leaders in Washington to refer to special relationships between the Soviet Union and such forces as the Tudeh Party. He could only say that these political leaders were victims of their own inventions.

As for the Soviet radio broadcasts to Iran of which the Secretary had spoken, Gromyko could only point out that these broadcasts stated official Soviet policy, i.e., condemnation of the military means contemplated by the U.S., condemnation of the actions of the U.S. fleet of contemplated blockade and mining. That was official Soviet policy and it had been stated in the broadcasts. It was difficult for the Soviet Union to understand why such military actions were being contemplated or [Page 780] undertaken. In particular, the last rescue operation seemed to him to be contrary to the purposes the United States wanted to accomplish. Had it continued, it would surely have led to the death of all the hostages and perhaps many other people. It would surely be much better to get the hostages out alive. As for the broadcasts the Secretary had mentioned, if one were to compare these broadcasts with those the United States beamed at the Soviet Union, one could only come to the conclusion that if medals were awarded for hostile statements, the United States would walk away with all the medals. He would only ask the Secretary not to consider these to be Olympic medals since the United States obviously did not believe in the Olympics.

Gromyko said that the only policy toward Iran the Soviet Union was pursuing was aimed at seeing an independent, sovereign state, peacefully developing its own interests without any outside interference or intrusions.

[Omitted here is material on topics unrelated to Iran.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Box 5. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting took place at the Hofburg Palace. At the top of the page, Carter wrote: “Susan—Pers file. C.” For the full text of this memorandum of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 278.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 83.
  3. In the left margin, Carter wrote: “Since the sanctions vote SU has done everything possible to condemn US & to support Iranian Terrorists.”
  4. Carter underlined the words “regarded by us or intended as.”
  5. Carter underlined the phrase “expiating some of the frustrations felt by the American people” and placed a question mark in the right margin.
  6. Carter underlined the phrase “the failed effort had bought us some time.”
  7. Carter underlined most of the previous two sentences and wrote in the left margin: “Election pressures on this subject not a factor.”
  8. Carter underlined the last half of this sentence and placed a question mark in the right margin.