163. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of Dr. Brzezinski’s Meeting with Ambassador Ch’ai Tse-min


  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Ambassador Ch’ai Tse-min, Director of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Hsu Shang-wei, Third Secretary and Interpreter, PRC Liaison Office
  • Tsao Kuei-shang, Political Counselor, PRC Liaison Office

Dr. Brzezinski: (Greeting the Ambassador in his foyer. Noting that the Ambassador was wearing a Western suit) Mr. Ambassador. Good to see you. I don’t recognize you!

Ambassador Ch’ai: (Laughs heartily) Yes. I am becoming Westernized.

Dr. Brzezinski: Well, come on in and let’s talk. I thought it would be useful for us to touch base again. I have several items to bring up. Regretfully, our time together is not long, but if we met frequently, it makes up for the shortness of each of our separate conversations.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Yes. That is good.

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Dr. Brzezinski: First, I wish you to know that we are making a major effort to reach an agreement in the Mid East by December 17. Secretary Vance has received a good reception in Egypt, and his first talk with Sadat has had good results.

We are working on a format which would permit withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai almost simultaneously with elections in the West Bank, which would then be followed by the exchange of Ambassadors.

We are not entirely certain that Sadat will accept this approach, although the first signs are positive. If so, tomorrow Vance will go to see Begin, and if progress is made, then he will return to see Sadat. We still hope for a settlement by December 17.

(At this point in the session, Mr. Oksenberg studied Ambassador Ch’ai’s face. The Ambassador appeared to be listening intently, but he also looked more tired than usual and not as animated. He had just returned from a trip to California.)

Dr. Brzezinski (continues): Second, I was in touch during the weekend on three occasions with Tehran authorities. I am reasonably optimistic that the immediate crisis will be surmounted, which will give us time to work on a long-term solution to the internal difficulties in Iran. These difficulties could be of benefit to other powers. We have made it clear to other powers that interference in Iranian internal affairs would be considered of utmost gravity by the U.S.

Third, it looks likely though not yet certain that we will resolve the remaining differences in our SALT talks and reach an agreement with the Soviet Union later this month. I want to emphasize that this is not certain since some difficulties remain, but I hope we can make progress this week so as to permit a VanceGromyko meeting in the third week of the month. In this regard, the articles about SALT in the newspaper are substantially correct.

If at that VanceGromyko meeting the remaining issues are resolved, we would plan a meeting between President Carter and Chairman Brezhnev in mid-January. This would be in keeping with our past practice of having a Summit meeting at which a SALT agreement was signed. The signing of SALT I took place in Moscow, and this time it is appropriate for it to be signed in Washington. These are the three things that I wish to discuss with you concerning our consultative relations. I also would like to discuss two things with you about bilateral matters, but before going into them, do you have anything to tell me or ask me?

Ambassador Ch’ai: At this point, the Iranian issue is the one that is most talked about and worried about. How do you plan to approach and resolve the issue or can it be resolved, these are the questions. How will you act?

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Dr. Brzezinski: We will do whatever is necessary to keep outside interference from occurring, so that the Iranians can address their internal problems. But we cannot solve their internal problems for them. We will provide security and political encouragement. This will provide a favorable condition for an outcome which both we and you prefer, namely continuity and stability and not a fragmentation that could only be of benefit to Iran’s neighbors.

Ambassador Ch’ai: But will the internal problems be settled through internal means?

Dr. Brzezinski: That is difficult. Can internal assistance be provided and if so in what form? What is your view?

Ambassador Ch’ai: Who are the main opponents in leading the anti-Shah forces? Extreme rightists, students, or the People’s Party?

Dr. Brzezinski: I think it is a combination of rightist reactionaries and Soviet radicals.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Which organization does the Soviet Union control? As far as I know, the Iranian Communist Party is not strong. What organization does the Soviet Union use to control the mob?

Dr. Brzezinski: I suppose a combination of the Tudeh Party, KGB agents, and Iranians with traditional Soviet connections.

I might say that our Ambassador has encouraged the Iranian leadership to act firmly. (Dr. Brzezinski turns to his globe to point to Iran.) Iran is surrounded by a weak Pakistan, the Soviet Union, Iraq, and Yemen.

(Mr. Oksenberg interjects: “Afghanistan.”)

You can also encourage the leaders of Iran to act firmly. And you surround Afghanistan. You can encourage the Iranian leaders to be firm. (Dr. Brzezinski makes a fist.)

Now let me comment on two bilateral matters in the time remaining, unless you wish to bring something else up.

We are pleased with the visits of Frank Press, Secretary Schlesinger, and Secretary Bergland. We are pleased with the effect that these visits have had on our relations. We are even more pleased with my visit! (Laughs)

Ambassador Ch’ai: You were the trailblazer!

Dr. Brzezinski: I would like to consider with you the possibility of an additional visit jointly by Secretary Blumenthal and Secretary Kreps. If this idea is attractive to you, I would appreciate alternative dates so we could work on a mutually agreeable schedule.

Ambassador Ch’ai: In fact, I have already secured an agreement from my government for both Secretary Kreps and Michael Blumenthal to visit China, although I have not yet conveyed this information to Secretary Blumenthal.

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Dr. Brzezinski: Oh. Well, we are thinking of the two possibly going together, such as in February. Such visits have to be worked out in this office.

Ambassador Ch’ai: To make the planning more efficient, may I suggest that you provide suggested dates to us and we will confirm them.

Dr. Brzezinski: Fine. We will give you three dates. (Dr. Brzezinski tells Mr. Oksenberg to work on this matter.) Now the most important subject: in the next few days, Ambassador Woodcock will be seeing Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing. At that time, he will be prepared to review where we agree on matters in our negotiations and he will review where we disagree and hence what remains to be worked out.

The time is short to resolve the issues if we are to meet the target date we have both set for ourselves: January 1. We would like to make that target date. We think it is in our mutual interest.

We have also taken note of the public statement by Vice Premier Teng concerning his feelings of a possible visit by him. If the target date is met, there will no longer be any obstacle to a visit since clarification arrangements will have been taken care of. An altogether new situation will have been created on the date of mutual recognition.

Accordingly, Mr. Woodcock will be authorized to invite a top-level visit to the U.S. by a top-level Chinese leader, if agreeable to you, by Vice Premier Teng or Chairman Hua in the month of January. Naturally, if January is too early, we would consider a later date.

Dr. Brzezinski: Now, I wish to speak personally to you and express my own views. If we can meet our January 1 deadline, we will be embarking on a matter of long-term historical and strategic significance. We will want our relations to unfold well from the beginning.

I must emphasize that I am speaking personally. The Ambassador must recognize that normalization will be a contentious issue. A high-level visit would dramatize the relationship and make it easier to minimize and overcome difficulties.

Second, I suspect that if there is a SALT Summit, there will be an attempt by the other side to give it special worldwide bilateral significance, which may be of special interest to the other side. (The Chinese sought clarification of this sentence, and none was given. But it was repeated to them so they could write it down correctly.)

In any case, it is very desirable for you and our top leaders to have a comprehensive review of world affairs. We would be pleased to have such a visit here and later to reciprocate it. It would open a new chapter in Sino-American relations. That is all I want to tell you today.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Is there any link between the Teng visit and SALT?

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Dr. Brzezinski: No. None at all.

Ambassador Ch’ai: When you referred to the “other side,” does it refer to the Soviet Union?

Dr. Brzezinski: Who else?

Ambassador Ch’ai: Well, will Brezhnev also come in January?

Dr. Brzezinski: I am not sure. It is a possibility. But our invitation to the Chinese is completely independent of a Brezhnev visit. At the same time, we both know that the Soviet side likes to give these meetings global and worldwide significance.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Yes. Because they are a global hegemonist.

Dr. Brzezinski: They would be, but they are not yet.

Ambassador Ch’ai: So, do you think our January 1 target can be met?

Dr. Brzezinski: Yes.

Ambassador Ch’ai: I think so too. Our gap is not that big.

Dr. Brzezinski: Yes. Meeting the target and then giving it a personal touch is important, though, because in U.S. politics, the personal dimension is very important.

Ambassador Ch’ai: But my personal view is that the Chiang Embassy would still be here.

Dr. Brzezinski: No. If a communique is issued on January 1, then our diplomatic relations with Taiwan would be terminated, and there would be no Ambassador here. There may be personnel here, but they would not be recognized and they would be private.

I think the time has come to think politically and not formalistically.

I hope that Vice Premier Teng can see Woodcock soon and work on the issues. If you have anything to say, please call me.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Fine.

Dr. Brzezinski: If we are lucky, we are only three weeks away from a truly historical beginning.

Ambassador Ch’ai: Yes. We will all be happy to realize normalization. But I see that I have gone beyond the time that we had allotted. (rising) I always take more time.

Dr. Brzezinski: It is always important. I am always glad to see you.

Ambassador Ch’ai: One other thing. I also have authority to invite Califano to visit China.

Dr. Brzezinski: That is good. But we would prefer first for a Blumenthal/Kreps visit, since it is important that we begin to work on our financial and trade issues.

Ambassador Ch’ai: I understand.

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Dr. Brzezinski: Let me see you to your car.

(On Dr. Brzezinski’s instructions, Mr. Oksenberg told Ambassador Ch’ai as he left in the car that the last portion of the meeting was a personal expression of Dr. Brzezinski’s views and they were not to be entered into the negotiating record.)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, China: Normalization with PRC: Events–Aggregate Documentation: 8–12/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Alpha. The meeting took place in the White House. Oksenberg sent Brzezinski a copy of this memorandum on December 13 under a covering memorandum that stated, “For your information, this meeting ended at 21:57 Zulu time on December 11, or about 5 AM Peking time on December 12. The Woodcock meeting with Teng Hsiao-p’ing was set 18 hours later, just before 15:25 Zulu time on December 12, or about 7:00 p.m. Peking time. In short, Peking probably received the memcon near the opening of business on December 12 and decided to schedule the Teng meeting later in the day.” (Ibid.)