273. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Secretary Brown’s Visit to China: Conflicting Memoranda from Vance & Brown

I enclose two memoranda, one from Secretary Brown outlining the character of his planned visit to China, and one from Secretary Vance [Page 989] recommending that it be postponed until next year.2 Secretary Vance’s memorandum, in addition, raises two additional issues: he addresses himself more generally to the need for balance in the U.S.-Chinese relationship; and he recommends that our response to the problem posed by the Soviet brigade in Cuba be limited to Cuba itself.

Insofar as the triangular relationship is concerned, I do not believe that we can have the same relations with the Soviet Union, a country which threatens us militarily as well as indirectly through Cuba and does so on a global scale, and China, which neither threatens us nor is engaged in any activities directed at us. While our relationship with China should stand on its own feet, it is simply unavoidable that the scale and warmth of that relationship will be affected by how the Soviets behave towards us. This applies even to a modest security relationship, and to forego that possibility altogether would be a unilateral concession (and an unreciprocated one).

With regard to Cuba, I agree that a solution for the brigade issue should be confined to Cuba; but if no solution is found, the only way we can respond is by addressing ourselves to the larger issue of Soviet assertiveness and disregard for our interests. Anything less than that will look either like cosmetics or like a one-sided concession. Again, it is not a matter of preference but of reality.

Finally, with respect to the Brown trip, you should take into account the following considerations:

(1) This visit was proposed to the Chinese by the Vice President with your approval and the date of October–November was discussed, following their extremely positive reaction. A change in our posture will now look like a zigzag, and it is likely to have a negative impact on some sensitive negotiations which I am now about to initiate.

(2) We did invite Defense Minister Ustinov to visit the United States and he declined; we hinted to the Soviets that they could invite Secretary Brown to visit the Soviet Union and they did not respond. Accordingly, we have tried to give the Soviets an equal opportunity.

(3) The time has come to send the Soviets a clear signal that their disregard for our interests will affect some aspects of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Brown’s prospective visit thus comes actually at an opportune time.


1. In the light of the foregoing, I recommend that you approve the visit; that it be scheduled for October–November this year; and that I be authorized to negotiate the dates with the Chinese (however, the an[Page 990]nouncement of such a visit has to be coordinated with the Chinese, and thus I doubt that it can be made before next week).3

2. To assuage Cy and to somewhat reduce the jolt on the Soviets, Cy should tell Dobrynin that Brown will be visiting China (he can refer in this context to our earlier invitation to Ustinov) but that in the substance of that visit we will remain conscious of Soviet concerns, provided they are also conscious of the need to be sensitive to our concerns. This will indicate to the Soviets that we are not moving toward a broad security relationship, and that we are aware of Soviet sensitivity—but that we are also not prepared to engage in one-sided respect for Soviet sensitivities, without reciprocity. Advance information will be an act of courtesy and will make it somewhat easier for Cy.

3. It might also be a useful gesture to suggest to Cy that he indicate to Gromyko that I am prepared, in the course of my forthcoming trip to Europe, to visit Moscow for the informal high-level U.S.-Soviet consultations that both sides have recognized are needed from time to time, which were specifically mentioned in Vienna, and which Dobrynin has occasionally suggested to me (as a means of enlarging the scope of the U.S.-Soviet dialogue). A visit by me to Moscow either shortly before or after Brown’s visit to China would be a balancing act, and might be timely in view of the high probability that the Cuban issue will not yet be resolved. Although Cy may be of two minds on it, I should think in some ways he would view it as a desirable development, if the Brown trip goes forward. Moreover, his raising it with Gromyko would clearly underline the fact that it is being undertaken on his initiative. If you approve this thought, I would recommend that you indicate this to Cy yourself and not have me do it with him either formally or informally.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 25, Brown (Harold) 1/80 Trip, 8–9/79. Secret.
  2. Printed as Documents 271 and 272.
  3. Carter did not mark the Approve or Disapprove option under any of the recommendations.