77. Memorandum for the Record by Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff1


  • Summary of Ambassador Woodcock’s Conversations in the White House, February 7, 1978

I. BrzezinskiWoodcock—10:30–11:00 a.m.

In his meeting with Dr. Brzezinski, Ambassador Woodcock stated he was enjoying Peking.

Brzezinski thanked him for the cable.2 Brzezinski said he had shown Secretary Vance a copy of his own cables and he hoped the Secretary had indicated that to Woodcock. Woodcock said Vance has said so. Brzezinski said his relations with Vance were very good, they kept each other fully informed, and there were no bureaucratic differences between them. Brzezinski did not preclude Vance’s subordinates from fearing that Brzezinski was a potential Kissinger and saw a trip to Peking in this light.

Woodcock said he would welcome a Brzezinski trip. When Brzezinski’s cable first arrived, Woodcock discussed the matter with his DCM and both agreed a trip would be very desirable.3 However, in the light of the press stir which Woodcock’s remarks created last week (concerning the absurdity of not recognizing Peking as the government of China),4 Woodcock feared that a Brzezinski trip might raise concerns [Page 289] about normalization, which in turn might become an election issue in the fall. Woodcock also was concerned that the Chinese might react negatively to a trip that would not advance normalization. Woodcock said he was not speaking on instructions but was voicing his own opinion.

Brzezinski expressed concern that we have not managed the triangle well and that by year’s end, our relations with both the PRC and Moscow could be worse off than when we took office. We could enter the elections without a SALT agreement and with the Soviets consolidating a position in the Horn. For there to be no trip to China during 1978, at a time when SALT and Ethiopia are before us, would run counter to our objective of developing a genuinely consultative relationship with Peking. Brzezinski did not think we would be managing the triangle well by giving such low priority to China.5

Brzezinski said he considered our relations with Peking to consist of two tracks: the bilateral and the global-strategic. Naturally, one affects the other and presumably normalization would enhance our ability to have a genuine dialogue with Peking. Brzezinski would not wish to visit Peking unless Woodcock thought it would be helpful. In conjunction with a trip to Tokyo and Seoul possibly in late March–early April or in June, Brzezinski thinks a trip to Peking to discuss world affairs—particularly SALT, the Middle East, and Ethiopia—might be appropriate. The President would have to decide.6

Oksenberg added that with respect to Woodcock’s concerns, a spring visit would probably be forgotten by the fall. Moreover, it could [Page 290] be made clear to the Chinese and American press in advance that the trip will deal primarily with world affairs.

Brzezinski stated that while it would be impossible totally to avoid bilateral matters on his trip, to the extent these issues arose, he would wish Woodcock to take the lead in this portion of the talks, since normalization primarily fell in State/diplomatic channels.

Brzezinski then asked Woodcock what his views were on normalization and whether he heard of Cranston’s idea. Woodcock knew of Cranston’s proposal and he too favored a unilateral action by the U.S., accompanied by a statement on how we would continue our relationship with Taiwan unimpaired.7 Brzezinski expressed regrets that we didn’t do that in the first month, that this was one of three gordian knots—Korea and the Mid East being the others—which required decisive, clean cut Presidential leadership.

Woodcock and Brzezinski agreed that the timing on normalization should come soon after the Congressional elections.

II. The President–Woodcock—11:40 a.m.–12:00 noon

Woodcock told me the meeting went well. The Vice President joined soon after the session began.8 They discussed domestic politics. On China, Woodcock said the President had agreed with him on the importance of normalization, on the way it should be done, and as far as a time frame is concerned, the President privately indicated he thought soon after the fall elections would be appropriate. Woodcock told me the possibility of a Brzezinski trip arose, and Woodcock responded as he had to Brzezinski—initially for but currently having two concerns.

Holbrooke told me Woodcock had reported the President said he regretted not having moved on normalization in the first month.

Woodcock told me he had briefed Brzezinski on his conversation with the President.

III. WoodcockMondale—12:00 noon

Woodcock told me he met with the Vice President after the joint meeting with the President. Woodcock said the Vice President asked whether Woodcock would have even greater concerns if the Vice Presi[Page 291]dent visited China this spring, to which Woodcock replied, “Well, obviously.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 43, Meetings: 1–3/78. Top Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. Not further identified. Brzezinski may be referring to backchannel message 169 from Beijing, November 22, 1977 (mistakenly dated August 22), in which Woodcock wrote, “I would be genuinely delighted to welcome you in Peking. Ideally, the best timing would be as soon as possible after the conclusion of the SALT II agreement with Soviets. A briefing on SALT and other important global policies would be of real interest to Chinese leaders. Our strategic stance is at the heart of our relationship, as the Chinese have reminded us many times, and being informed by you of our latest thinking in this regard would be of real help in demonstrating our continuing interest in our relations with the PRC.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 46, China: Brzezinski, May, 1978, Trip: 11/77–5/17/78)
  3. Woodcock is probably referring to a backchannel message (the number is illegible but may be WH70578) to Beijing, December 19, in which Brzezinski expressed an interest in visiting China. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 8, Backchannel Messages: Peking: 2/77–8/78)
  4. On February 2, The Washington Post reported an interview with Woodcock on February 1 in which he said that the lack of normal relations with the Mainland was “founded on an obvious absurdity.” (Lee Byrd, “Woodcock Sees U.S. Establishing Full Peking Ties,” p. A1)
  5. On February 9, Brzezinski discussed the “triangle” in one of his regular weekly reports to the President: He listed “Our failure to exploit politically our relatively favored position in the U.S.-Soviet-Chinese triangle” as one of “three developments which cumulatively may adversely affect the overall global position of the United States.” Next to Brzezinski’s comment about the failure to exploit the triangle, Carter wrote, “Later—(post-Panama).” Brzezinski also noted, “we have failed almost entirely to take advantage of the opportunity inherent in the Sino-Soviet hostility, while concentrating heavily on enlarging the scope of U.S.-Soviet negotiations.” (NSC Weekly Report #46 from Brzezinski to Carter, February 9; Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 41, Weekly Reports [to the President], 42–52 [1/78–3/78])
  6. In his February 9 weekly report to the President, Brzezinki advocated a visit to China: “Finally, in part because of Chinese rigidity, and in part because (in my judgment) of excessive sensitivity to the Soviets, we have slighted the Chinese connection. Even if normalization has to proceed slowly, and Vance’s trip to Peking bears this out, there is no reason why the consultative relationship—resting quite frankly on a shared concern over Soviet aggressiveness—should not be cultivated. This is why I favor your instructing me to visit China sometime in March or April to engage in quiet consultations (not bilateral negotiations—and the Chinese would have to agree to this in advance) regarding global issues, thereby also sending a signal to the Soviets which might prove helpful on such matters as the Horn or SALT. (Domestically, it would be viewed as a hard-nosed act, and hence useful.)” Carter underlined “Chinese rigidity,” and wrote, “yes” in the margin. He underlined “sensitivity to the Soviets,” and wrote, “no” in the margin. (Ibid.)
  7. In his February 1 interview, Woodcock stated he was “delighted” with Senator Alan Cranston’s idea that the United States end diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. See footnote 4 above. Cranston had visited China in January with a group of Congressmen.
  8. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met with Woodcock on February 7 from 11:40 a.m. until 12:05 p.m., with Brzezinski in attendance only from 11:40 until 11:42. Mondale arrived at 11:45 and stayed until 12:05. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials)