20. Informal Notes on a Meeting Between Secretary of State Vance and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin 1

1. Dobrynin came in at his request for the purpose of delivering a letter from Brezhnev to the President. He presented the Russian text and an unofficial translation prepared in the Soviet Embassy. (He commented as he did so that he was doing our work for us, and that we did not generally prepare a Russian translation of our letters to Brezhnev.)

2. The Brezhnev letter is a reply to the President’s letter of January,2 and matches the President’s letter in its blunt tone, and round-up coverage of a number of issues. However, it is in line with recent Brezhnev speeches that express concern about the state of US-Soviet relations and a desire to seek an improvement. It probably was written before the Brezhnev speeches of last week, and lacks the upbeat suggestion of steps to infuse a new dynamism in the relationship.3

The letter expresses disappointment at the lack of progress in the SALT negotiations since the Gromyko visit to Washington last Sep[Page 48]tember,4 and protests what he sees as our use of domestic opposition to SALT to gain bargaining advantages.

On the neutron bomb, the letter also expresses disappointment with the President’s reply, and repeats the concern that the neutron bomb would lower the nuclear threshold.

He remonstrates US linkage of arms control negotiations with other issues, particularly the Horn, and repeats that Soviet objectives in the Horn are limited to helping Ethiopia resist Somali aggression.

On the Middle East, the letter responds by saying that it is the US, not the SU, that has departed from the common approach agreed upon in the joint statement of October 1,5 and has encouraged separate negotiations between Egypt and Israel. Other Arab states will not participate even if these bilateral negotiations succeed, he says, and therefore only a comprehensive settlement at Geneva can resolve the situation.

3. The Secretary asked if Dobrynin had a report on the Assad conversations in Moscow. Dobrynin said he had not yet received the information, but would hope to be able to convey a report shortly.

4. ASAT . The Secretary informed Dobrynin that the US is prepared to begin discussions on this subject in April at Geneva, and covered the other points set forth in the agreed talking points.

Dobrynin replied that, as Brezhnev had said in a previous letter, the ASAT discussions should cover not only the satellite versus satellite problem, but also the shuttle system versus satellite situation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 3, CV-Dobrynin 2/28/78. Secret. Drafted by Shulman on March 1. The informal notes are printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 85.
  2. Omission in the original. Carter’s January 25 letter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 77.
  3. Reference presumably to remarks Brezhnev made during a “high level” meeting in the Kremlin on February 24. He stated that improved U.S.-Soviet relations were “blocked by all kinds of obstacles,” including slow progress on talks to limit strategic arms, the neutron bomb, and trade. (“Brezhnev Claims U.S. is Blocking Improved Ties,” New York Times, February 25, 1978)
  4. On Gromyko’s September 1977 visit to Washington, where he met Vance and Carter, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 50.
  5. The joint statement on the Middle East is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Document 120. The New York Times and Washington Post published the full text of the statement on Sunday, October 2.