212. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vance-Gromyko Meeting, SALT, CTB


  • U.S.
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Ambassador Paul C. Warnke
  • Ambassador Malcolm Toon2
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR
  • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
  • First Dep. Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
  • Dep. Foreign Minister V.S. Semenov
  • Mr. A.M. Petrosyants3
  • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin4
  • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
[Page 523]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to a comprehensive test ban.]


Noting that in the person of Ambassador Warnke Secretary Vance had a specialist on all questions, Gromyko said that for the purpose of discussing CTB matters he would have to call in his experts.

Ambassador Toon, Chairman Petrosyants, Minister Semenov and Ambassador Dobrynin joined the group for discussion of CTB matters.

Ambassador Warnke expressed his belief that Chairman Petrosyants would agree with him in saying that good progress had been achieved toward a CTB Treaty. The Delegations were now working diligently to develop a separate verification agreement that would contain appropriate provisions. Warnke could really not see any issue of principle remaining. Initially there had been three major issues before the sides:

(1) Peaceful nuclear explosions;

(2) Verification; and

(3) Duration of the Treaty

Warnke would take them up in inverse order, because due to the fact that on September 2 President Brezhnev had agreed to a moratorium on peaceful nuclear explosions for the same duration as the Treaty, we could now agree to a limited duration and thus a limited moratorium.

We had agreed in principle that the duration of the Treaty would be either three years or five years. The two sides had also agreed that during the moratorium they would continue to consider together if there was some way to permit resumption of peaceful nuclear explosions without involving military aspects or endangering our common objective of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Thus, we now had substantive agreement on two of the three issues. As for verification, we did have agreement in principle. We had given up our traditional insistence on mandatory on-site inspection and had moved toward the Soviet position that such inspection be on a voluntary basis. We still had to work out the circumstances under which on-site inspection would be carried out, and the two sides were working on the conditions for such inspection. For our part, we were working on the assumption that a well substantiated demand for on-site inspection could not very well be rejected without affecting the viability of the Treaty. There were proposals on the table concerning specific numbers of locations for national seismic stations on the territory of the Soviet Union and the United States, and the experts of the two sides were currently engaged in intensive work on this question. Finally, there was no difference of views between the two sides regarding the fact that we were [Page 524] working toward a general and comprehensive test ban, and not merely toward a threshold test ban.

Warnke thought that both sides recognized that there were areas of routine scientific experiments producing very low yield that would have to be provided for. He knew that last year it had been pointed out in the course of discussions that one such area was that of laser fusion as a means of generating electricity. Experiments in that area would produce low nuclear yields, to be measured in terms of pounds. He was sure that there was no intention on either side to interfere with these scientific developments. Chairman Petrosyants would be an expert in this area, and would be familiar with the nature of these experiments.

Thus, Warnke would say, he was satisfied with the progress that had been achieved, and believed the prospects were good. He knew that they should consider together the question of the timing and entry into force of the Agreement, particularly in light of the recent UN Special Session on Disarmament and the proposal to reconstitute the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament.5 There were matters of procedure and timing, and how best to enlist international support, that could be worked out between the sides. He hoped that Chairman Petrosyants would in general agree with his review of where we stood at the present time.

Chairman Petrosyants said that, in general, the situation as set out by Ambassador Warnke was correct. Their negotiations were indeed being carried on successfully. The Delegations were engaged in intensive and important work on certain issues. However, he would have to report that they had not yet resolved and, he would even say, not even approached resolution of one major question. Some time ago the Soviet Union had suggested and tabled a proposed text for so-called Article I, the purpose of which it was to define the objectives of the Treaty. The language proposed by the Soviet side very clearly indicated the purposes of the Treaty and the ultimate objective of complete cessation of nuclear weapon tests in all environments. The U.S. Delegation, on the other hand, had merely set out its considerations in the so-called Working Document, but had not put forward a draft for Article I, i.e., for the Article which was to spell out the main purpose of the Treaty. He would ask that a draft of this Article be presented as soon as possible. That would make it easier to continue the work of the Delegations.

Petrosyants said that the greatest difficulty in the negotiations involved the question of verification. The Soviet Union was in favor of verification, and in this sense stood on common ground with the [Page 525] United States. The first element of verification was on-site inspection in the event of ambiguous physical phenomena which raised questions about compliance with the Treaty. On-site inspection would be implemented on a voluntary basis. In general, he would say, the work of specifying the functions of the personnel to be involved in on-site inspection was proceeding rather successfully. There were still some differences between the sides on this subject, but Petrosyants did not believe them to be so important as to warrant airing at so important a meeting as the current one. He was sure that he would be able to resolve them with Warnke.

As for the second element of the verification question—automatic national seismic stations—there were still quite a few unresolved questions and quite a few divergent views. The Soviet side believed it would be best to carry out verification by national technical means, including national seismic stations, which were in the possession of all the states involved. The U.S. Delegation had proposed installation of so-called automatically operated seismic stations on each other’s territory. He and Warnke had discussed the various characteristics of such stations, their range of operation, etc. At their invitation the principal inventor had come to Geneva, bringing with him documentation and figures. As a result of discussions with specialists, it had been established that to date these stations exist only on the drawing board, and that one could not expect even one such station to be assembled in the United States any earlier than October of this year. From a technical standpoint that station was very complex, and when the Soviet side had asked how much time would be required for testing it, the inventor had specified a period of no less than three months. In the Soviet view it would be impossible to guarantee that a station produced in just one sample and tested for only three months would operate reliably. He believed that it would be quite wrong to jeopardize the Treaty by installing this kind of equipment, since it would be very likely to mislead people. He did not believe it possible to put one’s faith into the operation of such a station without having any assurance of the reliability of its operation. One most important element of that station, the so-called authenticity block, did not even exist on the drawing board so far, and would not be completed even by October. For all these reasons he thought the sides should limit themselves to inspection by personnel and by using the technical facilities, including seismic stations, which the sides have at their disposal at present. Finally, the Soviet side believed that it should be possible to divide the verification question into two stages. At the first stage verification would be carried out without the use of national seismic stations on the territory of the other side, and at the second stage they could proceed to the use of improved seismic stations.

[Page 526]

Gromyko asked if the two sides had agreed on the possibility of using national seismic stations.

Petrosyants replied in the negative.

Secretary Vance asked what the quality of verification would be during the initial period without improved and installed seismic stations.

Petrosyants replied that first and foremost he would point out that neither side had any intention of violating the Treaty and conducting nuclear explosions.

Gromyko remarked that this should be viewed as the moral policy of all the countries involved.

Petrosyants pointed out something that he thought might be even more important. The United States had in its own country a well-developed network of seismic stations, as well as stations located along the perimeter of Soviet borders, particularly south and east of these borders. Thus, everything was subject to observation and identification. Moreover, there were systems for an international exchange of seismic data from seismic stations. All this, taken together, would in his view assure a good level of verification. This is why the Soviet side had not advanced any proposal to locate seismic stations on the territory of the United States. They simply were not needed.

Gromyko noted that there were evidently three issues that were not as yet finally agreed. The first concerned the purposes of the Treaty. It was obviously necessary to reach agreement on Article I, specifying that the Treaty was aimed at ensuring a complete ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. It should not be a difficult task to draft such an article. The fact that the United States had not provided a draft so far gave rise to certain doubts on his side. Secondly—duration of the Treaty. He had the impression that the United States was losing its taste for the five-year duration it had previously proposed. When he had been in Washington last and had indicated that a five-year term might be acceptable, he had thought that he had made a concession that would be readily grasped by the United States. He thought if a three-year duration were now to be established, people would become suspicious that the participants to the Treaty were developing new facilities and would engage in a new round of testing after the three-year period. Third, as to verification. Some progress had been achieved in view of the understanding on the participation of personnel on a voluntary basis. As for automatic equipment, he thought it would be best of all if agreement were reached to use the technical facilities as the disposal of each of the parties on a national basis. If any third country were to ask the United States to install so and so many stations on its territory, no one would object. But, in the absence of such requests, national technical means should be sufficient. After all, the initial participants in this Treaty were [Page 527] countries that had adequate technical means at their disposal. Moreover, the automatic “machine” the U.S. side had mentioned was still on the drawing board. From the standpoint of the tasks it was to perform it was a very crude piece of equipment. It could not distinguish between nuclear explosions and other explosions carried out for economic purposes, such as mining, for example. Would it then be necessary to call out the fire brigades each time that such a crude machine gave a signal? He would surely not characterize that kind of equipment as a miracle of technology. In fact, the use of a machine that could not distinguish between nuclear explosions and other explosions, carried out for economic purposes, could be likened to the use of an automatic lawn mower one controlled from one’s living room, which in addition to cutting the grass also destroyed one’s flower beds. It seemed to him that this whole question should be viewed in proper perspective and that agreement not be made contingent on some “miracle machine” of doubtful merit. He thought the two sides should agree to use the national technical means at their disposal for purposes of verification.

Fourth and last point: what should the agreement to be concluded be like? The United States somehow wanted it to provide for some kind of an exception. The Soviet side wanted to ensure that all nuclear weapon tests were ruled out under the Treaty, because in dealing with nuclear weapons it would make little difference whether the yield was expressed in terms of kilotons or pounds. We did have a threshold test ban agreement between us, although it had not yet been ratified and had not entered into force. Why, then, should our two countries sign a second threshold agreement? No, what was needed was a treaty completely banning all nuclear weapon tests. A new threshold agreement would only create doubts and make an unfavorable impression on world public opinion. As for scientific research, that would be a different matter, but it must not permit testing of nuclear weapons. If the U.S. side was aiming at another threshold agreement, the Soviet Union could not agree to such a concept. He would want to see the United States display greater flexibility in this respect. Of course, the distance between the two sides had been reduced to some extent, and that was good. But a certain distance nevertheless still remained.

The Secretary wanted to comment briefly on the four points Gromyko had made, and would then ask Mr. Warnke to state his views. First concerning the purposes to be spelled out in Article I of the Treaty. There was no difference between the two sides on the question that what we were seeking was a complete test ban. As for the time when we would be in a position to table our own version of Article I, he would ask Mr. Warnke to comment after he had finished. As for duration—we have been considering whether a three-year term or a five-year term would be most appropriate for the Treaty. When our consid[Page 528]eration of this matter was completed, we would be in touch. On the question of verification—the form of the instrument to be used in connection with verification was important from the standpoint of ratification in the United States, and it was a matter that would receive major attention during Congressional discussions in the process of ratification. Finally, on the fourth point—what we were talking about was laboratory research. There was no real difference between us in this respect.

Warnke said he did not have much to add to the Secretary’s comments. On the first point—we had submitted a Working Paper, and were developing an Article I which we hoped to submit in the near future. Secondly, regarding duration of the Treaty. Of course, one of the things to be considered in this connection was the impact of the Treaty on other countries, and the need to further the non-proliferation objectives we had in common. The Soviet Union had proposed a three-year duration. Warnke had listened to the arguments of the Soviet Delegation and had found them to be quite persuasive. Third, on verification. He did not believe it necessary to comment any further on on-site inspection. As for national seismic stations, he had thought that we had reached the point where the issue was not whether or not such stations were to be used, but rather when, how many and where. If the Soviet Union was now changing its position in this respect, Warnke could only view this as a serious setback to the negotiations. He believed it was necessary to recognize that neither side anticipated that we would not have an agreement that would replace the current one after three years. After all, it would hardly be worthwhile to negotiate on a three-year agreement unless we expected it to be replaced at the expiration of that period. He believed that one of the key factors for determining whether or not there would be another treaty banning nuclear testing would be the question of whether or not there was sufficient confidence in the verification procedures in the treaty now being negotiated. As Secretary Vance had pointed out, acceptability of the Treaty to the U.S. Senate would depend in large part upon Senate satisfaction with the verification procedures. He believed that the national seismic stations would prove to be an important element in such procedures. He further believed that from the standpoint of furtherance of our common non-proliferation objective, and from the standpoint of the impact on other countries, it was necessary to be sure that there were verification procedures and facilities that would give them confidence that the nuclear powers had stopped nuclear testing. Therefore, he would agree with what he understood Chairman Petrosyants had suggested—that there was the possibility of dividing verification into two stages, recognizing that time would be required before equipment could be installed in connection with these national seismic stations. However, he would not feel confident unless there was acceptance of the principle that after [Page 529] a certain period of time national seismic stations would in fact be installed. Thus, he felt that we ought to continue discussing the question of how many such stations would be installed, where and when. However, he believed that if there was a difference in principle on the entire question, he would say quite frankly that his optimism would be seriously set back. Concerning the technology involved, he did not think we needed to fear that the equipment in question would operate like the lawn mower to which Gromyko had referred. He believed that installing the equipment would be a substantial step forward in terms of verification and rather than raise questions, would settle them and promote confidence.

Gromyko noted that Warnke had avoided the question Gromyko had asked. He would therefore repeat it: will that equipment be capable of distinguishing between nuclear explosions and ordinary non-nuclear explosions carried out for economic purposes?

Warnke said the answer to that question was no.

Gromyko said that in his country, with its vast territory, hundreds and perhaps thousands of economic explosions were carried out annually, especially in the eastern part of the country. He would ask, then, will there be fire brigades constantly travelling throughout his country pursuant to signals received from that machine? He thought this would hardly promote confidence on either side. Such were his views concerning the equipment in question. As for national means, on its own territory each country could install as many machines as it felt were needed.

Warnke thought that Gromyko’s comments were not relevant to the issue. Obviously there will be chemical explosions, whether or not one had seismic stations. Chemical explosions could be appropriately dealt with through pre-notification procedures. But, he would point out, this was not a problem that would be created by the stations; the problem existed in any case. Otherwise one might also say that national technical means should not be very good, because if they were, they will raise questions. For purposes of verification we had proposed the use of national technical means, voluntary on-site inspection and these additional seismic stations. Without all three elements there would not be adequate confidence in compliance with a complete test ban. A limited threshold treaty would be futile in terms of furthering our non-proliferation objectives.

Gromyko said he could see that Warnke was quite hypnotized by his machine, a machine that could not distinguish between nuclear and chemical explosions. Well, that was his business. In a country as large as the Soviet Union there would be many chemical explosions for many different economic purposes. Could that machine distinguish chemical explosions from nuclear explosions? No, it could not. In the case of nu[Page 530]clear explosions, could it distinguish between weapons related explosions and economic explosions? No, it could not. It does not even exist as yet, has not been tested, and already the U.S. side was trying to impose such equipment on other countries. The Soviet Union was not in favor of that. The Soviets would like to see a more reliable system of verification. As far as the present parties to the negotiations were concerned, i.e., the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, they were quite capable of assuring reliable verification through the use of their own national technical facilities. As for the number of stations, of course the Delegations could discuss that matter; he would not reject that. But, things should be simplified and a certain flexibility displayed.

Further, Gromyko wanted to be sure that Secretary Vance and Mr. Warnke were not talking about nuclear explosions as such, but of laboratory experiments and research for scientific purposes. He would like to get some clarification of the nature of such laboratory explosions. If they were what he thought they were, perhaps there was a way out. What would be the scientific purposes of such laboratory experiments?

Warnke had two comments to make. First, he would return to his hypnotic machine. He would point out again that the chemical explosion problem would not be created by that machine. Practically, the solution to that problem would be to provide more information regarding the location of such explosions.

Gromyko interrupted to say that Warnke was just confirming what Gromyko had said.

Warnke would not pretend that the equipment would be perfect. However, it would be better than anything we had now. To object to the equipment because, while it could detect chemical explosions, it could not distinguish them from nuclear explosions, would be tantamount to saying that we must reduce the crime rate by reducing the number of police reports. Finally, regarding the question of scientific experiments. What we had in mind were routine scientific laboratory experiments, producing low yields. We were not proposing that either of us be enabled thereby to test nuclear weapons.

Gromyko felt it necessary to ask an additional question. When Warnke spoke of laboratory experiments did he really have in mind experiments conducted in an enclosed building, such as the buildings in which laboratories were usually located? Or did he have in mind experiments conducted in open spaces, somewhere in Nevada, or Nebraska, or some desert area?

Warnke replied that what he had in mind were experiments conducted in a reusable laboratory.

Gromyko said he could see that he had not received an answer.

Mr. Korniyenko added that the type of laboratory to be used required definition.

[Page 531]

Secretary Vance said it was his understanding that what we were talking about were experiments in an enclosed space.

Gromyko said it would be necessary to obtain additional information and confirmation regarding the purposes of the experiments, if the U.S. side could provide them, because the Treaty does place a great responsibility on the three countries involved.

The Secretary expressed his hope that the Soviet side would give some further thought to what appeared to be a radical change in the position of the Soviet side with respect to the machine Warnke had talked about. He could tell Gromyko that without doubt these three elements, this tri-partite verification process, would be very important in terms of Congressional consideration.

Gromyko said that the U.S. Government would best know how to deal with the U.S. Congress; he could not provide any advice in this respect. At the present time he could add nothing to the Soviet position. It seemed to him that the Soviet side had displayed a great deal of flexibility in the negotiation of the CTB Treaty. Thus, when the main question had appeared to be the question of duration, the Soviet Union had accepted the U.S. position, but now seismic stations were regarded as a matter of new importance.

Warnke said he could not accept the statement that this was a new matter. It had been an essential part of our position from the very beginning.

Gromyko recalled that in May President Carter had characterized the question of duration as being the most important question. He would refer the Secretary to the record of that conversation to confirm this fact.6

The Secretary said that what the President had in mind was based on his impression that duration was one matter on which there was disagreement. In the CTB negotiations, duration and verification were of coequal importance.

Gromyko reminded the Secretary that in May he had told President Carter that the Soviet Union would be prepared to accept a five-year term for the Treaty in the event that all other matters were agreed, including verification. The President quite definitely stressed duration as the most important question.

He could see that there was still some distance between the respective positions on the test ban treaty. This was not a simple matter; he would suggest that the Delegations continue their work. In general, the attitude of the Soviet Union, based on principle, toward the advisability of concluding a treaty on the complete banning of nuclear [Page 532] weapon tests had not changed in the least. He continued to believe that this would be an important international step. He would only ask the Secretary not to assume that the Soviet Union was interested in conclusion of such a treaty to any greater degree than the United States. In his view all three countries negotiating the treaty were equally interested in its conclusion.

The Secretary wanted to assure Gromyko that we assumed that all were equally interested in achieving this extremely important goal.

Gromyko said it was good to know that we shared the same objective.

  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 8, Vance-Gromyko July 1978. Secret. The meeting took place at the Soviet Mission. Drafted by Krimer on July 15.
  2. These participants joined the discussion at 11:50 a.m. for discussion of CTB matters. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See Document 501.
  6. See Document 201.