267. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East, Arms Control



    • Secretary Cyrus R. Vance
    • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
    • Mr. Paul Warnke
    • Assistant Secretary Arthur Hartman
    • Mr. William Hyland
    • Mr. Leslie Gelb
    • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
    • Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers L.V. Smirnov
    • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
    • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
    • Notetaker—Name Unknown
    • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to conventional arms transfers.]


The Secretary suggested they now take up the question of arms transfers to third world countries. He said that we were concerned that arms transfers by the US and USSR to other countries, into the third world, could in the long run only lead to misunderstandings and difficulties. In our judgement, we had to find a way to exercise restraint in transferring arms to third world countries. Our restraint would depend on restraint by the Soviet Union, and it seemed to us that we should also enlist the cooperation of other sellers of weapons. As President Carter had said, we would be prepared to take unilateral steps in this direction. But in the long run, unilateral action could not succeed without the cooperation of other countries supplying arms. He proposed to use a specific example. In our judgement, providing arms to countries in southern Africa would fuel the flames and possibly lead to a broad conflict. We believed that this was not in the interest of either our two countries nor in the interest of people in the area. We believed that such actions could only strain relations between our two countries, which was not in our mutual interest. Therefore, we wanted to get the [Page 657] situation under control, either on a multilateral or bilateral basis. The United States would like to begin a serious dialogue on the question of arms transfers. He would appreciate learning Gromyko’s thoughts on how we could exchange views on this subject. We would emphasize our interest in how one might reach a multilateral agreement among arms suppliers, and how one might best proceed to organize such an accord. We had already raised our concerns with the Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain and France.

Gromyko acknowledged that the problem did exist. No one could deny that. Much weaponry was supplied to many countries. The biggest arms supplier, as President Carter has said on various occasions, was the United States, and had been for some time. In this connection, he would ask a specific question by way of example. Who was it that forced the United States to supply billions of dollars worth of armaments to Iran—was it any action on the part of the Soviet Union or some other country? Was this really indicative of any desire to exercise restraint? The Soviet leadership had been surprised and concerned when it learned of these massive arms sales. In effect, these sales had aggravated the problem. That was his first remark. Secondly, it was obvious that this question should be posed within the context of the military clashes that were taking place in the world. There were some countries that, whether we wanted it or not, were involved in military conflicts, and this fact was greatly related to the question of arms transfers. Only on paper could these two questions be separated. In any case, very frequently this linkage was obvious. Thirdly, the Soviet Union would be prepared to consider any concrete proposal the US Government wanted to table with a view to resolving this problem. Whenever the United States was ready, the USSR would be happy to take a look at it. The more specific, the better. Before involving others, it would perhaps be better to talk between our two countries; otherwise, third parties might ask for our own joint views, which might not exist.

The Secretary said that one of the problems one faces in the area of arms transfers was that it was often said that should we not sell arms to some country or another, the Soviet Union, or France, or Germany, would certainly jump in and do so. As a result, arms sales continued. One simply had to find a way to cut the Gordian Knot.

Gromyko said he realized the problem did exist and it was necessary to take a look at it.

The Secretary asked if it might be looked at in the context of the Middle East, perhaps.

Gromyko said that if it were done in the context of a peaceful settlement in that area, the Soviet Union would be in favor of it.

The Secretary asked: “Why not before?”

[Page 658]

Gromyko said that it could not be done before, simply because it would be wrong from a political, factual, or any other aspect now. For example, on February 18, 1977, Reuters reported a statement by Prime Minister Rabin of Israel that Israel had received 1½ billion dollars worth of weapons since the 1973 war, as against 300 million before that. Gromyko thought the Secretary would agree that arms transfers and conflicts were interrelated.

The Secretary pointed out that this was certainly not a one-sided issue. The Minister would know that the Soviet Union had supplied massive arms to Middle East countries.

Gromyko said he would not deny that, and suggested our two countries find ways to do something about it.

The Secretary asked: “What about Africa?”

Gromyko said the same thing applied there, except that in that whole area there were 100 times more American weapons than Soviet.

The Secretary suggested that was something that we must jointly examine in the future.

  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 to Moscow, March 28–30, 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer; approved in draft by Hyland; and approved by Twadell on May 9. The meeting took place at the Kremlin. The memorandum is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 20.