499. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Representatives of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State
  • Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Representative to the UN
  • Ambassador James Leonard, Jr., U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN
  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Marjorie Benton, U.S. Delegation to the UN Special Session on Disarmament
  • Paul Newman, U.S. Delegation to the UN Special Session on Disarmament
  • Robert D. Putnam, National Security Council Staff Member
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The President opened the meeting by thanking the delegation for their service at the Special Session. He pointed out that a number of new U.S. arms control policies had been undertaken in the last sixteen months, in such areas as non-proliferation, SALT, CTB, ASAT, Indian Ocean, and conventional arms transfers. In this latter field, we have unilaterally imposed a series of annual reductions, while honoring previous commitments in a minimal way. We are in close consultation with our key allies and other powers on this topic. At the Special Session the delegation can stand on this solid record. The President recalled his discussions with Callaghan, Schmidt, and Giscard about their proposals to the Special Session. We are in the midst of reinvigorating the MBFR talks and have recently had a fairly favorable response in those talks. In short, progress is being made on a number of fronts. How can we now help constructively to make a success of SSOD and to lay the ground work for future arms control efforts?

Ambassador Young reported that the Vice President’s speech2 had set a realistic tone for a serious discussion of complex issues at the Special Session. Other countries recognized that the U.S. is taking the Special Session seriously. To the extent that there was any disappointment, it was because there had been high hopes for U.S. moral leadership, embodied perhaps in one or two creative initiatives. The Vice President had said that we were there to listen, however, leaving open the possibility that our policies would evolve. The U.S. Delegation wanted to report to the President mid-way through the Special Session on possible U.S. contributions to building a consensus document.

The President asked what we could do now to be more constructive.

Ambassador Young reported that he and Governor Harriman had worked out some language that might be helpful. Under the non-proliferation treaty, all nuclear powers are committed to moving to eliminate our nuclear arsenals and to offering security assurances to non-nuclear weapons states. On the latter, the President came close in his speech at the United Nations,3 and the language that Cy Vance has recommended would go the rest of the way. The delegation’s original instructions to oppose cutoff proposals were insufficiently forthcoming. The new language that the President has approved would give the delegation latitude on cutoff. We are far ahead of the Soviets on this issue.

The President interjected that on negative security assurances he is prepared to let Cy Vance issue a statement along the lines of the language that had been worked out previously.

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Ambassador Leonard said that this assurance should be offered in a most solemn way. He proposed that Secretary Vance issue the statement in the name of the President, possibly at New York next week.

The President said it should be done without delay. Otherwise, the decision would ooze out and be subject to misinterpretation. Are there things at SSOD, beyond these two, that are important?

Ambassador Young replied that as the Vice President had announced, the United States favors a follow-up conference. We are pushing for greater openness about military budgets. We are in a good position at the Special Session. He said he had underestimated the significance of SSOD.

The President asked if there was more substance to it than Ambassador Young had expected.

Ambassador Young replied that SSOD will start a process. Other nations are looking to us for leadership. As in the case of the Seventh Special Session on North/South economic relations,4 this Special Session is the beginning of a longer process, and between now and 1981, SSOD will continue to have echoes.

The President noted that it is important that the U.S. Delegation emphasize at SSOD what we have already done, including our efforts to get full adherence to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and to control conventional weapons in Latin America. He noted that we could make still more progress if others would adopt the policies that the United States had unilaterally imposed upon itself on conventional arms transfers. Third, the delegation can emphasize the important steps that we have taken in the area of non-proliferation and should make every effort to get other countries to join in these initiatives.

The Secretary of State remarked that there is only one country which has not joined us on Tlatelolco,5 and that country is beginning to feel the pressure.

Ambassador Leonard noted that it is important that the U.S. is continuing to make progress on SALT and on CTB, but even so, other nations fear that there are no ceilings yet on the arms race.

The President interjected that they’re right.

Ambassador Leonard continued that a cutoff is needed in order to impose a ceiling on the arms race. The new guidance will give the delegation a good posture for achieving a consensus document at the Spe [Page 1234] cial Session, although we will be pressed to commit ourselves to specific negotiations. He hoped that the President would continue to follow up on the cutoff study.6 He and others believe that cutoff would be in our national security interest. However, he recognized that the study has not progressed to a point which would allow us to make that case and, therefore, the guidance does not extend that far.

Mr. Newman noted that these decisions will help immensely the morale of the U.S. Delegation in New York and it will help significantly in achieving consensus at the Special Session. It will help, for example, in heading off the Iraqi resolution condemning the United States and Israel for armaments in the Middle East.

The President asked that Secretary Vance, Ambassador Young, and Mr. Aaron work on the announcement of the negative security assurance.

Ambassador Young noted that over the last five years opinion polls have shown, without much variation, 75% approval of both SALT and détente. The only exception was the period in 1976 when President Ford rejected the word “détente,” but thereafter, the proportion went back up from 50% to 75%. He hoped that we could use SSOD to rally American public opinion in support of SALT.

Ms. Benton suggested to the President in this context that he do a fireside chat on SALT and détente, to clarify Administration policy.

The President termed this an excellent idea that we would work on. We are evolving a public relations campaign to sell SALT to the American people and to the Senate. In the absence of an agreed treaty, it would be premature to work in that direction. We have agreed with the Soviets not to reveal details of the negotiations at this time. But at this point we are in good shape in terms of U.S. public opinion, with a ratio of 78 to 12 in favor of SALT, almost the reverse of the split on the Panama Canal at the outset.7 The Republicans have decided to campaign against SALT, although that will be a serious mistake on their part. Some Republicans, like Matthias, Kissinger, and Ford may support SALT, but most will campaign against it. In this case, however, we will have public opinion on our side. He repeated his thanks to the delegation for their contribution to the work of the Special Session. He noted his appreciation for Harold Willens’ article in the New York Times on the importance of press coverage of SSOD.8

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, EXDIS Memcons, 1978. Secret; Exdis. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 495.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 473.
  4. The UN’s Seventh Special Session devoted to improving the economic prospects of the developing countries took place in September 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–14, Part 1, Documents on the United Nations, 1973–1976, Documents 27, 28, and 29.
  5. France.
  6. See Documents 484 and 485.
  7. Public opinion polls taken in 1977 as the Carter administration resumed the final negotiations of the Panama Canal treaty revealed that over 70% of the American public opposed the treaty, which would have given control over the canal zone to Panama.
  8. Harold Willens, “Where Are the Media?,” New York Times, June 11, 1978, p. E21.