104. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • At luncheon hosted by him Wednesday—18 November

Dobrynin began the conversation by recalling staying with Ambassador Thompson at our farm in Maryland. He went on to ask me whether temporary ambassadors for special projects in the U.S. service were paid less than the ambassadors designated to capitals; the question seemed to bear on an issue in the Soviet service that he had to deal with. He asked where I would live in Geneva, which led to a discussion of George Kennan, whose apartment in Geneva we had once rented, and a further discussion of George Kennan as an historian and a poet. He could not understand Kennan’s interest in the Franco-Russian negotiations of 1895; they had no visible bearing on today’s issues.

Kvitsinskiy When we sat down for lunch, he asked me whether I had ever met Kvitsinskiy. I said I had not but had heard a great deal about him and understood him to be not only very knowledgeable about political issues regarding Germany but also a skilled linguist and competent negotiator. Dobrynin said he was relatively young, known as a “German” in the Ministry, and that Semenov2 was reluctant to see him leave as his deputy in Bonn. He asked me who would be my deputy; I replied Glitman would be mine. I asked him whether he knew who Kvitsinskiy’s deputy would be. He said when he had last been in Moscow there was a discussion whether the deputy should be a military or political man. He said he did not know how the debate had turned out. He said he had gotten the impression that they were looking toward a group on these negotiations who would be new to the subject of arms control negotiations, whereas, at least for the time being, they were thinking of a SALT delegation composed of those who have had prior experience. I asked whether that meant that Karpov was the likely head of the SALT Delegation. He answered in the affirmative.

INF Decision-Making Process He then asked me who would make decisions in the U.S. Government regarding the INF negotiations. I [Page 357] said that administratively we reported to ACDA, but that questions of policy were handled interdepartmentally with the final decision going up to the NSC and the President. I asked him how the decision-making process was carried out in the USSR. He said that most decisions were made by Gromyko and Ustinov together, they reporting to the Politburo or directly to Mr. Brezhnev. I recollected that Ustinov, as the minister in charge of war production, and Smirnov, his deputy, had played a role in SALT I separate from the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dobrynin said that was correct. Ustinov and Smirnov knew exactly what factories were able to produce what and in what time, and therefore had an important contribution to make in the SALT I and II discussions. Now that Ustinov was Minister of Defense this type of expertise was no longer necessary, although Smirnov had wider talents than merely war production and was sometimes consulted. I asked Dobrynin whether there was a subcommittee of the Politburo which dealt with national security issues, including arms control. He said there was not.

Duration of Negotiations He asked me how long I expected the negotiations to continue before we arrived at an agreement. I said I hoped for an agreement by next February. I thought the logic of our case was clear. I understood Mr. Kvitsinskiy to be a competent and intelligent man and hoped that he, seeing the logic of our case, could come to an agreement early. This response seemed to surprise Dobrynin.

Reagan Speech/Brezhnev Interview He said he had listened to the President’s speech and could not believe that he was serious.3 There was no possibility that the Soviet Union would agree to what he was proposing. I said that I had carefully studied Brezhnev’s interview in Der Spiegel.4 There were many things in the interview concerning broad objectives with which I thought my government could agree. However, when it came to the specific proposals outlined in the interview, there was no possibility that the U.S. would agree with those proposals. I could ask him the same question that he had asked me; how would they propose to get from a position unacceptable to the U.S. to one that was mutually acceptable?

Free Discussion I went on to say that in order to get to mutually agreed positions I thought it was important that Mr. Kvitsinskiy and I have a wide-ranging discussion and see if we could not agree as [Page 358] to the facts with respect to the full range of weapon systems which either side might consider to bear upon our negotiations. In this connection, I said I took it that the principle which had applied in preceding negotiations, that either side would be free to raise any points it wished to, would hold in this negotiation. Dobrynin expressed complete agreement with that point.

I then went on to say that, whereas Mr. Brezhnev had mentioned a range of systems in his interview, he had really focused upon the necessity for limitations on what he called the medium-range ground based missiles; the Pershing IIs and GLCMs on our side and the SS–20s and the 4s and 5s, which he said would be phased out, on their side. I said the point I was leading up to was I thought a distinction should be made between what either side might wish to discuss and the systems on which we should focus for specific limitation at this time.

Missile Definition Dobrynin asked me whether there was any difference between what we were referring to as “intermediate-range” missiles and what they called “medium-range” missiles. I said that I considered the word “intermediate-range” to cover the entire range intermediate between that of battlefield weapons and intercontinental-strategic weapons.

Range vs Location Dobrynin asked me what we meant when we used the word “global.” I replied that that was something which we would be prepared to discuss in detail with Mr. Kvitsinskiy; in general, it was my view that weapons should be limited by range class rather than location. I asked Dobrynin what Mr. Brezhnev had meant when he had used the phrase “salvo” capability. Dobrynin said that was the inventory of all the available weapons. I said I had the impression that the word implied simultaneity. He said that was true; it meant all the weapons which could be launched at one time.

Project to Reduce the Risk of War Dobrynin asked me what I considered the most important factor in an acceptable agreement; was it verification? I said it was not. I thought the most important factor was the substantive contribution that an agreement could make in carrying out the objectives which both Brezhnev and the President had stated so clearly—that of reducing the risk of war. If one took that objective seriously, then it should be possible to work out mutually acceptable methods fully to do so. Having done that, we should then address ourselves cooperatively to the important task of making the agreement verifiable.

Allies’ Support At this point Dobrynin changed the subject matter. He asked me why we should not just forget about intermediate-range weapons and just concentrate upon those systems which could attack the territory of the other side. I said that in the long history [Page 359] of U.S./USSR relations the differences between us had had little to do with direct conflicts of interest between the USSR and the U.S. as such. Most of them had arisen over conflicts of interest with respect to geopolitical situations between our two countries, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Far East. We did not in any way plan to separate their interests from those of our Allies. Dobrynin rather lamely replied that, of course, they would not separate their interests from those of the other members of the Warsaw Pact. I noted that our negotiations were, of course, bilateral and that neither side was therefore authorized to discuss the limitation of weapon systems of other countries.

Speech Numbers Dobrynin then asked me about the numbers in the President’s speech and inquired if I knew what was included in the composition of the classes of systems behind those numbers. I said I had not participated in their preparation and was not able to reply at this time. I said I was sure that that information would be made fully available. I went on to repeat the point that I thought it would be extremely useful if Mr. Kvitsinskiy and I could come to agreement as to the data on weapon systems by class based on type and range.

SALT He asked me about my views on the interface between these negotiations and the SALT negotiations. I said there was a close relationship, but that I thought it was possible to have a useful agreement on INF without necessarily simultaneously having an agreement on SALT.

He asked me why I had been against the ratification of SALT II. I said I had not recommended to senators that they vote against ratification. I had said I did not think they should vote on the issue without fully understanding its terms and what it did and did not do. I said I did have strong reservations about some of the aspects of SALT II. In particular, I thought a mistake had been made in the Moscow Accord of 1974 of abandoning the objective of having a treaty of indefinite duration and substituting instead a target of an agreement expiring at the end of 1985. Dobrynin said he agreed with this; the Protocol had already expired and the treaty itself had only a few more years to run. He went on to say that for the time being it was possible for the USSR to live by the terms of SALT II, even though not ratified, but it might not be possible to continue this in the indefinate future.

I went on to say that I was concerned that the structure of SALT II set up incentives which were perverse. He asked me what I meant by that. I said that the basic limitation being on numbers of launchers of various classes, there was a strong incentive for each side to build the largest missiles permitted by the agreement. I thought this incentive to be perverse. Dobrynin protested that [Page 360] they would be willing to see the limitation on heavy missiles provide equal rights to both sides, but they understood that we did not wish to deploy such missiles. They only wanted the right because they already had them.

RV Limit He then went on to ask me whether I thought there was a better method of limitation. I said I thought there was. One such method might be a limitation on the number of reentry vehicles with a further limitation on the power of individual reentry vehicles in order to prevent rabbits from being equated with elephants. Dobrynin said that they could see no problem with a limitation based on RVs; we had more than did they.

“Big” vs “Small” Agreement Dobrynin again changed the subject. He asked me whether I wished a “big” as opposed to a “small” agreement. He said to arrive at a big agreement might take a long time. Would not it perhaps be advantageous to strive for a small agreement which would give the world a sense of progress and might be done relatively quickly. I said I was inherently a “big” agreement man; I took seriously the objective of reducing the risk of war and felt that this could not be done by agreements which were basically cosmetic. I repeated the point that if the Soviets took seriously the general objectives contained in both Brezhnev’s interview and in the President’s speech, it should be possible to work out an agreement which would, in fact, significantly reduce the risk of war. I said that to do so might be more expensive, but that it would be worth the cost. We agreed that both sides have gone to MIRVed weapons primarily because they are more cost-effective per unit of destructiveness than single RV weapons.

Confidentiality I asked Dobrynin what their policy would be on the confidentiality of the negotiations. He said his side was much better disciplined to maintain confidentiality than was ours. I agreed. I said I would talk to Kvitsinskiy about the subject in Geneva. I thought both delegations would wish to maintain a high degree of confidentiality; undoubtedly governments would handle matters as they saw fit.

Personals Dobrynin referred to his 19 years as Ambassador in Washington and the contrast of that life with his upbringing in Russia. He was part of a large family. His father had been a plumber and his mother had died when he was young. He referred to his country retreat on the Eastern Shore, some 15 miles from Gerard Smith’s place, with pleasure.

At this point I changed the subject. I said I thought I had been engaged in the subject of U.S./USSR relations perhaps as long as anyone who was still around. I said that in the summer of 1932 I had run into Bill Bullett on a subway in New York and asked him [Page 361] to supper at my apartment, which I shared with Sidney Spivak. Spivak was helping Franklin Roosevelt at the time during the election campaign of 1932. Bullett had been a friend of John Maynard Keynes at the Versailles Treaty conference and after the treaty had been put on a mission to Moscow to talk to Chicherin about the possibility of improving Western relations with the USSR. Spivak introduced Bullett to FDR and Bullett was the one who persuaded Roosevelt to establish diplomatic relations with the USSR. I, therefore, felt I had had something to do, even though indirectly, with the beginning of official relations between the two countries.

Dobrynin said that the INF negotiations could be of great importance. For the time being, at least, they were the only ones going on between the USSR and the U.S. They could, in fact, be historic. He made a final point that, if we could work out a successful agreement in this negotiation, that would open the door to all manner of favorable developments in the general field of U.S./Soviet relations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Lot 90D397, Ambassador Nitze’s Personal Files 1953, 1972–1989, November 1981. Secret. Nitze signed the memorandum and forwarded copies to Eagleburger and Rostow under cover of a November 20 memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to Soviet Ambassador to West Germany Vladimir Semenov.
  3. Reference is to Reagan’s speech that morning to the National Press Club in which he called for strategic arms reductions. (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pp. 1062–1067)
  4. Reference is to Brezhnev’s interview in Der Spiegel, November 2, on the occasion of his visit to Bonn.