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173. Memorandum of Conversation
Washington, April 12, 1974, 11:05 a.m.-12:55 p.m.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
The President greeted the Foreign Minister in the Oval Office. As they were seated and waiting for photographers to enter, the President noted in jest that Gromyko had been called a right-wing deviationist. Gromyko said that he was a little bit to the right of center according to contemporary terminology. Pictures were then taken. Secretary Kissinger mentioned the current UN session and said that it would be the first time that he would give a longer speech than the Soviet Foreign Minister. Gromyko asked how much longer. Secretary Kissinger said "one page” but that the approach of the two speeches could be rather similar. The photographers then left the Oval Office.
Gromyko: Mr. President, thank you for receiving me again. Could we use the usual method in our talks and take up various questions one
President: Yes. Good, good.
I have on many occasions and at many levels had the opportunity to exchange views regarding the principles and basic lines of policy of the two sides, it would not be out of place to do so again. I will be brief about this but definitive. Leonid Brezhnev expressed the desire that I especially emphasize the fact that the Soviet Union is fully determined to observe completely the obligations assumed by us in the documents adopted at the two summit meetings. This thought also dominated our thinking—the General Secretary's thinking-when he set out the Soviet position in the recent talks with Dr. Kissinger in Moscow. And the same
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, 1955–1977, Lot 81 D 286, Box 8, Soviet Union, January-April 1974. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original. The original is incorrectly dated April 11. According to the President's Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Gromyko on April 12 from 11:02 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (ibid., White House Central Files)
thoughts were also set out by Nikolay Podgorny on behalf of the Soviet leadership in his recent meeting with you in Paris.?
We express our satisfaction at the fact that on every occasion on which you meet with representatives of the Soviet leadership, or when the Secretary of State does, you also stress the firm intentions of the US side in this respect and this gives, we feel, greater solidity to our policies and our relations. We sometimes read in the press, and especially in the US press, words to the effect that no one can say for sure whether the Soviet Union really favors détente or whether it is a tactical maneuver. Such guesswork is sheer nonsense because we do not base ourselves merely on considerations of the moment. Our line has been set out to you many times and is known to you and, therefore, such guesswork is nonsensical. We, of course, hope that the US line is the same.
One can never get far with temporary considerations because one would get shipwrecked quickly. We have no desire for that and we think you don't either. So on that point I could end what I had wanted to say. But, I do want to add that we in the Soviet leadership are most satisfied that you hold true to the line you have taken despite certain known difficulties—which I don't want to go into—and we admire you for it on the human plane.
Now there are certain more specific issues which I would like to raise later but for now I will end on this question.
President: We are on the same course and neither of us must allow opponents of détente, in the press and in political circles, to deflect us from our course. You should know that I pay no attention to them and I just go on. We have problems like the European Security Conference and the Middle East and SALT and so on. Our intention, despite certain tactical differences that arise from time to time, is to work together. I have always kept my word on that to Mr. Brezhnev. We intend to go forward on the various agreements, the various bilateral agreements, and we will have a good summit of course, despite some difficulties on MFN and people like Jackson who are opposed to any SALT agreement and those who want us to be at each other's throats.
Gromyko: Thank you Mr. President. The most valuable part of what you said is that you intend most firmly to follow the line in relations between our countries which we both agreed on. The development of relations between two major powers is like two ships at sea. If the captains determine on a course, say from north to south, they may have to circumnavigate certain islands or other obstacles, but they still
2 See Document 171.
end up on course. Let us hope that our ship does not get lost in a fog and that it will go forward in the right direction. Of course I am not calling our ship an aircraft carrier; let us call it a Corvette.
When Dr. Kissinger was in Moscow—and you discussed this briefly with Podgorny in Paris—we discussed in detail the possibility of a new SALT agreement. We also had an opportunity to discuss this matter when I was last in Washington about three months ago. As hitherto, we attach great importance to reaching agreement on this question. Our determination to search for agreement with you has not abated. At the conclusion of our discussions with Dr. Kissinger in Moscow we, that is Brezhnev, submitted a proposal* and we are now awaiting the official reply to it. Toward the end of the discussions the General Secretary said that it is not all that easy for us to come to a formulation of a proposal. We had to weigh all factors very carefully before making the proposal and we hope that the US appreciates it. After all, there is considerable disparity in numbers of missiles to be allowed under the agreement—1000 to 1100, meaning an advantage of 100 for you—and considering that each missile, that is, each naval missile will have 10-at least 10-MIRVs, the US will have an advantage of 1000 warheads.
Kissinger: They don't trust our information, Mr. President. We tested it once with 12 warheads but only used 10, but it doesn't make any difference.
Gromyko: I would like to stress that if we reach agreement on this basis, it would mean in fact that the US would be ahead of the Soviet Union for the entire duration of the next agreement. Of course it is hard to say how the gap will progress, whether it will narrow or widen and how the “scissor" will move exactly; but the US will always be ahead. This really makes for a double inequality-formal and factual.
And I would like to mention one other point. Voices are sometimes heard in the US alleging that the US and the President should make every effort to "correct” the previous agreement and obtain a sizable advantage. Anyone can, of course, interpret an agreement as he wants. But we categorically reject that the Soviet Union was in a better position as a result of the last agreement. We categorically reject that. We should like to hope that you as Head of State and of the US Administration will take an objective approach to this question, proceeding from the assumption that the previous agreement places both sides in a position of equality. If there were any inequality, it would be the US who would be
4 See Document 165. A reference to Brezhnev's proposal that the SALT Interim Agreement be prolonged until 1980 and the United States would be allowed 1,100 MIRVd missiles, while the Soviets would have only 1,000.
at an advantage because of one factor, your forward based systems. I hope all this will be weighed carefully and you will give an appropriate answer to those shouters who want to place difficulties in the way of understanding. I don't know if they base themselves more on domestic or on foreign considerations but in any case they should be disabused of their false views.
President: Let me comment briefly on the entire area of strategic weapons. We have some areas for reaching an understanding. First, defensive weapons. Each side agrees not to construct site number two. Second, this is more technical—the question of not testing nuclear weapons above a certain threshold. This is very technical but I have instructed Dr. Kissinger to work with your people and we should be able to agree at least in principle. Third, this is more difficult still. We had hoped to get a permanent agreement but this is not possible. So we are talking about MIRVs because they most affect the balance. Now you mention numbers but you have enormous advantages in throw weight. Consequently, in the discussions of MIRVs we have to consider throw weight as well as numbers. And also whether MIRVs apply both to land and sea-based missiles or only to one or the other. But this is a difficult problem for us internally. There are those critical of the Interim Agreement because of the great Soviet advantage in throw weight. But we want agreement in SALT III—Summit III—as we had in SALT I and SALT II. Now we have already suggested a threshold test ban. On the MIRV agreement, having in mind the numbers problem, we should negotiate and attempt to reach agreement with you having in mind that we have a problem and we having in mind that you have a problem. We cannot negotiate ourselves into an inferior position. Nor can you. It is possible to reach agreement in that area provided there is an intention on both sides. And that is certainly true of Mr. Brezhnev and of you, and of me and Dr. Kissinger and others. I think you would agree, Secretary Kissinger.
Kissinger: Yes, it is very difficult but we should do it. On the test ban, we should have technical talks soon. On SALT, we have the problem that the two forces were designed in different ways and that now makes it difficult to establish equivalence. We each designed our forces independently not with each other's advice, although our critics are trying to blame the Soviets for decisions we made years ago. We have to relate numbers in some way: how many of each category to MIRV and over what period of time. I will talk to Mr. Gromyko at lunch on the technical aspects and won't hold you up with that now, Mr. President. We are now studying very carefully the Soviet proposal and we will submit our position first to you, Mr. President, and then to you and the General Secretary within about ten days. But I must say our press has really been unfair on this whole subject.
President: We are determined that unless we come to some sort of impasse this is a problem that can be negotiated. Both sides have to approach it in this way: Mr. Brezhnev cannot make an agreement that gives us an advantage and I cannot make an agreement that gives you an advantage. That is the spirit we should conduct negotiations in.
Gromyko: Two things with respect to that. First, in all the combinations you talk about, the US will have an obvious advantage in the form of the forward based systems; nothing made out as a concession by the US can change that. It is hard to explain for us that there is not an advantage for the US and it cannot be eliminated by the Soviet Union's merely having a few more missiles. This is a factor that has to be taken constantly into consideration. Our proposal does not place us in a position of equal security.
Second, Dr. Kissinger raised the question of an exchange of information in regard to fulfillment of an agreement so as to give a clearer picture regarding the intentions of the other side. We need not debate here the accuracy of such information. We do believe that some kind of information exchange would facilitate agreement and whatever arrangement is made regarding such an exchange, the assumption made would be that each side will give precise and accurate information. And that would facilitate agreement.
Now, I would like to take up the question of the underground test ban. I presume that on that question we do have an understanding in principle. That is, that an agreement should provide for a ceiling on the capacity of explosions. Experts could meet in Moscow or here for technical talks and prepare an appropriate draft for signature when you come to Moscow. Do you have any views on timing?
President: Oh, about two weeks at most. Perhaps one week.
Gromyko: Now if you permit me, I would like to go to the Middle East.
Kissinger: I thought you had forgotten about it.
President: Let me just mention some other things. We are making progress on space, on heart disease, health, energy and a long-term economic agreement, which incidentally is very constructive potentially. On MFN_I have been working on it and so has Dr. Kissinger and Dent, all of us.
I really would like to be able to deliver it by the time I get to Moscow but I cannot promise it. I know that General Secretary