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The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

The Vladivostok Summit Meeting on Arms Control

Section 5: Negotiating with Brezhnev - Day Two (November 24, 1974)

Meeting on the second day of the summit
Meeting on the second day

Ford and Brezhnev sign the Valdivostok agreement.
Signing the agreement

 

From President Gerald R. Ford's memoir A Time to Heal (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pages 218-219:

Shortly after ten o’clock, I returned to the conference hall for our second session.  This meeting was devoted to the situation in the Middle East and the progress that both sides hoped to make in reducing our military forces in Europe.  Although our discussions were candid, there were no breakthroughs.  But our meeting the night before had far exceeded my expectations, and I was euphoric.  As soon as technicians had ironed out the few remaining problems, we would sign a SALT II accord.

Brezhnev shared my enthusiasm. Impulsively, after a late lunch, he invited me to accompany him on a tour of Vladivostok.  We climbed into the back seat of a long black limousine and headed toward the city, thirteen miles away.  The local commissar, a large, dark-complexioned man wearing a thick wool coat, sat in the jump seat in front of Brezhnev, and the interpreter, Victor Sukhodrev, sat in front of me.  Our conversation was natural and uninhibited.  How many people lived in Vladivostok?  What was the main industry?  And was it always this cold?  Twenty minutes later, we drove down a steep hill, entered the city and swung around the main square.  A small crowd was there, and even though it was dusk, they recognized the car and applauded.  The city itself reminded me of San Francisco, and I wished that I'd had more time to explore the place.  But it was starting to get dark and we headed back toward Okeanskaya.

Ford, Brezhnev and aides depart after signing the joint communique
Leaving the conference hall

 

Touring Vladivostok by motorcade
Touring Vladivostok by motorcade

 

And that's when the strangest thing happened. Brezhnev reached over and grabbed my left hand with his right hand.  He began by telling me how much his people had suffered during World War II.  "I do not want to inflict that upon my people again," he said.

"Mr. General Secretary, I believe we made very significant progress," I said.  "I hope the momentum of our meeting will continue and that next year we can finalize what we have accomplished here."

His grip on my hand tightened, and he turned to look me in the eye.  "We have accomplished something very significant, and it's our responsibility, yours and mine, on behalf of our countries, to achieve the finalization of the document."

"I am optimistic that we can," I said.  "We have made so much headway.  This is a big step forward to prevent a nuclear holocaust."

"I agree with you," he said.  "This is an opportunity to protect not only the people of our two countries but, really, all mankind.  We have to do something."

I don't remember what else was said.  I do remember that he held on to my hand until the car pulled up in front of my dacha at Okeanskaya.

On the train returning to the airport.
On the train returning to the airport

Ford and Brezhnev at the airport
Shortly after this moment, President Ford presented his coat to Brezhnev

On our departure, a train took us back to the airport.  Air Force One was waiting and Brezhnev walked with me to the ramp.  On the first leg of our trip, we had stopped to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska.  A local furrier and personal friend, Jack Kim, had presented me with a heavy Alaskan wolf coat.  A warm and comfortable garment, it had served me well in Siberia.  I saw Brezhnev eyeing it enviously.  So just before I mounted the steps, I took off the coat and gave it to him.  He put it on, and he seemed truly overwhelmed.  We waved goodbye, and taxied down the runway.  In another few hours we would be home.  The American people would be delighted to hear that my meeting with Brezhnev had gone so well, and Congress, with some exceptions, would probably endorse the new accord.  But what, I wondered, would I tell my old friend Jack Kim about his Alaskan wolf coat?

Vladivostok had been an appropriate ending to a journey designed to strengthen ties with old friends and expand areas of agreement with potential adversaries. The results of the trip had exceeded my expectations.