The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

The Vladivostok Summit Meeting on Arms Control

Section 3: Negotiating with Brezhnev - Day One (November 23, 1974)

President Ford and Henry Kissinger confer on the train ride to the summit
Ford and Kissinger confer on the train ride to the summit

From President Gerald R. Ford's memoir A Time to Heal (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pages 215-217:

Before my meeting with Brezhnev, Kissinger and I had talked at length about the Soviet leader's personality and negotiating techniques.  Brezhnev, Henry said, would dominate the Soviet side of the discussions, but on technical points he would confer with his advisers.  Invariably, Henry continued, he would lead off with an angry, blustery diatribe accusing the U.S. of sabotaging the chances for lasting peace. He would, for example, blame us for not working with the Soviets in the Middle East.  But this would be primarily for home consumption.  It would give him a chance to score points with the Soviet hierarchy.  It would also be his way of testing my resolve.  He would be curious to see if I would bend or fight back.  And so, Henry maintained, we should not retreat from our position.  We should be polite but firm.  If they really wanted an agreement, they would be the ones to bend.

The first Ford-Brezhnev meeting at the conference hall
The first conference hall meeting

Which is precisely what transpired.  No sooner had Brezhnev and I made our opening statements in the austere conference hall at Okeanskaya than we began to focus on the specific force levels that each side could have.  After initially proposing different numbers - with the Soviets pushing for higher figures - we compromised at 2,400 ballistic missiles for each country.  That meant they would have to reduce their launchers by about 300.  Next we agreed that each side be allowed 1,320 MIRVS.  We maintained our position from previous negotiations that our Forward Base System of F-4s, F-111s and FB-111s as well as the nuclear weapons we had deployed in Western Europe not be counted in our agreed-upon total of strategic weapons.  Brezhnev frowned behind his wire-rimmed glasses.  Chain-smoking, sipping from a glass of mineral water, he suggested a pause while he conferred with his aides.  Minutes later, he returned to the conference table.  Agreed, he said.  That meant we had prevailed.

Now Brezhnev wanted something in return.  We should stop production of the Trident submarine and cancel our plans to build the B-1 bomber. Our national security, I replied, demanded that we push forward with both.  We simply couldn't rely on our aging B-52s.

Then we turned to questions of a more general nature.  I assured Brezhnev that although we had economic difficulties at home, he should not assume that the U.S. was weak and getting weaker all the time.  Brezhnev countered that some members of his Politburo didn't believe detente was a good idea.  If he made too many concessions in his attempt to reach an accord, he would lose their support and be in trouble at home.  I said I understood his predicament.  Then, displaying a surprising grasp of the way our political system worked, he began talking about Congress.  The Soviets had learned during Nixon's years in office that the future of their relations with the United States didn't depend solely on the decisions of the American President.  Congress was a force to be reckoned with, and Brezhnev wasn't happy about that.  Congress, he said, had fouled up the progress we thought we were going to make with the expansion of trade.  And now it was insisting that it had the right to pass judgment on Soviet emigration policies.  "You just had elections in your country," he said.  "What kind of a Congress will you be dealing with for the next two years?"

"Mr. General Secretary," I replied, "I can only say that my fingers are crossed."

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