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SALT Negotiations With the Soviet Union Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters.

March 30, 1977


THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

This has been an afternoon devoted to receiving dispatches from Moscow, and I'd like to make a report to the American people about what has occurred.

We have proposed to the Soviet leaders in the last 2 days a comprehensive package of agreements which, if concluded, will lay a permanent groundwork for a more peaceful world, an alleviation of the great threat of atomic weapons, that will maintain the political and strategic weapon capability and balance between the United States and the Soviet Union.

One of our proposals on this nuclear weapons talks was very brief and it was our second option. It was, in effect, to ratify the Vladivostok agreement that had already been reached.

The difference between us and the Soviet Union on this point is that the Soviets claim that Secretary Kissinger and my predecessors in the White House--Presidents Ford and, earlier, Nixon--did agree to forgo the deployment of cruise missiles. Our position is that we have never agreed to any such thing. But we asked the Soviet Union to accept an agreement on all other matters and postpone the cruise missile and the Russians' new bomber, the Backfire bomber, until continuing later discussion. They rejected that proposal.

The other one was much more far-reaching and has profound consequences that are beneficial, I think, to our own Nation and to the rest of the world. It was to have substantial reductions in the level of deployment of missile launchers and the MIRV'd missiles below the 2,400 level and the 1,320 level that were established under the Vladivostok agreements--substantial reductions; secondly, to stop the development and deployment of any new weapons systems. A third point was to freeze at the present level about 550 intercontinental ballistic missiles, our Minuteman and their missiles known as the SS-17, 18, and 19.

Another was to ban the deployment of all mobile missiles, their SS-16 and others, or ours--that is under the development stage, the MX.

Another one is to have a strict limit on the development of the Backfire bomber and a strict limit on the range that would be permitted on cruise missiles.

Another element of the proposal was to limit the number of test firings of missiles to six firings per year of the intercontinental range and also of the medium range missiles and to ask the Soviet Union to give us some assured mechanism by which we could distinguish between their intercontinental mobile missile, the SS16, and their limited-range mobile missile, the SS-20.

The sum total of all this proposal was a fair, balanced, substantial reduction in the arms race which would have guaranteed, I believe, a permanent lessening of tension and a mutual benefit to both our countries. The Soviets, at least at this point, have not accepted this proposal either.

Both parties--which will be promulgated in a joint Communique tomorrow-have agreed to continue the discussions the first half of May in Geneva.

You might be interested in knowing that a few other points that we proposed were to have adequate verification, an end of concealment, and the establishment of a so-called data base by which we would tell the Soviet Union the level of our own armaments at this point, and they would tell us their level of armaments at this point, so that we would have an assured, mutually agreed level of weapon capability.

I might cover just a few more things. In addition to discussing the SALT agreements in Geneva early in May, we have agreed to discuss other matters--South Africa, the upcoming possible Middle Eastern talks. And we've agreed to set up eight study groups: one, to develop an agreement whereby we might forgo the development of a capability of destroying satellite observation vehicles, so that we can have an assured way to watch the Soviets; they can have an assured way of watching us from satellites.

The second is to discuss the terms of a possible comprehensive test ban, so that we don't test in the future any more nuclear weapons. And we've also asked the Soviets to join with us in a prohibition against the testing of peaceful nuclear devices.

Another study group that has been mutually agreed to be established is to discuss the terms by which we might demilitarize or reduce the military effort in the Indian Ocean.

Another group will be set up, of experts, to discuss the terms by which we can agree on advanced notice on all missile test firings, so that perhaps 24 hours ahead of time, we would notify the Soviets when we were going to test fire one of our missiles; they would do the same for us.

Another group will be studying a way to initiate comprehensive arms control in conventional weapons and also the sale of weapons to third countries, particularly the developing nations of the world.

Another is to discuss how we might contribute, mutually, toward nonproliferation of nuclear weapon capability. Nations do need a way to produce atomic power for electricity, but we hope that the Soviets will join with us and our allies and friends in cutting down the capability of nations to use spent nuclear fuels to develop explosives.

Another item that we agreed to discuss at the Soviets' request was the termination in the capability of waging radiological or chemical warfare.

And the eighth study group that we agreed to establish is to study the means by which we could mutually agree on forgoing major efforts in civil defense. We feel that the Soviets have done a great deal on civil defense capability. We've done a less amount, but we would like for both of us to agree not to expend large sums of money on this effort.

So, the sum total of the discussions has been to lay out a firm proposal, which the Soviets have not yet responded to, on drastic reductions in nuclear capability in the future--these discussions will continue early in May--and to set up study groups to continue with the analysis of the other eight items that I described to you.

I'd be glad to answer just a few questions.


Q. Mr. President, pardon me if I don't stand, 'but I will block the camera there. Do you still believe that the 'Soviets in no way linked your human rights crusade with arms control negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't certify to you that there is no linkage in the Soviets' minds between the human rights effort and the SALT limitations. We have no evidence that this was the case.

Secretary Vance thought it was quite significant, for instance, that when General Secretary Brezhnev presented a prepared statement on the human rights issue that it was done in a different meeting entirely from the meeting in which the SALT negotiations occurred.

So, our assessment is that there was no linkage, but I can't certify that there is no linkage in the Soviets' minds.

Q. Mr. President, you've said that the Soviets contend that Secretary Kissinger and your predecessors had promised that we would not deploy, I believe, the cruise missile.


Q. just where and how do they contend that this promise was given, and have you checked with them to see if in fact it was?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Both President Ford and Secretary Kissinger have maintained publicly, and to me privately, that there was never any agreement on the part of the United States to contain or to prohibit the deployment or development of cruise missiles.

The language that was used in the early Vladivostok agreement, which, as you know, has not yet been ratified, was a prohibition against air-launched missiles.

Secretary Kissinger's position has been--and he is much better able to speak than I am to speak for him--that that meant ballistic missiles, which was a subject of the Vladivostok talks.

Two and a half years ago or so, when these talks took place, the cruise missile capability was not well understood and there was no detailed discussion at all of the cruise missile. The Soviets claim that when they did discuss air-launched missiles that they were talking about cruise missiles. Secretary Kissinger said that he was not talking about cruise missiles.

Q. Sir, the point, just to follow, they are not contending that there was any secret understanding or discussion or anything?


Q. They're talking about the language that was in the Vladivostok agreement?


Q. Did the Russians have a counterproposal on SALT that they offered us, or were they content simply to listen to our proposals?

THE PRESIDENT. They listened to our two proposals. Of course, their proposal has been to ratify their understanding of the Vladivostok agreement, which includes their capability of developing the Backfire bomber and our incapability of developing cruise missiles. That's an agreement that we never understood to be part of the Vladivostok agreement.

Q. Mr. Carter, if necessary to achieve any progress, are you willing to modify your human rights statements---


Q.---or will you continue to speak out?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I will not modify my human rights statements. My human rights statements are compatible with the consciousness of this country. I think that there has been repeated recognition in international law that verbal statements or any sort of public expression of a nation's beliefs is not an intrusion in other nations' affairs.

The Soviets have, in effect, ratified the rights of human beings when they adopted the United Nations Charter. The Helsinki agreement, which will be assessed at Belgrade later on this year, also includes references to human rights themselves. So, I don't intend to modify my position. It is a position that I think accurately represents the attitude of this country.

I don't think that it's accurate to link the human rights concept with the SALT negotiations. I think that's an incorrect linkage. The SALT negotiations, I hope, will be successful as we pursue in laborious detail those discussions the rest of this year. They will be successful only if the Soviets are convinced that it's to their advantage to forego a continued commitment and a very expensive commitment and a very threatening commitment to the arms race, and only if our own people believe that we derive the same advantage. That's what we hope for.

Q. Mr. President, how would you characterize what happened today? How serious a setback is this? Did we expect that the Soviets might be more receptive to our positions?

THE PRESIDENT. We had no indications either in direct or indirect communications with Brezhnev that they were ready to accept our positions. We carefully prepared over a period of 5 or 6 weeks what we thought was a balanced and what we still think is a balanced proposal with drastic reductions.

I might say that there is a unanimous agreement among the key Members of Congress, the State Department, my own staff, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs that this is a good and fair proposal. I have hopes that the substance of our proposal will be accepted by the Soviet Union in the future, because it's to their advantage and ours to do so.

But I'm not discouraged at all. Cy Vance sent back the word that he was disappointed that we didn't reach immediate agreement, but that he was not discouraged. And I think the fact that a joint Communique has been prepared and will be released tomorrow morning spelling out the fact that our nations will continue without interruption these discussions is very encouraging.

Q. Mr. President, would it be fair to say that the talks broke down because the United States is now not prepared to accept restrictions on cruise missiles?


Q. Isn't that the heart of it?

THE PRESIDENT. That is not the heart of it at all. We are prepared to accept restrictions on the cruise missile if it's part of an overall and balanced package. We are not prepared to accept a unilateral prohibition against the development or deployment of the cruise missile absent some equivalent response from the Soviet Union, including the Backfire bomber. But we put together a package which was fair and balanced. But we are not prepared, unilaterally, to forgo an opportunity, unless it's equivalent to a Soviet response.

Q. Yes, sir, I didn't mean unilaterally, but on the January 1976 trip by Secretary Kissinger to the Soviet Union, there was active negotiation regarding a balanced reduction involving some limitations on cruise missiles.

So, when you say, sir, that the Soviets say we agreed to restrict cruise missiles, aren't they referring to 1976 and not to Vladivostok when indeed the cruise missile was on the drawing board and not a real thing?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that-I don't want to get myself into the position of speaking for Secretary Kissinger. I don't think there has ever been any insinuation of an American agreement that the Soviets could build and deploy the Backfire bomber without limitation while we limited cruise missiles. And that's the position that the Soviets adopted as the Vladivostok agreement.

Q. Mr. President, have the Russians explained why they were turning down the comprehensive proposal? Was it because they did not want such drastic reductions as you proposed, or was it because they felt the limitations on cruise were not adequate? Did they give any reasons?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not know yet. I've not received a definitive analysis from Secretary Vance. He, a few minutes ago, was in the American Embassy in Moscow preparing for me a detailed report on what has occurred. So far at I know, at this point, there were not any specific reasons given for the Soviets' turning down of our proposal.

My guess is that this proposal is so substantive and such a radical departure in putting strict limits and reductions on existing missiles and a prohibition against the development or deployment of new missiles in the future, that the Soviets simply need more time to consider it. Whether they'll accept it or not at the May meetings in Geneva or subsequently, I don't have any way to know yet.

Q. To follow that up--the May meetings, are they to be between Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Vance?

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. Mr. President, Senator Baker, just outside a few moments ago, said that during your 'briefing of the congressional leadership you said you intended to "hang tough." Did you say that, and what did you mean by that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I do. I think that it's important for us to take advantage of an opportunity this year to negotiate not just a superficial ratification of rules by which we can continue the arms race but to have a freeze on deployment and development of new missiles and an actual reduction in launchers and MIRV'd missiles below what was agreed to previously. And on those items, I intend to remain very strong in my position.

I don't think it's to our Nation's advantage to put forward in piecemeal fashion additional proposals. Our experience in the past has been that the Soviet Union extracts from those comprehensive proposals those items that are favorable to them and want to continue to negotiate the other parts of the proposals that might not be so favorable to them.

So, I do intend to continue strong negotiations to let the leaders of our country know what we are proposing. And I'm not in any hurry; it's important enough to proceed methodically and carefully. But I hope that the Soviets will agree with us to drastic reductions and strict limitations in the future which have never been part of previous agreements.

Q. Mr. President, could I follow that?


Q. When you say you intend to continue negotiations, is there a chance that you might go to Geneva in May since you will already be in Europe in the early part of May anyway?

THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I'm already scheduled to go to Europe, not just to meet with the allies in London but to meet with President Asad of Syria. And where that meeting will be taking place, I don't know. But I have no intentions at this time to meet with any Soviet leaders on that trip.

Q. Mr. President, how will this data base work? Will that include all conventional armaments as well?

THE PRESIDENT. That would be a separate matter of discussion. The data base has been, for a long period of time, a matter of dispute in the mutual and balanced force reductions talks taking place in Vienna, where we've asked the Soviets to give us an inventory of their arsenal among the Warsaw Pact nations. These are conventional weapons, primarily.

But the data base to which I was referring this afternoon is an inventory of nuclear weapons that have been included in the SALT talks the strategic nuclear weapons. So far, we have a fairly good way on both sides of inventorying weapons that are actually deployed. But we would like to have a free and accurate exchange with the Soviet Union about how many weapons they have and how many we have, so that we can monitor much more closely any deviations from those figures in the future.

Q. If I could follow, would that include any kind of verification?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We would like to have the subject of verification opened up dramatically. For instance, in a comprehensive test ban, we would like to have on-site inspection. The Soviets have never agreed to this principle, but they have mentioned it a couple of times in the discussions. Foreign Minister Gromyko last year filed a statement at the United Nations that mentioned the possibility of on-site inspections. But we feel that verification is a very crucial element in a comprehensive arms limitation agreement. Verification obviously includes an absence of concealment, and verification to a lesser degree also includes the data base to which I just referred. One more question.

Q. May I ask, please? Has the breakdown of these talks in any way influenced your thinking on development of future U.S. weaponry; that is, will you be now more inclined to go for full production of the B-1 or any other advanced weapon systems?

THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, if we feel at the conclusion of next month's discussions that the Soviets are not acting in good faith with us and that an agreement is unlikely, then I would be forced to consider a much more deep commitment to the development and deployment of additional weapons. But I would like to forego that decision until I'm convinced the Soviets are not acting in good faith. I hope they will. Let me answer one question from Wes [Wes Pippert, United Press International].

Q. I was going to offer the "thank you."

THE PRESIDENT. Okay; fine.

Q. Mr. President, .one question about the deep cuts. Because the Soviets seem to have more delivery systems today than we do, is there objection that they would have to destroy more weapons than we would have to if you did get those deep cuts?

THE PRESIDENT. Deep cuts would affect both of us about the same. Shallow cuts, say, from 2,400 down to 2,200 on launchers would affect the Soviets much more adversely than it would us. Part of our package involved the very heavy missiles, the SS-9 and SS-18, which now stand at a 308 level. We included in our package a substantial reduction 'below that figure.

I think that the details of our proposal would probably .best be revealed later. I'm a little constrained about the details, because Secretary Vance and Mr. Gromyko still have agreements among themselves about revelations of the negotiations with which I'm not yet familiar. But I think later on those exact figures can be

made available.

Thank you.

REPORTER. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 4:50 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Prior to his remarks, the President discussed the status of the negotiations with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room.

Jimmy Carter, SALT Negotiations With the Soviet Union Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243533

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