U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (L) and Soviet
Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko exchange toasts in
this March 27, 1974 file photo of the two men at a
luncheon hosted by Kissinger in Moscow. (UPI Photo)
Former U.S. Secretary of State remembers his eminent Soviet counterpart
By Henry Kissinger
Andrei Gromyko and I were sometimes adversaries and sometimes partners. I had enormous respect for his competence, for his dedication. And with the passage of time I developed great affection for him. He was a man who was always prepared, who always knew his subject. I found him totally reliable in his assertions. When he was asked by his government to change a previous position he did so with enormous pain but with extreme ability.
We worked together in a complex period. When the administration in which I served came to office, the crisis in Czechoslovakia - the movement of Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia - was six months old. The Cuban missile crisis was still within vivid memory, and so we were in a succession of crises piling one on top of the other.
I’m sure, on the Soviet side there were similar examples of crises that, in the Soviet view, were generated by the United States. We were involved in the Vietnam War at that time and our country was divided on whether the administration was really dedicated to peace.
I had studied nuclear strategy and was confronted, as all of us were, by its dilemma: on the one hand we were building more and more destructive weapons; on the other, we could never imagine the circumstances in which we could use these weapons. So, the strategic efforts of the two sides were constantly out of sync with their political efforts. And we faced the problem in our country, which I’m sure the Soviet leaders faced in theirs, of demonstrating to our people that whatever crisis might occur, our government had made the maximum effort to avoid confrontation.
So, gradually, came the move toward what was called the policy of detente – partly for the reasons I mentioned and partly because some of the problems objectively required closer association.
In the 1960s Germany developed what was called the Ostpolitik - which was close association and direct negotiations with the Soviet Union. Some of us were concerned about this. At the same time, that policy could not be carried out without a new agreement on Berlin, which presupposed an agreement between the United States and its allies and Russia.
Andrei Gromyko was always prepared for negotiations. The Berlin agreement was an issue of enormous complexity. Andrei Gromyko and I usually met for up to an hour with just interpreters present before meetings of our full delegations. At these private meetings he must have had a certain advantage because he understood what I was saying, and he had time while it was translated to formulate his response. But the point of these private meetings was that we had a kind of an agreement that we would not surprise each other in the middle of the negotiations – we would not confront each other in front of our staffs with unexpected decisions, or the need to make such decisions. So when we ended the formal negotiations, we would not necessarily have agreed, but we knew where we were going. Even when we did not agree, we never worsened the situation.
I have discovered as time has passed that Gromyko had a tremendous sense of humor which was not obvious at first impression. He was absolutely superlative in formulating double meanings from which it took you five minutes to figure out what the joke was. We used to tease each other:. When we were in Moscow for the summit I said to Gromyko: “Our Xerox machine has broken down, Mr. Foreign Minister. If I hold my document up to the ceiling will you give me a copy?” And he said: “Unfortunately, the cameras were installed by the Tsars – they are very good for people, but they are not very good for documents”.
In 1972 during the U.S. presidential election he held the view, which was partly correct, that he looked like Nixon. And he suggested that if I proved more pliable in negotiations than I had been, he might be willing to wear a Nixon campaign hat that said “Nixon is the one” at a diplomatic reception at the UN....[Dr. Kissinger's reminiscences continue here]