Last week at the Ford Presidential Library I came across some fun memos and documents. Transcriptions of official government meetings often begin with ‘[Preceded by small talk.]’ But when this ‘small talk’ is included it can be quite interesting, and is sometimes pretty funny.
If nothing else, it reminds us that beyond the nuclear stand-off and ideological confrontation, people were dealing with people. Delegations shared jokes and got to know each other. It was an aspect of Cold War diplomacy that is easy to overlook.
I enjoyed reading the ‘small talk’ whenever possible, and here is one of my favourites; a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Leonid Brezhnev on January 22, 1976, in The Kremlin.
“Brezhnev: Maybe we could proceed a little faster today.
Kissinger: All right.
Brezhnev: Here is a match. [He lights a match and makes a motion to ignite all his talking papers.]
Kissinger: I thought you were going to bring out your cannon.
Brezhnev: There is a cannon in my office?
Kissinger: You threatened me with it last time.
Brezhnev: As long as America threatens us, we have to threaten America. We now have MIRVed warheads on that cannon. And one is aimed at your house.
Kissinger: I’d better get my dog out of there. [Laughter]
Brezhnev: [Looks through his papers] You have an enormous number of forces. Horrors! I can’t imagine where you get them all. And so many in Europe.
Kissinger: If your generals count like our generals Mr. General Secretary, there will be an amazing computation.
Brezhnev: Earlier Dr. Kissinger said he was afraid of me. I want to say I’m afraid of him. So I guess I’d better give him more of these cookies, to make him kinder. [He passes over a plate of snacks.]”