Relations between U.S. and Soviet Diplomats

DR. SUSSER: Thank you, Dr. Schlesinger. I'd like to remind everyone that you do have index cards in your folders if you'd like to write down a question and pass it to one of our people on the aisles if you have a question for our panelists.

Let me start by asking you both, a lot of commentary in the newspapers focuses on the relationship between the President and President Putin and the Secretary and her counterparts. Could you perhaps talk a little bit about the chemistry you had with your counterparts and the chemistry President Nixon had with his Soviet counterparts?

For example, Dr. Kissinger, in your forward, you note that Ambassador Dobrynin* inscribed his memoirs to you as opponent, partner and friend. And you've already said that it was not an idyllic friendship. Perhaps you could start by explaining what the relationship was.

DR. KISSINGER: Well, the first thing you understand is that Dobrynin* was a representative of the Soviet system. He, while he was Ambassador, became a member of the Central Committee. Once he retired as Ambassador, he became head of the Foreign Department of the Central Committee, which is a position nearly equivalent of maybe--more than equivalent of that of the foreign minister.

So he clearly was there to achieve the strategic objectives of the Soviet Union, and the strategic objectives of the Soviet Union at that time were correctly described by Jim as serving the strategic advantage of the Soviet Union. They were encouraging the Vietnam War, or certainly doing nothing to ease it. We had a big disagreement with them about the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the containment in Eastern Europe, a whole host of issues.

But we also had a number of common objectives. One was to avoid a nuclear catastrophe for mankind. Secondly, gradually, as our dialogue continued, a emerging attempt to find a long-term cooperation between the two countries. Again, if you look at the record here, you will find that roughly until 1971 most of the channel consisted of dealing with various crises. After 1971, that is, after my visit to China, the relations, the Soviet foot-dragging about the possibility of a summit suddenly stopped, and then from the need to prepare a summit emerged closer cooperation.

In 1973, there's a book that had been published by a notetaker of the Politburo discussions which shows that the Soviet Union during that war was sort of divided between those who wanted to serve Détente and those who felt that the Soviet Union had an obligation towards liberation, and Soviet policy found itself in the middle between those two, those two objectives.

But through that period I developed very great respect for the professionalism and dedication of Anatoly Dobrynin. And I had no illusion that I could charm him into doing something that was contrary to either his instructions or his perception of Soviet interests. But I thought that within the margin that diplomats sometimes have he would attempt to give a reasonable turn to it. And if one reads his dispatches--I sometimes, as I pointed out in my introduction, think he fell occasionally into the habit of diplomats of claiming more than the conversation permitted. But on the big issues he gave a very accurate account, and in the conduct of our negotiations on the factual material there was, as he pointed out in his memoirs and as I confirmed, there was no substantial difference in our perception. So the confidence we developed in Dobrynin helped us to assess the reports that he was communicating to us.

But I never believed, and Nixon even less than I believed, that personal relationships can overcome the fundamental strategic orientation of states, and that our task was to effect a strategic orientation, not to have a good personal relationship.

DR. SCHLESINGER: Of course, Al Haig is not here today, but I should point out that when he became Secretary of State he rather ostentatiously cut off Ambassador Dobrynin's access to the garage of the Department of State which he had previously enjoyed as a signal of a change in U.S. policy. I'm not sure that that was either effective or necessary, but that did occur.

DR. KISSINGER: Which he was one of those who arranged the access to the State Department to begin with. (Laughter.)