278. Memorandum of Conversation Between Secretary of State Rusk and the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin)1
I met with Ambassador Dobrynin for thirty minutes following the NPT signing today.
I told him that a TASS representative, Mr. Kopytin, had called on Mr. Walt Rostow a few days ago, had referred to a certain amount of gossip around Washington that the President might have in mind a meeting with Chairman Kosygin, and had asked Mr. Rostow for any comment on the situation. I added that Mr. Rostow had replied that he himself had no information on this matter but that if there was interest in such a matter on the Soviet side that there were other channels which would be appropriate to be used to explore the possibility. Ambassador Dobrynin commented that Mr. Kopytin was not such a channel and was not involved in any way in such matters.
I then went on to say that the President has in fact been thinking about the desirability of another meeting with Mr. Kosygin and felt that there was much to be gained from it. Specifically, there would be a big meeting of the non-nuclear states in August to discuss the implications of the NPT. There would be great advantage if the President and Mr. Kosygin could demonstrate before that meeting that the two of us are seriously engaged in the matter of offensive and defensive strategic missiles. I said that the President would be glad to have a chance to initiate this important subject by a first talk with Mr. Kosygin, during which arrangements could be made for follow-up delegations on the two sides to work on the subject. Further, if it could be known publicly that this subject was to be a central topic for discussion, it could simplify speculation about other topics which might arise. Of course, if the two did meet for an informal working session other topics could naturally be brought into the conversation.
I said that the above pointed toward a meeting toward the latter part of July, if that would suit Mr. Kosygin’s convenience. As for a place, the President would be open to suggestions which Mr. Kosygin might wish to make. It occurred to us that Geneva might be a possibility in view of the presence there of the ENDC. However, the President could, for example, make a non-stop flight to Leningrad if that would be a suitable place for a good working session. We understand that there might be some problems about what might be described as an official [Page 656] or state visit but that would be something on which Mr. Kosygin’s judgment would be valuable. In any event, I said that the exact time and place were matters on which the President was willing to consider Mr. Kosygin’s suggestions.
Ambassador Dobrynin did not raise any objections in principle and said that he would be in private personal contact with Mr. Kosygin. The Ambassador expects to be in Washington about a week before returning to Moscow for further participation in a high level review of U.S.-Soviet relations. He asked whether the President’s schedule would permit him to have such a meeting in August or whether the two party conventions would exclude that. I said there might be some problem if the President were to undertake such a meeting in the middle of one of the two main party conventions. In any event I thought that an earlier date would be useful from the point of view of the conference of the non-nuclears scheduled for August. I could not derive any tentative Soviet reaction from anything Ambassador Dobrynin said. He obviously did not attempt to comment personally before checking with Chairman Kosygin.
Drawing a sharp distinction between the above part of my conversation and the matter of the Seaboard Airlines plane in the Kurile Islands, I told him I thought it would be most unfortunate if this matter turned out to be a major incident. I said that this was an instance of “unearned dividends” in our business, and that I much regretted that on Saturday of all days some American navigator and pilot apparently strayed off course. I told him that if this were the case, he could have my sincere expressions of regret right now. He said that he did not think this matter would prove to be too difficult but that he had had no instructions from Moscow. Whether his relatively relaxed and optimistic attitude will be reflected in Moscow, one cannot of course say.
The Ambassador then asked me about the prospects for the election. I told him that the present indications are that Vice President Humphrey and Mr. Nixon have a very strong lead in their respective parties but that I have been advising all of my friends in the diplomatic corps to add a final sentence in any report on our elections: “But don’t forget that 1968 is a year of political surprises in the United States.” He smiled and said that he has been doing just that to Moscow but that Moscow is very anxious to have something more solid.
He added, very much off the record, that Mr. Nixon has approached the Soviet Government on three occasions about a visit to Moscow following the Republican Convention. He said that they had simply not replied to the first two inquiries but now have a third inquiry in front of them which they are thinking about. I told him that I was not in a position at this moment to offer any advice on that subject but did point [Page 657] to the habit of many candidates to want to make a “grand tour” of foreign capitals and that this has presented problems for busy leaders of other Governments.
He then expressed interest in whether Senator McCarthy would go to Paris. I told him that we just didn’t know, that Senator McCarthy has a passport and would probably be admitted to France. I also pointed out that such a visit would be very strange and not in accord with long-standing American constitutional and diplomatic practice. I said that Senator McCarthy might succeed only in misleading the representatives of Hanoi to which he assented.