114. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Special Consultant (Scali)1

President’s Pre-Moscow Summit

Briefing of Congressional Leaders

[Omitted here are comments by Nixon relating to background matters and some specific issues for negotiation.]

Let me talk to you a moment about summitry. I’ve expressed some very direct views about this. Previous summits have generated a spirit of Vienna, Geneva, Camp David and Glassboro, but we wound up with flat beer as far as agreements were concerned. I wanted the summit prepared not for cosmetics which raise great hopes, which are then dashed, but to cover substance. This is why we have taken so much time to arrange this meeting—to prepare for probable agreements in certain areas.2 I would say it is probably difficult to find any meeting of powerful heads of state where there has been more meticulous groundwork laid. We have discussed in detail the key areas—commerce, space, SALT, etc. Also Kissinger’s trip to Moscow and discussions with Soviet leaders have been helpful in spotlighting further opportunities and difficulties.

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I saw Ambassador Dobrynin yesterday, who brought me a personal message from Brezhnev.3 I can tell you there is no question of the amount of good will and good intentions on our side and on their side. We both want a successful meeting. But this meeting must be one which is not detrimental to each other’s vital security interests. It promises to be a very difficult trip with many long and arduous meetings.

[Omitted here is brief commentary on logistics and on Brezhnev.]

Vietnam will be on the agenda and will be discussed, but it is best not to speculate on this and put us or the Russians on the spot. Another quite difficult area that we will discuss is the Middle East where we are very, very far apart. Perhaps we can narrow the differences by the time we leave so that each will know more accurately what the other’s position is.

The fact that this summit is going forward has great significance. Both sides are recognizing the fundamental principle that their own security interests must take precedence over certain matters and issues which are peripheral and collateral, Vietnam and the Middle East, for example. It is important to find areas where we can cooperate. Neither side believes that just getting to know one another better will change the actual conditions. There are some very pragmatic considerations. Confrontation is not in their interest or in ours. We must both avoid being dragged into major conflicts in outlying areas where it is not to either side’s interests. I look forward to hard bargaining without propaganda. But let’s not raise our hopes too high or too low.

The President then asked Secretary Rogers to speak. Rogers said he wanted to underscore two points. The preparation for this summit has been excellent and that a large number of government departments and agencies have been involved. The Soviet attitude thus far has been constructive and in preliminary talks the Soviets have made some concessions. In the final analysis, however, nothing comes into play because a lot of these agreements are interrelated.

The President interjected to say “linked” and that we have some reason to believe that they will be linked successfully because no nation has ever been better prepared for a meeting. The President then asked Kissinger to speak.

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Kissinger opened by saying he had a few general observations. The fact that the summit is going forward underlines the point that if both sides did not believe there would be progress possible at the session then it would have been canceled. There has been an understanding, a recognition of the pressures on both of us. In advance of the meeting, the President wanted precise, concrete negotiations. On the Russian side the leadership has many pressures upon it. The leaders understand the impact that a nuclear war could have on the Soviets. In addition, they have a very complex economy which needs assistance and a resulting pressure from the Soviet people. One comes away from all of this with the belief that the Soviets have a stake in improving relations with the United States. It is not inconceivable that the Soviet leadership is interested in a period of détente for the purpose of softening up the United States and then pushing us out of Europe. But whatever their motive, we should not be afraid. Our strategy will be to create vested interests for peace within the Soviet structure which would help encourage restraint on their actions. In China, as a result of our visit, we set up a framework for a new relationship. In Moscow, we hope to get concrete agreements which can lead to mutual restraints on our policies. We also hope to nail down plans for mutual cooperation in space and in other areas where we can work together. We have an historic opportunity, but what will happen will depend on what the President and the Secretary of State and others can negotiate.

The President interjected to say that it is very important that we not picture the meeting as an effort to set up a Soviet-United States condominium.

Kissinger said, yes, this was so, or to portray the meeting as one which is going forward at the expense of the allies of both sides.

The President added, perhaps the greatest consideration that one should recognize as this meeting is about to get underway is the fact that the Soviets have now achieved nuclear parity. We have MIRV, but they have more missiles. If either President Eisenhower or President Kennedy had gone to Moscow they both would have gone in a position where they were looking down the throat of the Soviets. But the situation has now changed.

In this circumstance, the President said, you don’t have to tote up who won or who lost as a result of this meeting. You can be sure that I, Bill, and Kissinger will make sure that the United States’ interests will be protected. But if the two super-powers meet and then either one begins to say that I won and you lost, perhaps we will have done more harm than good. The whole business is one of mutuality. The Russians are extremely sensitive. They want to be accepted on an equal basis. [Page 386] They remember all too well the strategic military situation during the Cuban missile crisis. We both expect to bargain very hard, very tough. But when both sides realize they have a mutual interest in keeping a deal, that’s when it will mean something.

[Omitted here are comments and discussion of specific issues.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President, Box 88, February 27-May 28, 1972. No classification marking. Prepared on June 7. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with the bipartisan Congressional leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House at 4:13 p.m. on May 19. Members of the press later joined the group before the session adjourned at 5:23 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)
  2. Shortly after this meeting, Nixon covered much the same ground in remarks to members of the press at a White House reception for those accompanying the President on his trip. For text of Nixon’s remarks, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1972, p. 603.
  3. Reference is to a meeting at Camp David on May 18. The Brezhnev message may have been delivered orally as no written message was found, nor was it mentioned in the written record of the Nixon-Dobrynin discussion. (Memorandum of conversation, May 18; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 12 [Part 2])