115. Editorial Note

President Nixon and senior U.S. officials visited the Soviet Union May 22-29, 1972, for Summit meetings. During the first plenary session held in St. Catherine’s Hall, Grand Kremlin Palace on May 23, Nixon expounded on détente:

“The President said he would like to think that each person at the table is a sentimental man to a certain degree, but we are meeting here not because of sentiment, but because we are pragmatic men. As practical and honest men we recognize that our systems are different and that in many parts of the world our interests conflict. But as practical men, we have learned the lessons of history and will not allow ourselves to be dragged into conflict in areas peripheral to our interests. These problems may seem important at the time, but cannot compare in importance with the need to have good relations between the two most powerful countries in the world.

“So we see that the time has come when our two nations have an opportunity which perhaps has not come to nations in history up to this point. That time means that we must find ways to work together to limit arms, to expand our economic relations for our mutual benefit and also to work together in other fields such as improvement of the environment, cooperation in outer space and others. We would continue to compete, but it can be a friendly competition in which each side would gain rather than lose, and we can both work for the mutual good.

“This does not mean that settlement of differences will always be easy. Differences are settled easily only under the dictation of the strong to the weak. We had reached the stage in our relations—and the President believes this was fortunate—where we consider ourselves to be equally strong. Therefore, we feel this opportunity is one which is unique, not only because of what we do here on these agreements [Page 387] which are important in themselves, but even more so because of the way we view the future.

“Good relations between the Soviet Union and the United States can have an enormous effect for the good of the people of the whole world and above all for the good of the people of our two countries. It is his hope that this week the personal relationships between us will become better. We can begin the process of exploring future progress which could make these agreements seem small in terms of what can be accomplished in the future.

“The President said he wished to close his remarks by saying what his Soviet friends may be too polite to say. He said his reputation is of being very hard-line and cold-war oriented.

Kosygin remarked that he had heard this sometime back.

“The President said that he has a strong belief in our system but at the same time he respects those who believe just as strongly in their system. There must be room in this world for two great nations with different systems to live together and work together. We cannot do this however, by mushy sentimentality or by glossing over differences which exist. We can do it only by working out real problems in a concrete fashion, determined to place our common interests above our differences.” (Memorandum of conversation between President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev, May 23, 1972; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Conversations in Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 1)

At the final plenary session, held at St. Catherine’s Hall on May 29, the President returned to the theme of détente:

“The President said he was grateful for the boundless hospitality of his hosts, and, more important, that he was grateful for the frank talks. The results were significant because of the preparatory work by the experts both in Moscow and in the United States. We recognized at the outset that most summit conferences had been failures; since the end of World War II they had raised hopes and then failed. These meetings, on the other hand, had been successful because they were well prepared, and also because—and this was important but quite difficult to measure—because of an acceptance of mutual responsibility to respect the other side’s viewpoint, and its right to disagree strongly, and, while respecting the equal strength of each side, finally to find a way to reach agreement on fundamental matters.

“The President continued by noting that superficial observers, sometimes in the press, would judge the meeting only by the agreements signed. These are important, but as pointed out by the Soviet side the results will be determined more by how the agreements are implemented. [Page 388] By establishing a process for progress in all areas, this enabled us to reach agreement.

“The President said that on the part of the United States he could assure the Soviet leaders that on all levels of the US Government there would be an intention to take a forthcoming attitude in working out problems that might arise. For example, there is the question of trade. The President noted that he had pointed out the great possibilities in this field. Even though we had not made the progress we would have liked, our differences were narrowed and we could be confident that we would see a blossoming of trade and a new relationship of enormous benefit to our peoples. The key to this, as well as other difficult issues, will be the continuation of frank contacts at all levels, including ambassadors and ministers, and, of course, at the summit level where that is the best way to break an impasse.

“The President said he wanted to conclude his remarks by saying that history had been made by what had been signed, but the real test is what happens in the future. Now that we all know and respect each other, we have an opportunity to make even greater history for future generations.” (Memorandum of conversation between President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev, May 29, 1972; ibid., Part 2)