94. Editorial Note

On July 19, 1971, Henry Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to “get a feeling for Dobrynin’s attitude following the announcement of the Peking Summit.” Kissinger found Dobrynin concerned that the U.S.-China initiative, in particular a Nixon visit to China, resulted from the Soviets having been evasive in a recent U.S. inquiry about the long-discussed U.S.-Soviet Summit. “Dobrynin was at his oily best,” wrote Kissinger in a memorandum of conversation, “and, for the first time in my experience, totally insecure.” With respect to the question of a U.S.-Soviet summit and its timing in relation to the U.S.-China meeting, Kissinger spoke bluntly:

“I said that I wanted to be frank with him. Perhaps in the first year of our Administration we had not always been forthcoming in improving relations with the Soviet Union, but ever since April 1970 we believe we have made an unending series of overtures. The Soviet response has been grudging and petty, especially on the Summit Meeting. They simply did not understand the President. The President thought in broad philosophical terms and had sincerely believed that his meeting with the Soviet leaders might open new vistas for cooperation around the world; instead, he found himself confronted with one evasion after another. As Dobrynin very well knew, I had urged him to have an answer by July 1st and even then it had taken till July 5th, and he had then been evasive again, saying that the meeting could take place in November and December. This was in effect a rejection, because I had already told him that November and December were highly inconvenient. Indeed, I did not know whether Dobrynin was even saying we should fix a date.

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Dobrynin in reply was almost beside himself with protestations of goodwill. On the contrary, he said, he could tell me strictly off the record that a meeting between his leaders and the President was very much on their minds. What in fact had happened was that September did not seem possible, and now November was the earliest possible date. He was certain the Soviet leaders would be willing to set another date for a Summit, but now they did not know whether our meeting with Peking made it impossible. Would we be willing to come to Moscow before going to Peking?

“I replied that it did not seem to me proper to go to Moscow before having gone to Peking, that we should go in the order in which the announcements were made. He asked whether we would be prepared to announce a meeting before having been in Peking. I said that that was a distinct possibility but that I would have to check this with the President and let him know later in the day.

“[I called Dobrynin at 7:00 that evening after checking with the President and told him that we would be prepared to announce a meeting in Moscow after having set the date of a meeting in Peking but before we had actually visited Peking.]” (Brackets in the source text)

During this meeting, which took place in the Map Room of the White House, Dobrynin also asked Kissinger about his meeting in Peking:

“He asked me whether the Soviet Union had come up. I replied that realistically it was obvious that we could do nothing to help Communist China against the Soviet Union. In any event to us the Soviet Union was a world power, while we recognized that China was primarily significant for Asian settlements. Dobrynin asked whether Chou En-lai had indicated any worry about a Soviet attack. I said there were practically no references to the Soviet Union except an occasional vague allusion, while it seemed to me that the primary fear of Communist China was Japan.

Dobrynin brightened considerably and said that this was exactly his conviction of Chinese priorities. He asked what there really was to talk about between us and the Chinese? Were we interested in Chinese domination of Southeast Asia? He had always thought that the Soviet interests and ours were much more nearly complementary with respect to the defense of Southeast Asia. I said that I wasn’t certain that the Chinese had aggressive tendencies in Southeast Asia but that in any event we would not favor Chinese expansion beyond their borders.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 73, Country Files-Europe-U.S.S.R.)

From Kissinger’s perspective, Soviet concerns over the U.S. opening to China yielded immediate dividends. He recalled in his memoirs: “Other negotiations deadlocked for months began magically to [Page 329] unfreeze.” Such issues as the Berlin discussions and talks to guard against accidental nuclear war “moved rapidly to completion within weeks of the Peking announcement.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 766-767) But Kissinger maintained that the concept of triangular diplomacy was complicated. He recalled:

“It could not be a crude attempt to play off China against the Soviet Union. ‘The China card’ was not ours to play. Sino-Soviet hostility had followed its own dynamic. We had not generated it; we were, in fact, unaware of its intensity for the better part of a decade. Neither Peking nor Moscow was quarreling with the other to curry favor with us; they were currying favor with us because they were quarreling. We could not ‘exploit’ that rivalry; it exploited itself.” (Ibid., page 763)