97. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • President Nixon’s Meeting with Congressional Leaders on October 12, 1971, 12 noon-12:hed.)m. in the Cabinet Room. (List of participants is attached.)

The President began the meeting by noting that at that moment the announcement he would shortly be reading out to the Leaders was being simultaneously published in Washington and Moscow. The President said that after reading the announcement he would provide some background and then be open to questions. He looked forward to a good discussion in this small group. The President then read out the announcement concerning his trip to the Soviet Union in May, 1972 (Tab A).2

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Turning to the background, the President recalled his first press conference in January of 1969 when the question of a summit with the Soviets was raised. At that time he had said that we should not have such a meeting unless something came out of it, otherwise it would be merely cosmetic and there would be a great letdown. This also turned out to be the Soviet view. In April, 1970, the Soviets began exploring the possibility at lower levels. But the President did not think that a meeting at the highest level at that time could serve a useful purpose. There then ensued a period of many discussions at various levels. In the last few weeks the Soviets indicated that they thought the time was ripe and Gromyko brought a formal invitation when he came to Washington.

The President continued that in fact we had made sufficient progress. He cited agreements on biological warfare, the seabeds, the hot line and accidental war. But the most important one was on Berlin. That problem was not solved totally but the United States and the Soviet Union, plus the two other countries involved, were able to reach agreement on an area where our interests clashed.3 Now the President drew the conclusion that it was possible to go to other areas.

The President then took up the point of why the meeting was set for May rather than, for example, next month. In the first place, he said, the Soviets set the date. In addition, we were having very intensive negotiations on strategic arms. While we were aiming for agreement this year it might not come until next year. The subject was high on the agenda. In this connection, the President referred to recent stories about the huge Soviet arms build-up, particularly on the Soviet side. While SALT had made progress on the defensive side, agreement would not be reached without the offensive side because that was where the Soviets were ahead. We cannot have an agreement based on defensive equality but freezing Soviet offensive advantage. The President was confident that we would have a SALT agreement but it must not freeze us into inferiority.

The President cautioned against euphoria in connection with this Moscow trip. There continued to be great differences: in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, in Europe and, most fundamentally as regards systems of government. Nevertheless the overwhelming fact was that if there ever was a superpower conflict there would be no victors, only losers. The Soviets know this as well as we do. Neither superpower [Page 336] would let the other get an advantage sufficient to enable it to launch a preemptive strike. Therefore, we should explore areas where we can limit or even perhaps reduce arms.

Apart from arms, there were such problems as Europe and trade. Without listing an agenda, the President said the Moscow talks would deal with all “questions of mutual interest.” This included peripheral areas like the Middle East, where we hoped for progress before the summit; Southeast Asia and its future, where we will go forward with our two-track policy and will not wait until May; and the Caribbean.

To sum up, the President said when we look at the future of the world negotiations rather than confrontations were essential. It did not matter if we had a difference with a small country like Bolivia, but in the case of the Soviet Union it could be disastrous. The President then stressed that the two trips he was planning—to Peking and Moscow—were completely separate and independent. We were in the position of pursuing the best relations with both, but not with one at the expense of the other.4 The President added that we had informed Peking, the European allies and Japan of the Moscow trip, but because of the Soviet passion for secrecy, which they share with other communists, we had to be extremely careful not to risk a leak.

[Omitted here is general discussion among the participants.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 279, Presidential File, Memoranda of Conversation, October-November 1971. No classification marking. The President, along with Kissinger, Rogers, and two staffers, met with 11 Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary) A list of the attendees is attached but not printed.
  2. Not printed. The United States and the Soviet Union jointly announced agreement to hold a Summit meeting in Moscow in late May 1972. The President read the announcement at a news conference on October 12; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1971, p. 1030.
  3. According to notes of a Cabinet meeting held later that day taken by Assistant to the President Ray Price, Nixon said of these accomplishments: “Any one of them would have been hailed as the second coming if achieved by another President.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President, Box 86, August 22-December 5, 1971)
  4. Nixon also told the Cabinet, according to Price’s notes, that “we are on a very high wire. We are trying to stay there vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and China. We must remember that we are ironically in a position where each rates the other as a greater enemy than the U.S. But the U.S.—to deal with either—must deal evenhandedly, not playing off one against the other.” (Ibid.)