351. Information Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Stans’ Soviet Trip

This is a brief account of the way in which Stans’ response to Kosygin’s proposal for the establishment of working groups evolved. It is a good example of what happens to American negotiators under the pressure of atmosphere, the need to be successful and domestic considerations.

After Kosygin had first advanced his proposal that the Stans trip leave a “concrete trace” by an exchange of aides-memoires which would set up four working groups to develop “propositions and arrangements” in time for the May summit,2 I slipped Stans a note with my suggested response. This said that Stans should say (a) Kosygin’s proposal was positive and interesting, and (b) Stans would discuss it with the President upon his return and there would then be a response. When Stans spoke next, he said that Kosygin’s proposal was in the spirit of the mission but that he would like to think about it and delay a response until there had been a chance to explore the detailed implications with Foreign Trade Minister Patolichev the following week. (I felt this was tactically a better line than I had suggested.)

Kosygin then hit Stans twice more with his proposal, stressing that the exchange of notes would not in any way constitute a commitment to take legally binding actions. He added as an “afterthought” that there might be a fifth group on science and technology. With a psychological subtlety which he has employed in the past (notably with Harriman in 1965), Kosygin interspersed his pitches with rapid-fire changes of pace of a personal character (how the Russians brew tea in samovars—he would give Stans one as a present—how glorious the climate of Georgia is; how strenuous Stans’ trip must have been; would Stans like to be the first American to sit on the floor of the Supreme Soviet when Kosygin spoke the following Wednesday; incidentally, Kosygin would be seeing 300 Americans from Business International Tuesday after next and tell them exactly what he told Stans).

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When Stans next spoke he said that he could agree to the idea of exchanging some document at the end of his mission and that he would work with Patolichev as far as he could on setting up the follow-on working groups.

At lunch afterwards at Spaso (bugged) just before Stans took off for Leningrad, I told him that we should take the utmost care not to hem in the President on MFN and EXIM credits since these were exclusively in the President’s domain as far as any initiatives were concerned and that Stans should concentrate in Moscow on exploring all the practical problems of increased trade, irrespective of how the mission would be concluded.

When Stans got back from his weekend in Leningrad we talked alone in a secure room. I said his objective should be to reassure the Soviets that we were seriously interested in improving trade relations and that they could be sure that after he returned to Washington he would report fully to the President so that we could then move forward in a constructive way. He indicated that he was thinking in terms of offering follow-on activities for which he, as Secretary of Commerce, already had a Charter while leaving other issues to Presidential determination. He also said that he was thinking of writing a personal letter to Patolichev at the end giving his understanding of what had been discussed. I said as long as this was personal and made no operational commitments it might be a good way to finesse the Kosygin proposal for an exchange of notes.

The meeting with Patolichev that day was confined to discussion of practical problems.

At the next meeting with Patolichev,3 Stans then made a very orderly presentation reviewing the whole course of the mission up to that point. But he went beyond his script in saying that (a) he would write a letter, (b) that he could agree to a single follow-on group between his Department and the Soviet Foreign Trade Ministry to deal with matters within Commerce’s jurisdiction. He also mentioned incidentally that we would be gradually removing the remainder of the items on the export control list (except for purely military items) and that US EXIM credits were not excluded at some point. (He based this last on what he said the President told him before he left. I was not present at that meeting but Al Haig was.4 Scott had earlier told a group of Soviet Deputy Foreign Trade Ministers that the more contracts the Soviets offered American business the greater would be the pressure on the President to move on EXIM credits and this [Page 886] was what we all wanted.) Patolichev said that Stans’ proposal was reasonable, that the Soviets would like to see a draft of the proposed letter and that they in turn would give Stans a brief draft of a public communiqué listing the meetings Stans had had in Moscow and making some general statements about the visit. Stans agreed.

On returning to the Embassy, I immediately dictated a summary of Stans’ presentation for cabling back to Washington in the hope that it would elicit an authoritative instruction from here for the last round of Stans’ talks after his return from the Caucasus. This, with some additions by Stans, was sent back here on Friday5 after Stans had left for Tbilisi.

Scott, meanwhile, had dictated a first draft of Stans’ proposed letter and left a copy with Beam. I went over it with Beam and Klosson and told them that they must tell Stans to remove all references in it to the “US Government” and insist that it be written in the first person and sent back here for comment along with the Soviet draft communiqué.

Also, before leaving Stans had a one hour backgrounder with the US press. The best version of it appeared in the New York Times on Saturday.6 I felt it was a good job for the most part but became too specific in disclosing his intentions for the end of the talks. You should know, however, that throughout the stay, Stans was under repeated pressure from Klein’s office to make news. They urged him to have two press conferences (another before he leaves Wednesday)7 and to arrange for a US TV appearance when he gets back.

It must also be said that Stans throughout operated in the keen awareness that US business is extremely anxious for Soviet contracts and that Kosygin’s offer of grain purchases up to 2 billion dollars a year (on credit) could be of crucial political importance on the farm states next year.

I think when all is said and done, Stans avoided concretely committing the President; and with one major exception (the “Watershed” comment to the press)8 confined his remarks to economic matters. On the other hand, his mission has obviously generated enormous momentum to move ahead in trade matters and does create implied commitments—both to the Soviets and the American business community—that (1) we will continue to liberalize export controls, and (2) seriously consider and perhaps grant in the next several months EXIM credits and guarantees. He is also committed to some form of follow-on to his [Page 887] trip, though for now only on matters within the jurisdiction of Commerce; and that this work will produce some concrete results by the time of the summit.

He is less committed, though not excluding it, on MFN and on a possible umbrella trade agreement (for which the Soviets are very anxious). He also showed sympathy, but without commitment, to Kirillin’s proposal for a formal agreement on scientific and technological cooperation.

Stans did an effective job in impressing on the Soviets the need for better facilities for US businessmen.

He also made a cogent statement on the need for trade to be based on a constructive political relationship (no contradiction from the Soviets), but diluted it in public with clichés about how trade will breed understanding which “diplomats” are unable to produce.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 213, Commerce, Volume II 1971. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. There is no indication that Kissinger saw the memorandum.
  2. See Document 349.
  3. Presumably the meeting on November 25; see Document 350.
  4. Stans met with the President on November 15; see Document 348.
  5. November 26.
  6. November 27. The story is on the front page.
  7. December 1.
  8. As quoted in The New York Times, Stans said that his meetings with Kosygin and Soviet Ministers left him with the feeling that “a watershed had been created in relations with the Soviet Union.” The Times story also noted that Stans’ visit was the first by a member of the Nixon Cabinet to the Soviet Union.