125. Editorial Note

On September 27, 1969, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin at the latter’s request who asked that the White House intervene to arrange an agreement between Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Secretary of State Rogers on the Middle East. Kissinger had arranged with President Nixon that during this conversation Nixon would call and tell Kissinger to inform Dobrynin that Vietnam was a critical issue in U.S.-Soviet relations and that the Soviet Union should be aware of it. (Kissinger, White House Years, page 304) Prior to meeting Dobrynin, Kissinger spoke on the telephone with the President at 3:15 p.m. on September 27. The President told Kissinger: “It is very important to leave no illusions on the decision he has made on the whole Southeast Asia area. It is very important for everyone to realize the whole situation is changed. We would have been delighted to have nice personal relations [with the Soviet Union], but that boat is gone by now, and that is that. He wants to be sure this is understood; and that we reached this conclusion reluctantly.” Kissinger stated that he understood. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 364, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

Kissinger met with Dobrynin and informed him that “there was no need for White House intervention” on the Middle East and stated: “that Dobrynin should understand our elemental position. We had made several communications to the Soviet Union on Vietnam to which they had never replied. While this did not inhibit normal diplomatic relations, it made it very difficult for the White House to go beyond what normally occurred on the diplomatic level.

“At this point, the President called. When the conversation was completed, I commented that the President had called me at a providential moment because it enabled me to tell the President directly what was being discussed. To us Vietnam was the critical issue. We were quite prepared to discuss other subjects, but the Soviet Union should not expect any special treatment until Vietnam was solved. They should also have no illusions about the seriousness with which we took Hanoi’s attempt to undermine the domestic position of the President. Dobrynin asked me whether there was any hope for a coalition government. I replied that we had covered the subject at great length previously and that I could add nothing. It was a pity that all our efforts to negotiate had failed. The President had told me in his call that the train had just left the station and was now headed down the track. Dobrynin responded that he hoped it was an airplane and not a train and would leave some maneuvering room. I said the President chooses his words very carefully and that I was sure he meant train.

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Dobrynin then asked what our problem had been in the past. I said that every negotiation turned into a discussion on our readiness to accept the 10 points. We could not negotiate in a forum of ultimatums. Dobrynin said that my own conversations with the Vietnamese seemed to have gone rather well. I asked him what he meant. He said Hanoi had told Moscow that they had been very impressed by my presentation and thought I understood Vietnamese conditions very well. I replied that if this were true the next move was up to them.

Dobrynin then engaged in a lengthy exposition to the effect that the Soviet Union, for its own reasons, was interested in peace in Vietnam and had in the past often been helpful. I countered that we had no illusions about Soviet help in the past. It had been considerably in the interest of Hanoi and had been largely tactical. Dobrynin said that he wanted to assure me of Moscow’s continued interest in improved relations with the U.S., but it was getting very difficult to convince Moscow of our goodwill. There had been no real progress on any subject. For example, we could have been more generous on trade liberalization. I said the most important issue was Vietnam. As soon as Vietnam was out of the way and especially if the Russians took an understanding attitude, we would go further. Dobrynin smiled and said that I had an unusual ability to link things together. I told him that we had hoped to have a reply on SALT. Dobrynin said there would be a reply in due course but did not give any indication as to when.

Dobrynin returned to the subject of Soviet interest in improving relations with us. I said we reciprocated this feeling, especially after Vietnam was out of the way.” (Memorandum of Conversation, September 27; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/HAK, 1969 [Part 1])

On October 1 Kissinger sent a brief memorandum to the President assuring Nixon that he had made the four points to Dobrynin: that “Vietnam was the critical issue,” that “there would be no special treatment for the Soviet Union until Vietnam was solved,” that “we took seriously Hanoi’s attempt to undermine the President’s domestic position,” and “the train had left the station and was headed down the track.” Kissinger also informed Nixon that Dobrynin responded that he hoped there might be “some maneuvering room,” that Kissinger’s private conversations in Paris had impressed Hanoi, and that Moscow wanted improved relations with the United States but had not yet seen any progress. (Ibid.)