135. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

When Dobrynin entered the office, I told him that I regretted taking him away from dinner. Dobrynin said that he knew my habits by now. He knew that when I called him before a speech it would not be good news. I said that the best way to handle the matter was for me to show him a copy of the letter which the President was writing to Brezhnev (attached).2 He asked whether I had a text of the speech.3 I said no, I wouldn’t have it, but I would send it to his office just before 9:00. He said it was odd that I didn’t trust him to keep it secret for even 15 minutes.

Dobrynin then read the President’s letter. He said there were many ambiguities in it; for example, what did we mean by stopping seaborne supplies? Did we really mean interference with Soviet ships? That, of course, would be an act of war. He said he could almost certainly predict what the reaction in Moscow would be and it would be very unfortunate. It had taken him years to get matters to the present point, and now all was being jeopardized. And what was worse, he said, once Soviet policy got set in a certain way it was likely to stay that way for quite a long time. He asked whether there really was no alternative.

I told him that if he read the records of my conversations with Brezhnev 4 he would find that I had told them and told them that we were going to do something drastic. Dobrynin said he wasn’t surprised, although the particular action was perhaps one that would not have occurred to him, but it would be much harder to understand in Moscow. He said that if he could explain American conditions in Moscow, it might be easier, but he was far away. He seemed very resigned to a drastic Soviet response.

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He asked why we were turning against them when Hanoi was challenging us. I replied that he should put himself into our position. What would the Soviet Union do if we armed Israel two months before a Soviet Summit and encouraged an attack or at least tolerated an attack which would threaten the Soviet force in Egypt. Dobrynin became uncharacteristically vehement. He said, “First of all, we never put forces somewhere who can’t defend themselves. Second, if the Israelis threaten us, we will wipe them out within two days. I can assure you our plans are made for this eventuality.” He then relapsed into a more diplomatic attitude again, and said that now matters would take a rather bad turn.

At this point, we received a text of the President’s speech and I showed it to Dobrynin. He read it through and asked for clarification, specifically on what we meant by stopping seaborne supplies. I told him we would take all measures but that we would confine our actions initially to territorial waters. Dobrynin also pointed out that a phrase which was in the speech at that point, according to which I was sent to Paris to meet with Le Duc Tho on May 2nd5 based on Soviet assurances, was very strong and would be taken very ill in Moscow. I told him I would see whether I could still get it taken out and left him for a few minutes to go into the President’s office. The President agreed to delete the phrase, and we also had it taken out of the press copy. Dobrynin said that, well, at least we had achieved a minor success, and we had come closer to getting somewhere than we had in the entire period that he had served as Ambassador in Washington.

At this point the meeting broke up.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. Also printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 207.
  2. Attached but not printed. The May 8 letter is printed ibid., as an attachment to Document 207.
  3. See Document 136.
  4. See Document 94.
  5. See Document 109.