76. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador of the USSR
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

It was one of our regularly scheduled weekly luncheons.

Dobrynin began the conversation by talking about Vietnam. He said that as of the day before, the April 24 meeting was still on.2 He considered the April 24 meeting very crucial and he hoped nothing would happen to interfere with it. I said we had cancelled the plenary sessions that were supposed to precede this meeting, and that maybe now the other side would cancel the meeting itself.

Dobrynin said that he could assure me that his leadership was not interested in this conflict. I said “Let’s be realistic. You are responsible for this conflict, either because you planned it or because you tried to score off the Chinese and as a result have put yourself into the position where a miserable little country can jeopardize everything that has been striven for for years.” This was essentially a Soviet decision to make, I continued. The Soviet Union must have known when it signed two supplementary agreements during the year that it was giving the North Vietnamese the wherewithal to launch an offensive. What did the Soviet leaders expect? Did they expect the President to wait while the South Vietnamese army ran the risk of being defeated and 69,000 Americans were taken prisoner?

Dobrynin interjected by saying that the North Vietnamese had often offered to repatriate them immediately. I said “Anatol, this is not worthy of comment, and that situation will not arise. There must be a meeting this month. It must lead to concrete results, and if it does not there will be incalculable consequences. I might also point out that our whole attitude on a host of issues depends on it. How could the Soviet leaders ask us to proceed on the Middle East or to give support for the ratification of the Treaty while the war was taking this acute form? We were prepared to let it wind down. Why did the North Vietnamese not wait if they felt so confident? But now that the situation [Page 250] had arisen in which we were being challenged directly, we had no choice but to proceed.”3

I was also bound to tell Dobrynin that I was not authorized to discuss any of the other subjects with him.

Dobrynin replied that it seemed to him that a visit by me to Moscow was more urgent than ever. He thought that we should reconsider the decision for me not to go. He felt that I should go and discuss Vietnam with their leaders and at the same time accelerate preparations for the Summit. I told Dobrynin I would put this proposition to the President.

Later on that afternoon I called him to tell him the result. [Telecon attached.]4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the White House Map Room.
  2. Dobrynin was referring to the scheduled meeting in Paris between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho.
  3. At the WSAG meeting the day before, Kissinger said: “From the Russian point of view, the worst thing that could happen would be for the offensive to succeed. If we are run out of Vietnam, the Moscow trip would be called off, or we would go there as tough as nails. We couldn’t possibly make any concessions.” The WSAG also concluded that the South Vietnamese-American response to the offensive had generated only mild reactions from the Soviet Union and China, that ARVN was holding its own although it was too early to say the offensive had been blunted, that tactical air support was effectively supporting the South Vietnamese military, that bad weather and pilot unfamiliarity with North Vietnam would temporarily hinder bombing the North, and that as a result of the offensive a great deal of South Vietnamese military equipment and weapons would have to be replaced. (Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group meeting, April 11; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 78, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group, Mar. 1971–Apr. 1972)
  4. Not printed. Brackets are in the original. After speaking with Nixon, Kissinger called Dobrynin at 3:15 p.m. to tell him that the President’s inclination was to approve Kissinger making a secret trip to Moscow around April 22 and 23 as long as it took place in conjunction with his (Kissinger’s) planned trip to Paris on April 24. The full text of the conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 97.