231. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Minister Counselor Yuli M. Vorontsov
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting took place at my request. I told Vorontsov that the President had instructed me to convey the following message to General Secretary Brezhnev. A letter for the General Secretary2 would be delivered the next day, but in view of the urgency of the situation, the President wanted it transmitted to Moscow immediately.

  • —The President did not understand how the Soviet Union could believe that it was possible to work on the broad amelioration of our relationships while at the same time encouraging the Indian military aggression against Pakistan. We did not take a position on the merits of the developments inside Pakistan that triggered this sequence of events. We have, indeed, always taken the position that we would encourage a political solution. But here a member country of the United Nations was being dismembered by the military forces of another member country which had close relationships with the Soviet Union. We did not understand how the Soviet Union could take the position that this was an internal affair of another country. We did not see how the Soviet Union could take the position that it wanted to negotiate with us security guarantees for the Middle East and to speak about Security Council presence in Sharm El-Sheikh, while at the same time underlining the impotence of the Security Council in New York. We did not understand how the Soviet Union could maintain that neither power should seek special advantages and that we should take a general view of the situation, while at the same time promoting a war in the Subcontinent. We therefore wanted to appeal once more to the Soviet Union to join with us in putting an end to the fighting in the Subcontinent. The TASS statement which claimed that Soviet security interests were involved was unacceptable to us and could only lead to [Page 649] an escalation of the crisis. We wanted to appeal to the Soviet Union to go with us on the road we had charted of submerging special interests in the general concern of maintaining the peace of the world.
  • —The President wanted Mr. Brezhnev to know that he was more than eager to go back to the situation as it was two weeks ago and to work for the broad improvement of our relationship. But he also had to point out to Mr. Brezhnev that we were once more at one of the watersheds in our relationship, and he did not want to have any wrong turn taken for lack of clarity.

Vorontsov said he hoped we were still at this good point in our relationship. I said I would be remiss if I did not point out that we were developing severe doubts, both because of the Subcontinent and because of developments in Vietnam.

Vorontsov asked whether he could convey something about a political solution, since this was featured so prominently in Kosyginʼs letter.3 I replied that our attitude towards a political solution was as follows: If there were a ceasefire and a withdrawal, the United States would be prepared to work immediately with the Soviet Union on ideas of a political solution. We recognized that substantial political autonomy for East Pakistan was the probable outcome of a political evolution, and we were willing to work in that direction. I wanted him to know that I had offered the Indian Ambassador precisely that—to work out with him a concrete program over a limited period of time. I also wanted to point out to him that President Yahya was eager to turn the government over to civilians, which would in turn open entirely new prospects. Therefore the major thing was to get the military action stopped and stopped quickly.

Vorontsov asked me what was happening on my invitation to Moscow. The Soviet leaders, he said, were really looking forward to seeing me at the end of January. I said, “There are major bureaucratic obstacles, but now there are major substantive ones as well.” Vorontsov said, “In a week the whole matter will be over.” I said, “In a week it will not be over, depending on how it ended.” He said he would transmit this immediately to Moscow.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, Presidentʼs Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Drafted by Kissinger. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. In his memoirs Kissinger notes that Ambassador Dobrynin was in Moscow during much of the culminating phase of the crisis, and he had to deal with Vorontsov, who had authority to receive and transmit messages, but not to negotiate. (White House Years, p. 900)
  2. Document 236.
  3. See footnote 7, Document 218.
  4. Shortly after this conversation, Kissinger called Vorontsov to reiterate that President Nixon viewed the crisis in South Asia as a watershed in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Kissinger said that he had just reported to the President on his conversation with Vorontsov and the President wanted it made clear to Moscow that “in a week or so it may be ended but it wonʼt be over as far as we are concerned if it continues to take the present trend.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation, December 5, 4:55 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) The transcript is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 160.