257. Memorandum of Conversation1

Following an exchange of pleasantries in which Matskevich2 emphasized Mr. Brezhnevʼs warmly anticipated meeting with President Nixon, the President informed the Soviet representatives that he wished to discuss an urgent problem very frankly. The President continued, [Page 725] “I want you to know how strongly I personally feel about this issue.” Great progress has been made in US/Soviet relations. No one two years ago would have thought this progress possible. It includes progress on SALT, the Berlin situation, and an agreement on the Spring Summit. Discussions have been held on the possibility of a European Security Conference, and the opportunity exists for a totally new relationship between the U.S. and the USSR.

“Now, quite frankly, a great cloud hangs over it—the problem of the Subcontinent.” Six-hundred million will win over 60,000,000 people. Pakistan will be cut in half. In the short-range, this may be a gain for the Soviet Union and a setback for China. It is certain to be a tragedy for Pakistan. What is far more significant if the situation continues is the fact that it will poison the whole new relationship between the U.S. and the USSR. The question is, ‘are short-term gains for India worth jeopardizing Soviet relations with the U.S.?’ This is not conveyed in a threatening way.3 It would be difficult, however, for the U.S. to stand by if the Indians move forces into West Pakistan. The key to a settlement is in the hands of the Soviet Union. If the Soviets do not restrain the Indians, it will be difficult for the U.S. to deal with Yahya.4 If the Indians continue military operations, we must inevitably look toward a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union has a treaty with India, but the United States has obligations to Pakistan. The urgency of a ceasefire must be recognized.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 643, Country Files, Middle East, India/Pakistan, December 1–10. Top Secret; Sensitive. The heading on the memorandum describes the report of the conversation as an extract. The meeting was held in the White House Oval Office. The time of the meeting is from the Presidentʼs Daily Diary, as is the fact that it was also attended by Kissinger and Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Butterfield, who apparently took the notes on the meeting. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Minister of Agriculture Vladimir Matskevich arrived in Washington on December 9 and Nixon saw him and Vorontsov on Kissingerʼs recommendation. Kissinger saw Matskevichʼs presence as an opportunity to send a high-level message to the Soviet leadership that if India turned its military strength on West Pakistan after defeating the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan it would create a crisis of the utmost gravity. Kissinger felt that Nixon should make the point that Soviet support of the Indian use of force in East Pakistan raised serious questions as to whether the United States could work with the Soviet Union on issues of mutual concern. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, December 9; ibid., NSC Files, Box 492, Presidentʼs Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8)
  3. At this point in the conversation, Nixon said: “I think there is a better way. A better way is for the Soviet Union and the United States to find a method where we can work together for peace in that area. Now, the first requirement is that there be a cease-fire. The second requirement is that, and this is imperative, that the Indians & desist in their attacks on West Pakistan.” He went on to propose that a cease-fire be succeeded by political negotiations “within a Pakistan framework.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between President Nixon and Soviet Minister Matskevich, December 9, 1971, 4–4:41 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 634–12) A transcript of the conversation is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 169.
  4. Nixon said: “If the Soviet Union does not restrain the Indians, the United States will not be able to exert any influence with Yahya to negotiate a political settlement with the Awami League.” (Ibid.)
  5. y concluded the conversation by reiterating that it was important not to allow differences over South Asia “to endanger and jeopardize the relations that are far more important.” He said: “Now is the time to move, to settle this thing before it blows up to a major confrontation.” Nixon and Kissinger assessed the meeting after Matskevich and Vorontsov left. Nixon was pleased with the exchange. “I really stuck it to him.” Kissinger predicted: “It will end now. It will end. We will lose 70 percent but thatʼs a hell of a lot better. We were losing 110 percent yesterday.” Nixon felt that, at a minimum, his initiative with Matskevich would have the effect of stopping “the goddamn Indians from going to the West.” (Ibid.)