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Office of the Historian

1. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Boris Sedov, Counselor, Soviet Embassy
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Boris Sedov, officially counselor of the Soviet Embassy, but in fact a member of Soviet intelligence,2 called on me today at his request. He had asked to see me during the previous week, but the meeting was delayed because of my trip to Key Biscayne.3

[Page 2]

Sedov began by saying that the Soviet Embassy had given a copy of their Middle East note to Ellsworth on December 304 because I had warned Sedov against “surprises,” and because the Embassy wanted to deal with the President-elect on the basis of complete frankness.

Sedov then read the attached communication. I copied it and read it back to him (he made a few corrections).

I then asked Sedov about the meaning of the phrase: “The Soviet leadership would do their utmost … to ensure ratification by states of the non-proliferation treaty.”5 Did it mean that the USSR would try to create an atmosphere in which ratification of the treaty would be possible in the United States, or was it proposing joint action with the US to secure ratification by third parties. Sedov replied that both meanings were intended. I said we were studying the problem.

Sedov then asked about strategic arms talks. I repeated my observation of December 18, 1968, that we did not believe that political and strategic issues could be completely separated. The Nixon Administration wanted to see more progress in Vietnam and the Middle East before committing itself to strategic arms talks. Sedov asked whether the Soviet overture on the Middle East could be seen as a sign of good faith along the lines of my communication of December 18. I said we would have to study it.

Sedov then turned to Vietnam. He asked whether my mutual withdrawal proposal was the policy of the new Administration.6 I replied that we were studying all realistic options. Sedov then said that he considered the proposal the best way to solve the Vietnam war. Did he understand correctly that I required that there be no violent upheaval during the period of withdrawal? I said this was correct. He asked how long a time I had set—in my own mind—for withdrawal. I replied three–five years, although this was obviously subject to negotiation. I added [Page 3]that as long as American soldiers continued to be killed in Vietnam with Soviet weapons it was difficult to speak of a real relaxation of tensions.

Sedov said that the Soviet Union was very interested that the inaugural speech contain some reference to open channels of communication to Moscow. I said that all this would be easier if Moscow showed some cooperativeness on Vietnam. Sedov replied that he would try to have an answer by January 10.

Tab A

Notes of a Conversation7

Notes on Conversation with Boris Sedov, January 2, 1969

Tcherniakov (of the Soviet Embassy) delivered the memo on the Middle East to Ellsworth because of its official nature and my absence.

The following is the verbatim text of Sedov's statement to me:

1.
Moscow has carefully watched the election campaign which, though a US internal affair, has world-wide significance.
2.
Moscow does not have the pessimistic view expressed in many parts of the world in connection with the accession of the Republicans to power.
3.
It is not true that Moscow makes its attitude dependent on which party is allegedly more to the right.
4.
The key concern of Moscow is whether statements of great powers are animated by a sense of reality.
5.
Moscow noted with satisfaction Mr. Nixon's cable to President Podgorny8 to the effect that the American and Soviet people work together in a spirit of mutual respect and on the basis of special responsibility for the peace of the world. This wish is considered an [Page 4]encouraging sign of the interest of the American side to proceed further in the solution of those problems outlined in bilateral contacts.
6.
On the other hand, Moscow is very worried by statements that there is a desire on the part of the US to operate from a “situation of strength.” If this theory dominates, and if a new round of armaments starts, the USSR is capable and willing to match the US effort. The world will be reduced to the worst days of the cold war.
7.
Moscow realizes that there are theoretical and practical differences between our two countries. These should not interfere with gradual achievement of agreements on a number of problems. That of disarmament is in the first place.
8.
To achieve this goal, it is necessary to develop mutual trust. On the part of Moscow, it is willing to make important steps in this direction, but it wishes that the new Administration act in the same spirit.
9.
The Soviet leadership will do their utmost to find ways of solving at least some important problems of disarmament, and to ensure ratification by states of the non-proliferation treaty.
10.
The US and USSR must find a way to disarmament, or the consequences will be extremely dangerous for in this connection one always has to keep in mind that disarmament is specifically a Soviet-US problem.
11.
The Soviet leadership is determined to continue a policy of peaceful coexistence.
12.
Mr. Nixon's statement of November 11 to continue keeping open channels to the USSR did not pass unnoticed in Moscow. Great attention was paid to the part where Mr. Nixon, speaking of President Johnson's foreign policy, confirms his desire to keep open channels of communication to Moscow.
13.
It goes without saying that the future of Soviet-American relations would be favorably affected by settlement of Vietnam problem, a political solution of the situation in the Middle East, a realistic approach to the situation in Europe as a whole, and the German problem in particular. (Oral comment: The Soviet Union has special interests in Eastern Europe.)
14.
Moscow hopes that even before the inauguration Nixon indicates interest in betterment of relations with the Soviet Union. (inaugural address)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 725, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Contacts With the Soviets Prior to January 20, 1969. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held at the Pierre Hotel, headquarters for the Nixon transition team. On January 31 Kissinger sent Secretary of State Rogers copies of his memoranda of conversation with Sedov on January 2 and his earlier conversation on December 18, 1968, at the Soviet Embassy. Kissinger reminded Rogers that President Nixon asked that the copies be closely held. (Ibid.) Kissinger's memorandum to Nixon on his December 18, 1968, meeting with Sedov is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV, Soviet Union, Document 335.
  2. Sedov's activities as an officer of the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) were closely monitored by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who provided Kissinger with periodic updates. On June 11, after learning that Sedov informed a Lebanese American citizen with ties to the KGB of his contact with the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Kissinger informed Under Secretary of State Richardson that “In view of [Sedov's] continuing activity, I believe it would be appropriate, through discussions with the Soviet Ambassador, to request that Sedov be returned to the Soviet Union. If such action cannot be accomplished through this procedure, it would appear that persona non grata action against Sedov may have to be taken without further delay.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 1, Chronological File) Additional FBI information on Sedov is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 242, Agency Files, FBI, Vol. II.
  3. On December 28, 1968, Kissinger met with Nixon's senior appointees at Key Biscayne, Florida.
  4. On December 30, 1968, Soviet Chargé Yuri Tcherniakov gave Robert Ellsworth, an assistant to President-elect Nixon, two notes outlining a Soviet plan for a political settlement in the Middle East. The documents given to Ellsworth were almost identical to those Tcherniakov handed to Secretary of State Dean Rusk the same day. A text of the Soviet notes given Rusk is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Document 374. The memorandum of conversation between Ellsworth and Tcherniakov and the Soviet notes given Ellsworth are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 1, HAK Administrative and Staff Files—Transition, Robert Ellsworth.
  5. Ellipses in the source text. On July 1, 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow. On March 5, 1970, after the United States and 81 other nations signed the treaty, it entered into force. (21 UST 483)
  6. Sedov is referring to Kissinger's views expressed in “The Viet Nam Negotiations,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 47, No. 2 (January 1969), 211–234. Kissinger later discussed the article in White House Years, pp. 234–235.
  7. Kissinger summarized his conversation with Sedov in a memorandum to Nixon on January 4 and made three recommendations: “1) that when next I see Sedov I repeat to him substantially what I told him at our first meeting; 2) that some reference to open communications be included in your inaugural address; 3) that we wait until January 17 to tell Sedov of the reference in the inaugural address so that we can see what further message he brings us first.” Nixon initialed his approval of all three recommendations. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 66, Country Files, USSR, Soviet Contacts) In his inaugural address, Nixon stated, “Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open.” The address is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, 1–4.
  8. Not found.