112. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

As you requested, I saw Anatoliy Dobrynin to tell him that you approved in principle his suggestion that we meet regularly to discuss specific topics. When I called Dobrynin to tell him that I wanted to see him, he expressed some concern that there might be some connection between my call and the delay of your vacation trip. I did not comment one way or the other except to say that my call was in connection with our dinner conversation.2 He said he hoped that I understood that the dinner conversation was merely a frank expression of his personal views.

I saw Dobrynin at 11:30 a.m. on December 29th with the intention of spending only a very brief time with him. Instead, Dobrynin stayed for nearly an hour. I began the conversation by saying that the President had carefully reviewed the memorandum of our conversation the previous week3 and has asked that I see the Ambassador before our trip to the West Coast4 and to tell him that we saw some merit in the idea of private conversations between the Ambassador and me. I pointed out that the Soviet Government knew our view on Vietnam and the impact it had on other negotiations but stated that nevertheless there might be some merit in exploring what a détente might look like were the political conditions right to achieve it. Both sides had been saying for months now that they wanted to improve relations but this general formulation up to now has lacked specificity. The procedure the Ambassador had outlined seemed sensible, namely that we would set aside each meeting for one particular topic.

Dobrynin said that he had been told by Moscow that on matters of high policy he should deal primarily with me, while routine matters [Page 343]should be handled at the State Department. I replied that the President had asked me to tell him that we would assume that if matters of great importance came up they would be discussed in this channel, and that we would ignore secondary overtures. Dobrynin stated there would be no secondary overtures.

We then discussed what subjects might be included and the order in which to take them up. Dobrynin suggested European security and the Middle East. I said that there might be some merit in discussing SALT—not from the point of view of technical solutions but simply to see what sort of an arrangement was generally conceivable, whether, for example, it should be limited or comprehensive. Dobrynin thought about this for a minute and then said that perhaps we should put SALT very high on our agenda. Moscow would undoubtedly be making decisions on how to proceed with SALT during February and March and it might be helpful if we could get our general thinking in harmony. The details could then be worked out by the negotiators.

In this connection, Dobrynin said that their internal approach was entirely different from ours. We had experts strictly on disarmament, while they did not. When Dobrynin was present as Soviet SALT proposals were discussed, the Soviet group was composed of technical experts from the various ministries, including financial experts who were responsible for commenting on the budgetary implications of various proposals. But there was no single group in the Soviet Union which had a vested interest in disarmament as such. Their military men were expected to be able to handle the broad general view.

Dobrynin stressed that the President’s comment that we expected to be serious and not engage in propaganda had certainly helped the Soviet’s preparations.

Dobrynin then turned to the Middle East and said that in the present framework the negotiations were stalemated. He wondered how I conceived the problem. I said there were two categories of issues. One was the relation between Arabs and Israel. These, I thought, could be settled only if both great powers were willing to ask their friends to make sacrifices. There was no point in insisting on unilateral concessions. The second range of issues which had not yet even been touched upon was first, how the Soviet Union and the United States could avoid being embroiled in a war that might break out and second, how they could regulate their different interests in the Middle East apart from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dobrynin said that the second range of questions were of very great interest in Moscow. He did not contradict my formulation of the first range of questions. He said that one remark the President had made had struck home with particular force in Moscow, namely, that “after all Israel had won the war.” If that meant that we wanted to have Egypt bear the whole burden, then prospects for negotiations [Page 344]were dim indeed. I said the President was not stating a condition but a fact of life and that he was not saying Egypt should bear the whole burden but should keep in mind that it must bear some burden.

Dobrynin then said that we might not realize it but every word the President said was studied with extraordinary care in Moscow. Dobrynin asked whether I wanted to discuss Vietnam as part of our meetings and indicated that he would be prepared to do so. I showed no particular eagerness but simply pointed out that we knew what we were doing in Vietnam and that we hoped they would understand that any measures we might be forced to take would not be directed against them. Dobrynin said he was watching our policy with great interest. I also said that I hoped that the Soviets would make clear to their North Vietnamese allies that a major offensive by them would have the gravest consequences. Dobrynin made no comment.

Towards the end of the conversation, I raised the possibility of a visit by the astronauts to the Soviet Union. Dobrynin said that he wanted to be frank. The Soviet people were very emotional and if the astronauts came they would undoubtedly receive a tremendous reception. He did not know whether the Soviet leaders considered conditions ripe for the sort of demonstration that would follow.

Dobrynin said that in the next few days he would inquire at the State Department about our thinking with respect to depositing the instrument of ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Secretary Rogers had wanted to wait until enough states had ratified to put the Treaty into effect. What if this was delayed for several months? I said this was not an issue of high policy and that I was certain there would be no undue delay.

We ended the meeting with an agreement that as soon as I return from California we would arrange a schedule for our meetings.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 1. Top Secret; Sensitive. This memorandum of conversation was attached to a January 2, 1970, memorandum from Kissinger to the President. Kissinger provided the salient points from his conversation with Dobrynin and explained that “while it produced nothing startling new, its overall tone was forthcoming, frank and reasonable.”
  2. See Tab A, Document 110.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Kissinger planned to spend the New Year holiday with President Nixon at his vacation home in San Clemente on the southern California coast.