113. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


Re your Dobrynin conversation. I take it you have already sent comments to the President so this may be plugging the hole after the mouse has escaped.

You seem now to be on the foothills to the summit and yet the negotiable concrete issues seem more elusive than ever. In Vietnam, the Soviets may be genuinely concerned that we have a workable policy. If we do, there is little or nothing to talk to them about; if we don’t I see no more prospect than before that talking to them is useful. On the Middle East, we can’t deliver our clients and they won’t deliver theirs. In Europe, they have nothing attractive to offer us except stabilizing Berlin and that is probably too good a club for them to give up. Arms issues may or may not hold promise, but anything that would really make a difference is hardly in view.

So you get down to rhetoric and atmosphere. Maybe Brezhnev wants those so he can attack China next year. Maybe he wants them because it helps him in his own power conflicts at home (it would not be the first time that tottering Soviet leaders have enlisted an American President’s help to prolong their political lives). Maybe the Soviets have no clear idea at all; perhaps, as Dobrynin says, they are reconciled to the President’s staying in power for seven more years anchored to a right-wing power base and they just want to keep talking because silence frightens them.

In any case, the Soviets obviously want to talk to the White House and no responsible American President can ignore that. I just hope we won’t end up playing Brandt’s game on a global scale.

Happy New Year.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 1. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. The memorandum bears the handwritten date “Dec. 1969.” It was probably written between December 29 (the date of Kissinger’s last conversation with Dobrynin before the New Year) and December 31.