118. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Dobrynin called in the morning, saying he had an urgent set of matters to discuss. We set the appointment for 4:30 in the afternoon.

Dobrynin began the conversation by asking what had happened in Warsaw.2 I said I had not seen any reports yet. He asked whether I was going to tell him what had happened in Warsaw. I replied that I didn’t think he would believe it if I told him and, in any event, we were not in the habit of conveying our diplomatic conversations. Dobrynin then said that China was a neuralgic point with them. Of course, he recognized that China could not represent a military threat to the Soviet Union until 1979, but people were not very rational on that issue and we should keep this in mind. In particular, we should not try [Page 356] to use China as a military threat. I said that this seemed to me vastly exaggerated. There was no possibility of China’s representing a military threat, and even less possibility of China’s being “used,” whatever that meant, by the United States. Our relations were so far from normalcy that there was no sense even discussing such ideas. Dobrynin said he personally agreed, but he just wanted to convey the intensity of feeling in Moscow. I said we, too, had our neuralgic point: for example, broadcasts on the Moscow radio in which American prisoners held in North Vietnam were broadcasting to America. This was an unfriendly act. Dobrynin said he had already been informed to that effect by the State Department and he frankly did not know enough about the situation to comment.

Dobrynin then asked whether he could request a personal favor of me. A group of Soviet editors were coming to the United States and would visit Washington on February 2nd or 3rd. Would I be willing to see them? I said, yes, if it were done on a strictly off-the-record basis. Dobrynin said he had never leaked to the press, and their press was very disciplined. I said that I would be glad to see them and that I would be delighted if he joined them. I would set aside an hour on either February 2nd or 3rd.

Dobrynin changed the conversation and said a curious thing had happened. The First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy had called on the First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy to inquire about a remark I allegedly made to the Japanese Ambassador to the effect that we were planning a summit meeting with the Soviet Union in late summer or early fall. Was there anything to this remark? I said that I had never talked to the Japanese Ambassador alone on any subject and that Dobrynin could be assured that if the subject of summits ever were raised by us, it would be done strictly between Dobrynin and me, and no foreign ambassador—indeed, no other member in our bureaucracy would be involved.

Dobrynin then said that Moscow wanted to reiterate how much it welcomed our readiness to engage in direct talks between him and me on a variety of subjects. He recommended that we take two subjects first—Europe and SALT. We would discuss these subjects thoroughly, one subject at a time. I said that he had to understand that our discussions would have to be entirely hypothetical, a position the President had often explained. The final resolution would depend on a number of factors, including the overall political climate. Dobrynin said he understood. Nevertheless, in a few days he would take the initiative to propose a meeting on Europe. He suggested that I then take the initiative in proposing a meeting on SALT, but that the second meeting should take place no later than the first week in March, and the first meeting proportionately earlier. I told him that I would be interested to hear some concrete proposals on Europe, though, so far, the topics had not seemed too promising. He said he would be concrete.

[Page 357]

Dobrynin then turned the conversation to West Berlin and handed me some talking points about the situation in West Berlin which he considered extremely grave and provocative. The note itself was very tough (it is attached to a separate memorandum).3 I told Dobrynin that any unilateral action in or around Berlin would have the gravest consequences. I would study the talking points and if I had any reply to give, I would make it. However, I saw no sense in our discussing Europe if there were even the prospect of a unilateral Soviet action on Berlin. Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union did not make much fuss last year when the German President was elected in Berlin, but now, in effect, the whole German Parliament was meeting in Berlin again in the guise of various committees, and this could not continue.

Dobrynin parted with the understanding that he would call me when he was ready to discuss European matters.


Démarche Delivered by the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)4

The authorities of the FRG have officially announced their intention to hold sessions of the Bundestag committees as well as meetings of the factions and other parliamentary organs of the Federal Republic in West Berlin in the next few weeks. Moreover provocative nature of such a venture not only is unconcealed but rather is openly displayed—an attempt again to use West Berlin to aggravate international situation.

The Soviet Government has drawn the attention of the Government of the FRG to serious consequences which this course of action [Page 358] by Bonn in West Berlin affairs may have. The question of West Berlin has also been touched upon in the recent conversations of the USSR Ambassador in the GDR with the US Ambassador in the FRG and, therefore, the American side must be aware of our views on this matter.

The state of West Berlin affairs was already discussed in my conversations with you, Mr. Kissinger, in February and March last year.5 At that time it was noted on the American side that it was necessary to avoid repeating what had occurred around West Berlin in connection with holding presidential elections there.6 It was also noted that events there should not make Soviet-American relations feverish and that third countries should not be allowed to make crises in West Berlin from time to time. This viewpoint has been taken into account by us in our final consideration of practical steps to be taken with regard to West German provocations.

On the basis of the known facts we cannot come to the conclusion that the American side has reciprocated. Without getting now into the matter of Soviet-American exchange of views on the West Berlin question which for reasons, better known to you, Mr. Kissinger, did not materialize, we cannot but point out, however, the obvious discrepancy between the political evaluations and practical measures by the US Administration, in the question of West Berlin as well.

The line of the FRG in West Berlin matters has been and continues to be incompatible with the status of West Berlin. The special status of West Berlin as an entity existing separately from the Federal Republic and not subject to its jurisdiction is an objective fact which has found its reflection in US official documents as well. This is the only ground for mutual understanding between our powers in this matter.

The Soviet Government does not accept arguments to the effect that this sort of demonstration on the part of the FRG took place in West Berlin in the past. Violation of law does not make new law. Repetition of violations may only have as its consequence taking of more serious measures which will show that West Berlin is not the right place at all for stirring up tension in Europe notwithstanding the attitude of other countries towards the FRG actions in West Berlin.

You, Mr. Kissinger, have suggested to openly exchange considerations on questions where the interests of the US and the USSR closely adjoin. We would like to express today a wish that the US Government give anew a thorough thought to the situation developing around West Berlin.

[Page 359]

Clearly, there can be no two views about the fact that the actions by the FRG authorities are far from contributing to a better climate for exchange of opinion on West Berlin. The motives of actions by certain circles in Bonn are obvious. But what is the guiding criteria of the Governments of the Western powers who bear their share of responsibility for West Berlin and who show indulgence towards the unlawful policy of the FRG? In any case the Soviet Government cannot but take into consideration all those circumstances and draw from them appropriate conclusions about the positions of the parties.

I have instructions to convey these considerations to the attention of the President and to express our hope that the American leadership share the concern of the Soviet Government over the continuing attempts by some circles to make Soviet-American interests clash, in such an acute point as West Berlin as well. Failure to take measures to cut short such attempts would amount to contradicting the special obligations for maintaining peace and security which rest on the USSR and the US.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation was held in Kissinger’s office. Kissinger sent this memorandum to Nixon under a January 27 covering memorandum that summarized the “most interesting points” of his meeting with Dobrynin.
  2. From January 12–16, Chinese and U.S. representatives resumed talks in Warsaw to explore an improvement in bilateral relations.
  3. Printed as attachment below. The démarche was also sent as an attachment to a January 22 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon. In his memorandum, Kissinger made four recommendations which the President approved: “1) you have noted the Soviet statement on Berlin; 2) you cannot agree that the German actions referred to contradict past U.S.-Soviet exchanges regarding Berlin; 3) we have no desire to have any tension over Berlin and hope this is also true for the Soviets since any crisis in that area would have an adverse effect on our relations; 4) we continue to be prepared to seek genuine improvements in the situation in Berlin and for this reason have joined with our Allies in proposing talks on the subject.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI) On January 22, Kissinger also informed Rogers about Dobrynin’s démarche on Berlin and reported, “I made no comment.” (Ibid.)
  4. No classification marking.
  5. See Documents 14 and 27.
  6. See Document 3.