12. Editorial Note

On February 13, 1969, at 2:45 p.m., Secretary of State Rogers met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin at the Soviet Ambassador’s request. Dobrynin was under instructions from his government to seek an appointment with President Nixon to express formally its views on U.S.-Soviet relations and receive the Nixon administration views of the relationship. When Rogers asked whether the Soviet suggestion for a meeting was urgent, Dobrynin responded that he hoped one could be arranged within the next couple of days. (Memorandum of conversation, February 13; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–USSR) A summary of Rogers’ conversation with Dobrynin on February 13 was included with the President’s evening reading and is printed as Tab B to Document 13.

On February 15, Haldeman described preparations for the President’s first meeting with Dobrynin:

“Big item was meeting planned for Monday with the Soviet Ambassador. Problem arose because P wanted me to call Rogers and tell him of meeting, but that Ambassador and P would be alone. I did, Rogers objected, feeling P should never meet alone with an Ambassador, urged a State Department reporter sit in. Back and forth, K disturbed because Ambassador has something of great significance to tell P, but if done with State man there word will get out and P will lose control. Decided I should sit in, Rogers said OK, but ridiculous. Ended up State man and K both will sit in, but P will see Ambassador alone for a few minutes first, and will get the dope in written form. K determined P should get word on Soviet intentions direct so he knows he can act on it. May be a big break on the Middle East. K feels very important.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, February 15, 1969)

Kissinger’s recollection, related in his White House Years (page 141), of the decision to exclude Rogers from the first meeting with Dobrynin is as follows: “Procedurally, Nixon wished to establish his dominance [Page 31] over negotiations with the Soviet Union; in his mind, this required the exclusion of Rogers, who might be too anxious and who might claim credit for whatever progress might be made. Substantively, he wanted to begin the linkage approach at his own pace. Nixon sought to solve the Rogers problem in his customary fashion by letting Haldeman bear the onus (and no doubt Haldeman laid it off on me). Haldeman told the Secretary of State that the best guarantee for not raising expectations was for Rogers to be absent from the meeting. Attendance by Rogers would convey a sense of urgency contrary to our strategy; it might lead to an undue sense of urgency.”

Also on February 15, Kissinger wrote Nixon a memorandum describing a message from Dobrynin that was conveyed to him through the head of the American section of the Institute of World Politics in Moscow during a reception the previous evening at the Soviet Embassy:

  • “1. While in Moscow he had stayed in the same sanatorium with Brezhnev, Podgorny, and Kosygin.
  • “2. He carried a message, personally approved by the top leadership, for you, which he would prefer to deliver to you without any diplomats present. He himself would come alone.
  • “3. The Soviet leaders were full of goodwill and eager to move forward on a broad front.
  • “4. Dobrynin would like to conduct his conversations in Washington with some person you designate who has your confidence, but who was not part of the diplomatic establishment.
  • “5. The Soviet leaders were reluctant to accept conditions on the ground that they had to show their good faith. However, if we wanted simultaneous progress on several fronts at once, they were ready to proceed on the basis of equality.
  • “6. They were especially prepared to proceed on a bilateral basis with discussions on the Middle East. They would prefer to do this, however, outside the UN framework. We could designate a trusted official at our Embassy in Moscow and they would designate a very high official in the Foreign Ministry. Alternatively, you could designate somebody you trusted here and Dobrynin would be prepared to conduct conversations.
  • “7. They were prepared to answer questions on other outstanding topics, such as Vietnam, and to talk on any other political problem on our mind.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 340, Subject Files, USSR Memcons Dobrynin/President 2/17/69)