131. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting took place in the Library in order to avoid newspaper speculation.

After some preliminary pleasantries, I told Dobrynin that I had asked him to come to make a few points to him on behalf of the President. I then made the following seven points from my memorandum to the President of February 10:2

(1)
It had come to my attention that one of the junior officers of the Soviet Embassy had complained to one of our journalists that we did not take the Kosygin letter sufficiently seriously.
(2)
We are assuming that serious communications will be made directly by Dobrynin to me and therefore we will not comment officially.
(3)
We want Dobrynin to know that the Kosygin letter received the highest level attention. Given the fact that the Soviet side had distributed it in regular channels in London and Paris, we had no choice but to deal with it in a similar fashion here.
(4)
The President is prepared to have bilateral discussions on the Middle East in the DobryninKissinger channel with a view to finding a solution fair to everybody.
(5)
We want the Soviet leaders to know that the introduction of Soviet combat personnel in the Middle East would be viewed with the gravest concern. We are choosing this method of communication because we do not want to make a formal démarche. At the same time, we want to make sure that the Soviet leaders are under no misapprehension about the possibility of grave consequences.
(6)
The President remains committed to his policy of seeking a resolution of outstanding disputes with the Soviet Union on the widest possible front.
(7)
In this spirit, I propose a meeting to discuss SALT on February 17.

When I was finished, Dobrynin was extremely affable. He said he understood perfectly. He wanted to assure me that the Soviet leaders [Page 390]had no intention of exacerbating tensions. They had, however, wanted to indicate that the situation was getting serious. The primary concern of the Soviet leaders was another round of the arms race in the Middle East, just as we had indicated.

On the other hand, the Soviets were displeased by the tactics that were being used; for example, at the precise moment that the President’s reply was handed to Dobrynin by Sisco, Secretary Rogers was handing the text of the reply to Ambassador Lucet. Considering that the letter was written by the Soviet Prime Minister to the American President, Dobrynin thought that the reply might well have been handed back by the Secretary of State. At any rate, it would have been more polite to let the Soviet Ambassador have it an hour or two before the allies of the United States. Secondly, it did not make a very good impression on the Soviet Union that the essence of the reply was leaked to the press before it could even have been received in Moscow. This was a beef with the general tactics used by the State Department. For example, Sisco’s reply to the Soviet answer to our memorandum of October 28th3 was leaked to the press five hours before it was transmitted to Dobrynin. As a result, Dobrynin had the essence of the reply in his pocket before Sisco even started speaking. Dobrynin said, moreover, that the State Department had misrepresented the Soviet note of December.4 It was not intended as a rejection of our proposals of October 28. On the contrary, it represented a direct invitation for further talks, and it was deliberately presented as being negotiable.

Dobrynin said that Kosygin was a very mild man, and he was astonished to read in the American press that his letter was intended to convey a threat. The letter had intended to state the dilemmas of the Soviet Union in the Middle East and the problems that were being raised. I said I was glad to hear that because I could only underline what I had said earlier—that the introduction of Soviet combat forces would have the most serious consequences. Dobrynin said he understood perfectly, and he only hoped that we took into account Soviet problems when we made any decisions about future weapons deliveries to Israel.

Dobrynin then asked me whether he had understood me correctly that the Middle East could be the subject of conversations in the KissingerDobrynin channel. I said, yes—not in the detail that had been characteristic of his talks with Sisco, but rather in terms of general principles. If we could come to some understanding of general principles, Sisco could handle the details. Dobrynin said he would report this to [Page 391]Moscow, and he was sure that they would be glad to hear it. Moscow wanted to know whether we were engaged in a propaganda battle or in a serious effort to settle, and he repeated that the Soviet note of December did not represent the last Soviet word on the subject.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 215, “D File”. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Earlier that day, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum providing the seven points he planned to make to Dobrynin. The President initialed his approval. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI)
  3. The Soviet oral reply is in Document 98.
  4. Document 109.