135. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger

I had lunch served in the downstairs Library at the White House Mansion in order both to avoid the press’ seeing Dobrynin coming in and to avoid staff members’ asking questions. Another reason was to show Dobrynin that we were paying some special attention.

Dobrynin began the conversation by giving me a picture that I had seen at the Soviet photo show the evening before. It is of a dog looking at a syringe with great apprehension, and had amused me very much. He had written a little inscription on the back.

[Page 402]

We then turned immediately to the President’s annual report,2 which had been published the night before. Dobrynin said that he had read the report with the greatest care and that he had found it on the whole a well-balanced document. In fact, he thought that it would be well received in the Soviet Union, except for a number of items. First, he had noticed that there were only two foreign leaders mentioned in the report—President Thieu and President Ceausescu. This, Dobrynin said, would rub people the wrong way. The second thing, to which there would be great exception taken in the Soviet Union, was the list in the Introduction of countries where the Red Army had been used since 1945. I told him that, of course, he had to understand the report was not written primarily for Moscow audiences and that as far as the mention of Ceausescu was concerned, there was no particular intention attached to it. He said he just wanted to be sure that it was one of these drafting problems which might indicate a certain priority in the President’s attitude, but which was not directed at the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin then asked a number of questions about the organizational part of the report. Specifically, he wanted to know the difference between the group dealing with crisis management and the groups dealing with programs—e.g., the differences between the Verification Panel and the Washington Special Actions Group. I gave him a rather general description. Dobrynin said that in the Soviet Union, of course, decisions were taken in a different manner; that is to say, there was no coordination between departments at a lower level. Each department worked independently, and all issues were resolved at the higher level.

Dobrynin then asked about a phrase in the report which said that the only status quo in the world today is the fact of change. Did that mean that we no longer recognized the existing dividing lines in Europe? I said it was odd for a Marxist to argue that such a phrase produced any difficulties, since after all, all of Marxist theory was based on the theory of history. Dobrynin smiled and said that in Europe we are fomenting the maintenance of the status quo. I said the distinction had to be made between existing dividing lines in Europe and existing frontiers. We certainly recognized all existing national frontiers, but we did not recognize the East German boundary as a national frontier. This did not, of course, mean that we would support the use or the threat of force with respect to it.

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Dobrynin replied that this explanation was perfectly agreeable to the Soviet Union. Could he communicate it to his government? I told him that existing national boundaries would not be challenged by this Administration, and I said as far as I knew, I had never heard anyone express any different view. Dobrynin said he had been puzzled because the previous Administration had given him formal assurance to that effect, and we had not yet done that.

Dobrynin then turned to the issue of sufficiency and said this was, of course, a very vague term on which further discussion might be useful. He wondered in what respect the ABM fitted into the sufficiency concept. He said that it was unfortunate that Helsinki was immediately followed by the ABM announcement. I told him that the ABM announcement came up, as he knew very well, as part of our regular budgetary cycle. It would have come up in January regardless of Helsinki, and nothing had happened in Helsinki that could affect our budgetary decisions. As he knew very well, we were engaged in a purely exploratory conversation.

Dobrynin then asked about the difference between area defense and point defense. I gave him a very crude explanation because I did not want to go into missile characteristics. With the President’s authority, I gave him a brief account of what the request would be like for next year, and I told him it was a minimum request which would keep the program going but which would retain all options for SALT.

Dobrynin said that he simply did not understand how the Minuteman defense could also be useful for area defense and how, if it was useful for area defense, it could make any difference to the Soviets what our intentions were. I told him that the best thing would be if I would let one of my technical experts explain the system to him, and we arranged a meeting for some weeks ahead.

Dobrynin then read a little note to me (attached)3 which did not, he said, represent a formal communication but some tentative instructions. The note reads as follows:

“At the time of the Helsinki meetings the American delegation emphasized that it displays business-like attitude toward discussing the problem of curbing strategic offensive and defensive armaments race. We would like to say frankly that further development raises questions on our side in this respect.

“We do not understand, in particular, what was that that guided the American side when despite agreement about the confidential nature of the talks it in fact released to the press through its various spokesmen many elements of the contents of the Helsinki negotiations. [Page 404] Such an approach can hardly make a favorable impact on the atmosphere of the talks in the future.

“We would also like to stress that in the light of the exchange of views in Helsinki we are puzzled by the position on issues of strategic armaments taken by certain members of the U.S. Government, in particular, by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Laird. Mr. Laird has recently come out demanding substantial speed-up in the deployment of the ABM ‘Safeguard’ system, as well as declared the intention to speed up the development of a new type of strategic bomber and underwater long-range missile system. The Pentagon also advocates development of a new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The demands by members of the U.S. Government that the U.S. should expedite nuclear missile arms race make for some thought as to the intentions here with respect to achieving agreement on curbing strategic offensive and defensive arms race.

“It is known that earlier, when the U.S. Government was taking its decision on deployment of the ‘Safeguard’ system President Nixon connected its deployment with the course of Soviet-American talks.”

A question arises as to whether it should be understood that the Laird statement about speeding up the ABM deployment in the U.S. is connected with the position that the American side is going to take at the Soviet-American negotiations in Vienna?

“The Soviet Union in preparing for the Vienna talks proceeds from the assumption that statements by the American delegation at the Helsinki talks reflected the position of the Nixon Administration, and that that position has not changed during the time passed since the end of Helsinki negotiations. However, in connection with the Secretary of Defense Laird statement a question arises whether or not the American delegation is going to change its position?”

I told Dobrynin that the best way to proceed would be for us to schedule another conversation devoted primarily to SALT. I told him that we were serious, and that it was difficult to talk in the abstract. Dobrynin wanted to know whether we were interested in a comprehensive or a limited agreement, whether we were going to change our position in Vienna, and what approach we were going to take. I told Dobrynin that we should have a full discussion, and that we might set up two channels—one for the formal negotiations, and one between him and me to deal with general principles.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, [Part 2] Vol. I. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Residence Library.
  2. The text of Nixon’s “First Annual Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy for the 1970s” is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 116–190. On February 25, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum that provided excerpts of foreign media reaction. The Soviet reaction was given as follows: “A Soviet writer commented in Izvestiya that ‘President Nixon is trying to pacify the American people and make them favor the present Government course.’” (Ibid., Box 326, Subject Files, Foreign Reaction to President’s Annual Review of U.S. Foreign Policy)
  3. Not attached.