150. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Ambassador Dobrynin
- Mr. Kissinger
The conversation took place at Dobrynin’s initiative prior to his departure for the Soviet Union for consultations.
After an exchange of pleasantries, Dobrynin turned the conversation to Vietnam. He said that he wanted to understand our position: were we committed to maintaining an anti-Communist Government in Saigon or were we willing to settle for true neutrality?[Page 465]
I asked why he wanted to know. Dobrynin said that if we were interested in maintaining an anti-Communist Government, the war would inevitably go on. If we were interested in a neutral government, then the Soviet Union might be able to be of some help. He knew we could sustain the war for another seven years if we wanted an anti-Communist Government, but this wouldn’t lead to any conclusion.
When I probed his comment that the Soviet Union could be of some help, he said it might be possible to find some formula for neutrality. I replied that it depended on what they understood by neutrality. If they meant that neutrality entitled them to select the participants in a government and that the process had to begin with our eliminating our allies and the people we had been supporting, then this was absolutely out of the question. If their definition of neutrality matched what was commonly understood by that term, then there existed a real possibility for progress.
Dobrynin then asked me about our views of a political settlement. I said that the sharing of political power was not an easy matter to define and that I did not want to be doctrinaire about it. It seemed to me, however, that:
- —first, one had to accept the Saigon Government as an objective reality;
- —secondly, some process had to be developed to consult the will of the people;
- —thirdly, there would have to be guarantees that would enable the participants in the political process to survive defeat.
Dobrynin said that he would think about this and report fully to his government.
Dobrynin next turned the conversation to the Middle East. He said that we might not believe it, but the Soviet Union was genuinely interested in a compromise. However, he had come to the conclusion that talking to Sisco was getting to be a waste of time. Sisco was trying to be a great diplomat and operator. He was dealing with Dobrynin as if Dobrynin did not have any experience in diplomacy himself. For example, Sisco was asking him to write down the conditions of peace or Arab peace obligations without in advance committing himself to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Egyptian territory. This was an amateurish maneuver. Sisco could choose those elements of the Soviet proposal he liked while the Soviets were compromising themselves with the Egyptians, who were not in any event enthusiastic about the whole negotiating process.
Dobrynin said that it would be good if I intervened. I replied that we had made one effort to intervene and had been tricked by the Soviet introduction of SA–3s.[Page 466]
Dobrynin said that he had been instructed to tell me that the offer of a cease-fire still stood. He did not understand why we should be bothered by the SA–3s which were purely defensive weapons.
I told him that one of the most difficult issues in the history of disarmament negotiations has been how to define “defensive.” If the Israelis were deprived of air retaliation, they lost their most effective counter to Egyptian guerrilla raids. Thus, SA–3 missiles could, in fact, enhance the Egyptian offensive capability. Dobrynin said that this was not true as long as the Israelis maintain air superiority on their side of the Suez Canal.
He then asked tentatively what we would say if the Soviets promised to keep their deployment confined to Alexandria, Cairo and the Aswan Dam. I replied this might be worth considering. Dobrynin said he would come back to this proposition.
Dobrynin repeated that the Soviets were interested in a real compromise. He said they were prepared to agree to establishing a state of peace and to spell out the conditions and obligations of peace with great precision once they knew what we were prepared to do. He thought that all we were doing was sending Sisco on a fishing expedition.
I said it was true that the President did not take the same active interest in the Middle East negotiations that he did, for example, on Vietnam and SALT. However, this could change if we saw some degree of Soviet cooperation on the Middle East issues that concerned us most.
Dobrynin said that he couldn’t recall our beginning a negotiation in which the two sides knew so little about one another. He said perhaps we should have made some concrete proposal to him informally on which he could have sounded out his government. In the previous Administration, Foster always let him know the Administration’s thinking.
I told Dobrynin that I had offered to talk to him but he had never picked this up. After some inconclusive fencing about who had been responsible for the offer not being taken up, Dobrynin said that his government was serious about these negotiations. However, my suggestion that he and I settle the matter in our channel presented a difficulty. Semenov was a Deputy Foreign Minister and it was hard for a mere Ambassador to interject himself. It would help their deliberations in Moscow if I gave him some feel for what our position was likely to be. They would consider that as a sign of our good faith.2[Page 467]
I told Dobrynin that before he left I would indicate whether our position involved a comprehensive or a more limited option, but I would not give him the substance. I reaffirmed my willingness to settle a more limited agreement in this channel with him.3
Dobrynin then asked whether we would be prepared to expand trade. I said that this depended on the general state of our relationship.
This caused Dobrynin to say that he had noticed that at the beginning of each Administration there was great reluctance to make progress. Towards the end of an Administration the willingness for progress increased, but by then time had run out. For example, Johnson tried to have a summit in the last six months of his Administration when it no longer made sense. It would have been very easy to arrange one several years earlier.
I said that for us summits were instruments; everything depended on what we wanted to achieve there. In principle, though, we were willing to have a summit with the Soviet leaders if it would lead to some practical result.
Dobrynin became visibly attentive. He had thought we were not interested and had told his leaders that a summit was not possible before 1971–1972. They had been very interested last year but had been put off by us. He asked if I was sure we were willing to have a summit. I replied that we were, under certain circumstances, for example, if there were the prospect of a major breakthrough on Vietnam. I was willing to discuss the general framework of the summit with him in any event.
Dobrynin said that one good way to have a summit would be for Kosygin to head the delegation to the U.N. and then meet the President in this context. I told him I would want to consult the President on that and would let him know before he left.
Dobrynin said that the two most fruitful subjects for a summit were SALT and the Middle East. I said we, of course, were interested in Vietnam. He replied that Vietnam could not be put on the agenda for a summit, but it could certainly be discussed once the parties got there. I suggested that he discuss the matter in Moscow and we could then pursue the conversation after he returned. Dobrynin insisted that there was great interest in a summit in the Soviet Union, and he was certain that our talk would be well received by his superiors.
Dobrynin then showed me some films of Siberia and of the Bolshoi Ballet. I left the Embassy about midnight.
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 36, Geopolitical File, Soviet Union, Chronological, 3/69–6/70. Top Secret; Sensitive. The conversation was held at Dobrynin’s residence. Sent to Nixon by Kissinger under an April 13 covering memorandum that summarized the conversation.↩
- Nixon highlighted this paragraph.↩
- Nixon highlighted this paragraph.↩