157. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Kosygin’s Press Conference on Cambodia

Premier Kosygin employed some harsh, denunciatory language in his press conference (May 4) but he made no new commitments, nor did he foreshadow any major diplomatic action by the USSR to support Hanoi.

His main theme was that our actions in Cambodia would reverberate on both US-Soviet relations and the “entire international situation.” He sought to imply that other political issues would thus be affected: “What is the worth of international agreements in which the United States is taking part or is going to take part if it violates so unceremoniously the commitments it has assumed?” When asked, however, if he meant to imply if the Soviet position in the SALT talks would be broken off, he dodged a direct reply and said they would be “on guard.”

In dealing with the immediate situation in Indo China, Kosygin’s language was virulent, but he stopped short on a number of key points. He did not commit the USSR to a new level of material aid, but said that this would be “re-examined.” He referred to Sihanouk as the “lawful head of state,” but only in the past tense. He termed the fighting in Cambodia a “civil war,” but did not disavow the Lon Nol government, or pledge Soviet support to Sihanouk, or the Indo China People’s Front.

He did appear, however, to rule out any international conference, though this was in the context of the Indonesian effort. [Page 481] Similarly, he evaded a direct reply on whether the ICC should be reconstituted.

On one point, Kosygin seems to have gone further than other Communist statements: he claimed that the bombing at North Vietnam “actually nullifies the decision of … President Johnson on the termination of all air bombings …”2 He did not spell out what actions, if any, this meant for the Communist side.

There is little doubt that the Soviets have deliberately escalated their rhetoric, in a rather dramatic way by Kosygin’s unique participation. One motive presumably was not to be out-planked [flanked] on the left by the statements simultaneously coming out of Hanoi, Peking, and Pyongyang.

But the content, stripped of its expected propaganda stridency, leaves the Soviet position much the same as it was on the immediate issues in Southeast Asia, with the possible exception of another backward step away from an international conference.

Nevertheless, the Premier has set the stage for retaliatory political action by linking our action in Cambodia with the general international situation and implying an effect on the Soviet delegation position in the SALT talks.

I suspect that the Soviets are very uncertain what the effect of our Cambodia action will be on the situation on the ground in Southeast Asia. The Soviets may also be uneasy about our general posture toward them, in light of the publicity for their increasingly dangerous involvement in the Middle East. In these circumstances, the Soviet leaders apparently are not about to underwrite a vast new Indo China strategy, particularly if Chinese influence over Sihanouk and the new Indo China Front is going to grow.

The Soviet aim seems to be to give a general warning without trying themselves to any given course. They recognize, of course, that by implying a wider effect of Cambodia on other international issues, they can exploit concern in this country.

It appears uncertain whether the Soviets intend to withdraw from the SALT talks. It might seem an attractive way to exploit US domestic reaction but their interests in these talks go beyond the immediate problems of Southeast Asia. It seems more likely that the Soviets will downgrade the talks, and try to use the events in Southeast Asia as a means to make new overtures to the Europeans, trying to split our Allies (e.g., France) from the United States. Indeed, Kosygin noted in this press conference that the events in Cambodia made a European Security conference all the more necessary.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 712, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VIII. Secret. Sent for information. The memorandum indicates the President saw it. Drafted by Hyland on May 4. On May 5, Rogers drafted a memorandum for Nixon about Kosygin’s press conference, which bears the handwritten comment, “OBE’d per S’[onnen]feldt’s office.” Rogers’s memorandum is ibid.
  2. Ellipses in the source text.