169. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Jacob D. Beam’s Meeting with President Nixon, June 18, 1970, 3:30 p.m.
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The President gave me his views as follows on a number of basic issues between the US and the USSR. He strongly favored an increase in American commercial sales to the USSR (including Gleason gear) under conditions of a hoped-for and an anticipated improvement in the atmosphere later this summer. He did not want to attach explicit conditions since this would provoke a bad reaction, but economic moves could “kick along” the process of working out a live-and-let-live arrangement.

Within this context the President wished me to get the idea across that he was resolved to lay the basis for realistic negotiations with the Soviet Union. We had a policy and plan for Vietnam, which would take on further substance at the end of our Cambodian operation and he was determined to stop the war.

As regards the Middle East, we envisaged initiatives which would open up possibilities for negotiations in this area as well. The Soviets should, of course, display restraint.

The President said we were also intensely serious about SALT and it was clear both sides would profit from an understanding which would lighten the financial burden for us and would spare the Soviet Union a costly competition in keeping up with our technology and military production.

The President hoped that the range of subjects he was offering as suitable for negotiation would prove attractive to the Soviets. Although the establishment of true friendship between the two countries was probably illusory because of Soviet attitudes, the basis could be laid by which the two competing great powers could order their affairs for the furtherance of world stability. The President wished it to be made clear that our intentions and plans were to move forward. He thought there were signs recently of Soviet movement, too.

The President mentioned some personal ideas about pursuing the relationship further.

The President asked me for my views on the Middle East and Indochina. I gave reasons why I thought the Soviets neither wanted the total elimination of Israel nor chaos in the Middle East, especially because of their involvement with Communist China. As regards Indochina, I felt North Vietnam was the apple of their eye in Asia and in fact the main base for Soviet influence, present and future, in Asia. As a result of Sihanouk’s defection in the direction of Communist China, the Soviets were extremely concerned about losing the North Vietnamese to Chinese domination. The Soviets were waiting to see how they could best protect their interests in a sorting out of developments in Indochina. Possibly they had considered multilateral discussions, as indicated by Jacob Malik’s suggestion in New York, but they had apparently been unable to obtain Hanoi’s consent.

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The President asked me about leadership problems in the Soviet Union. I referred to changes which might take place either in the wake of the Supreme Soviet elections which have just been held, or in connection with the Party Congress mooted for late October or early November. The President thought the regime might well wish to have some kind of an agreement in SALT before or at about the time of the Party Congress.

In reply to the President’s question, I expressed the view that chances of change in the Politburo could be about 50–50 during the course of the current year, resulting from the aftermath of the Supreme Soviet elections and the Party Congress. I felt Brezhnev would probably profit and stressed the point that he was a man not to be underestimated. Although he was held to be unimaginative, he is forceful, a good administrator and a formidable personality in debate. (I had in mind information from Czech sources about his handling of Dubcek at the critical meetings before the Soviet invasion in August 1968.)

The President said he was considering sending out Secretaries Hardin and Stans to Moscow, perhaps in August. The President will make his decision in July. He said he would like to receive some Soviet political personalities in return, but I pointed out this might be difficult before the end of the year because of a possible Soviet Party Congress session in the fall.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 712, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VIII. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Beam. A June 22 covering memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger explained that “the conversation actually occurred in reverse order to that indicated in the notes, with the President asking Beam a series of questions for about 15 minutes and then giving Beam guidance toward the end of the meeting.” A copy was also sent to Rogers.