173. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Kosygin Reply to Your Letter on Laos

After a three-month interval Premier Kosygin has replied to your March 21 letter,2 appealing to interested states to renew international [Page 532] consultations concerning Laos (Tab A). The reply, as anticipated, rejects your appeal. The tone, however, is polemical and tough.3

Kosygin emphasizes that your appeal “sounds unconvincing” because of our “armed intervention” in Laos, and our failure to make a similar appeal at the time when operations intensified last autumn and led to the capture of a series of areas long under the control of the “patriotic forces.”

As for convening the Geneva conference (1962) in “one form or another”, this is rejected by Kosygin as “unreal in present conditions …4 when there is going on a war unleashed by the USA against the Vietnamese people as well as armed intervention in the affairs of Laos and now also Cambodia.”

He adopts a much tougher position than heretofore on the Souvanna Phouma Government, claiming that there is “no such government (of national union)” as created by the Geneva accords. It must be created by the “political forces” of Laos, he asserts. And he cites as the basis for internal consultations among the Laotians, the proposals of the Pathet Lao. He adds, however, that even these consultations cannot lead to the restoration of peace: “the war cannot be brought to a close” or consultations “moved off dead center” as long as the U.S. continues bombing and “generally interferes in Laotian internal affairs.”

Substantively, this reply represents some hardening of the Soviet position, which is consistent with the tougher line reflected in the recent letter from Souphanavoung to Souvanna Phouma and the increased military action of the Communist side. It comes close to saying the Geneva agreements are a dead letter, and that even those parts pertaining to the coalition government are no longer valid. This is probably intended to increase the pressures on Souvanna, who is always concerned with signs that the Soviet might formally withdraw recognition of his government. The letter stops short of this, however. One possible sign of flexibility is the failure to make cessation of the bombing a precondition to talks among the Laotians.

The hard line taken by Kosygin in his reply can be considered pro forma, in that the Soviet position on Laos has consistently been to support Hanoi and the Pathet Lao, and to blame the U.S. for all the problems of Vietnam, Laos, and now Cambodia. The tone of the reply may also reflect Soviet frustrations over the way that Soviet influence in Hanoi has declined recently as Chinese influence has grown. Koysgin [Page 533] may in effect be saying that the Soviets simply do not want to be involved in Indo-Chinese affairs under present circumstances.

I do not believe that the reply merits any further action on your part. We do not wish to become engaged in an unproductive exchange with the Soviets. However, for the purpose of setting the record straight on the causes of the tensions in Indo-China and denying the Soviets the last word on this, I believe it would be useful for me to set the record straight with Dobrynin when I next see him and lay it on the line as to the presence of North Vietnamese troops in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as the source of all the trouble.

Tab A

Letter From Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Kosygin to President Nixon

Dear Mr. President:

We would like to make several observations concerning your letter regarding Laos.

It was pointed out in your letter that the Government of the United States does not spare any efforts to secure peace in Laos by means of the full implementation of the 1962 Geneva agreements. One could only welcome such a statement, if it indicated the intention to end the American intervention in Laos, which would conform to the obligation of the USA under these agreements. Unfortunately, the situation has been and is entirely otherwise; the American Air Force continues the bombardment of the territory of Laos; American “Advisers” are in the ranks of the armed forces of one of the Laotian sides and frequently participate directly in military operations.

In these conditions the appeal to other states by the U.S. Government to fulfill the 1962 Geneva agreements and to maintain the independence, neutrality and territorial integrity of Laos sounds unconvincing at the very least. You, Mr. President, directly admit the presence of “American Military—air activities in Laos.” But instead of the cessation of these actions your letter only poses the question of international consultations. More to the point, for some reason the U.S. Government did not raise the question of international consultations when, last autumn, as a result of American armed intervention, military operations in the Plain of Jars and the central part of the country sharply intensified which led to the seizure of a series of areas that for a long time were under the control of the patriotic forces of Laos.

[Page 534]

We cannot share also your appraisal of our position on the question of holding consultations among the countries participating in the 1962 Geneva conference on Laos. Bilateral consultations and exchange of opinions between governments on the question of the situation in Laos take place almost continually. In particular our attitude toward the February 28, 1970 message of Souvanna Phouma was communicated to the Laotian representatives in Moscow and Vientiane. A reasoned (motivirovanny) answer was given by us to the government of England concerning the inappropriateness of sending message on this question on behalf of the two Cochairmen. The Soviet Government maintains contacts with appropriate socialist countries. As far as we know, the British Cochairman also has exchanged opinions on this question with a number of countries in addition to the Soviet Union.

If the U.S. Government has in mind not this type of consultation but the convening in one or another form of a conference of participating states of the 1962 Geneva conference, then it is completely obvious that the convening of such a conference is unreal in present conditions, when there is going on a war unleashed by the U.S.A. against the Vietnamese people as well as armed intervention in the affairs of Laos and now also Cambodia. It is hardly possible to deny this.

Let us take only the question of the representation of Laos at such a conference. The Government of National Unity of Laos, established in conformity with the 1962 Geneva agreements, would have to be represented at it. But after all it is well known that at the present time there is no such government. It is necessary to recreate it, and only the political forces of Laos themselves can do this. The patriotic front of Laos, in its March 6 statement, proposed concrete measures aimed at the re-establishment of the Government of National Unity and the restoration of peace in Laos. Precisely in connection with this we expressed the opinion in our March 13 letter that the matter of the normalization of the situation in Laos should begin with consultation among the political forces of Laos, and that a good foundation for these consultations is the proposals advanced in the above-mentioned statement of the patriotic front.

I would like to point out that our letter of 13 March in no way contends that consultations among Laotian political forces can by themselves, if left to their own, lead to the restoration of peace there. As was justly pointed out in the March 6th statement of the patriotic front, the war in Laos cannot be brought to a close and the matter of a settlement will not get off dead center while the U.S.A. continues bombing Laotian territory and generally interferes in Laotian internal affairs.

The Soviet Government has already stated its opinion concerning how much American armed invasion in Cambodia has complicated the situation in Indo-China as a whole. I do not intend now specially to [Page 535] dwell on this question. In this instance it is necessary only to note that this invasion makes even more unreal raising the question of some kind of “international consultations” on Laos.

In conclusion I would like to express great regret, which is shared by my colleagues in our leadership, that the U.S. Government, instead of taking realistic measures for the cessation of the war against the Peoples of Indo-China and the establishment of peace in Southeast Asia, has taken the the path of spreading this war. This complicates the situation not only in Southeast Asia but in the whole world and naturally cannot but affect also the relations between our countries. I would like to express the hope that the Government of the U.S.A. and you personally will arrive at the only correct conclusion the cessation of interference in the internal affairs of the People of Indo-China and the withdrawal of American forces from this region. We are convinced that such a decision would radically change the situation in this region in favor of peace and would meet the interests of the whole world.


A. Kosygin 5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 765, Presidential Correspondence, Kosygin. Confidential; Exdis. A note from Rosemary Woods to the NSC Secretariat indicates that Kosygin’s letter was sent directly to Kissinger, who had Saunders work on a response to it. Holdridge and Sonnenfeldt forwarded this memorandum on June 22 to Kissinger with the following comments: “We note that the [Kosygin] reply is very hard, and characteristically blames the U.S. for all the problems of the Indo-China region. It makes no reference to the presence of North Vietnamese troops anywhere in Indo-China. We recommend that no further action be taken by the President, but that you call in Dobrynin or Vorontsov to set the record straight on the North Vietnamese responsibility for the tensions in Indo-China.”
  2. Tab A, Document 146.
  3. Nixon circled “polemical and tough” and wrote: “K—perhaps our statements and ltrs have been too soft and thus misunderstood? Toughen them up.”
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.