179. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger


After some desultory talk about my new office, I opened the conversation by telling Dobrynin that I had followed the reporting from Vienna with great interest. As a specialist in the Congress of Vienna,2 I could only congratulate Semyonov on having learned some of the tactics. I referred specifically to the note he handed over to Smith at a concert which seemed almost to suggest a form of alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union against countries that had engaged in provocative acts. Dobrynin said he did not know how the note was handed over, but of course, he was familiar with the formulation.

I said that I looked at the accidental war problem on two levels: (1) the technical means of notification which we were studying and which I did not think would present any undue problem; and (2) the political implications of some of the cooperative arrangements that they were suggesting which represented a significant change in the international environment as it had developed since the war. I wanted to talk to him about that second aspect a little later, but I wanted first to turn to the overall issue of SALT. Dobrynin interjected to point out that the formulation handed by Semyonov to Smith had been prepared by the Delegation in Vienna. He could tell me frankly that he, Dobrynin, had had his doubts about it because he was afraid that too great significance was going to be read into it. If we wanted an agreement without that particular clause, this would not become a sticking point. Dobrynin indicated that the major political fact for the Soviet Union was an agreement on provocative attack, not individual clauses, and there would not be any undue haggling. I told Dobrynin that we should defer discussion of this until I gave him our general view.

I said that the President had decided after careful study that it was not possible to separate the components of a SALT agreement—that it was necessary to have a limitation on offensive weapons together with a limitation on ABM’s. We were prepared in principle to discuss accidental war limitations. I added that recent missile starts of SS–9 and [Page 550] SS–11 groups underlined for us the danger of an ABM limitation which would leave our Minutemen exposed to a Soviet first-strike. Dobrynin said that I knew they didn’t intend to make a first strike. I replied that I knew no such thing, looking at their weapons deployment; in any event, it didn’t make any difference what I knew but what reasonable people could deduce from the weapons situation.

Dobrynin said that he didn’t think it would be possible to come to an agreement under these conditions. I replied that perhaps the delegations could be instructed to emphasize the ABM part to get that out of the way. Dobrynin asked, “Well, why not then agree on the partial accord after all?” I said this was not possible for the reasons I had given to him. I added, however, that I would be prepared to continue discussions with him during the summer and that I was certain we could narrow the differences to a manageable form. Dobrynin said that he would be prepared to do this but he thought that SALT was in essentially good shape and that we could come to an agreement, if not this year, then in the early months of next year. He emphasized again that they would be prepared to drop any offending clauses in the accidental war part of the agreement, that these were not matters of principle with them. I said that this was not the issue—the issue to us was not to break out the defensive from the offensive parts of the agreement.

Dobrynin then raised the question of how long the recess should be, saying that the Soviet Government would prefer November 1st. I said we would prefer something like September 15th. When Dobrynin asked where that would leave us, I replied that it seemed self-evident to me that it takes two to start a negotiation. He said he wanted us to understand that the November 1st deadline was unconnected with any deliberate attempt to slow down the talks, but had rather to do with the internal operating methods of the Soviet government. Many of their key people would be on vacation in August, and they would not be able to do a systematic review until September.

Dobrynin also asked me what would be new in our package. I said it was hard to go into precise detail, but there would be a limit on offensive units and a sub-limit on heavy missiles. He asked me how we would handle the problem of compensation, i.e. the issue of the relationship between IRBM’s on their side and forward deployed tactical aircraft on our side. I said it seemed to me the best way to handle it was through exclusion—that they would not be counted on either side. Dobrynin indicated that this would not present an insuperable difficulty. He again called my attention to the part of the Soviet Aide Mémoire3 which said that an ABM agreement could, in their view, be agreed on “without difficulty.” He said this was a very significant statement. I [Page 551] replied that I understood, and that we should, however, now proceed to work as expeditiously as possible on a comprehensive statement.

The conversation then turned to general subjects. I said that I wanted him to know that the President had read the article that Semyonov had handed to Smith at a concert with the greatest care. He had come to the conclusion that the most significant aspect of it would be the political one; however, such a politically important matter should not be handled within the context of SALT, but should be handled at a higher level. I therefore wanted to return to my conversation of April 12th4 in which I had suggested a specific procedure for coming to an understanding of fundamental issues so that major progress could be made. Dobrynin evaded the issue and said that he had thought that Cambodia had ended this concern and, in any event, he was prepared to discuss the Middle East with me.

Middle East and Summit Meeting

He then launched into a long discussion of the Middle East. He said, “Talking to Sisco is like throwing beans against a wall,” which is allegedly a Russian proverb. On the other hand, he said, Beam was always totally uninstructed and only listened politely to what Gromyko had to say, whereupon he would then insist that he had to go for new instructions. He thought it was essential that we come to a political agreement and he said he was fully authorized to deal with me.

I stated that he still owed me an answer to the questions which I had put to him three weeks ago. In contrast to his meeting with me just before San Clemente,5 he now remembered the question very well. He said, “Look at it, Henry; you have never stated a proposition to me of a political settlement in the Middle East. All we have from you is one question, namely, whether we will withdraw our troops in case of a settlement. On the other hand, we don’t know what you mean by a political settlement.” I asked, “Do I understand then that if I tell you what we understand by a political settlement, you will tell me that you are prepared to withdraw your troops?” Dobrynin indicated that this might be a fair conclusion, but he was not totally unambiguous about it. He said he thought that he and I could settle the matter of the Middle East between ourselves. I responded that I doubted that this would be possible because it was a matter of extraordinary delicacy for us and we had to do it in the right framework.

I then returned to the formulation at Vienna, but Dobrynin turned the conversation by saying that this was not the most crucial aspect. I finally [Page 552] got straight to the point and said as follows: “Anatoliy, when I spoke to you on April 12th, you know very well that I was not talking about how to handle the Middle East. We had made a specific proposal to you about a meeting at the highest level. We are proposing this because it is early enough in our Administration to have a fundamental departure in our relationships with the Soviet Union. However, if too much more time is spent, we are going to make whatever agreements we do at a point in the Administration when they can no longer be effectively implemented. Therefore, the decision is up to you, but there’s no sense beating around the bush.” Dobrynin became very serious and dropped his jocular manner. He said, “You recognize, of course, that Cambodia and the approaching Party Congress make this a difficult matter for us.” I said, frankly, I was looking at problems from our point of view, and it was up to him to take care of his problems.

Dobrynin then stated that this was a matter, of course, of the greatest importance which had to be reported directly to Moscow, and he would want to sum up his understanding: (1) the President was proposing a summit meeting; (2) the summit meeting should consider a fundamental reappraisal of American-Soviet relations. I said that was correct. Dobrynin asked when the meeting should take place—were we thinking of 1971 or 1972? I replied, no; we were thinking of this year. In response to his query, “before or after the elections?”, I said that this was to be settled after we knew how it was going to be discussed.

Dobrynin then asked what the agenda of a summit might be. I said, “SALT, the Middle East, European security, and any other issue that either party wanted to place on the agenda.” Dobrynin replied that if it is to be on the Middle East, he and I had to make some agreement ahead of time to see whether there was some progress. I said I was prepared to talk to him. Dobrynin asked whether he understood correctly that I would not be prepared to talk to him unless there were to be a summit. I responded that I had no instructions on that point, but that obviously the President’s attitude would be affected by how the Middle East would fit into the general picture. Dobrynin said, “It is clear, and I will report back to you.”

He then launched into a long discussion along familiar lines of Soviet good faith in the Mid-East negotiations. He repeated that they had made two significant concessions, both of which had been ignored. He said they had always wanted to settle it with us. He insisted that the two alleged concessions still stood, and that he had waited for us to give him a response. In contrast to his previous meeting with me before we went to San Clemente, he reiterated the urgent desire to settle the Mid-East problem. He said, “I am authorized by the Soviet Government to tell you that we seek no confrontation.” I replied, “I am authorized by the American Government to tell you that we seek no [Page 553] confrontation. We were not threatening you; we were stating an objective fact of the trend.” He said he wished we hadn’t used the word “expel,” for this had a tendency to make people feel that their national pride was involved and issues of backing down would be raised. I said that it was not a question of backing down but a question of the objective reality in which, despite what the great powers might want, events might force them on a collision course. Dobrynin asked me whether I thought we were on a collision course now. I said that reluctantly I had to conclude that we were.

Dobrynin reiterated that the Soviet Union sought no confrontation and was prepared for a political settlement. He said that while he did not know the details of Soviet deployment in Egypt, he thought it had been blown up out of all proportion, and the Soviet Union was not advancing forward. There were shifts within a well-understood plan. On the other hand, he said, the Soviet Union could not accept the proposition that air supremacy over both sides of the Suez Canal was an Israeli right that could never be challenged. I said, “Well, this is a point of disagreement between us, but it is not one that we can settle now. The main point you have to understand is that the introduction of Soviet combat personnel into Egypt represents serious problems for us, and the more permanent it appears, the more serious the problem grows.” I told Dobrynin also to remember that the President moved circuitously, but that he eventually always did what he said he would do. Dobrynin said, “It is clear, and we ought to try to work on a political settlement and time is getting very short.” I said I agreed with him.

He then asked me whether we would be prepared to discuss a European Security Conference at a summit. I replied that we probably would be. Dobrynin then said that as far as he could understand it, the agenda would be SALT, European security, and the Middle East; he told me that he would be back to me.


The meeting took place in an extremely cordial atmosphere. Dobrynin’s affability was much more pronounced than at the meeting before we went to San Clemente, and his eagerness to prove Soviet good faith was sometimes almost overpowering.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Part 1, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s White House office.
  2. In 1957, Kissinger published A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812–1822, which analyzed the Congress of Vienna that established a post-Napoleonic European settlement.
  3. See the attachment to Document 177.
  4. No record of a meeting on that date has been found. Kissinger was apparently referring to his April 14 meeting with Dobrynin.
  5. See Document 171.
  6. On July 16, Kissinger sent Nixon a summary of the highlights of his conversations with Dobrynin on June 23, July 7, and July 9 and attached copies of the memoranda of conversation. The President saw the summary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Part 1, Vol. 1)