2. Briefing Paper1


A number of matters concerning either directly or indirectly our relations with the USSR will need prompt attention after January 20. They are of sufficient importance to the whole nature of this relationship that, ideally, it would be preferable for us to clarify our general purposes and interests before we take further action. However, as a practical matter a hiatus in US-Soviet relations will be hard to arrange and probably even undesirable because important events should not be permitted to unfold without our exerting influence upon them.

Consequently, pending a more thoroughgoing reexamination of our Soviet policy, we should get some general guidelines—relating perhaps more to style than substance—and take such early decisions as we must in conformity with them.

Without here engaging in extensive supporting argumentation, I suggest three broad guidelines:

Although for several reasons there are special, indeed unique features in the US-Soviet relationship, we should establish a scale of priorities in which relations with our allies normally take precedence.
We should take account of the obviously special position of the USSR in world affairs by maintaining diplomatic contact with it; but our approach should be one of aloofness. If we judge that there are issues on which our interests intersect, the Soviets will presumably discern them also. There is no automatic net advantage in our assuming the initiative or in our becoming deeply engaged with the Soviets in all such cases. Certainly, and in line with point 1 above, when important interests of other states are also at stake, US-Soviet bilateralism must be tempered by due regard to those interests. Moreover, commonly held views that certain problems can be coped with only through intimate US-Soviet collaboration require reexamination. In any event, great zeal in approaching the Soviets or in responding to their overtures should be avoided as a general rule, certainly at the outset of the Administration.
We have no interest in deliberately seeking crises with the USSR or even in striking out on policy paths that we judge would carry some substantial risk of crises. But we might encounter a Soviet attempt to [Page 6]test the new Administration in some confrontation. In that case, we must stand our ground—or help an ally do so, if that should be the testing ground.

Apart from these general aspects of our approach, we should arrive at a more or less coherent posture with respect to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.2 Such measures in the realms of contacts and protocol as we took to convey our indignation have now probably outlived their purpose (though we should not in any case return to some of the excessive comraderie that occasionally occurred in the past). But two general points should be conveyed clearly to the Soviets through the various channels available: (1) That any instance of direct and gross Soviet intervention in Czechoslovak internal affairs is bound to retard establishment of a business-like relationship with us; and (2) that while the US recognizes the special and sensitive nature of Soviet relations with countries that are immediately adjacent to it and part of its alliance system, we will not let the USSR control the character and pace of our relations with these countries. In our approach we should be guided by the proposition that we should not be reluctant to compartmentalize our affairs with the USSR if that suits our interests, but we should not cooperate in the obvious Soviet effort to make the outside world accept total Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and to make the conduct of our policy toward Eastern Europe subject to Soviet sanction.

Middle East

The Soviets have lately given us a number of documents3 on an Arab-Israeli settlement; they involve essentially a phased scheme for implementing the November 1967 UN resolution4 and, in the latest (December 30) version, display some movement, evidently with UAR concurrence, in the direction of agreement between the parties and a package approach in which the first step occurs only after the scheme as a whole has been settled.

As always the reasons for the Soviet initiative are open to speculation. They may reflect genuine Soviet concern with the explosiveness of the present situation. In any case, the new Administration inherits [Page 7]an active US-Soviet exchange of communications in this area, rather than a state of acute US-Soviet crisis. In this respect, Soviet moves on the Middle East fit into other post-Czechoslovak, pre-January 20 efforts by the USSR to damp down open hostility toward us and, indeed, to engage us diplomatically.

Nevertheless, there remain fundamental issues in controversy between ourselves and the USSR in the Mediterranean and adjacent regions, not least a continuing Soviet effort to project power and influence there to our detriment.

Plainly, the US must remain in touch with the Soviets on the Middle East (1) because it may be one (though not the only) way of preventing renewed large-scale hostilities with a potential for a direct US-Soviet military clash, and (2) because the Soviets have great influence in the Arab country (UAR) that is the key to any tranquilization of Middle East tensions and dangers. Moreover, in the exchanges with us the Soviets have over time inched away from some of the most rigid Arab positions. But US-Soviet dialogue should not be the only means by which we seek to cope with the dangers of the region. Any settlement, partial, temporary or complete, requires the assent of the parties. So-called imposed settlements are not likely to be viable; moreover the implication of US-Soviet condominium (itself of questionable viability over any length of time) that an imposed solution would carry would gravely damage our alliance relationships elsewhere. It would involve, in addition, a basic restructuring of our relationship with Israel which cannot be lightly undertaken.

US-Soviet dialogue should therefore be largely refocussed on the future of the Jarring mission5 and its function in dealing with the parties. The British and French—also recipients of parallel Soviet overtures—should be urged to channel matters in the same direction. Four-power roles at this stage should be largely confined to influencing or assisting the parties in narrowing differences. We should not let ourselves become Israel’s negotiating agent, nor accept the USSR as the agent of the Arabs. Consequently, we should not rely solely or even chiefly on the Soviets as intermediaries between ourselves and the Arabs.

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In considering resumption of diplomatic relations with the UAR, we will have to think about the implications of present Soviet use of Egyptian air base facilities for operations against the Sixth Fleet. At the very least we should probably tell both the Soviets and the UAR that we are aware of these operations and that they could be a source of future trouble.

Strategic Weapons Talks (Tactics)

The motivation and the interplay of political forces that went into Soviet agreement last year to opening the strategic arms talks6 were complex. Among the considerations that played a role was probably a desire to exert some influence against certain new weapons decisions by the US. If so, the Soviets may seek to get the talks underway soon after inauguration.

In the US, both inside the government and outside, much of the sense of urgency about getting these talks begun stemmed from a judgment that the present moment in time was unusually propitious, and also unusually crucial, in seeking to curb US-Soviet arms competition. There is no need to rehearse here the rationale for the US initiative; it has been well and amply presented and whatever one may think about some of it, the general case for US-Soviet talks in this field is persuasive.

Nevertheless, the incoming administration will wish to make its own assessment of the present and prospective strategic balance and set its own objections for any direct dealings with the USSR on this subject. Moreover, there is a real need to take our European allies more completely into our confidence about the direction in which we would like to see the strategic relationship develop. The Germans, in particular, need to be reassured that whatever we do—be it by some form of arrangement with the Russians or through unilateral decisions—will not ignore the strategic “threat” against Western Europe.

The process of internal US review and interallied consultation will take some time and dictate some delay in the opening of formal US-Soviet talks. The Soviets should be informed of these reasons for delay. Since the US has in the exchanges of the past two years already given the Soviets some indication of its approach (at least under the previous Administration) the Soviets should be encouraged to give [Page 9]some indication of theirs. Whatever the eventual changes of formal or explicit agreement, it will be desirable to draw the Soviets into conversation on strategic issues. If the opportunity arises (though we need not soon go out of our way to seek it) we should engage in such conversation. Our purpose, whatever the pros and cons or the practicality of specific agreements, should be to learn more about the processes of interaction that operate in the US-Soviet military relationship and to induce similar awareness on the part of the Soviets.

Berlin Bundesversammlung (March 5) 7 and German Issues

The Soviets some time ago gave us, the British and the French a relatively mild complaint and warning about the Bundesversammlung. The tone and content of these oral démarches and subsequent Soviet talks with the Germans suggest that the Soviets have not yet reached a decision about their course of action. They have obviously set up a basis for harassment or worse; or they may also try to argue or bargain the Western powers and/or the Germans out of holding the meeting. There are several other possibilities or combinations. In any case, we are on record as approving the meeting if the Germans want to hold it. Consequently we should avoid extensive argument with the Soviets before the meeting date and we should delay a rejection of the Soviet démarche until shortly before March 5. Since our response will presumably be the first policy statement to the Soviets on German issues by the new Administration we should use the occasion not only to rebut the specific Soviet complaint but to set forth a more general affirmation of the legitimacy of the FRG’s role in safeguarding West Berlin’s viability and of the responsibility of the Western allies for ensuring that that role conforms to four power agreements as we interpret them. Because of difficulties with the French we can probably do no more than to affirm these principles in general. We do need to give fresh thought to the future of Berlin and some time after the Bundesversammlung hurdle has been crossed should look toward inter-allied consultations.

Meanwhile, we cannot ignore the danger of Soviet and East German harrassment and the possibility that Berlin may become an early testing ground of the administration’s conduct in a crisis. Contingency plans should be promptly examined and if necessary updated and revised.

There are signs that a Soviet-FRG dialogue on various matters, including non-use of force, is being reviewed. At the procedural level we should ensure promptly that the Germans keep us fully informed and consult on issues involving our interests. We must recognize, however, [Page 10]that consultations are a two-way street and that German candor will in some measure reflect our own readiness to engage in meaningful consultations.


We may soon get Soviet soundings about an early top level meeting. Soviet reasons for seeking such encounters in the past have been varied (including inter alia, Khrushchev’s hankering for the limelight, a general impulse to deal with the head of the other superpower sometimes on the assumption that he may be more “reasonable” than his subordinates, considerations of prestige relating to internal Soviet politics, hopes of generating concern among our allies or in Peking, expectations of settling some specific issue, etc. etc.). American Presidents have had their own impulses and objectives, some not wholly dissimilar from those animating the Soviet leaders.

A broad exchange of views in which the President sets forth his approach directly to one or more of the members of the Soviet collective has some virtue and should probably be considered some time during the first year of the Administration. (Experience with the specific agreements made at summits with the Soviets has been less than encouraging, however, and it is not advisable to look to this device for that purpose.) High-level meetings with our major allies and perhaps with one or two important neutrals should have precedence over a summit with the Soviets and any overtures from Moscow should be handled accordingly.

Romania, Yugoslavia

The outgoing Administration is on record with several public and private statements about the grave situation that would arise if the USSR invaded Romania or Yugoslavia. Contingency planning has been underway within the US government and at NATO for some time. Although tensions in the Balkans have subsided, the potential for Soviet moves against Romania and Yugoslavia continues to exist. Whatever we may or may not find it possible to do in the event, and whatever short and long-term problems the Soviets would create for themselves if they did move against these two countries, the US retains a basic interest in the preservation of their present status of independence (or relative autonomy in the case of Romania).

Both countries, though to different degree, have indicated that they regard their network of foreign relations and contacts as one form of insurance against possible Soviet attack. Given the limited and highly unpleasant options available to us in the event of a Soviet attack, we have a substantial interest in strengthening now such deterrents as may be operating on the Soviets. The new Administration should be responsive to overtures from Bucharest and Belgrade on the question of [Page 11]economic relations and should be prepared to engage in political consultations with them. The Yugoslavs, who have greater freedom of maneuver than the Romanians, have already indicated their interest in regular consultations and we should agree.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Offices Files, Box 3, Transition Files, Staff Reports. Confidential. Drafted by Sonnenfeldt.
  2. On the night of August 20–21, 1968, 200,000 Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XVII, Eastern Europe, Documents 80 97.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 1.
  4. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted on November 22, 1967, among other things, called upon the Secretary-General to designate a special representative to the Middle East “to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist the effort to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement.” (UN doc. S/RES/242 1967) The text is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 542.
  5. On November 23, 1967, UN Secretary-General U Thant informed the Security Council of the appointment of Gunnar Jarring, the Swedish Ambassador to the Soviet Union, as Special Representative to the Middle East as authorized under UN Resolution 242. (UN doc S/8259) Jarring’s initial efforts were summarized in a report made by Secretary-General U Thant to the UN Security Council on January 5, 1971. (Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, Vol. VIII: U Thant, 1968–1971, pp. 514–525) Extensive documentation on the Jarring Mission is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR.
  6. Shortly before the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union informed the United States that it was prepared to begin strategic missile talks between special representatives of their countries in Geneva on September 30, 1968. As a result of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the United States delayed the opening of talks but never formally answered the Soviet communication proposing the beginning of such negotiations on September 30.
  7. See Document 3.