220. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin


After consulting with the President about the answer on the Soviet Summit proposal given to me by the Soviet Ambassador that morning,2 I called Ambassador Dobrynin to tell him that I wished to see him briefly to provide our answer on the Summit. Just after I completed this phone call, the Defense Department, due to a misunderstanding, released full details about Soviet naval activity in Cienfuegos. Interdepartmental contingency guidance had provided that minimum information would be released publicly on this subject and specific guidance had been circulated to all Departments. This unauthorized release had in turn led to my making the statement that had been agreed to as governmental guidance in event that the Soviet installations in Cienfuegos became known. Attached is that portion of my press backgrounder given earlier that afternoon dealing with Cuba.3


When I saw Dobrynin in the Map Room his face was ashen. I began the conversation by saying that I had the President’s answer on the Summit and that the answer was as follows. In principle, the President was willing to consider a Summit. Further, the President would consider either June or September 1971 as appropriate dates and the U.S. Government was willing to consider Moscow as the site for such a meeting. Ambassador Dobrynin said this was very good news. But, he clearly had his mind on the Cuban problem.


I then told the Ambassador that I wanted to talk to him about the press statements that had been made in both the Pentagon and at the White House earlier that afternoon. I called his attention to the fact that the announcement made in the White House had inferred that the U.S. [Page 664] Government did not yet know whether there was actually a submarine base in Cuba. The U.S. Government had done this deliberately in order to give the Soviet Union an opportunity to withdraw without a public confrontation. I wanted him to know that we had no illusions, that we knew already there was a submarine base in Cuba, and that we would view it with the utmost gravity if construction continued and the base remained. I added that we did not want a public confrontation and were, therefore, giving them an opportunity to pull out. But we would not shrink from other measures including public ones if forced into it. I said that the President considered the Vorontsov démarche of August 44 followed by the construction of the base as an act of bad faith. If the ships—especially the tender—left Cienfuegos we would consider the whole matter a training exercise. No more would be said and there would be no publicity. This is why the President had asked me to talk to him “unofficially.” Otherwise, we would put matters into official channels. Ambassador Dobrynin asked whether I was telling him that this alleged base violated the understandings. I said this was a legalistic question. I did believe it violated the understandings but I wanted to remind him that in 1962 we took the most drastic action even though there was no prior understanding. To us Cuba was a place of extreme sensitivity. We considered the installation to have been completed with maximum deception and we could not agree to its continuation. Dobrynin said he would have to report to his government. And he would hope to have an answer for me soon.

The Ambassador tried to discuss other matters such as the Middle East but I cut him off and said that this was the only subject I was authorized to discuss with him. He said why do you have to give me good news and bad news simultaneously; it would be very confusing in Moscow. I said I was giving him the news that now existed. I added that the U.S. and the Soviets had reached a turning point in their relationships. It is now up to the Soviets whether to go the hard route—whether it wanted to go the route of conciliation or the route of confrontation. The United States is prepared for either. Ambassador Dobrynin said that probably the U.S. Government will start a big press campaign on this Cuban business. I said we were not going to do that but we were also determined that there would be no Soviet submarine base in Cuba since whatever the phraseology of the understanding its intent was clearly not to replace land-based by sea-based missiles in Cuba. Ambassador Dobrynin said that he would consult with Moscow and let me know.

The meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. II. Top Secret; Sensitive. The conversation took place in the Map Room at the White House.
  2. See Document 218.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. See Tab A, Document 192.