228. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

The meeting was initialed at my request and began with my handing Dobrynin a copy of an oral note2 dealing with the installations in Cuba. The purpose of the note was to tie down our understanding of the Soviet base. Rather than putting the issues in the form of questions they were phrased in the form of an understanding of what we considered a base.

Ambassador Dobrynin then read over the note (Tab A) and said that the only point that seemed bothersome was the point about “communica-facilities,” but he would have to await further instructions from Moscow.

Ambassador Dobrynin added that Tass would soon publish a statement repeating in effect the content of the oral note of October 63 denying any Soviet intent to establish a base in Cuba. I said that we would judge it by the criteria of our oral note. Later in the evening Dobrynin called to inquire whether the point about repair facilities [Page 682] applied to all Soviet ships or only those capable of offensive action. I replied that it applied to the ships described in the note.

We then discussed the possibility of a meeting between Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko and the President. Ambassador Dobrynin asked whether it should take place before or after the Foreign Ministers meetings with Secretary of State Rogers. I replied that my instincts suggested that the meeting should take place afterwards. Ambassador Dobrynin then asked what date was convenient and I suggested the afternoon of October 23rd following the President’s speech at the UN. Ambassador Dobrynin said that this was in general acceptable. I then told the Ambassador to make sure that during these conversations no mention would be made of the US–USSR Summit meeting or, in any event, to be sure that I received advance word in order to provide me with an opportunity to put the issue into formal channels. Ambassador Dobrynin agreed and further agreed to come to Washington before the meeting of the President and Foreign Minister Gromyko so that we could coordinate on and agree to the agenda.

Ambassador Dobrynin then turned to a general discussion of US-Soviet relations. He said it was hard to exaggerate the concern of his leadership in Moscow. Their feeling was that the United States had already decided to adopt a hard line and it was whipping up a propaganda campaign in order to get larger defense budgets and perhaps affect the election. He said that the campaign on the Mideast was out of all proportion to the provocation. He called my attention to the fact that the Soviet Union had never been part of the cease-fire. He said that when Secretary Rogers first told him about the cease-fire standstill in conjunction with the US proposal for Middle East Peace negotiations, that he had asked Secretary Rogers whether these items were linked together. Secretary Rogers had replied that it was desirable “but not” indispensable that the cease-fire and the negotiations be linked together. The Ambassador stated that, therefore, the Soviet Government did not understand why the U.S. suddenly decided to effect a linkage. Ambassador Dobrynin then said that Assistant Secretary Sisco, in the presence of Secretary Rogers, had told him there was no linkage between these elements and that, in any event, the Soviet Union had only been informed of our understanding of the cease-fire for informational purposes. The Ambassador added that the Soviet Government was seriously debating whether to start a press campaign against us along similar lines.

Ambassador Dobrynin said that he hoped that the U.S. Government did not draw the conclusion from the Middle East crisis that the Soviet Union could be intimidated by a show of United States force. He asked whether we really thought that one additional U.S. carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean would make the Soviet Union back down. [Page 683] Further, Ambassador Dobrynin stated he could understand that the United States might claim for propaganda purposes that the Soviet Union controlled the Syrians but that if we really believed that to be the case then we were in bad shape. He continued that if the Soviet Union acted when its national interest was involved then it would act with great force and it would be hard to dissuade them. I replied that we were not children, that we looked at the situation with great care. Having observed Soviet military actions in the last decade and a half we knew that when the Soviet Union used its forces it did so massively. But that was not the point. The point was that we were asking the same questions about the Soviet leaders that he allegedly was asking about our leaders. I reminded him that we had offered a Summit meeting on two occasions during the summer without ever receiving a formal reply. In response there was the massive move forward of Egyptian and Soviet missiles along the canal and the massive deception in Cuba. Ambassador Dobrynin began to explain that the Cuban situation was “not clear.” I interrupted saying if there is to be any sense in our meetings we must not kid one another. I added, “you know what is there and I know what is there even though we may not say it, so let us not discuss it any further.”

With respect to the Egyptian missiles, Ambassador Dobrynin called my attention to the phrase that there were no Soviet personnel with the missiles in Egypt. I said that perhaps he meant “military” personnel and that they had put them into civilian clothes. He replied that the phrase was intended to mean that there were no Soviet personnel.

Ambassador Dobrynin then appeared to bluster stating that the Soviet Union had a lot of experience in dealing with Americans and they thought their system was more permanent than ours and therefore if things came to that point they would wait for 6 years until President Nixon was out of office. I replied that perhaps the inference that the press campaign came from us was started by people who did not know anything about American affairs. Ambassador Dobrynin said “no” it was the consensus of all their senior officials that relations with the United States had never been worse since the Cuban missile crisis. I said that I could only repeat what I had said to him previously. We were at a turning point. We recognized very well that neither side could gain anything in an arms race but if present trends continued they would force us into an enlarged military budget. He might well tell me that his leaders could wait six years and this might be true; however, President Nixon did not become President by not being persistent. Nevertheless, it did not seem sensible to exchange protestations on the issue of greater endurance. The problem was how to turn this present impasse into a more fruitful direction and, therefore, to turn our attention to that.

[Page 684]

Ambassador Dobrynin said that it was important to discuss the Middle East and related issues. I replied again that this was not the time to do it. But that if they were ever willing to take up our offer for serious bilateral talks between Ambassador Dobrynin and me we would make every effort to proceed. The Ambassador told me that the memorandum he had handed to me, which is attached at Tab B, was written only for the President and would receive no publicity and be referred to nowhere else.

Tab A

United States Oral Note4

The President appreciated the forthright reply of the Soviet Government conveying the affirmation of your government that the USSR is not and will not construct any facility in Cuba that will violate the understanding of 1962 between the USSR and US Governments on the Cuban questions. The clarification of this situation can be a significant contribution to improving US-Soviet relations.

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide the Soviet Government with what we understand by the phrase: “The Soviet side has not done and is not doing in Cuba now—that includes the area of the Cienfuegos port—anything of the kind that would contradict the mentioned understanding.”

The US Government understands that the USSR will not establish, utilize, or permit the establishment of any facility in Cuba that can be employed to support or repair Soviet naval ships capable of carrying offensive weapons; i.e., submarines or surface ships armed with nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missiles. The US Government further understands that the following specific actions will not be undertaken:

  • —Construction of facilities for the handling and storing of nuclear weapons and components in Cuba.
  • —Removal of nuclear weapons from, or transfer of nuclear weapons to, Soviet ships in Cuban ports or operating therefrom.
  • —Construction of submarine or surface ship repair facilities ashore in Cuba.
  • —Basing or extended deployment of tenders or other repair ships in Cuban ports that are capable of supporting or repairing submarines or surface ships armed with nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missiles.
  • —Construction of communications support facilities for Soviet submarines.

Finally, the President wishes to emphasize that the U.S. Government will observe strictly its part of the 1962 understanding as long as the Soviet Union does the same.

Tab B

Memorandum From the Soviet Leadership to President Nixon 5

The attention of the Soviet leadership has been attracted to the campaign, hostile to the USSR, being waged in the US around so-called “violations of the terms of the cease-fire” in the Suez canal zone and the Soviet Union’s alleged involvement in those “violations”.

This anti-Soviet campaign is clearly being encouraged, and, to say more frankly, in fact inspired by American officials. How else can one judge, for example, the statement made by the Assistant Secretary of State Mr. Sisco at the press briefing in Chicago on September 16 when he, while accusing the UAR without proof of having violated the cease-fire terms, alleged in addition that all “these violations could not have taken place without the knowledge and the complicity of the Soviet Union”. Speaking at the same briefing Mr. Kissinger also permitted himself to make remarks about violations of the cease-fire “by the Egyptians and the Russians”. Moreover, and again with the blessing of officials, the theme was launched professing some general “credibility gap” with regard to the Soviet Union.

Clearly, in this connection the Soviet leadership cannot but raise the question as to what all this is being done for? What is the aim of the US Government in all of this? Because who else is better aware than the American Government of the complete lack of ground for the assertions that the Soviet Government had something to do with reaching the agreement on the terms of the cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone, still less—with some kind of “violations” of such agreement.

It is worthwhile to recall some facts pertaining to this question. On August 8, i.e. on the day when the cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone entered into force, the US Ambassador in Moscow, while handing to [Page 686] the USSR Foreign Ministry the text of the terms of that cease-fire, already agreed upon with the Governments of the UAR and Israel, clearly and unequivocally stated that this was being done only “for the information of the Soviet Government”. On August 11 transmitting to the Ministry some additional details of the terms of cease-fire, the US Ambassador said again that those clarifications had already been discussed by the US Government with the Governments of the UAR and Israel and that they were being handed to the Soviet side “just for its information”.

That is how the record stands regarding involvement or, rather, non-involvement of the Soviet Union in the agreement itself on the terms of cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone.

On what basis, then, did the American side start later to present the matter in such a way as if there were some terms of cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone agreed upon between the US and USSR Governments? We have already drawn the attention of the US Government, through the American Ambassador in Moscow, in particular in the conversation with him held at the Foreign Ministry on September 15, to the fact that this kind of presentation was groundless. Nevertheless, US officials continued to distort the actual state of the matter.

Now about so-called “violations” of this agreement. It is necessary first of all to emphasize the complete lack of foundation for the attempts being made in the United States to prove that the Soviet side had something to do with such “violations”. This refers, in particular, to statements alleging deployment in the Suez Canal zone of new rocket-launchers manned by Soviet personnel after August 8. That is deliberately false. Contrary to the assertions by American officials, there have not been and there are not now rocket-launchers manned by Soviet personnel in the Suez Canal zone.

What leaps into one’s eye is that the American side while so unsparingly accusing the UAR of “violating” the terms of cease-fire, keeps almost complete silence with regard to actual violations made by Israel from the very first day of the cease-fire. Moreover, spokesmen of the US Government deem it appropriate to speak directly about “utmost importance for Israel to retain air superiority in the Suez Canal zone”, as well as about “manoeuvrability and freedom of action in that area”. Such a position hardly serves as a proof of US “impartiality”. It can only mean one thing—a desire to mislead public opinion by presenting a distorted picture of the state of things and whitewashing the aggressor. All this is actually nothing but encouragement by the United States of a stubbornly obstructionist tactics of Israel, which from the very beginning and until this day has been rejecting contacts and negotiations through Ambassador Jarring, raising all sorts of far-fetched pretexts. Among them are accusations against the UAR of “violating” the terms of cease-fire. These assertions have already been refuted in [Page 687] an official statement made to the US representative in Cairo by the UAR Minister of Foreign Affairs M. Riad and also in M. Riad’s Cairo TV address on October 6, 1970.

It should also be noted that Israel is now trying in every way to complicate and confuse the very question of cease-fire. One should recall that in American proposals of June 19 themselves negotiations between the sides through Jarring were not organicly linked to the cease-fire. That was publicly acknowledged by Mr. Sisco, who said in Chicago on September 16 that “originally the American proposals did not envisage any direct link between cease-fire and start of the talks”.

However after the UAR Government accepted the American proposal on cease-fire, having thus displayed its full readiness to negotiate through Jarring, Israel started inventing new pretexts to dodge from such negotiations.

The Soviet Union has always been a sincere supporter of cease-fire, viewing it also as an important factor in creating a more favourable climate for talks between the sides. However the Soviet Union cannot ignore the attempts to deliberately complicate the question of cease-fire in order to torpedo the negotiations as is being done by Israel with the US support.

It could not but be noted in Moscow that supporting the obstructionist position of Israel the US Government itself also undertakes steps which lead to aggravation of the situation in the Middle East area. In this connection one should mention for instance the uproar created around the visit by the US President to the American 6th fleet in the Mediterranean. Among acts of this nature are the new deliveries of “Phantom” fighter-bombers and of other weapons to Israel and the reconnaissance flights by American aircraft over the territory of the UAR, a sovereign state, in gross violation of the norms of international law.

All this cannot but raise a legitimate question: where in effect is the United States leading to in the Middle East?

On our part we should like to reaffirm that the Soviet Government has been and remains a firm supporter of speedy achievement of a political settlement in the Middle East, of establishment of a durable and just peace there, on the basis of the well known resolution of the Security Council, in all its parts.

We believe that every effort should be made in order not to lose the opportunity for progress in political settlement in the Middle East which is being created by the agreement of the Arab states to negotiate through Ambassador Jarring and the actually existing state of cease-fire. We are ready to contribute to that both within the framework of our bilateral meetings and at the four-power consultations.

As for the talk about so-called “crisis of confidence” in general, the unseriousness of US officials’ approach to this matter has attracted [Page 688] attention in Moscow. All those groundless statements indeed give reason to ask: is the US Government ready to support by its deeds what it says in the course of exchange of opinion with the Soviet Government or are those words said because of some considerations of the moment. The US position on the Middle East question and the distortion by the American side of facts pertaining to the cease-fire in the Suez Canal zone, indeed, cannot contribute to the strengthening of mutual understanding and trust in relations between our countries so needed for a fruitful development of these very relations.

  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 was held in the Map Room at the White House.
  2. Printed at Tab A.
  3. See Document 224.
  4. No classification marking.
  5. No classification marking.