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


  • Conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin, Lunch, March 3

Ambassador Dobrynin opened the conversation by saying that the Soviet Union noted the President’s trip to Europe with interest. Except for some phrases in Berlin, it had found nothing objectionable. He asked whether these phrases indicated any new commitment to German unification. I replied that the purpose of the Berlin speech2 was to emphasize existing American commitments, not to undertake new ones. I also told him that we viewed any harassment of Berlin with the utmost gravity. Dobrynin replied that the only concern of the Soviet Union was to prevent a change in the status quo in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. The Bonn government had deliberately created a provocation. I replied that a clear precedent existed so that one could hardly talk of provocation.3

Dobrynin then said that Moscow had noted his conversation with the President as well as the lunch with me with “much satisfaction.” Moscow was ready to engage in a “strictly confidential exchange on delicate and important matters” with the President using the DobryninKissinger channel. The exchange will be kept very secret. Moscow “welcomes an informal exchange.”

Moscow had noted “with due attention” my comment at the previous meeting that the United States had no interest in undermining the Soviet position in Eastern Europe. He was authorized to assure me that in its turn, the Soviet Union had no intention of undermining the status quo in Western Europe. The Soviet Union was interested that the United States acted on the basis of the actual conditions in Europe. [Page 89] I asked whether that meant that the Soviet Union did not care about formal recognition of Eastern Germany. Dobrynin replied that this was correct. I added that for us it was essential to get the access procedures to Berlin regularized. Dobrynin suggested that there had been many positive developments in the negotiations of 1963 to 1969 crisis that might be re-examined. He refused to specify what those were but said he would go over the record and give me some indication later. He urged me to do the same, indicating that Moscow’s attitude was “positive.”

Turning to the Middle East, Dobrynin quoted Moscow as saying: “We are prepared to discuss with Mr. Kissinger how bilateral talks can be organized, when and how to start them and how to relate them to four power combination.” Moscow had a slight preference for conducting the conversations in the Soviet capital; alternatively, it was willing to conduct them in Washington. New York was a definite third choice. Dobrynin stressed that the Soviet Union was very seriously concerned about the Middle East and willing to discuss all the elements of the UN Resolution.4 He asked whether the United States was willing to envisage Israeli troop withdrawal. I said if there were proper guarantees for the new frontiers, it would certainly have to be talked about. Speaking privately, I added that it seemed to me improbable that Israel would be prepared to withdraw to its pre-1967 frontiers. Dobrynin replied that Moscow understood this. The Soviet Union was willing to discuss every aspect of the Middle East, including guarantees. However, he added, this was one of the “important and delicate” subjects that should be discussed in the DobryninKissinger channel. He then repeated that the subjects Moscow was willing to discuss were frontiers, guarantees, communications, waterways and refugees. Dobrynin indicated that he thought that the real negotiation would have to be bilateral United States-Soviet Union and that he regarded the four-power meeting in New York as largely window-dressing. He added “we are willing to discuss any question including those that concern Israel.”

Turning to Vietnam, Dobrynin said that Moscow had noted our previous conversation. He inquired whether I was aware of Zorin’s call on Lodge,5 which indicated Soviet good will. However, the Vietnam issue was a delicate matter for the Soviet Union since it was not the only power involved. He thought the Soviet Union could be most [Page 90] helpful if we had a concrete proposition to make and not one in the abstract.

Dobrynin asked me about the German attitude toward the NPT and whether the Soviet reassurance was enough to get German ratification.6 I told him in my judgment, if the Soviet Union could give the Germans some reassurance on Article 2,7 either through us or directly, it would ease the problem of signature considerably.

I then explained to Dobrynin our decision on ABM,8 which he noted with intense interest and about which he asked a number of very intelligent questions. We agreed to meet again within a week.

(Note: The quotes were taken down during the conversation.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip File, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 2. Secret; Nodis. The memorandum indicates the President saw it. This conversation, like most meetings between Kissinger and Dobrynin, was private and occurred without interpreters or secretaries.
  2. For the passages of Nixon’s speech that concerned the Soviets, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972. The text of the speech is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 156–158.
  3. On March 5, West German federal elections took place in West Berlin without harassment of access routes by either the Soviets or East Germans. This Bundesversammlung was the fourth to occur in Berlin without incident.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 2.
  5. The specific meeting is unclear. Between January 1 and the time of this meeting, Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin met several times with the Nixon administration’s chief Vietnam Peace Talks negotiator in Paris, Henry Cabot Lodge.
  6. The President underlined “the NPT” and “ratification” and highlighted the paragraph.
  7. Article 2 of the NPT obligated non-nuclear-weapon states not to receive the transfer, either directly or indirectly, of nuclear weapons or devices and not to manufacture or seek assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or devices. (21 UST 483) On January 28, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum prepared by Spurgeon Keeny, Assistant Director of ACDA, that outlined the provisions and problems of the NPT. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 366, Non-Proliferation Treaty Through March 1969)
  8. Nixon decided to move forward with the construction of an anti-ballistic missile defense system, which he believed was a crucial bargaining chip in forthcoming Soviet arms control talks. On March 14, the White House issued a press release; for text of the “Statement on Deployment of the Antiballistic Missile System” see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 216–219.