27. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Memorandum of Conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin, March 11, 1969

Dobrynin called me about 7:00 p.m. to ask whether I could see him that evening or the next morning. I agreed to drop by the Soviet Embassy about 9:00 p.m. Dobrynin was extremely cordial. He met me together with Mrs. Dobrynin and, after some social conversation about their daughter, they both mentioned that Mrs. Dobrynin was hoping to call on Mrs. Nixon soon.

Dobrynin then handed me a brief message2 from Kosygin to the President acknowledging his good wishes on his birthday. He also handed me a copy of a note which the Soviet Union proposed to hand to the Germans the next day, designed to meet some of the German concerns about the NPT. Dobrynin said that the note had been influenced by some of our suggestions and was given to us simply for our information and as a token of their good faith. (An analysis of the note is attached at Tab A.)3

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Dobrynin then told me that he had been extremely pleased by his conversation with the Secretary of State.4 There had been real progress toward four-power talks on Vietnam, including political topics. I told him that this was a little premature. The Secretary of State had described what would be the end result, but I was sure that our position was to continue to discuss withdrawals on a bilateral basis with the DRV. Political questions should be handled by Saigon and the NLF. Dobrynin said the NLF found it difficult to go into a forum with its mortal enemy. Hanoi told Moscow that they wanted a four-power meeting so that all the participants could work on the GVN in order to make it more adaptable. I said that I had correctly interpreted your thinking and I could not go beyond that. The initial contacts would have to be bilateral.

I then said the President was determined to end the war in Vietnam one way or the other. There was no intention to humiliate Hanoi. We recognized they had sacrificed a great deal and we would be generous. At the same time, we had certain conditions that had to be satisfied. I repeated that you were determined to end the war one way or the other. Dobrynin smiled and said you would find it difficult to escalate—there just were not very many things we could do militarily that would not cost us more than they were worth. I said, we shall see.

Dobrynin then asked me what I thought of the Sino-Soviet dispute, especially the fight along the Ussuri River.5 I said we regarded it primarily as a problem for China and the Soviet Union and we did not propose to get involved. Dobrynin became very emotional and said China was everybody’s problem. He asked whether we would try to take advantage of the Soviet Union’s difficulties. I said that he had probably seen enough of the President to recognize that the President was not playing for petty stakes. We had offered serious negotiations to the Soviet Union; we meant to pursue them. At the same time, if the Soviet Union tried to embarrass or humiliate, we would take appropriate countermeasures without much fanfare. However, my presence [Page 97]in his apartment in such informal circumstances indicated the seriousness with which the President took Soviet-American relations. Dobrynin then gave me a gory account of the atrocities committed by the Chinese. He spent about fifteen minutes describing the military situation. I listened politely but made no comment.

At the end, Dobrynin asked me whether I was willing to meet him on a purely social basis to see some color slides of the Soviet Union. I told him yes.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 2. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Not found.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. See Document 25.
  5. On March 11, at approximately 10 p.m., Kissinger spoke on the telephone with Nixon and summarized his earlier conversation with Dobrynin. Kissinger reported that “Dobrynin asked how we evaluated that Chinese clash. I told him we think it is their problem. We don’t presume to give them advice. We won’t play any little games. We try to settle things, but if threatened, we will do what we have to. Obviously, this is much on their minds.” Nixon stated that “Sometimes events which we could not have foreseen may have some helpful effect—who knows.” Kissinger responded, “If one evaluates accounts of events, we gained more from that clash than we lost through Saturday’s conversation [between Rogers and Dobrynin].” Nixon then stated, “It must have shook the North Vietnamese.” Kissinger agreed that “It must be a warning to Hanoi it can happen again.” (Ibid.)