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


  • Conversation Between Senator Percy and Ambassador Dobrynin

Senator Percy had a long conversation over lunch with Ambassador Dobrynin on March 27. The Senator provided us a copy of his account of the talk and asked that I inform you that he had followed up on your suggestion about seeing Dobrynin. I already have acknowledged Percy’s letter.2

The Percy–Dobrynin conversation was wide-ranging and substantive; a full text of the Senator’s memorandum is at Tab A.

I consider the following points of special interest:

Estimate of You. Dobrynin agreed that you were taking a firm, but not rigid, line on world problems, and that you were approaching their solution with a knowledgeable, open, and reasonable attitude.
Consular Relations. Dobrynin stated there was “every reason” to have consulates in each of our countries in addition to those planned for San Francisco and Leningrad, and said that the Soviets “would have no objection” to others being opened.
Bilateral Trade. In this area, according to Dobrynin, “America always puts politics ahead of good sound economics,” and he was not optimistic about trading opportunities between the US and the USSR for that reason.

Comments on Secretaries Rogers and Laird. Dobrynin said he had followed the recent testimonies of Secretaries Rogers and Laird3 closely. He found the positions taken by Secretary Rogers “responsible,” but [Page 101] objected strongly to Secretary Laird’s assertion that the Soviet leadership was attempting to develop a pre-emptive first strike capability against the US. Dobrynin said that “even taking into account the fact that we know he is trying to sell the American people and the Congress on an ABM system that is not very popular, he is going to extremes.”

In contrast, Dobrynin added, the Soviets had “not wanted to poison the Russian people against the Nixon Administration,” and had not printed critical comments, “hoping for the best.”4 But he said that “time may be running out” on that policy.

Disarmament. There is a growing feeling in Moscow, according to Dobrynin, that the United States is not really interested in disarmament talks with the Soviet Union. He commented that the Johnson Administration had been ready to sit down for strategic arms talks,5 and it was difficult to understand why—if the Nixon Administration were equally interested in such talks—it should take up to six months more to prepare the US position. He also warned that no preconditions could be set if disarmament talks were to be held. The Soviets, Dobrynin asserted, were ready to begin discussions with us tomorrow.6
Vietnam. A US decision to resume bombing of North Vietnam would be “very foolish,” in Dobrynin’s judgment, since it would only unite the North Vietnamese more solidly, and require both the Chinese and the Russians to step up their levels of assistance.

Middle East. Dobrynin saw no evidence that the situation would improve in the near future; “it is filled with danger and there can be more serious outbreaks.” He pushed for successful four-power talks to lessen the dangers.

By way of comment, I would note that in the past few days Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov has not taken as hard a line as [Page 102] Dobrynin did with Senator Percy on topics such as the ABM decision and strategic arms limitation talks.

Tab A

Memorandum From Senator Charles Percy to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)


  • William Rogers, Secretary of State
  • Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense
  • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • J. Edgar Hoover, Director of Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Henry Kissinger, Assistant to the President

On May 27, 1968, I had lunch alone with Ambassador Dobrynin at the Soviet Embassy, at his invitation, and there was a productive discussion. Last week I invited Ambassador Dobrynin to my home in Georgetown for luncheon. We met at 1:00 PM, Thursday, March 27, 1969, and talked until 3:30 PM. Following are summary statements that represent, to the best of my recollection, the position and attitude taken on various questions. Ambassador Dobrynin is extremely articulate. He is very skilled, however, in talking a great deal, seemingly in response to a question without ever directly answering the question. It was necessary on several occasions to repeat a question in a different way three or four times in order to get a more direct response.

President Nixon

Percy: Do you feel that the answer I gave to your question last May, “Is there a new Nixon?”, was accurate and that he does appear to be a man who has a broad-gauged view of world problems and, though firm, is not what you consider rigid “hard line” and would approach the solution to problems with a knowledgeable, open and reasonable attitude?

Dobrynin: Yes, the description was not only accurate but coincided with my own feelings. But of course we have had no real opportunity to negotiate or work together yet.

Consular Treaty

Percy: I was pleased to see the Soviet suggestion that a consulate be opened in one Soviet and one American city. Do you envision others being opened?

[Page 103]

Dobrynin: There is every reason to have additional consulates and we would have no objection to others being opened.7

Bilateral Trade

Dobrynin: What is the outlook for expanding trade between the Soviet Union and the United States? We would like to do more business with your country and it would benefit both economies. It is rather ridiculous for us to ship vodka to Denmark and have them rebottle it and sell it to the United States when we could sell it direct. When the Italians assured us that they could purchase $30 million of machine tools for the Fiat factory being built in Russia from the United States, we were highly skeptical and we were proven right. America always puts politics ahead of good sound economics and I am not optimistic about trading opportunities between our two countries.

Percy: You have asked whether most favored nation treatment could be extended to the Soviet Union and indicated that you feel no real trade of significance compared with what went on for instance in 1930 could be carried on without such treatment. I would have to say the chances would not be good for extension of this position to the Soviet Union under the present circumstances. However, normalizing East-West relationships has to be approached step by step and I would suggest that it might be practical to consider extending MFN treatment to some other eastern European country such as Czechoslovakia, putting it on the same basis as Poland and Yugoslavia, which would at least be a step in this direction.

Dobrynin: This sounds logical though I cannot see why Americans are so afraid of trading with the Soviet Union.

Percy: It is directly related to the threats to American security and the security of other nations. For instance, if the Administration were to propose MFN being extended to the Soviet Union today, the first opposition would come from those who would talk about the amount of war materials being supplied to North Vietnam by the USSR to kill American boys in South Vietnam and that nothing can be done to just strengthen an economy with this the end result. You have mentioned automobile manufacture but you also have indicated that an agreement to manufacture trucks would be most interesting from your standpoint. The provision of technical assistance for the mass production of trucks would be directly related to the kind of military assistance that you would be providing to North Vietnam.

Dobrynin: We do not like to think we need technical assistance as we are capable of making anything we want to make. But it does stand [Page 104] to reason that we can benefit from mass production techniques. But if we do not make agreements with the United States we can always make agreements with European countries. The machine tools that the United States would not furnish for the Fiat factory are all obtainable in Western Europe and these countries sell freely to us and are glad to have the business.

Leadership Relationships

Percy: I sat in on part of Secretary William Rogers’ testimony8 before the Foreign Relations Committee today and brought you a copy of the full text of his comments.

Dobrynin: Yes, I watched part of his testimony on television and his positions were responsible. However, I am concerned about the very strong reaction in Moscow among our leadership against statements made by your Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. I tried to picture the average American sitting in front of his television set watching Laird talk about the Soviet intention to make a first strike on the United States, thus depicting us as the worst kind of people. Even taking into account the fact that we know he is trying to sell the American people and the Congress on an ABM system that is not very popular, he is going to extremes.9 After all, the leadership in Moscow is only human and I am concerned about their reactions to this kind of talk. I spent thirty days back home in January and spent many days at a resort thirty miles from Moscow where Brezhnev, Kosygin, and Podgorniy came with their families and we all skied together cross country. I know their wives and their children and I know their reactions as human beings. They do not like to be put in the position of appearing to plot millions of deaths or used this way for the purpose of selling an American defense program. I am concerned about their reaction as they have not formulated their judgment on the Nixon Administration and have tried to hold back any judgments that might be premature. In fact, we have not wanted in any way to poison the Russian people against the Nixon Administration and have not printed critical comments, hoping for the best. But time may be running out on this.10


Percy: When in your judgment should talks get under way on disarmament, how long will they take do you think, and what do you foresee as the end result?

[Page 105]

Dobrynin: There is a growing feeling in Moscow that the United States is really not interested in disarmament talks.11 The Johnson Administration was ready to go ahead with these talks, in fact anxious to do so, and a set of principles had been laid down for such discussions. Then certain advisers to Johnson started to attach all sorts of conditions to these talks involving such issues as Vietnam. We said that we would be glad to talk about Vietnam or any other subject the United States wished to discuss, but would not make agreements in advance. We were not particularly anxious to have a summit meeting with an administration that had only a few months left in office but were willing to do so. But it never came about.

With the Nixon Administration we are ready to have talks on disarmament tomorrow. We would also be willing to discuss any other subject with the Administration, but as recently as two weeks ago we were told that such talks could be held within a period of “up to six months.” This did not reassure Moscow that the United States was serious about wanting talks. The Nixon Administration said that it needed time to prepare for such talks. But look at the amount of time it has been putting into appearing before Congress and on television to try to sell an ABM system. It has also put in a lot of time analyzing such a system and coming up with a program. This same amount of time could have been put into preparing for disarmament talks that certainly should not take six months if America considered them important. It is a matter of priorities and the United States may not think this is an important subject, at least that is the impression they give.

Percy: The President may consider disarmament talks less meaningful when we both possess the power to annihilate each other—even were production stopped at the present level—if we leave unresolved serious political difficulties that could bring about conflict.

Dobrynin: We are always willing to talk about the problems of Vietnam or the Middle East or any other subject the United States wishes to discuss, but preconditions cannot be established if disarmament talks are to be held.12

Percy: Does the USSR feel that it requires an ABM directed against China?

Dobrynin: Let me ask you how you regard China and what your relationships should be with China.

Percy: In my opinion it is dangerous to regard China as an “outlaw” nation, and we should try to bring her within the community of [Page 106] nations providing she will meet acceptable standards of conduct. But China has shown no inclination to act as a civilized member of society. She has steadily reduced her level of diplomatic contact with the rest of the world, and it will be interesting to see how long she lets Canada, where a good trading relationship could be built, cool its heels on its suggestion for diplomatic recognition. We have had one irrational ruler in our lifetime, Adolf Hitler, and it is always possible that we could have another.

Dobrynin: China’s actions against us on the border have been an interesting case in point. They selected an unoccupied island which complicated our military options. Had we moved across the water to their side, they would have screamed that we were invading them, and yet they were able to raid, withdraw and be in a position of challenging and even embarrassing the mighty Russian Army.

Percy: Going back to disarmament, let me ask for your reaction to a purely personal suggestion. What would you think of a mutual moratorium by Russia and the United States on the emplacement of missiles and nuclear warheads? Acceptable verification means are available. Today there is a rough parity between the United States and the Soviet Union. We do not know how long disarmament talks would take to complete and, during the process of negotiation, an extensive build-up of missiles by one side or the other might upset the balance. This would seem, therefore, an excellent time for a joint moratorium. It might provide an improved atmosphere for the talks and the talks would have a better chance to succeed.

Dobrynin: Such a proposal could certainly be considered but to even consider it we would have to get talks under way and I see no real inclination to do this.

Percy: In his testimony this morning Secretary Rogers said that talks could begin within a few months.

Dobrynin: I do not know what your definition of “few” is. All I know is that I was told up to six months and that does not appear to me as though there is any real desire to get talks under way.

Percy: I am not a spokesman for the Administration and in fact regretfully find that I differ sometimes with its judgments. However, I will convey your impressions to the appropriate parties and it would be my own hope that talks could be gotten under way soon. However, the events in Czechoslovakia made it impossible to hold talks heretofore and talks could be set back again if there were other unfortunate happenings in that area.


Percy: I do believe it would be important to bring Vietnam into the context of our talks since one act of easing tensions should relate [Page 107] to another. I am deeply disturbed by the lack of progress in the Paris talks. There are, of course, some in this country who would withdraw from South Vietnam regardless of the consequences, though I believe they are very few in number. There are many more who feel that the cessation of bombing by the United States has been used by the North Vietnamese only to build up their own forces and has enabled them to undertake another offensive which has cost many American lives. There would be a strong body of support for the President ordering a resumption of bombing in the North, particularly to cut off supply lines. There are many who would support very heavy bombing on the basis that representations to us have been betrayed and that the North Vietnamese are making no serious effort to find the basis for a negotiated political settlement.

Dobrynin: This would be very foolish, in my judgment. First of all, it would be ineffective as has been proved by all of the past bombing done by the United States in North Vietnam. It merely unifies the North Vietnamese and requires a greater level of support by both China and ourselves.13 As soon as you bomb near China, she intensifies her efforts. And were we called upon to provide a stepped-up level of aid to a Socialist country, we could not possibly fail to respond if we were to remain credible in the eyes of other Socialist countries.14 The bombing of concentrated urban areas in World War II failed to conquer a people or defeat them. That could only be done by land armies. Of course if you intend to invade North Vietnam with your land forces that would require a minimum of one million men and would call for an equal or greater response by the Chinese Army. Where would all of this get you? You already have a great problem with world opinion. It is difficult to convince people—the average person—that you are not a warlike nation. One of the greatest difficulties I have when I go home is with my father and his friends. I have been in the United States now going on my eighth year. My father is a plumber, he works with his hands, he is a simple man and so are his friends. But they are worried about the intentions of the United States.

There are many Russians who believe that the United States is going to wage war on the Soviet Union. All that our government would have to do is say that we are going to cut back on housing, on consumer goods and other forms of civilian production, and we are going to double our output of armaments. We can do anything that we feel we have to do and the Russian people will fully support us and back us up.

[Page 108]

You must take into account that the military in the Soviet Union does not have anywhere near the power and influence that it has in the United States. Your Secretary of Defense sits in the Cabinet, and he consults with the President more than almost any other top official. Your military interests are strong in the Congress. This condition simply does not exist in the Soviet Union. The head of our military is not even a member of the Politburo and only infrequently sits in on major political discussions affecting national policies.

Percy: On the other side of the scale you must take into account, and the world should take into account, that the United States has not used its power for the expansion of its own territories, and our government must take into account in its planning the fact that the Soviet Union is building either five or 25 megaton ICBM’s which do not enhance the peace. Why is such explosive power of this magnitude needed? There is talk that the Soviet Union is orbiting nuclear explosives, and this is understandably disconcerting to our average citizen.

Middle East

Percy: Before we finish we should at least have a word of the Mideast. It is important to find a basis for settlement not only because of the danger for the nations directly involved, but also because we must try to avoid situations which could bring our own two nations into dangerous confrontation.

Dobrynin: I cannot see the situation improving in the near future. It is filled with danger and there can be more serious outbreaks. We must do the best we can to lessen the danger through successful four-power talks which will be getting under way. I agree with you that the situation is dangerous and we must act positively to lessen this danger.

On departing, Ambassador Dobrynin suggested that we get together again after the Easter recess. The conversation was cordial and relaxed throughout. On his arrival he was greeted by Loraine and our children who were home from school on Easter vacation, and he was extremely gracious to them. I highly recommend an informal home atmosphere for relaxed discussions when an exchange of views, rather than hard negotiating, is the purpose of the meeting.

Charles H. Percy
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 725, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Memcons, Dobrynin/Percy, March 1969. Confidential. Sent for information. Nixon wrote “Note page 2” on the memorandum.
  2. On April 3, Kissinger wrote Percy and acknowledged receipt of his memorandum of conversation. Kissinger informed Percy that “You covered a lot of ground, and we are studying your account of the talk with great interest. I will advise the President that you have taken his suggestion, as requested, and will give him a summary of the key points of your conversation.” Kissinger provided a summary to Nixon in an undated memorandum drafted by Lesh on April 2. (Ibid., Box 709, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. II)
  3. On March 27, Rogers testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Extracts of his testimony concerning U.S. preparations for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks are in Documents on Disarmament, 1969, pp. 138–139. On March 20–21, in nationally televised hearings, Laird testified before the International Organization and Disarmament Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and declared that the Soviet Union had begun a nuclear forces build-up aimed at eliminating U.S. defenses in a single blow. Laird supported his assertion with information about the SS–9, a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). He stated that the SS–9 threat could be countered only with an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. Extracts of Laird’s testimony are ibid., pp. 125–131.
  4. In an Intelligence Note of March 27 entitled “Soviet Style Honeymoon for President Nixon,” Thomas L. Hughes, Director of Intelligence and Research, informed Rogers that US–Soviet relations have been “notably restrained in its public treatment of the new administration, and has maintained an almost complete moratorium on personal criticism of the President.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–USSR)
  5. See footnote 6, Document 2.
  6. Nixon highlighted this paragraph and wrote in the margin, “H.K.—maybe we are better off on this line than we thought.”
  7. Nixon highlighted this paragraph.
  8. See footnote 3.
  9. Nixon underlined and highlighted this sentence.
  10. Nixon underlined and highlighted this sentence.
  11. Nixon underlined and highlighted this sentence.
  12. Nixon underlined the last clause of this sentence.
  13. Nixon underlined this sentence.
  14. Nixon underlined most of this sentence.