31. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • General; U.S.-Soviet Relations

PARTICIPANTS

  • U.S.S.R. Participants
    • Vassily V. Kuznetsov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to the United States
    • Yuri N. Chernyakov, Minister-Counselor
    • Alexander I. Zinchuk, Deputy Chief of USA Division, MFA
  • U.S. Participants
    • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
    • Martin J. Hillenbrand, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • Malcolm Toon, Deputy Assistant Secretary
    • Adolph Dubs, Acting Director of Soviet Union Affairs
    • William D. Krimer, Interpreter

Mr. Kuznetsov expressed his thanks to the Secretary for having given him the opportunity of visiting him in spite of the Secretary's very busy schedule. He first wanted to convey Foreign Minister Gromyko's best regards to the Secretary. Mr. Gromyko had not been very well recently, having fractured several bones in his wrist in an accident, but he was better now. For a period of three weeks he had been unable to carry out his functions.

The Secretary replied with a request to convey his best wishes to Mr. Gromyko, whom he had met in 1959 on the occasion of Mr. Khrushchev's visit to Camp David.2 He said that he admired the Foreign Minister for having lasted in his office continuously since 1957.

Mr. Kuznetsov went on to express the condolences of his government on the sad occasion of the loss of such a great man as former President Eisenhower.3 The Soviet people had known him as a man [Page 119]who had made great contributions to the common cause of achieving a victory over fascist Germany at the time when he had been the Allied Supreme Commander. The Soviet Government had therefore immediately decided to send a delegation to the funeral. In this connection Mr. Kuznetsov recalled that our two countries had been allies in those days, when the world situation had been extremely difficult. At that time we had managed to find a good understanding on very complex problems and resolve them in the interests of mankind. Today the situation was also difficult and today, too, it was most important to create understanding and confidence between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Government wanted to do everything in its power to create a situation in which a better understanding and confidence between the two countries would lead to a solution of important international problems in the interests of our peoples and all humanity. He emphasized that his government wanted to achieve this goal and said that therefore any initiative from the American side would be welcomed.

The Secretary thanked Mr. Kuznetsov for his remarks and for the fact that the Soviet Government had sent a high-ranking delegation to the funeral. General Eisenhower had always spoken in glowing terms of his wartime experiences with Soviet soldiers. It was a fact that there was a common bond between the Russian people and the American people, as well as great friendship between them. The Secretary referred to his brief conversation with Mr. Kuznetsov of the day before, when Mr. Kuznetsov had said that when he had dealt with American engineers only, his relations had been friendly indeed, and that his difficulties only started when he began to deal with diplomats. As the Foreign Minister knew, the Secretary had already informed Ambassador Dobrynin that we were anxious to proceed to establish better relations between our two countries. The best time to do so in his view, was the time when a new administration came to office. We wanted to talk to Soviet representatives with an open mind about many things. As the Minister knew, we were now already discussing problems of the Middle East on a bilateral basis; we would appreciate everything the Soviet Union could do to help us achieve a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam conflict; in the months ahead we wanted to go ahead with talks on arms limitation. Although we were not attaching any conditions to any of these subjects and were willing to deal with each of them separately, it is self-evident that a reduction of tensions in one area would also be helpful to produce results in others. The Secretary thought that the time had come to have far-reaching talks on the many problems facing us. Our two countries had a special responsibility with respect to maintaining the peace. It was clear that in the absence of good relations between our two countries we incur the possibility of a conflict which could destroy mankind. The Secretary was therefore looking forward [Page 120]to working with Mr. Kuznetsov, with the Foreign Minister and with the excellent Ambassador in Washington.

Mr. Kuznetsov said that he was glad to hear this. He thought the present moment was one when we faced many important international problems awaiting solution. If we were to do nothing to improve the situation, it was quite natural that it would deteriorate. He shared the Secretary's views that there was no need to attach conditions to the efforts to reach agreement on any problem. He knew that some people took the position that it was first necessary to build up confidence so as to be able to proceed to a solution of problems. He did not agree with such a position, for how could there be any confidence without forward movement? He felt that confidence would improve as a result of progress in the solution of important problems. He referred to the time when he had worked with Ambassador Lodge, when it sometimes appeared that there was no progress on disarmament because of this same vicious circle. He therefore agreed with the Secretary that we should not place any conditions requiring progress on one problem before proceeding to another; this would unnecessarily complicate the situation. We should explore all possibilities and where we could proceed we should then find common language.

The Secretary pointed out that from a point of view of improving the relations between our two countries difficulties were often caused by polemics. Speaking for the new administration he said that the President and he were determined to be very careful and not say anything that could be interpreted as being belligerent, since this would not be conducive to good relations. He hoped that it would be possible within the framework of the Soviet system to respond in kind in their press and public statements.

Mr. Kuznetsov replied that as far as the Soviet leaders were concerned, they, too, had been careful not to say anything bad in their statements beyond the usual explanations of Soviet policy. But he was sorry that he could not say the same about some of the leaders of the United States. Last night he had had a brief but heated discussion with Defense Secretary Laird. He had brought up some of Secretary Laird's arguments in favor of going ahead with Safeguard, which had been presented during the Congressional hearings. Secretary Laird had said that the Soviet Union had the intention of attacking the United States with a first strike. This was, of course, not true. The Soviet Union was actively pursuing all possible ideas leading to disarmament, arms reduction and the stockpiling of explosive materials. The Soviet Union was striving for peace and was therefore willing to consider all suggestions to resolve international problems and to improve the world situation.

The Secretary replied that he did not think Secretary Laird had spoken of Soviet intentions, but rather of Soviet capabilities, bearing [Page 121]the SS–9 in mind. Certainly he (Secretary Rogers) had given no such indication in his testimony.4

Ambassador Dobrynin remarked that within the context of Secretary Laird's testimony the impression had been created that he regarded the Soviet Union as the most aggressive nation in the world. The Ambassador did not know of a single article in the Soviet press which had attacked the President, although Secretary Laird was criticized because of the impression he had created.

The Secretary said that the less top officials said anything that could be interpreted by the public as being belligerent, the better it would be for the relations between our two countries. We now had the opportunity of making progress in these relations and the President and he were determined to be very careful in their statements so as not to impede this progress.

Mr. Kuznetsov noted with satisfaction that the President had told him last night that he appreciated the responsible attitude displayed by the Soviet leadership since he had taken office.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 725, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Memcons, Kuznetsov/Dobrynin/Secretary Apr 69. Secret. Drafted by Krimer on April 2. The meeting was held in the Secretary's office. The memorandum is part I of III; parts II and III, brief discussions of the Middle East and the NPT respectively, are ibid. All three parts are attached to an April 2 covering memorandum from Acting Executive Secretary Walsh to Kissinger. On April 3, the Department sent telegram 50635 to Moscow, which summarized the three part-conversation. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–USSR)
  2. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made an official visit to the United States, which included a trip to Camp David, Maryland, September 15–27, 1959. Rogers served as Attorney General under President Eisenhower.
  3. Eisenhower died on March 28.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 29.