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

SUBJECT

  • Memorandum of Conversation with Dobrynin April 14, 1969

After an exchange of pleasantries and a somewhat lengthy discussion of the Middle East (reported separately),2 the discussion turned to Vietnam. I asked Dobrynin whether he had had any reaction from Moscow to our last conversation.3 He said he had not, but that he was aware of a conversation Zorin had had with Lodge.

I then said that the President had wished me to convey his thoughts on Vietnam to Moscow. We had followed the discussions in Paris with great interest and considerable patience. As Lodge had already pointed out to Zorin, it was very difficult to negotiate when the other side constantly accused us of insincerity, when every private meeting so far had been initiated by us, and when every proposition was put forward on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The President had therefore decided to make one more direct approach on the highest level before drawing the conclusion that the war could only be ended by unilateral means. The President’s personal word should be a guarantee of sincerity. After showing Dobrynin the talking points and the President’s initials, I read them to him.4 He took copious notes, stopping every once in a while to ask for an explanation. When I said we wanted to have the negotiations concluded within two months, Dobrynin said that if this proposal was feasible at all, we would be able to tell after the first week of negotiations whether they would lead anywhere. [Page 131]When I got through, Dobrynin asked whether I was saying that unless the Vietnam war was settled, we would not continue our discussions on the Middle East and not enter the talks on strategic arms. I replied that we were prepared to continue talking but that we would take measures which might create a complicated situation.

Dobrynin said that whatever happens in Vietnam, the Soviet leaders were eager to continue talking. He then asked whether these new measures might involve Soviet ships. I replied that many measures were under intensive study. In dealing with the President, it was well to remember that he always did more than he threatened and that he never threatened idly.

Dobrynin then said he hoped we understand the limitations of Soviet influence in Hanoi. We had to understand that while the Soviet Union might recommend certain steps, it would never threaten to cut off supplies. He could tell me that the Soviet Union had been instrumental in helping to get the talks started. Moreover, Communist China was constantly accusing the Soviet Union of betraying Hanoi. The Soviet Union could not afford to appear at a Communist meeting and find itself accused of having undermined a fellow Socialist country. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had no strategic interest in Southeast Asia. The chief reasons for its support of North Vietnam have been the appeals of a fellow Socialist country. I could be sure that the President’s proposal would be transmitted to Hanoi within 24 hours. Dobrynin added that often Soviet messages were never answered by Hanoi so he could not guarantee what the reply would be or indeed if there would be a reply.

Dobrynin then said that the North Vietnamese were using the following agreement with Moscow and he stressed that Moscow did not necessarily agree with it: The Saigon Government was composed of individuals committed to the destruction of the NLF. The NLF would not enter a political confrontation in which the administrative apparatus was in the hands of people who sought to destroy them. The NLF would not insist on participating in the Government but it would insist that the Government be broadened and that Thieu and Ky be removed. Dobrynin repeated that he was simply stating Hanoi’s arguments, not endorsing them.

I replied that I was familiar with Hanoi’s arguments since they were being made to us as well. Nevertheless, the best policy for the NLF would be to work out guarantees for its political participation after a settlement of the war. They would certainly find us forthcoming.

Dobrynin reiterated Moscow’s desire to stay in negotiations with us whatever happened in Vietnam. He told me many anecdotes of Stalin as well as of Molotov. He added that the Soviet Union had intended to send Marshal Zhukov to Eisenhower’s funeral but Zhukov [Page 132]had recently had two strokes and was partially paralized. He then asked whether we understood that Communist China was attempting to produce a clash between the Soviet Union and the United States. If the war in Vietnam escalates, it would only service Communist China’s interest. I replied that this was the precise point the President had tried to make to Kuznetsov on the occasion of the Eisenhower funeral. It was, therefore, incumbent on the Soviet Union to help us remove this danger. We felt that in this period, the great nuclear powers still have the possibility of making peace.

As he was preparing to leave, Dobrynin asked me whether he could read over the talking points once more. I handed them to him and he read them slowly and carefully. He departed saying “this has been a very important conversation.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 2, Vol. I. Secret; Nodis. A handwritten notation on the first page reads, “Back from the President, 4/16/69.” On April 10, Kissinger and Dobrynin set up their April 14 meeting for 8:30 p.m. at Kissinger’s house. According to a transcript of the telephone conversation, “Dobrynin ventured the guess that HAK must be very busy these days and HAK said this is a hectic period. HAK said last time they met they talked about getting together next week and asked what his schedule was—Dobrynin said ‘give me a time and and I’ll tell you.’” After scheduling their meeting, “HAK mentioned that he lives alone so can’t offer Dobrynin dinner. Later in conversation Dobrynin said he would be delighted to see how bachelors live.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 359, Telephone Records, 1969–1976, Telephone Conversations, 1969)
  2. See Document 37.
  3. See Document 32.
  4. See Document 35.