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


  • Kosygin’s Reply to Your Letter of March 262

Kosygin’s letter—handed to Ambassador Beam by Gromyko in Kosygin’s absence (he is in Afghanistan) today—is on the whole calm and unideological in tone.3 It is clear that the Soviet leaders want to [Page 167] maintain a dialogue with you and that they remain interested in keeping our relations on an even keel.

However, while the tone is civil and constructive, I detect no substantive concessions. But none were to be expected in this general sort of communication, just as your own letter contained general considerations rather than specific new offers of substance.

As was to have been expected, Kosygin argues against linking various issues too closely, although he recognizes a certain interrelationship. In principle, this is not too different from your position, and I see no need for arguing this issue further with the Soviets. We should simply continue to apply our conception in practice.

On specific issues, Kosygin’s most important points are

  • —continued relaxation on SALT, with a bare reference simply stating that they await our views. He failed to pick up your suggestion that he give you any substantive views he may have. This bland posture is probably due (1) to their desire not to seem too eager and (2) their wanting to watch the outcome of our domestic debates to see whether we might be forced into unilateral “restraint”;
  • —a rather more demanding position on South Vietnam, with, in effect, a proposition that we get rid of Thieu and set up a “temporary” coalition. On the other hand, Kosygin makes no demands for US troop withdrawals, as Zorin has been doing in talks with Lodge. Kosygin offers to “facilitate” a political settlement but this seems to be contingent on the changes in South Vietnam he asks for. I see nothing particularly hopeful in this;
  • —on the Middle East, Kosygin supports the present US–Soviet talks and the four-power conversations in New York but offers no change in substance. (Gromyko told Beam they are studying Sisco’s recent suggestions.) As was to be anticipated he urges you to use influence on Israel. He maintains the position that arms control in the Middle East must await a political settlement;
  • —on Berlin, he insists that the FRG is to blame for any trouble but picks up your suggestion to exchange views on improving the situation; while we might explore the matter in a low key to Dobrynin, I doubt that this is a good time to rush into any full-scale talks. Following the German election, we might raise the issue with the new government in Bonn and then consider whether and how to follow up with Moscow;
  • —on Europe, he bears down hard on the demand that the FRG sign the NPT and appears to rule out Soviet ratification until then. He asks us to press the Germans and other countries allied with us (presumably meaning Japan and, by Soviet definition, Israel);
  • —he takes pro forma exception to the comments in your letter to Czechoslovakia;
  • —on China, Beam had orally told Kosygin that we did not seek to exploit Sino-Soviet difficulties; Gromyko now replies that they will not exploit our troubles with China either and, rather enigmatically, suggests that in general US–Soviet relations should be based on long-range considerations and on a whole range of factors, rather than just China.

I believe that this exchange of letters has served your purpose of putting on record your basic approach to our relations with the Soviet Union and that for the moment nothing is to be gained by pursuing it further. Other channels are open on pending issues.

A translation of Kosygin’s letter is at Tab A; for your reference, your letter of March 26 and Beam’s oral presentation of April 22 are at Tabs B and C respectively.4

Since we gave the NATO allies the gist of your letter of March 26, I believe we should give them a very brief account of the reply. If you agree, I will ask the State Department to have Ambassador Cleveland inform the Permanent Representatives by means of the text at Tab D.5


That no written reply be made to Kosygin’s letter.
That I inform Dobrynin that you have read Kosygin’s letter, that you believe we should now pursue matters of common interest through existing channels, that you do not plan at this time to make a written reply.
That you approve the text at Tab D for use at NATO to inform the allies of Kosygin’s letter.

Tab A

Letter From Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Kosygin to President Nixon7

Dear Mr. President:

I and my colleagues have attentively familiarized ourselves with your message, and also the additional considerations conveyed by Ambassador Beam.

[Page 169]

We have received with satisfaction confirmation by you of the idea of the necessity of entering into an era of negotiations and of readiness to examine any possible path for the settlement of international problems, in particular of those which are connected with the danger of a clash and of conflicts.

This accords with our opinion, already expressed earlier to you, on the importance of achieving a situation in which negotiations would serve first of all to avert conflicts, and not to seek for ways out of them after peace and international security have been placed in jeopardy.

Such a task is completely feasible if our two countries with their resources and influence will act in the direction of maintaining and consolidating peace, with due consideration of each other’s fundamental interests and without setting themselves against third countries. At the same time it is important not to permit anyone to exert pernicious influence on Soviet-American relations.

The achievement of mutual understanding in this matter is all the more necessary since our countries must take into account the character and degree of influence on the international situation also of other forces. From this point of view much that can be done now, given mutual desire, and setting aside complicating (kon yunturnye) questions, may turn out with the passage of time either to be fully unattainable of much more difficult and complex.

As far as can be judged by your statements, in principle we have with you a common understanding in this regard. It is a matter now, perhaps, of embarking on the practical realization of such an understanding, on a search for ways and means of resolving concrete problems which burden international relations at the present time and are fraught with great dangers for the future.

In this regard, it seems to us, that, taking into account the complexity of each of these problems by itself, it is hardly worthwhile to attempt somehow to link one with another. Although it is indisputable that progress in solving each problem taken individually would facilitate the solving also of other problems, it would be unjustified in our view to draw from this a conclusion about the advisability of making the solution of one problem dependent on the solution of any other problem or of postponing in general their examination until there is some sort of general improvement in Soviet-American relations or in the international situation as a whole. Such a posing of the question would inevitably lead to the emergence of a vicious circle and would in no way facilitate the solving of problems which have become ripe for this.

We have already transmitted to you through Ambassador Dobrynin our observations on a number of international problems and on questions of Soviet-American bilateral relations. In connection with [Page 170] your message we would like in addition to express the following thoughts.


As facts show, the situation in the Near East is becoming more and more exacerbated by virtue of the continuity lack of settlement of the conflict in this region. Without going into a detailed discussion of this question here, with which our representatives are now occupied, I would only like to emphasize our conviction that in the working out of any plans for a Near Eastern settlement, the strict observance of the main principle is necessary—aggression must not be rewarded. Without this there can be no firm and lasting peace in the Near East.

As we understand it, the Government of the USA assesses seriously the situation which has been created, and therefore we hope that it will devote efforts to exert the necessary influence on Israel, which stubbornly does not wish to take a realistic position and which ignores the dangerous consequences of its annexationist course.

For our part, we intend to continue, in the framework of a bilateral Soviet-American exchange of views and of the consultations of the representatives of the four powers in New York, to use every opportunity to secure real progress in the matter of a just settlement of the Near Eastern conflict in conformity with the November 22, 1967, Security Council Resolution.8

As regards the question raised by you about limiting outside military assistance to countries of the Near East, in principle we advocate the limitation of an unnecessary arms race in the Near East and we assume that appropriate steps in this direction would not contradict the interests of countries of this region. We believe that this question could be examined on a practical plane after the realization of a political settlement, including the withdrawal by Israel of its troops from occupied Arab territories.


It causes regret and concern to us that real progress in the direction of a political settlement in Vietnam still has not been noted in the negotiations in Paris.

The Soviet Union, just as earlier, is ready to facilitate such a settlement. However, I will say frankly: the American side itself is complicating the possibility of rendering this assistance by its obviously unrealistic position in such a fundamental question as the question of the South Vietnamese Government. If one admits the hopelessness of a military way to the solution of the Vietnam problem and one expresses the desire to stop the armed conflict, then it would seem self-evident that the present Administration in Saigon must give way to a government which reflects the actual disposition of political forces in [Page 171] South Vietnam. Together with the question of creating in South Vietnam a temporary coalition government is, without question, a decisive one. It has now become completely obvious already that if one strives for a halt in the war in Vietnam then it is impossible to continue to bank on the present Saigon Administration.


We fully share the view on the necessity of averting crises and of eliminating threats to peace in Europe. In this connection we attach special importance to the understanding with the Soviet Government, expressed earlier by you Mr. President, that the foundations of the postwar system in Europe should not be changed, inasmuch as this could cause great upheavals and the danger of a clash among great powers.

For our part, we are not interested in the creation of tension in Europe, including West Berlin. If such tensions emerges from time to time, then the responsibility for it is borne by those forces in Western Germany which oppose the foundations of the post-war system in Europe, which attempt to undermine these foundations, and in particular which come out with totally unjustified claims with respect to West Berlin. There are no objections from our side to an exchange of opinions proposed by you concerning ways of improving the present unsatisfactory situation with West Berlin.

We, Mr. President, are not at all against an improvement also of Soviet-West German relations. And the practical steps which have been undertaken by us in this direction are obviously known to you. Unfortunately, however, in the FRG the understanding still has not apparently matured that its relations with other countries, including those with the USSR, cannot be developed apart from the general foreign policy course of Bonn. And the fact that this course still is based on these which are contrary to the goals of strengthening European security and world peace is confirmed in particular by the attitude of the FRG toward the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. After all, it is precisely the stubborn refusal of Western Germany to accede to the treaty—with whatever contrived pretext it fortifies itself—which greatly impedes its entry into force. We hope that the United States is using its influence in order to secure the most rapid accession to the treaty by the FRG and by a number of other countries allied with the USA. As regards the ratification of the treaty by the Soviet Union, the matter is not up to us (to za nami delo nye stanet).

With regard to concrete times for the beginning of talks on the limitation and curtailment of strategic—both offensive as well as defensive—armaments, we await your views on this matter.

We take note of your assurances, Mr. President, that you fully understand our concern about our security and that the USA does not want to complicate the relations of the USSR with its neighbors—both Communist as well as with others. In light of your assurances, [Page 172] the mention in your message of events in Czechoslovakia is all the more incomprehensible. As we have already noted earlier, these events concern first of all Czechoslovakia itself, and also its relations with other participating states of the Warsaw Pact and their security, including the security of the USSR, and they do not in any way affect the state interests of the USA.

In conclusion, I would like once again to stress our readiness to develop relations with the USA in a constructive plane on the basis of mutual confidence and frankness. In this connection, we consider useful the practice which has developed of a confidential exchange of views on topical international problems and on questions of Soviet-American relations. In this regard we agree with you, Mr. President, that in different situations—depending on the character of the questions and on other considerations—one must apply different forms and utilize various channels for such an exchange of views.

With respect,

A. Kosygin
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 765, Presidential Correspondence, Kosygin. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action. Nixon wrote “A very shrewd and very depressingly hard line letter. There is no conciliation in it except style!” on the first page of the memorandum.
  2. Nixon’s letter to Kosygin is Document 28.
  3. In Multiple Exposure (p. 221), Beam describes the letter: “An interesting feature was that the reply raised the later, much-publicized issue of ‘linkage.’ Apparently answering some earlier Kissinger remarks about the crucial importance of finding solutions for Vietnam and arms control, Kosygin’s letter declared it would be inadvisable to make the solution of one problem depend upon the solution of another, since this procedure might postpone a general improvement of U.S.-Soviet relations or of the international situation as a whole, and could create a vicious circle.”
  4. Beam’s oral presentation is Document 39.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. President Nixon initialed his approval of recommendations 1–3.
  7. Secret; Nodis.
  8. See footnote 4, Document 2.