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


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

Dobrynin had requested the appointment to inform me that he had been recalled to Moscow for consultations. Dobrynin opened the conversation by saying that he had been impressed by the deliberateness and precision of the Administration. We had moved one step at a time towards first establishing a general atmosphere, then into the Middle East talks, then beginning some discussion on Vietnam and only when the main outlines were set did we offer to have the SALT talks. We had not been stampeded at any point. He had reported accordingly to his government. He said the Soviet Union preferred to deal with careful planners since they were much more predictable.

Dobrynin then turned to Vietnam. I told him that we were following a very careful policy. We had our moves for the next few months fully worked out. I reminded him of what the President had said when we gave him an advance copy of the Vietnam speech. He should not be confused by the many statements that he heard. We were not interfering with much that was being said. But the President reserved the final decision on essential items. Dobrynin replied that he had noticed that we moved on about the schedule we had given him a month ago.

Dobrynin then asked about our ideas for settling the war in Vietnam. He inquired especially on our views on a coalition government. I said that he and I were both realists. He knew very well that in order to bring about a coalition government we would have to smash the present structure of the Saigon Government while the NLF remained intact. This would guarantee an NLF victory sooner or later. We would never accept that. We would agree to a fair political con-test—not to what the President had called a disguised defeat.

Dobrynin made no effort to defend Hanoi’s position. He replied that Hanoi was very difficult. He said I could be sure that the Soviet Union had transmitted our discussion of April and added a recommendation. [Page 179] However, Hanoi believed that they knew their own requirements better than the Soviet Union. I said, on the other hand, the Soviet Union supplied 85% of the military equipment. Dobrynin asked whether we wanted the Soviet Union to give Hanoi an ultimatum. I said it was not for me to tell the Soviet Union how to conduct its relations with its allies. I said that we were determined to have the war ended one way or another. Hanoi was attempting to break down the President’s public support. It was too much to ask us to hold still for that. I added that what we needed was some strategic help, not just negotiating devices for settling particular problems as has been the case until now. Dobrynin, who was very subdued, said I could be sure that they are looking into the question.

Dobrynin then asked me about US-Soviet relations in general. I said that while some gradual progress was possible even during the Vietnam war, a really massive change depended on the settlement of the Vietnam war. Dobrynin said we always seem to link things. I replied that as a student of Marxism he must believe in the importance of objective factors. It was an objective fact that Hanoi was trying to undermine the President. It was an objective fact that we had to look to every avenue for a solution. Dobrynin then said supposing the war were settled, how would you go about improving relations.

I called his attention to the President’s offer of increased trade and I also suggested the possibility of a summit meeting. I said that they could count on the same careful preparation for a summit meeting that characterized all the President’s efforts. One possibility would be to have a meeting at which the major issues were discussed together with a precise agenda for dealing with them, to be followed by periodic meetings to resolve them. In this way we might reach a stage in which war between the two major nuclear countries would become unthinkable, and other countries which might be emerging could not disturb the peace of the world. I added this should help the Soviets with some of their allies. Dobrynin said that they had no problem with any of their allies. I replied that China was still a Soviet ally. Dobrynin emphatically said China is not an ally; it is our chief security problem. He was very intrigued by the suggestion of a summit meeting and I added that there was no prospect of it without a settlement of the Vietnam war.

Dobrynin then turned to the Middle East. He said the Soviet Union was very interested in a settlement—Sisco was always speaking in the abstract about secure and recognized borders. The Soviet Union was perfectly willing to discuss a rectification of the borders even if it did not promise to agree right away. Gromyko was in Cairo to try to see how much give there was in the Egyptian position. I said that if Vietnam were settled, we could certainly give more top level attention to the Middle East.

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Dobrynin returned to the theme of US-Soviet relations and asked what he could tell his principals when he returned. I said that everything depended on the war in Vietnam. If the war were ended, he could say that there was no limit to what might be accomplished. You would like to be remembered as a President who ensured a permanent peace and a qualitative change in international relations. Dobrynin asked whether we were expecting a change in the Moscow leadership. I replied that we had no intention of playing domestic politics in the Kremlin. Dobrynin said: “Don’t believe your Soviet experts; they understand nothing.”

Dobrynin then asked whether I might be willing to come to Moscow sometime very quietly to explain your thinking to Kosygin and Brezhnev. I told Dobrynin that this would have to be discussed with you but that if it were for the right issue, you would almost certainly entertain the proposition.2

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 1. Secret; Nodis. The memorandum indicates the President saw it. Kissinger prepared a memorandum of conversation with Dobrynin on June 11, an identical copy of which he sent to Rogers on June 24. The June 11 memorandum of conversation is a less complete version of this memorandum sent to Nixon. (Ibid.)
  2. This paragraph was omitted from Kissinger’s June 11 memorandum of conversation.