Learn about the beta
Office of the Historian

8. Notes From Lunch Between the Assistant to the President (Ellsworth) and the Soviet Chargé (Tcherniakov)1

NB: The following narrative is not a chronological account but is organized according to significant topics.

[Page 19]

I. Ambassadors.

I asked when Ambassador Dobrynin would be returning to Washington. T. said Dobrynin had become ill after his arrival in Moscow and on January 7 had entered a sanitarium where the treatment takes 30 days. Therefore, T. expects Dobrynin to arrive back in Washington around February 10.

He stated that when Dobrynin arrives in Washington he will probably have visited personally with the leaders, Kosygin and Brezhnev. T. stressed that this is unusual—most Ambassadors on their home leaves do not even get to talk to Minister Gromyko, but Dobrynin almost always has personal conversations with Kosygin and Brezhnev. In addition, Brezhnev is in the same sanitarium as Dobrynin, so the two might have better-than-ordinary opportunities for private chats. The sanitarium is in a place whose name begins with a “B.” It is just outside Moscow.

T. asked when President Nixon might be selecting a man to go to Moscow as U.S. Ambassador, and I replied (in accordance with explicit instruction on this point by Kissinger) that Mr. Nixon would be selecting his Ambassador to Moscow within two weeks.

II. Missile Talks.

I opened the subject of missile talks early in the lunch, with the observation that both T. and Dobrynin had had conversations from time to time with me in the past on the general subject of talks between the two countries; that I had emphasized, in such past talks, Mr. Nixon's awareness of the special responsibilities of the United States and the U.S.S.R.; that Mr. Nixon, in his acceptance speech at Miami and in his Inaugural address, had said we moved from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation; that I had always stressed Mr. Nixon's view that talks on various subjects are interrelated.

I stated further that President Nixon approaches the question of talks with the Soviet Union in the following spirit: that talks on complicated and important matters such as these must always be conducted in a precise, businesslike, and detailed manner; that Mr. Nixon's background and life as a political man and lawyer in the United States, as well as his extensive international experience, have made it natural and imperative for him to place the greatest importance on semantic and substantive precision in international discussions; and that his news conference on Monday was only the most recent example of this attitude.

I stated that the President has reached no decision to have talks on missiles or any particular subject; that he is looking for evidence of general political movement in many areas. I stated that, while such a decision is under consideration, the President intends not to engage in any kind of arms escalation.

[Page 20]

T.'s response to this will be embraced within the concluding section (VII) of this memorandum.

III. The Middle East.

With regard to the Middle East, and in response to my observation that the Middle East would be an area in which the President would look for political movement in connection with his overall consideration of a decision whether or not to commence talks, T. made the point that his own government has only limited influence over the principal Arab states involved, i.e., Egypt, Jordan and Syria (although Syria is not as significant a factor as Egypt and Jordan). In the case of Egypt, for example, he made the point that Egypt is a defeated nation and there is a limit to how far Nasser can be pushed without destroying him from the standpoint of the internal Egyptian situation.

IV. Non-Proliferation Treaty.

T. brought up the NPT, saying that he felt it was unfortunate the Johnson Administration had delayed the matter. In accordance with instructions from Kissinger, I stated the President would have a political problem with regard to ratification of the NPT if there should be further Soviet talk about Article 53 of the United Nations Charter or if the Soviet Union should make an issue of the West German meeting scheduled to be held in West Berlin on March 6.2

T.'s response to this will be embraced within the concluding section (VII) of this memorandum.

V. Vietnam.

I stated that it was President Nixon's intention to end the war in Vietnam, one way or another. I repeated this four times during the course of the lunch.

Each time I mentioned this point, I supplemented it with the observation that President Nixon could not end the war in Vietnam on a basis which would be interpreted as a disadvantageous conclusion from the point of view of the United States, after President Nixon's predecessor had fought and been eliminated from the political scene in America for his pains.

I mentioned also that the Administration is aware of the assistance the Soviet Union has put into the Paris negotiation situation, and [Page 21]appreciates it; further, that it is hoped the Soviet Government will be able to continue its positive efforts in this area.

T. responded on this whole area at great length and with substantial sophistication. Essentially, his point is that the Saigon regime is a small minority regime, that the basic problem in Vietnam is an indigenous Vietnamese problem, that the Soviet Government has limited influence over the NLF, and that in the final analysis there was going to have to be some kind of temporary, provisional coalition set up in South Vietnam which will include the NLF in some way. I responded by referring to various statements in President Nixon's news conference of Monday, January 27, and in general said these were matters that T. and I could not dispose of at the lunch today.

I want to emphasize that T. expanded on these matters in great length and in detail.

VI. Stalinism.

T. spent a substantial portion of time, and great energy, being defensive about the Stalin era. He described how “upbeat” conditions were for Soviet citizenry in the middle and late ‘30's and how unrealistic are the current popular portrayals of that era by Western writers (as well as Solzhenitsyn's portrayal).

He particularly stressed that he had noticed in the press a report that President Nixon has on the table by his bed in the White House a book entitled “The Great Purge”3 or something to that effect, and he explicitly asked me to either throw the book away or tell the President it is not worth reading. (I said I doubted if the press knows what is on the table in the President's bedroom.)

In response to pressing questions by me, he was very explicit in stressing the importance of the proposition that:

such books do not accurately portray conditions in the Soviet Union in the 1930's or whenever they pretend to be set; and,
even if such books may be taken (arguendo) (within artistic license) as reflections of reality, such reality should not be perceived as a relevant guide or comparison to present conditions.

VII. Talks.

Toward the end of the luncheon period, T. said in passing that he could assure me quite officially that his government is prepared to commence talks on limiting offensive and defensive missiles, on Vietnam, on Europe, and on the Middle East. As soon as it was appropriate [Page 22]to do so in the conversation, I went back to that statement, quoted it to him, cited to him a statement that had been made to me by Ambassador Dobrynin in my home on Sunday evening, November 24,4 to the same effect and asked T. if I was to understand his government is now prepared to start simultaneous talks on all these subjects immediately. T. sparred over the question of the meaning of the word “simultaneous”—did it mean simultaneous in place as well as time, and did it mean simultaneous in a sense which would imply an interrelationship to the extent that the substance of one subject would be a condition for talks on the substance of another?

I replied that, as I had said earlier, Mr. Nixon had always had the view that talks on various subjects are always interrelated and must be understood as taking place in context with each other.

T. emphasized that his government was always highly sensitive to any suggestion that one subject matter was being used to “blackmail” the Soviet Government on another subject—that Walt Rostow had been quite crude in his approach to the interrelationship of different subjects and that Dobrynin had received such severe backlash from the Kremlin when he reported one Rostow episode along this line that he, Dobrynin, had simply not reported other Rostow episodes. T. indicated that he would be unwilling to suggest any such proposal or idea to his government, but expressed the belief that his government would, in fact, agree to the simultaneous commencement of talks on all the listed subjects with the understanding that all should be considered within an interrelated context.

And then, I asked him if he would be willing to participate with me in preparing a memorandum which would more precisely describe the conditions that could surround such talks and an exact list of the topics for discussion in such talks.

He agreed that he would do that if I would give him three or four days. He will be back to me within three or four days for further conversation.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 709, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. I. No classification marking. In a January 29 covering memorandum to Kissinger, Ellsworth stated that he was “addressing it to you rather than the President because I do not want to introduce this material into the regular mechanism.”
  2. Article 53, one of the “enemy states” clauses of the UN Charter, permitted the assertion of a unilateral right to intervene in West German affairs. The term “enemy state” applied to any state which during World War II had been an enemy of any signatory of the Charter. (A Decade of American Foreign Policy, pp. 117–139) For information on the West German Bundesversammlung meeting on March 6, see Document 3.
  3. Reference is to Robert Conquest's The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties published in 1968.
  4. No record of this conversation was found.
  5. No record of a further conversation was found.