82. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Kosygin’s Mission to Peking
Very little is known of the origins or purposes of Kosygin’s visit to Peking.2 Judging from the characterization of the talks by both sides—”frank” (Chinese) and “useful” (Soviets)—there was no significant movement toward an accommodation.
The fact that the talks were held against a background of sharply-rising border tensions does suggest, however, that each side had an interest in attempting to check what seemed to be a gathering momentum toward large and more serious clashes.
The initiative apparently came from the Soviets, perhaps using the Romanians or North Vietnamese as intermediaries. The Soviets may have seen an advantage in appearing to take the lead in trying to reach an understanding, whether the Chinese agreed to the meeting or not. Should hostilities ensue, the Soviets would thus be in a position to present themselves as the aggrieved party. At the same time, the actual Soviet motive may have been to put on the record for Chinese benefit their refusal to tolerate a protracted border conflict. This is the line they took in recent letters to other Communist parties. It may not necessarily reflect a Soviet decision to escalate, but rather an effort to pressure and deter the Chinese.
The Chinese motive is a question, since so far they have been quite consistent in rejecting third party intervention or direct Soviet appeals. The Chinese willingness to receive Kosygin could reflect the more flexible Chinese diplomacy which seems to have been developing in recent months. However, the Chinese would not wish to appear to be resistant to Kosygin’s visit, especially since third parties in the Communist world were apparently involved, and would want to appear at least as “reasonable” as the Soviets. In their public treatment they took [Page 251] pains to minimize its significance by stating that Kosygin was merely “on his way home” and that Chou En-lai met him at Peking airport.
Until we learn more of the content of the Peking discussion, it is uncertain how our own interests might be affected:
- —there is nothing thus far, however, that suggests a new Sino-Soviet diplomatic offensive on Vietnam;
- —there is nothing to suggest a narrowing of Sino-Soviet differences on fundamental problems;
- —it is at least possible, that the failure of a personal encounter may actually worsen relations;
- —sudden moves of this sort do point, however, to the caution which the US should exercise in basing its own actions solely on expected developments in the Sino-Soviet dispute; much of this relationship is still shrouded from us.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 710, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. V. Secret. The memorandum is stamped “October 6” and bears the handwritten comment “ret’d.” as well as a large check mark in the upper righthand corner.↩
- According to a DIA Intelligence Summary of September 12, Kosygin met with Chou En-lai in Peking on September 11, a visit that lasted only 5 hours before the Soviet Premier returned to Moscow. (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 93–T01468R, Box 3, Sino-Soviet Border, August–December 1969)↩
- On September 12, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent information obtained from “an extremely sensitive source” about the Kosygin–Chou En-lai meeting to Helms, Rogers, and Mitchell. According to the FBI source, “both Kosygin and Chou feel it would not be in the best interest of either country to terminate the Vietnam conflict at this time. Both feel that the Vietnam conflict is keeping the United States tied up in that area and that it is bleeding the economy of the United States to support South Vietnam.” On September 17, a senior CIA analyst informed the Deputy Director of Current Intelligence of his “grave reservations about the accuracy and value of this [FBI] report.” Discrediting the origin of the FBI report and its substance, the analyst concluded that “we do not think that the Sino-Soviet relationship is of the kind that would have allowed either side to discuss future plans on Vietnam as this report alleges.” Apparently, the FBI information was discounted in the writing of the attached CIA analysis. An official routing slip to Helms from the Deputy DCI of September 18 reads as follows: “This came in over the weekend—as the contents are nothing really new I did not think it necessary to bother you.” (Ibid., Job 80–R015080R, Box 12, Soviet)↩