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


  • Bill Rogers’ Conversation with Gromyko

On the basis of the summary of the talk in the attached telegram (Tab A),2 it does not appear that important new ground was broken. Most significant perhaps was Gromyko’s assertion that following earlier Soviet optimism about US-Soviet relations, our subsequent decisions on ABM and MIRV3 had raised “some doubts” in Moscow. This has come to be a standard Soviet theme, although other Soviet spokesmen have tended to cite our China policy and the Romanian trip4 as sources of Soviet “doubts.” I think Bill did well to cite the Soviets own testing of the SS–9 and of new ABMs. But I think we need to do more to make clear to the Soviets that our major problem with them is their support of Hanoi’s stonewalling.

Basically, I think we need not be particularly concerned about Soviet professions of “doubts” about us because of our defense program. Moscow is well aware of the debates in this country. They realize that our strategic program has stood still while theirs has progressed rapidly. Comments like those by Gromyko are chiefly designed to provide arguments for our critics and to put us on the defensive. The major obstacle to SALT indeed may be not that we are building up our forces but that we are not. Thus the Soviets may feel they have little to gain from talks.

On specific subjects, the following points are worth noting:

SALT. Gromyko intimated that the Soviets might soon propose “preliminary” talks. This presumably refers to talks about such things as an agenda and other modalities. It is hard to say whether this caution [Page 255] is due to problems of decision-making in Moscow or reflects a Soviet judgment that we are, or should be, more eager about SALT than they. In any case, we should probably accept preliminary talks, if the Soviets propose them and I will make sure that the Under Secretaries Committee of the NSC, which is charged with backstopping SALT, will prepare the necessary contingency papers for your review.
Berlin. Gromyko showed some interest in bilateral talks with us. You had hinted at this possibility in your letter to Kosygin last April.5 The Soviets undoubtedly sense a good deal of Western interest in talking about Berlin, especially in the SPD and FDP in Germany which may form the next government in Bonn. In fact, even if one could make a case that the Soviets might be interested in a modus vivendi, there are no signs that they will be prepared to buck the GDR’s continued interest in keeping the situation unsettled. Negotiations, whether bilateral US-Soviet or four power are therefore likely to encounter a rigid Soviet-GDR position, while we, especially if Brandt became Chancellor, would be under pressure from our allies to come up with “constructive” proposals. And in Berlin our negotiating position is weak; the other side holds all the cards. We thus have no interest in pushing Berlin negotiations at this time, although we will undoubtedly come under pressure to do so and may in the end have to go along.
Middle East. Gromyko clearly showed interest in continuing US-Soviet contacts and these have been going forward in New York on the basis of the documents exchanged during the summer. He stressed the “urgency” of the subject, an attitude that is at least to some degree genuine in view of Soviet anxiety over the possibility of new full-scale hostilities in which they might again have to confront the awkward choices of how to bail out their defeated clients. Presumably with Mrs. Meir’s visit6 in mind, Gromyko urged the greater use of our influence in Israel. Despite Gromyko’s assurance that the Soviets would do everything possible toward a settlement, it remains quite doubtful that their definition of a settlement corresponds to ours.
NPT. Gromyko seemed not to foreclose the possibility of joint US-Soviet ratification as we have repeatedly proposed. The Soviets will presumably decide on their course after the German election of September 28. (Brandt told Gromyko that the FRG will sign if the SPD wins the election. I think if the SPD leads the next coalition, this will be the case.) I understand that people at State are thinking of a major ceremony with full TV coverage in the event the Soviets agree to joint ratification, and Bill apparently discussed this possibility with [Page 256] Gromyko and UK Foreign Secretary Stewart. I think this kind of exercise would carry overtones of “condominium” and we would do well to avoid excessive atmospherics.
Bilateral. Gromyko again expressed interest in an agreement to permit Soviet merchant ships to put into US ports. This subject is under review and in principle probably should be decided favorably. But we will want to time any decision carefully so that it fits into our overall policy.

All told, I do not believe that the conversation warrants the optimistic interpretation that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post of September 247 which was based on US backgrounding in New York.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 280, Agency Files, Department of State, Vol. III. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information.
  2. Tab A is telegram 3165 from USUN, September 23, summarizing Rogers’ talk with Gromyko on September 22; the memorandum of conversation is Document 81.
  3. At a news conference on March 14, Nixon announced his decision to move forward with the ABM program, which included a Safeguard system, a modified version of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Sentinel system. Safeguard called for 12 separate sites for area missile defense, 19 radars, and several hundred interceptor missiles. The Nixon administration also decided to continue MIRV testing. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 208–216)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 65.
  5. See Document 28. On April 22, Beam presented Nixon’s letter to Kosygin.
  6. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir visited Washington September 25–27.
  7. The Washington Post carried a cover story entitled “U.S.-Soviets Talks Buoy Americans,” by Chalmers Roberts.
  8. At the bottom of the page, Nixon wrote: “K (eyes only) It may become in our interest for the Israeli to heat things up in the Mideast—The Soviet could be more embarrassed by this than we would be.”