96. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Dobrynin’s Message

Taken as a whole, Dobrynin’s presentation2 was a rather standard Soviet indictment, although moderate in tone. Most of the points in the Soviet complaint against us have recently been made by other Soviet officials and in the Soviet press. It may well be that this is how the Soviet leaders in fact see our conduct; and they are partly correct: we have by and large kept aloof and held our ground on such issues as the Middle East (Golda Meir to the contrary notwithstanding) and Europe. But we have probably not done as well as we should in communicating to the Soviets that their behavior in Vietnam stands in the way of better relations. Your presentation may help to get this message across more clearly.

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I suspect Dobrynin’s basic mission was to test the seriousness of the threat element in our current posture and to throw out enough inducements (SALT, Berlin, direct informal contact with you) to make it politically and psychologically difficult for you to play it rough over Vietnam.

Even though some of Dobrynin’s points are valid in the sense that they reflect understanding of our cool attitude, many others are pure Soviet propaganda fare. I doubt that we need to pay attention to complaints about NATO or about our failure to act in accordance with World War II “obligations.” By the same token, it is curious that certain of our alleged “sins” were omitted, e.g. our supposed arms buildup as reflected in the Safeguard decision.3 It may be that having agreed to SALT, the Soviets considered it inexpedient to get into polemics in this field.

Specific Points of Interest


Vietnam. The main point here is Soviet acknowledgement of our allusions to possible military actions. Their response was relatively mild (“shortsighted … extremely dangerous.”)4 But there is no doubt they are concerned and your comments might just give them ammunition to use in Hanoi in lobbying for a more flexible position. The Soviets may argue in Hanoi that only a token concession—especially when magnified by our press—would be sufficient to dissuade us from drastic action or give us a pretext to back away from our warnings. We should probably find a way to signal that token concessions would be inadequate. In any event, it will be essential to continue backing up our verbal warnings with our present military moves.

On the substantive Vietnam issues, I could find nothing new in Dobrynin’s presentation. He did repeat recent Soviet references to a “speedy”—he actually used “speediest”—peaceful settlement, and asserted that their Vietnamese friends favor this too. Even if that is so—and Pham Van Dong who just completed a visit to Moscow may have given the green light for use of the phrase—it gives us nothing to go on in the absence of concrete adjustments in the Communist position.

Berlin. The Soviets again agree to talks with us but give no indication whatever that these might lead to the improvements we seek. As you know, there has also recently been an offer by ourselves, the British and French, with FRG support, to talk to the Soviets. They agreed in much the same vague terms used in Dobrynin’s text. I think we should not encourage the notion of bilateral US-Soviet talks on Berlin at this stage. The Soviets would use them to stir up suspicions [Page 291] among the Allies and to play us off against each other. I believe we would do best to keep this issue in the quadripartite forum for the moment and not to press too much ourselves. Since there may be a misunderstanding of our position in Moscow (you first raised the possibility of talks in your Berlin speech5 and then in your letter to Kosygin last March),6 we should probably tell the Soviets that we are not now interested in bilateral talks.
China. The Soviets again give vent to their underlying suspicion that we are trying to flirt with China in order to bring pressure on them. They warn us “in advance” that any such idea can lead to grave miscalculations and would interfere with the improvement of US-Soviet relations. You have already answered this point and I believe there is no advantage in giving the Soviets excessive reassurance. In any case we should not be diverted from our China policy.
Middle East. The Soviet text reflects current Soviet pessimism. We do not of course know how much trouble the Soviets have had with the Arabs over the Sisco talks. They may genuinely think we have not exerted enough pressure on Israel. It is doubtful that the impasse can be broken.
Direct Contact with You. Dobrynin’s final point was obviously intended to keep a direct line open to you. I think we can take this as a signal that for all their complaints and accusations, they remain interested in normal relations.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Part 1. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See Document 93.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 93.
  4. Ellipsis in source text.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 23.
  6. See Document 28.