99. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger

I began the conversation by saying that the President had wanted to make sure that Dobrynin understood the speech2 properly: (1) the President wanted to point out the seriousness of the threat in case of escalation; (2) that Dobrynin should not be confused by the various arguments he had heard with respect to linkage—we considered linkage a fact and not a policy, and foreign policy was made in the White House and nowhere else; and (3) the President wanted to reiterate that we were in favor of major improvements in Soviet-US relations but not until considerable progress had been made on the Vietnam issue.

Dobrynin said with respect to the first question that they had made their point of view clear and that any escalation by us would have dangerous consequences. I told him that we had taken it into account and that anything we did would not be directed against the Soviet Union, they were the best judge of their own interests and would have to decide what to do when the time came.

With respect to the second point, he said he had no illusions about the linkage problem, and he saw not much point in repeating our well-known position. I said I just wanted to make sure that he understood and was not confused by the conflicting statements he read. I pointed to the Izvestia article, which had called attention to these statements. Dobrynin said Izvestia had only repeated what the factual situation was and had not made any editorial comments. I did not argue the point, in the belief that propaganda was one thing and their assessment of their policy was another.

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With respect to the third point, Dobrynin said that his government was now beginning to understand the seriousness with which we took the position we had indicated, and had given up the illusion that they had held earlier in the year that major progress was possible even while the Vietnam war was going on. He added a little plaintively that he could not understand our attitude because the Soviet Union was not making trouble for us in Vietnam; they were not trying to embarrass us; but they could not get us out of a war into which we had gotten ourselves. I said I thought our position was clear, and there was no sense reiterating it.

Dobrynin told me that the NLF was looking at our position from the point of view that any election would be won by the government organizing it, and that we were trying to get at the conference table what we had failed to get on the battlefield. I said that we had specifically rejected such a proposition and that they knew very well that we were prepared to discuss with them how to organize the political process—they even knew how to do it.

I told Dobrynin I had been intrigued by a comment he had made the last time I had seen him; namely, that Hanoi had found the conversation with me constructive. What was it that they had considered constructive in that conversation? Dobrynin said that they found my attitude and my personality constructive—not the specific proposals which they thought repeated well-known themes.

The meeting ended with an understanding that we would meet again in about two weeks, the initiative to be left with Dobrynin.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The conversation was held in Kissinger’s office. Kissinger sent this memorandum of conversation to the President under a November 24 covering note. (Ibid.)
  2. On November 3, Nixon gave an address to the nation on Vietnam that was broadcast on national television. The address came to be known as the “silent majority speech,” for Nixon’s appeal for support for his policy from “the great silent majority of Americans” to counter the large-scale anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon , 1969, pp. 901–909. For additional background information, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 144.
  3. On November 6 at 4:35 pm, Kissinger and Rogers spoke on the telephone about this meeting: “K said he [Dobrynin] didn’t have very much. He came in and talked about this linkage problem and I just said to him what the President had said before. K said he would write it up and send it to R. He told D that it is a fact of life that there is some relationship but it is conditional. Rogers felt that that was the way to play it. … Rogers said we have never laid down any conditions on SALT. On the other hand, if we are actually having confrontation in the Middle East, it would be difficult to engage in meetings with friendly atmosphere in Helsinki. K indicated that D had come in to get clarification in his own mind since something had been mentioned in Time magazine 6 months ago that K had that concept. Rogers said it might be helpful if he knew when K was having these meetings. K said he would call next time.” (Transcript of Telephone Conversation, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Records, 1969–1976, Telephone Conversations) (Ellipsis in source text)