103. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
    • Henry A. Kissinger, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The meeting took place at Ambassador Dobrynin’s urgent request. He called as soon as he had returned from consultations in Moscow on January 21st2 but the session could not be scheduled due to my trip to Chicago on the 22nd. This meeting was perhaps the most significant that I have had with Dobrynin since our conversations began.

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Dobrynin started the conversation by saying that he hoped we had noted the treatment Senator Muskie had received. I said nothing. First, he said Senator Muskie had spent four hours with Premier Kosygin, to be sure, but that an hour of that was consumed with the introduction by Governor Harriman of his grandchildren. Secondly, it must have been noticed that Kosygin mentioned nothing to Muskie that could not be read in the newspapers. I replied that it did seem to me that Kosygin had not been too communicative but I made no further comment.

Dobrynin then said that he just returned from the most extensive US-Soviet relations review that he could remember since he has been Ambassador. He saw Kosygin for four hours and Brezhnev for five hours. He spent all morning with the Politburo and long days with Gromyko in the Foreign Office. He said he kept my schedule which is reported in the newspapers, working 15 hours a day while he was in Moscow. Having ended the unofficial part of our talk, he then said he would get into the official part.


Dobrynin, who spoke almost uninterruptedly far the whole meeting, made the following points. He said he had been instructed to raise again the Summit meeting and to suggest a specific date, namely the second half of the summer. I asked what that meant, if that meant September. He replied that in the Soviet Union this meant July or August, but, of course, if we preferred September he was certain that this would be acceptable. He had the impression, however, that the Soviet leaders were leaning towards July without wanting to make an issue of it.

Dobrynin said that he had been instructed to reaffirm that the agenda submitted in our communication of August3 was acceptable and that this agenda should be prepared in private conversations between him and me prior to the meeting. The meeting should have as its purpose the positive improvement in US-Soviet relations and should not deal only with general expressions of goodwill. Therefore the Soviet leaders were interested in having some concrete achievement recorded at the meeting. Dobrynin said the meeting should also have as its purpose not only bilateral relations but issues of benefit to all the countries of the world. When I asked what that meant, Dobrynin said this was a ritualistic phrase which had to be put in in order to avoid the charge that we were establishing a condominium. He said I should not pay any attention to it.

Dobrynin added that the Soviet Union would reduce its press campaign and that it expected that we would show great restraint about [Page 305] the Soviet Union in the media, insofar as we had any influence, and particularly in our briefings. He said both sides should show some restraint in the interval before the summit.

Dobrynin then turned to the specific topics that I had raised with him.


He said first on the issue of Berlin the Soviet leaders wanted to reaf-firm their readiness, already expressed in the January 6, 1971 communication4 which was delivered in San Clemente, to have Dobrynin and me conduct our conversations in this channel. This feeling had been reinforced by a conversation that Bahr had had with Falin (Soviet Ambassador-designate to Bonn) in which Bahr had said he was an old friend of mine; and secondly both Brandt and Bahr believed that I was the only person who understood German conditions well enough to break through the logjams created by our bureaucracy. Dobrynin thought that we should not hold up a Berlin agreement until the Summit, but rather if possible achieve one before then. He wanted me to know that the Soviet Union would approach Berlin negotiations with the attitude of achieving an objective improvement of the situation and not of worsening our position. It expected, however, that we would pay some attention to their specific concern. Dobrynin said that he had been instructed to tell me that my concern that there had to be some appeal to the Soviet Union or some acknowledgment of Soviet responsibility and Four-Power responsibility for access to Berlin was being most carefully studied in Moscow. An attempt would be made to find some consultative four-power body that could play a useful role. Dobrynin said he was prepared to have an expert come from Moscow to help with these talks without, however, necessarily telling the expert what he was here for. I told Dobrynin that I would have to proceed by first talking to Bahr and then talking to Rush and that I would be in touch with him in two or three weeks after these consultations had been completed.


Dobrynin then turned to SALT. He said that my observations had been studied with the greatest attention in Moscow. While no final decision had been taken he could assure me that there was considerable sympathy for the approach. He had been instructed, however, to ask a number of questions first. First, when I spoke of a freeze on deployment, did I mean quantitative only or did I include qualitative? I replied that since it would be impossible to verify qualitative freeze I meant quantitative only.

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Secondly, Dobrynin asked, when I had spoken of an ABM agreement had I meant the Washington-Moscow system only or had I included zero ABM or perhaps stopping at the existing sites as I had already mentioned to him? I responded that frankly we had not made a final decision on this but that we were openminded on those three approaches. We were prepared to negotiate a zero ABM agreement if they were prepared to tear down their existing installations. We had also proposed an NCA agreement and lately we had taken some interest in an agreement confined to three sites on our side and the Moscow system on their side. Dobrynin said that he had advanced this in Moscow. He had to tell me honestly that the political people found it easiest to have a Moscow-Washington agreement and that the military people had at first not understood the three-site-Moscow agreement but had now begun to study it sympathetically. All he could tell me was that none of these three possibilities was excluded and that the Soviets were prepared to be very constructive.

Dobrynin continued that the major problem in fact was the issue of forward-based aircraft. I said it was obvious that we could not upset the strategic balance by forward deployments of aircraft. This might be handled more easily under a tacit arrangement pending negotiations, although we could not accept limitations on carrier deployment under those circumstances. Dobrynin replied that he did not have any firm instructions but the tentative thinking of Moscow was that a SALT agreement along the lines of what I had proposed to him should be concluded at the Summit; that preparatory work for it should be done by Dobrynin and myself; and that the Vienna negotiations, in order to show some progress, might conclude an agreement on accidental war. I told him that we did not want the provocative attack issue handled in this forum and he said he understood. However the question of accidental war was simple and could be handled in that forum. I told him I would have to check with the President.

The Middle East

Dobrynin then turned to the Middle East.5 He said the Soviet Union did not believe that our present procedure could lead anywhere. He said that a deadlock was inevitable in his view, and he wanted to assure me that the Soviet Union was prepared to make a realistic agreement. The Soviet leaders were extremely interested to have him discuss this with me. I replied that we might prefer to have it discussed between Sisco and him. He expressed extreme distaste at this prospect. [Page 307] He asked if I could at least give him some indication of what we thought on the issue of guarantees in order to avoid the danger that we might get into a confrontation situation at the Four-Power talks. I told him that I would see if I could talk to him about it during the week but I would have to check with the President.

Dobrynin in summing up said this could be the most important year in US-Soviet relations. He and his leaders were convinced that whatever progress was to be made had to be made this year: it was their experience with election years that nothing ever occurred of any significance and then the first year after the election, if there is a change of Administration, nothing occurs either. So they believed this is the best year to make significant progress.

European Security Conference

Dobrynin stressed Moscow’s continuing interest in a European Security Conference. He said it would be helpful if we agreed to a meeting of Ambassadors as proposed by Finland in Helsinki6 before the summer. I replied that we should not bite off too much at once but that I would report to the President.


Dobrynin then turned to Vietnam briefly. He said he wanted me to know that the general observations about the possibility of separating military and political issues had been transmitted to Hanoi without comment and without recommendation, but they had been transmitted.7 It had occurred only a few days ago, however, and no answer had as yet been received. I said that I hoped he understood that the President was deadly serious when he said that we would protect our interests in Vietnam and that we would handle those matters separately. He responded that Soviet leaders understood this up to a certain point, but beyond that the Soviet leaders would have to react whether they liked it or not. I said I understood that if we landed troops [Page 308] in Haiphong the Soviet Union would have to protest. He responded that we could be sure they would have to protest. I said that they could be sure that we were not going to land U.S. troops in Haiphong. Dobrynin smiled and said that he hoped that Indochina would not be an obstacle. He implied strongly that in its present framework it would not be.


I then said to him that he must understand the extreme delicacy of the bureaucratic situation in which these matters were being handled. Total discretion was essential; if this failed we would simply have to interrupt this channel and he would have to take his chances through ordinary procedures. I said I had no illusions about his willingness to play various elements off against each other but this could not work. Dobrynin replied that he had never done that and he would not do that in his own self-interest. I told him to make sure that no matter what his diplomats picked up elsewhere it did not come from knowledge of our conversations, because I talked only to the President about them.

I asked Dobrynin when he thought a Summit should be announced. He said this was a very easy matter and could be settled anytime. I suggested that first we make some progress in these talks and then we would see. When Dobrynin left he said, “So the future of Soviet-US relations is in our hands, and I want you to know we are going to make a big effort to improve them.” On this note we parted.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the White House. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum of conversation and a memorandum summarizing its “highlights” to Nixon on January 27. A note on the summary memorandum indicates that the President saw it. (Ibid.) According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted until 11:30 am. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) For memoir accounts of the meeting, see Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 804–805; and Dobrynin, In Confidence, p. 211.
  2. Dobrynin called Kissinger at 6:05 p.m. on January 21. After a few pleasantries, the two men agreed to meet in “the usual place”—presumably the Map Room—on January 23 at 10 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 27, Dobrynin File)
  3. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 198.
  4. See Document 83.
  5. Kissinger summarized this exchange on the Middle East in his “highlights” memorandum to the President on January 27. Nixon marked the section and wrote the following instruction in the margin: “K—see what he [Dobrynin] has in mind.”
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 38.
  7. According to two Vietnamese authors, Soviet Ambassador to North Vietnam Serbakov delivered an informal message from Kissinger to North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong “[a]round the end of January.” The message included the following passage: “If the US undertakes to withdraw all its forces by a certain time limit and possibly does not demand a simultaneous withdrawal of DRVN forces from SVN […], the North Vietnamese should undertake to respect a ceasefire during the US withdrawal plus a certain period of time, not too long, after the US withdrawal; that is the important point. (Kissinger does not specify how long this period will be).” Pham Van Dong told Serbakov on February 3 that there was nothing new in Kissinger’s message, which began with a threat. He reiterated, however, that the North Vietnamese were prepared to meet Kissinger again to present their position. (Luu Van Loi and Nguyen Anh Vu, Le Duc ThoKissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 165–166) See also Document 90.