110. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

Dinner lasted about 2 1/2 hours and was conducted with extreme cordiality despite the fact that Vietnamese troops had invaded Laos with U.S. air support two days earlier. Laos was not mentioned directly or indirectly nor was the Indochinese conflict. Dobrynin conducted the conversation in a very precise way. It was divided into segments, which were taken up in the following order:

The Middle East

Dobrynin asked whether I was prepared to give him an answer to his question that he and I discussed in a preliminary way about the Middle East.2 I said the President had authorized me to discuss with him what he had in mind, and I suggested again that he and Sisco resume their conversations.

Dobrynin said that he was very reluctant to talk with Sisco because he considered the outcome foreordained. I then told him that if they were eager to talk about the opening of the Suez Canal, I could proceed on this immediately because I had some indication that we might be prepared to use our influence with the Israelis for a partial withdrawal to achieve this objective. Dobrynin showed no interest in this at all. He said, “Yes, this is a partial step and if the Egyptians want it, we would be willing to go along but it was not a principal Soviet objective.” He said that my message to that effect had been communicated to the Egyptians and had been reflected in the Sadat proposal. But Dobrynin did not indicate that this was a primary subject for our channel. On the contrary, he said he was most eager to begin talking [Page 325] in our channel about the basis for a settlement, specifically, how to phrase specific recommendations for Jarring—to give Jarring something to talk about. I asked how he proposed to proceed with this. He said that the Soviet Union had accepted all of our proposals on the guarantee side, and now the issue was for us to tell them what we were prepared to give on the withdrawal side. It seemed to him that those were the only worthwhile issues and that Jerusalem could be left for later.

I said that I had mentioned to him that we had a special problem with the Golan Heights. Dobrynin replied that he had heard this in the previous conversation, but he had pretended to ignore it because he wished that it not be raised at this moment.

He returned to the issue of the Soviet proposal of June 1970. He repeated that the Soviet Union had, in effect, accepted all of our proposals and he recommended that I go over the list of the Soviet positions to tell him which were not acceptable and which needed to be strengthened. I mentioned that it seemed to me that to ask for an international force on both sides of the border might be too difficult for the Israelis to accept.

Dobrynin said, “But, Sisco has already accepted it.” Nevertheless, if I wanted to re-raise it, he would be glad to transmit it to Moscow. He said the major problem was for us to give him some clear indication of what frontiers we were willing to ask Israel to return to. This could then be included in a package with the Soviet proposal for guarantees for peace and for control of the Fedayeen; it was the only possible procedure. The Arabs had said very often that they would not make a direct statement of their commitments until there was an Israeli withdrawal, and they were using the Soviet Union to express their commitment. He, therefore, proposed that I go over the list of outstanding issues and that we concentrate on those that were not yet agreed to.

I said I would have to take up the matter with the President. Dobrynin was obviously puzzled by my reluctance to engage myself and repeatedly urged me to make sure to attempt to use my influence. I told him there was a particular bureaucratic problem, an argument he simply rejected. We deferred this issue until a later meeting.


Dobrynin asked me what answers I had for him on the Berlin issue.3 I said that I had discussed the matter with Bahr and also with [Page 326] Rush,4 and we had worked out a procedure of communicating so that I would know the German position as well as the position of our principal negotiators. Whenever I saw him, I would try to be informed of these two positions. If Dobrynin and I agreed, we could then introduce it first into the four power western context and then into the four power negotiating context. Dobrynin asked me what specifically Bahr had been prepared to give on the issue of Federal presence. I said that Bahr had not been willing to go beyond what had been offered in the document that had been submitted to Abrasimov—that is to say, the constitutional organs should not meet in Berlin. Dobrynin indicated that this would not be satisfactory. I said that at some point there had been a discussion about committees and meetings of the parliamentary party groups, but that the Germans had been unwilling to accept that. Dobrynin said he could not understand how committees could meet if constitutional organs were excluded. I said that committees not being mentioned in the constitution were not considered constitutional organs. Dobrynin said that if the Bundestag was a constitutional organ, its committees had to be. I told him this was not the German interpretation, and Dobrynin said that this was legalistic word-picking.

Dobrynin then asked about the formula by which the German Ministries were to be put under the plenipotentiary of the Federal Government in Berlin. He said that, too, was not acceptable. I said removal of the Ministries was not acceptable to us. He asked, “Well, then, what is the compromise?” I said the only procedure on this issue was for us to query Bahr and Rush and to defer it until the next meeting. We would use our influence for a constructive solution, but a constructive solution depended on some agreement on accesses, Bahr had told me. A great deal, therefore, depended on what the Soviets were prepared to give on access. Dobrynin said he could not understand our point of view on access. We constantly came to the Soviets with a number of principles. The Soviet Union would probably be prepared to grant many of those, but he and I had to recognize that what governed access was not principles, but some detailed technical procedures. Why could we not let the Germans talk about these? I said I was sure that the Germans could talk about these as soon as the basic principles were agreed to and if the agreement between the two Germanys were to be expressed in some common guarantee.

Dobrynin said there was one difficulty with the principles. We were asking the Soviet Union to agree to the Four Power responsibility for access to Berlin; however, this put the Soviet Union into the same difficulty, as if they were demanding participation in the responsibility [Page 327] for West Berlin. The Soviet Union had agreed that we could express our responsibility in the form of a Three Power declaration, and Dobrynin wondered whether we could not be satisfied with a Soviet expression of responsibility for access in the form of a unilateral Soviet declaration of what the Soviets understand the GDR’s views of the principles of access to be—which would then be included in the general guarantees. I told Dobrynin that this sounded like a distinct possibility. [I based this on a meeting of the Senior Review Group in the afternoon in which I had studied fall-back positions and Hillenbrand had indicated that this was our fall-back position on access.]5 I told him I would query Rush and Bahr and let him know the answer at our next meeting the following week. Dobrynin asked whether he should report this to Moscow. I said that was entirely up to him. Dobrynin said that Moscow found it very hard to understand how somebody in my position could say that he thought something was reasonable without committing himself completely. When Soviet diplomats said something, they always were sure that their government was 100 per cent behind it. I said I was sure about our governmental position but, before making a commitment, I wanted to make sure what the Germans thought about it since we did not want to be in a position of squeezing our own allies. Dobrynin said this was acceptable and we would review the situation next week.


Dobrynin then asked again whether our proposal foresaw only a numerical limitation or also a limitation on modernization. I said as I had presented it, it foresaw a limitation only on numbers. Dobrynin then asked whether we included land-based systems only or sea-based ones as well. I said we were prepared to do either. Dobrynin then asked me whether I had any particular length of time in mind if an agreement on ABM should include a commitment to negotiate offensive limitations. I replied we had no particular time limit in mind, but something like 18 months to two years would be acceptable.

Dobrynin then made the following statement. He said he had been authorized by the Politburo to convey to the President that the Soviet Union wanted a SALT agreement and the earlier the practical result, the better. The Soviet leaders agreed to a formal agreement on ABM. They preferred an agreement that was limited to capital cities, but they were willing to consider an agreement that included some missile sites on our side and the capital city on theirs.

[Page 328]

They wanted an agreement that was confined to numbers and did not preclude modernization. They were prepared to include in this agreement a commitment to undertake serious negotiations to bring about offensive limitations, and they were open to proposals as to the length of time. They were prepared to discuss sea-based systems, but they preferred not to do so at this point. The Soviet leaders were also prepared to accept a freeze on land-based construction as part of a tacit understanding, and they wondered how that might be expressed. I asked whether the Soviet leaders might be prepared to agree to a zero ABM level. Dobrynin said he doubted this. Dobrynin said that the Soviet leaders would prefer an agreement confined to capital cities—(1) because it seemed more symmetrical, and (2) because if we were limited to three missile fields and they to the capital cities, the Soviet public would think we got the better of the deal, and there had to be something else involved. I laughed and said that anyone who knew him and me would automatically assume that he had gotten the better of the deal. As to the intention to proceed with offensive limitations negotiations, I asked Dobrynin whether they were dealing conditionally—that is to say, would in his view the ABM agreement lapse if the negotiations did not succeed. He said no, it should be expressed not as a condition but as an expression of intention. I asked Dobrynin whether the freeze would lapse after 18 months or whatever limit was specified. Dobrynin said no; the freeze on offensive deployments could continue until an agreement on offensive limitations was signed. Dobrynin then asked me whether I had any ideas on how we could formalize the freeze. I said there would have to be something in writing lest it lead to a series of misunderstandings. Dobrynin suggested also that we come to an understanding prior to March 15 or the resumption of the SALT talks, so that the negotiators could be instructed to work out the detailed agreement.

I proposed the following procedure. Either the President would make a public speech to which the Soviet Union would reply or the President would write a letter to Kosygin to which the Soviet leader would reply, and the exchange could then become a statement of principles. Dobrynin said he liked the idea of the letter, and he suggested that we proceed at the next meeting by my giving him a draft of the letter which he could then transmit to Moscow and which we would then agree to settle on by the end of the month.

The Summit Meeting

Dobrynin indicated that if we followed this process, the agreement would be negotiated in its essential aspects at Vienna and signed at the Summit Meeting to which the Soviet leaders wanted to renew their invitation. Dobrynin asked whether I had gotten any clearer idea about the date of the Summit Meeting. I said the last week of July or the first week in August seemed reasonable. Dobrynin said the second week in [Page 329] August was good weather in Moscow. I said that we had no fixed idea of the precise date, though the period of the last 10 days of July or the first 10 days in August still seemed the best to us. I asked Dobrynin for how long he thought the meeting should last. He said three days in Moscow. I mentioned that perhaps the President might want to visit another Soviet city. Dobrynin responded very aloofly and said he would have to consult Moscow. I did not pursue the matter.

Dobrynin then handed me a note from President Podgorny containing congratulations for the return of the astronauts.6 He also mentioned to me that he had been authorized to have technical discussions with Gerry Smith on the problem of improving communications between our two countries in case of accidental launches, a proposal which we had made at Vienna. He asked me whether he should notify Smith or whether this communication to me could constitute official notification. I told Dobrynin that I would let him know.

The meeting ended with an agreement that we get together again next week to pursue further the question of Berlin access and also for me to submit to him a draft letter on SALT.

  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; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy. Brackets are in the original, which was drafted on February 16. David Young forwarded the draft memorandum and another summarizing its “highlights” for the President to Kissinger the next day. After Kissinger corrected the text, Haig initialed the memorandum for the President on Kissinger’s behalf on February 22. Notes on both memoranda indicate that the President saw them. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger left the White House at 8:10 p.m. for his “dinner meeting” with Dobrynin. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. See Document 105.
  3. The Western Allies formally tabled a draft Berlin agreement on February 5. For the text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 173.
  4. See Document 104; footnote 3, Document 106; and footnote 2, Document 107.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 177.
  6. Dated February 10; attached but not printed.