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

  • SUBJECT
    • US-Soviet Discussions on Rules of Conduct at Sea

The US in 1968 offered to discuss with the Soviets methods of reducing incidents at sea between our Navies, such as buzzing and interference during maneuvers.2 The Soviets have now accepted this invitation, and have proposed opening discussions in Moscow in late March or early April.

State has just informed me that it has accepted the Soviet proposal, and that our team will be headed by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, with a Navy officer as deputy.3 There has been no NSC or White House involvement in this course of action.

There are several sensitive issues involved in this situation: military, intelligence, legal and also the views of our Allies and significant third countries. There is also a weighty political impact.

In order to avoid uncoordinated US contacts and negotiations with the Soviets, you approved in early January the establishment of the NSC European inter-departmental group (IG/EUR) as the body responsible for this coordination.4 It was to report to the Senior Review Group, so that all NSC members and you would be promptly and properly appraised of significant issues for decision.

This system was not employed in this case. Indeed, this matter, involving so many agencies and sensitivities, is almost a classic example of what the new system was designed to treat. It is important to put these US-Soviet negotiations back into the proper NSC channel.

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The NSSM at Tab A directs that the NSC IG/EUR should submit to the SRG by March 1 a study of the issues and alternatives, and a negotiating plan for these US-Soviet talks. If you approve, I shall dispatch this NSSM.

Recommendation

That you approve the dispatch of the NSSM at Tab A.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–181, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 119. Secret. Sent for action. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft to Kissinger on February 10 with the comment: “Frankly, I find it incomprehensible how State could have decided to undertake what amounts to negotiations with the Soviets on a very sensitive subject—without seeking White House approval for doing so, or at the very least notification prior to acceptance of the Soviet offer.” Sonnenfeldt, therefore, recommended that Kissinger either sign the draft NSSM or raise the issue informally with Irwin. “Since the decision between these alternatives turns in part on your relations with State,” he added, “I find it difficult to offer a recommendation as between them.” (Ibid.) A note and attached correspondence profile indicate that the President saw the memorandum from Kissinger on February 19.
  2. For background on U.S. attempts to initiate private talks on the subject, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV, Soviet Union, Documents 266 and 284.
  3. Eliot briefed Kissinger on the proposal in an attached February 3 memorandum.
  4. See Document 87.
  5. Haig initialed the President’s approval of this recommendation. Kissinger signed NSSM 119 to Rogers, Laird, and Helms on February 19. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 365, Subject Files, National Security Study Memoranda (NSSMs), Nos. 104–206) The deadline for the interagency response, which was set for March 8 in the memorandum, was extended several times at the request of the Department of State. (Memoranda from Davis to Eliot, February 27 and March 15; ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–181, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 119)