115. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Dr. Kissinger
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Soviet submarine in Cienfuegos Harbor

I made an appointment with Dobrynin on the first day back from Key Biscayne as soon as I had word that the submarine tender and a nuclear submarine had returned to Cienfuegos.

Dobrynin began the conversation in a very jovial mood and asked me whether any progress had been made on Berlin. I told him I had received some answers on Berlin from Bahr and from Rush,2 but I was in no position to proceed because I had a particular matter to discuss about Cuba.

I said that Soviet behavior puzzled me. At the precise moment that we began conversations leading toward a Summit, a Soviet submarine tender and nuclear submarine appeared in Cienfuegos Harbor. We had made it very clear that we would not tolerate the servicing of nuclear attack submarines in or from Cienfuegos Harbor. We had also made it clear that we considered a submarine tender as constituting an essential element of a base, and here it was back.

Dobrynin rejoined that this was only a port call as the Soviets had told us would take place,3 and he could not understand why every time a Soviet ship showed up in the Caribbean I called his attention to it.

I said that I wanted to insist once more that this was a matter of good faith. The submarine tender had not been gone from Cuba for 30 days before another submarine tender appeared. If the Soviet Union [Page 338] wanted to provoke a crisis, I could understand it, though I would have expected them to provoke a crisis in an area which was more advantageous to them.

Dobrynin asked whether I was saying that every time the Soviet Union appeared in Cuban waters they had to give an account to us.

I said that the matter was perfectly simple. The submarine tender in Cienfuegos, together with the installations that already existed there, represented an essential element of a naval base and was, therefore, contrary to our understanding. Dobrynin wanted to turn the conversation to Berlin. I said I was not prepared to discuss it until I had some explanation on the naval base and on the submarine tender.

Dobrynin said that this would be construed as very arrogant in Moscow. I replied that in the United States their behavior was construed as being very provocative. He said, “Will you be prepared to talk again on Friday?”4 I said I doubted it. Dobrynin said he had a message from Hanoi, but under the circumstances, he was prepared to wait with it. I said that it was entirely up to him whether he wanted to deliver it.

Dobrynin said it was a pity that matters had reached this point, and we had to remember that their military people also presented certain problems. I said I was assuming that each side would take care of their own people, and the meeting broke up in a rather chilly atmosphere.

  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 in the Map Room at the White House. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted from 3:15 to 3:55 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Kissinger forwarded the memorandum of conversation and a memorandum summarizing it (as well as the memorandum of his conversation with Dobrynin on February 22) to Nixon on February 27. A note on the covering memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. See Document 111.
  3. On February 6, Izvestia published the following TASS announcement: “In February a detachment of Soviet warships completing a training voyage in the Central Atlantic—a large anti-submarine ship, a submarine, a supply ship and a tanker—will make an official visit to ports in the Republic of Cuba in accordance with an agreement.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 6 (March 9, 1971), p. 31)
  4. February 19.