121. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Dr. Kissinger
    • Ambassador Dobrynin

I asked Dobrynin to call on me at the White House in order to get the conversation started. I behaved in a deliberately aloof but correct manner.

[Page 354]


I started the conversation by handing him a sheet of paper (copy at Enc. #1)2 stating that we considered the presence of the submarine tender in Cienfuegos for such an extended period a violation of the understanding. Dobrynin asked what I wanted him to report to his Government. I said, “Let’s not play any games, Anatoliy. You will report to your Government whatever you choose to report, and what I recommend to you will not have the slightest effect on it.” He said, “Is this a personal note from you or is this a message from the President?” I said it had been personally approved by the President and should be construed as a verbal note from the President to the Soviet Government. Dobrynin folded it and put it, without comment, in his pocket.


I then said I was prepared to discuss the letter that Dobrynin had said we might send to Kosygin (copy at Enc. #2).3 Dobrynin corrected my statement by saying I had proposed the letter.4 He had merely agreed to it. I said, it is true, I had proposed the letter, but he had suggested that at our next meeting—which was today—I should have a draft. Dobrynin agreed with that formulation.

Dobrynin read the draft very carefully and then asked me a number of questions; for example, with respect to paragraph 5.c.,5 he asked what was the meaning of the phrase that there could be no new construction started after April 1. I said since there was a limit of no construction of any sort after January 1, it seemed to me that this was self-explanatory. Since the Soviet Union would not be able to finish anything that they started after April 1, it wasn’t probable that they would start anything. Dobrynin said it would be easier for them to accept the terminal date than the starting date; in other words, they would agree not to do any construction of any kind after January 1, 1972. Dobrynin [Page 355] also questioned whether it was realistic to propose an agreement on offensive weapons be reached by July 1, 1972. I agreed that that could be extended to January 1, 1973. Dobrynin suggested that we eliminate the two paragraphs on MIRV’s, since it was self-evident that these would be permitted. He also questioned paragraph 6.c.6 in its context because he thought that this would be a better explanation for paragraph 7,7 rather than it by itself and, in any case, it was up to the discretion of each side whether it wanted to give such a list.

Dobrynin also questioned whether it was better to have a five-year expiration clause or whether we could have it in the same manner as the nuclear test ban with both sides having the right to abrogate when their supreme national interest was involved. I told him this would certainly be a fair counter-proposal to make by their side. Dobrynin did not question the three missile sites but suggested that the Soviet Union might come back to NCA limitations. Dobrynin suggested that he would have a massive translation job to do that night and promised me an early answer. He said he thought this should be well wrapped up before March 15.


The discussion then turned to Berlin. I told Dobrynin that I had heard from both Bahr and Rush 8 and that I was prepared to tell him that the United States would be willing to accept a unilateral Soviet assumption of responsibility which would then be absorbed in the third part of the agreement of a Four-Power guarantee. Dobrynin said that this was a considerable step forward, but could I give him a draft. I said since we had accepted the principle, why did the Soviet Union not make a draft. He said it would be easier if we made a draft, because then at least they knew what was acceptable to us, while if they made one, it would become a big issue.

Dobrynin then said we should also include the principles we considered necessary since I had said that we would accept the Soviet assumption of responsibility only if the principles were acceptable. I [Page 356] said that since the principles would still have to be implemented by the two Germanys, I would simply take the principles from the Four-Power note which I knew were agreed. Dobrynin suggested that perhaps I might incorporate one or two of the Soviet principles simply to preserve a degree of symmetry. I told him I would have to check with Bahr and Rush.

Dobrynin then turned to the question of Federal presence. He again urged that I come up with some formulation that the Soviets could react to, and that they were in a mood to be conciliatory. I said that this was a most delicate point and it would be much better if the Soviet side could come up with a generous proposal on access because it would help us talk to Bonn on the question of Federal presence. He said that the Soviet problem with the East German Government was exactly the opposite of ours with Bonn and that therefore I should give him some formulation. I said I could not give him any written formulation, but I would see whether I could elicit some talking points which we might discuss. Dobrynin reiterated the Soviet extreme eagerness to come to an understanding on the question of Berlin.

Middle East

Turning to the Middle East, Dobrynin said that the offer to discuss it in the bilateral channel was still open. He said, “You notice, we have not interfered with you in the slightest, but we do not believe that it can come to any good end.”


Dobrynin finally turned to a message he had from Hanoi. He said he had transmitted my comments of January 99 to Hanoi in the form of thinking out loud but not as an official position. Hanoi had made the following reply:

—To judge whether there was any possibility of making an agreement separately on military questions, they would have to know what date of withdrawal we were thinking of.
—Our recent actions in Indochina made them question whether we were interested in a political solution and whether we still did not seek a military solution.
—They were prepared to resume conversations with me in Paris.

[I had told Dobrynin on January 9 that at some point, if Hanoi were willing to separate military from political issues, we might be prepared to set a target date for our withdrawal, provided there was a ceasefire that lasted through 1972 at least and provided that there were serious talks. In that connection, I had told Dobrynin that I was astonished [Page 357] that in my talks with the North Vietnamese they had treated me like any other American negotiator and had given me exactly the same speeches that they had given other American negotiators.]10

Dobrynin offered to transmit any reply that I might care to make to Hanoi, which is the first time to my knowledge that the Soviet Union has made such an offer. I told him we would have to think about his proposition and I would have to report it in detail to the President.

  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 7:15 to 8:25 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Kissinger forwarded this memorandum of conversation and a memorandum summarizing it (as well as the memorandum of his conversation with Dobrynin on February 16) to Nixon on February 27. A note on the summary memorandum indicates that the President saw it. For Kissinger’s memoir account, see Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 814, 826.
  2. The text of the attached enclosure reads as follows: “The U.S. Government understands that the Soviet Union would not establish a base in Cuba and would only conduct occasional visits of a courtesy or ceremonial nature of ships capable of carrying offensive weapons or capable of servicing such ships. The fact that a tender capable of servicing offensive nuclear sea-based systems has been in port or in the vicinity of Cuba 125 of the last 166 days cannot be considered to meet either the letter or the intent of your assurances or of our understanding.”
  3. Attached but not printed; relevant excerpts, however, are provided below. See also Document 148.
  4. See Document 110.
  5. The text of paragraph 5.c., under the heading “Strategic Offensive Armaments,” is as follows: “It would also be understood that as of an early agreed date, for example, April 1, 1971, all new construction of land-based ICBM launchers would cease. It would also be understood that work to complete launchers under construction could continue for another agreed period but would in any case cease as of January 1, 1972.”
  6. The text of paragraph 6.c. is as follows: “However, in connection with an initial agreement I would plan to inform you, as part of the associated understanding, of the indicators by which we would judge your activities and which, in our view, would raise questions concerning our security interests. You would, of course, be free to provide me with a similar list of indicators concerning the Soviet Union’s judgment of activities on the part of the United States.”
  7. The text of paragraph 7 is as follows: “Apart from the inherent right to abrogate the agreement, each side would of course be at liberty to take such steps with respect to its own weapons programs as are not explicitly precluded by the agreement, or the understanding associated with it, and which it deems necessary to safeguard its security interests in the light of qualitative and other changes in the other side’s strategic weapons programs.”
  8. See Document 111.
  9. See Document 90. See also footnote 7, Document 103.
  10. Brackets are in the original.