135. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

Dobrynin set up the meeting urgently and it was held early in the morning because he was leaving for New York. Dobrynin began the conversation by handing me a draft letter from the Soviet Government (Tab A)2 in reply to the letter on SALT I had handed him on February 17 (Tab B).3 Dobrynin asked me what I thought of it.

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I replied that, of course, I would have to discuss it with the President, but my first reaction was that this was merely a restatement of the maximum Soviet position. We could not agree to an ABM-only agreement. We could also not agree to discuss a “freeze” only after an agreement had been made. It would seem to me that the only way we could make progress is by agreeing in principle on a “freeze”—then negotiating the agreement and then going back to the details of the “freeze.”

Dobrynin said that the best way to proceed would be for me to draft the version of what sort of a letter would be acceptable to us. I replied that I had trouble enough drafting documents for the U.S. Government; I could not draft them for the Soviet Government as well. Dobrynin then suggested that I perhaps redraft our original document in a more general way, keeping in mind that perhaps the Soviet Government did not want to commit itself now to any specific dates for implementing the “freeze.” I told him I would have to discuss it with the President.

Dobrynin then raised the Berlin issue and asked whether I had anything new to tell him. I said that we were waiting for the Soviet reply to our access proposal. Dobrynin said it would be a lot easier for them if we could give them ground on Federal presence. I said that we had gone over this before—that it would be a lot easier to sell the reduction of Federal presence in the Federal Republic if the Soviet Union made it worthwhile by being generous on an access agreement, and they still had every hedge in the sense that it was a package deal. Dobrynin said they were in exactly the opposite position with the East Germans.

We agreed to meet again on March 15 at 4:00 p.m. in order to discuss our draft reply.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Part 5 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted on March 16. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum of conversation and a memorandum summarizing its “highlights” to Nixon on March 18. A note on the summary memorandum indicates that the President saw it. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, it lasted until 8:55 a.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. Attached but not printed. In a memorandum to Kissinger on March 12, Sonnenfeldt assessed the draft letter as “unyielding and, if I understand your previous exchanges correctly, even a step backward.” “I must confess,” Sonnenfeldt added, “that while not ruling out the bargaining theory, we may in fact have a real power play in which the Soviets are simply stonewalling on a manifestly inequitable deal on the assumption they have us at a real disadvantage from which we cannot dig ourselves out.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Part 5 [part 2]) See also Document 148.
  3. Attached at Tab B is the draft letter Kissinger gave Dobrynin on February 22; see Document 121.