139. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

Dobrynin began the conversation by handing me a very much abbreviated version of his original reply (Tab A).2 This eliminated all the references to an NCA type agreement, and also to the subsequent discussion. It was in much more general terms. I told him that this, too, was not acceptable because it did not link offensive limitations to defensive ones—that we considered it highly improper for the Soviet Union to ask us to stop deploying the only strategic weapon which we were building while we had irrefutable evidence that they were embarked on a new strategic weapons program. Dobrynin then asked me what I proposed.3

I handed him the draft of a letter which I had brought with me (Tab B).4 Dobrynin said this was still too complicated and he suggested the following compromise—that we take the Soviet letter together with whatever additions we wanted to make.

I said that for cosmetic purposes I had the following suggestions: we should take the first page of our letter, then the operative sentences [Page 407] of the Soviet letter plus paragraph 3 of our letter. Dobrynin suggested deletion of the last paragraph of our letter, plus the last sentence of paragraph 3 which fixed the duration of the agreement. Dobrynin also said that the Soviet hesitation to accept a fixed date for the end of construction was due to the fact that they were afraid they might be stuck with the end of the construction even if we didn’t come to an agreement. I told him this was not our intention, and we could make the date contingent on the fixed period after the signature of the ABM agreement.

We agreed that I would call him the next day (March 16) to tell him whether these changes were acceptable to us, and the Soviet Union would then reply in the manner indicated and get it in its own draft plus paragraph 3 of ours minus the last sentence.

Dobrynin then turned to the issue of Berlin and raised again the issue of access versus Federal presence. When I told him that it was impossible to make further progress there, he said it would certainly help if he could go back to Moscow and at least show some progress on the issue of Soviet presence in West Berlin. He might then be able to sell an answer on the access procedures in return for some increase in Soviet presence in West Berlin.5

Dobrynin said that at the moment all the negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States were in his confidential channel with me. He particularly urged that I give him some indication of our Middle East thinking. The Soviet Union had been very patient in this regard, but if we did not move soon, they would have to do something. I told him I never wanted to be in a position of negotiating with him without being able to deliver what I promised. Dobrynin said if I could only give him some indication of how we viewed the situation, there would already be progress. I said I would discuss it with the President.6

Dobrynin then suggested it would be helpful to have a tour d’horizon before his departure. We fixed that for 1:00 on March 19th.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 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 5:18 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. Attached but not printed. In an unsigned and undated note, Sonnenfeldt assessed the differences between this and previous draft letters. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4 [part 1]) See also Document 148.
  3. During a telephone conversation at 11:45 a.m., Kissinger told Nixon that the “clobbering” the West Berlin Social Democratic Party received in elections the previous day would “make the Soviets more eager to use our channel.” The two men then briefly discussed the backchannel diplomacy: “K: I’m seeing Dobrynin this afternoon. P: At 4:30? K: At 4:00. But this won’t make any difference. P: I would put it pretty damn tough. Say here it is fellows; it’s not a bargaining position—we’ve thought it all through. If they don’t like the deal, fine. K: They are asking us to dismantle our ABM while they keep theirs and build like crazy while they do nothing.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File)
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. “It was indicative of how eager the Soviets were for progress,” Kissinger later recalled, “that Dobrynin immediately offered a compromise: some Soviet presence in West Berlin—for example, a consulate—in return for a Soviet guarantee of access. This seemed to concede the definition of Federal presence put forward by the allies on February 5.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 826)
  6. According to the President’s Daily Diary, at 8:04 p.m. on March 15 Kissinger called Nixon, who had just returned to Washington from a three-day vacation in Florida and the Virgin Islands. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No record of the conversation has been found.