14. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Henry A. Kissinger
    • Ambassador Dobrynin

The meeting came about because Dobrynin called me from New York to say that Gromyko wanted to discuss with me the arrangements for the meeting between the President and Gromyko.2 This had been based on a suggestion by me that, when the President met the most senior Soviet leader he had up to now encountered, there should be no surprises and both sides should know what to expect.

After Dobrynin made some jokes about my attendance at a football game in the afternoon, I asked him how the meeting between Secretary Rogers and Gromyko had gone the day before.3 Dobrynin told me the main topics of conversation which paralleled what Sisco had already told me.4

He said on the Middle East there wasn’t much new. Both sides restated their familiar positions and it was at a deadlock.

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On Berlin, he had the impression that the Secretary didn’t really understand the subject very well. Gromyko had stated the Soviet position which was that they did not object to economic ties but did object to political ties to West Germany. He said Rogers had let the matter simply pass and there had then been a desultory exchange between Rush and Abrasimov.

There had been very little on the European Security Conference.

On Vietnam, Gromyko had probed to find out whether we had any interest in a coalition but he had found out from the Secretary that there was no real progress to be made in that direction. Dobrynin said the reason for this probe was not because the Soviet Union wanted to interject itself into the negotiations but because they would undoubtedly be asked by the North Vietnamese what our position was and they wanted to make absolutely sure. They had been told by the North Vietnamese that the only thing that they were interested in was a coalition government.

I said we shouldn’t play games with each other. They weren’t asking for a coalition government; they were asking for a thinly-veiled takeover. They wanted to determine the membership of the PRG contingent in a coalition government and have a veto over the two components—from the Saigon administration and from the other element. They would accomplish this by saying that they had to stand for freedom, peace, independence, and neutrality. But only they knew what peace, independence, and neutrality meant. They also gave themselves another out by saying “genuinely” standing for peace, independence and neutrality. Dobrynin said I might not believe this but the Soviet Union genuinely had no interest in exacerbating the relationship but they also knew that they had no real influence with the North Vietnamese. Therefore, they were functioning primarily as a communication contact. I said I felt they had some influence but I wasn’t going to press the subject.

We then turned to the meeting between the President and the Foreign Minister. I asked Dobrynin with what mood Gromyko was going to come to the meeting. Was it going to be a list of recriminations or were we going to be in a constructive mood? Dobrynin said that Gromyko’s basic thrust was going to be to try to find out where we might go from here rather than looking into the past. I said this was our attitude, too, and I wanted them to know that our speech at the United Nations would be very conciliatory. Dobrynin said theirs probably would not be since the decisions had been made three weeks ago and since the Soviet Union felt it had to reply to the charges that had been made against it. I said they were the best judges of their own speeches but it would not create the best possible framework. Dobrynin said he would transmit this to Gromyko.

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Dobrynin then launched into a long explanation, repeating the argument he had previously made, that the Soviet Union had not been a party to the ceasefire and therefore could not be charged with violating an agreement. I said that this was a good legalistic argument but meaningless practically. Dobrynin knew very well that we had assumed that the Soviet Union would honor the ceasefire. If Dobrynin had come to the Secretary at the end of July and had said that there would be a Soviet attitude such as developed, we would certainly not have pursued the course we did. I didn’t care what the Soviet Union said for the record, but when he talked to me, he couldn’t use such legalistic arguments. They were bound to undermine our confidence. I said if one added to it the situation in Cuba one had to understand our mistrust. Dobrynin said we might not believe it but this whole issue was not on the front burner in Moscow. Moscow was absolutely shocked when it was accused of bad faith. At first their leaders didn’t believe that we were serious but now they have cranked up a retaliatory campaign which will gain momentum in the next few weeks. I said this would not auger well for US-Soviet relationships.

We then discussed the Gromyko visit with the President. Dobrynin said that in the past Gromyko had opened the conversation by asking the President how he wished to proceed and the President had then indicated the topics that were to be covered. I said this would be agreeable with us, that Gromyko would probably cover the major themes in this oral note that had been handed to us;5 specifically inquiring whether we had made a determination to move into a hard line with the Soviet Union. I told him that while I could not answer for the President I could say that our reply would almost certainly be that we had not made the decision but that Soviet actions were giving us some pause. If we were not to move into a direction that would lead to increasing difficulties, this was the moment to reverse course. But this required a specific work program and precise ideas. Dobrynin then said the other topics which would be discussed were the Middle East, SALT, Europe and if we wished, Southeast Asia. Gromyko would not raise it with us.

On the Middle East Dobrynin said Gromyko would raise the three points that he had mentioned to Rogers. That is to say he would recommend a resumption of the Jarring talks, a continuation of the ceasefire and restarting the four-power talks. Dobrynin said he wanted it clearly understood that he was not confining the Soviet position to three points, that four or five would be acceptable, also. That above all, the Soviet Union was eager to get the political talks started again. I asked what four [Page 45] or five points they might have in mind. Dobrynin said this was just a figure of speech to enable us to put forward other propositions.

Dobrynin said that on Berlin the Soviet Union would maintain the position that it favored economic but not political ties between West Germany and West Berlin. I said this came very close to the old free city idea. Dobrynin said this had always been their position.

On SALT Dobrynin said that not much needed to be said since the negotiators were reassembling.

On Vietnam it was up to us to make a proposition.

After we had counseled the catalogue I asked Dobrynin how he proposed to handle the Summit. Dobrynin said that Gromyko was willing to mention that the Soviet leaders looked at a Summit positively and that they were suggesting Moscow as a site. I answered that we would then accept in principle depending of course on what had happened previously in the talk. Dobrynin said then the only thing left to do was to set an agenda, etc. I said it was important to handle the agenda in the following way. He and I would work out the general principles and the details would then be shifted into the Department, but the basic principles and subjects would be handled in this channel with me. Dobrynin said it might be useful for the President to repeat this to Gromyko privately. I said that I would raise with the President the possibility of seeing Gromyko for a few minutes after the meeting ended. This could be done by suggesting to him that he would show him the little office he had adjoining the main office.

Dobrynin asked whether the President would give an answer to the Mideast proposals of Gromyko. I said it was unlikely that the President would want to get into the details of the negotiation which would be handled by the Secretary of State but he might indicate a general procedure which we might follow. I told Dobrynin that I thought it very fortunate if there were an attempt to simply debate seeking to push Israel into negotiations at this particular moment. He said that the Soviet Union felt the same way but the Arabs were adamant and they didn’t know whether they would be able to restrain them. I said that in that case I just wanted him to know that this would make it very difficult for us since we would have to back the Israeli view on the standstill violations and that it would simply degenerate into a name calling session.

Dobrynin said that he wanted us to understand that the Soviet system worked differently from the American system. Decisions were made over a longer period of time because the process was more complicated and adhered to more rigidly and for a longer period. He said that he had been very much impressed by the existence of an office such as mine in which all the major activities were pulled together and he had been urging Moscow to install the same thing in the Kremlin. [Page 46] However, it wasn’t clear under which leader to put it or what way to operate it, and no major steps had been taken in that direction.

The meeting then broke up.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted until 7:15 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1969–76) Kissinger recalled in his memoirs that this meeting with Dobrynin “turned somewhat acrimonious.” “In addition to his customary litany of American errors,” he wrote, “[Dobrynin] said that Gromyko had come to find out whether we had made a decision to adopt a hard line. I told him that he would find the President prepared to explore the prospects of a happier future.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 793)
  2. Dobrynin, who was with Gromyko in New York for the session of the United Nations General Assembly, called Kissinger at 12:17 p.m. on October 14. “On the big question,” Dobrynin reported, “he [Gromyko] is prepared to discuss the question we discussed together—summit.” During a subsequent telephone conversation at 1:40 p.m., the two men—who had in the meantime consulted their superiors—agreed to schedule the meeting between Nixon and Gromyko for 11 am on October 22. Kissinger also reminded Dobrynin: “The other thing is on the big subject you said he would raise, we would prefer your not discussing it prior to meetings you will have.” (Memorandum from Haig to Sonnenfeldt, October 14; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko, 1970) The “other thing” was presumably a summit announcement. As Haldeman recorded in his diary: “Plan is for P[resident] to meet Gromyko [on] the 22nd, then announce Summit for next year on the 29th. Another good maneuver before elections.” (Diary entry, October 14; Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  3. See Documents 16, 19, and 21.
  4. See Document 13.
  5. Not found.