142. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

I asked for the meeting in order to hand Dobrynin the redraft of the letter drawn from some elements of the Soviet version and some elements of our version (Tab A).2 Dobrynin changed the language to substitute the words “strategic offensive weapons” for “offensive strategic missile launchers.” (The reason is probably to avoid limitations on hardening and perhaps building new silos in replacement of old ones (Tab B).3)

Dobrynin then said he would forward the letter to Moscow and have an answer in a few days. There would be a government meeting [Page 414] on it on March 18th. He asked me whether the freeze had to be negotiated prior to the ABM agreement. I said no, that it should be handled simultaneously, but that it would not go into effect until both were signed.

Dobrynin then asked me what was intended by the lifting of the travel restrictions to Communist China.4 I said they were routine. He said he noticed that travel restrictions were lifted towards Communist China, but not towards Cuba. I said this must be because we are trying to drive a wedge between Cuba and China. Dobrynin smiled sourly.

Dobrynin then asked me philosophically why we were so interested in limitations on offensive weapons. After all, the Soviet Union was offering us an equitable arrangement of defensive limitations. Why were we so interested in getting limitations on offensive weapons? We were greatly increasing the number of our warheads to a point where individual launchers were not really so significant. Dobrynin said that if several of our MIRVs were targeted on one silo, this would increase the probability of destruction of the silo considerably, even if the individual warheads were smaller. Under those conditions, he did not see what advantage the Soviet Union gained by building a few extra offensive missiles. (He was presumably implying that these offensive missiles had only single warheads.)

At any rate, I told Dobrynin that our assessment was that our MIRVs did not increase the destructive potential of our offensive forces while the large size of their warheads made their weapons a particular danger to our land-based missiles. I told him, however, that I would be prepared to discuss this as a philosophical issue when we met for lunch. However, I told him that the linkage between offensive and defensive limitations had to be maintained.5

  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. According to another copy, Kissinger and Young drafted the memorandum of conversation on March 18. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 58, Country Files, Europe, Berlin, Vol. 2 [1 of 2]) Kissinger then forwarded it and a memorandum summarizing its “main points” to Nixon the same day. 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, the meeting lasted until 1:17 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. Attached but not printed. Before his meeting with Dobrynin, Kissinger discussed the American draft letter in a telephone conversation with Sonnenfeldt. A transcript is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File. See also Document 148.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. On March 15, Charles W. Bray III, a Department of State spokesman, announced that the United States would not renew previous restrictions on the use of American passports for travel to China. For the text of the announcement, see Department of State Bulletin, April 12, 1971, p. 510.
  5. Kissinger called Dobrynin at 3:08 p.m. on March 16 and reported that he had just talked to the President about SALT. The Soviets, he reiterated, should not “misunderstand that we will agree to ABM only. He [Nixon] will not unless it’s in the context of the letter.” After noting that Nixon had confirmed the latest changes to the letter, Kissinger reminded Dobrynin that his remarks at the end of their meeting that afternoon were “philosophical,” and not intended to imply that “our views were less firm.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File) No evidence has been found that Kissinger talked to the President on March 16 about his conversation with Dobrynin that afternoon. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule)