148. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • Exchanges on SALT with Dobrynin

Following is a brief summary of the course of my discussions with Dobrynin and, in particular, of the evolution of the draft letter of agreement which the Soviets now have in hand in Moscow.

1. On February 17, after having had a prior oral discussion of the terms of an agreement on how to proceed in SALT, I handed Dobrynin a draft text of a letter from you to Kosygin.2 This presented in some detail the elements of an agreement which would serve as instructions for the SALT negotiators.

The essence of this document was that we would be prepared to proceed with an agreement on ABMs provided such an agreement included a commitment to negotiate by an agreed date (e.g. July 1, 1972) and agreement to limit offensive strategic weapons. In addition, and [Page 424] most important, there would be an associated understanding on an offensive weapons freeze under whose terms new construction of ICBM launchers would cease as of April 1, 1971 and no ICBM launchers under construction could be completed after January 1, 1972. The freeze would not affect modernization or replacement of missiles within the frozen number of ICBM launchers. On ABMs, the draft proposed that the agreement be based on the Soviets keeping the Moscow system and our keeping and finishing the three already authorized Safeguard sites around Minuteman fields.

Finally, this draft said we would inform the Soviets of the indicators by which we would judge Soviet strategic weapons activities and which would be of concern to us in terms of having to take countermeasures.

The formal agreement, the draft suggested, would have an initial duration of five years.

Dobrynin made a number of comments on some of the formulations and, in particular, saw no need for a prohibition of new ICBM starts as of April 1 as long as there was a stoppage of completions as of January 1, 1972. He also thought that the commitment to complete an offensive weapons agreement should be for January 1, 1973 rather than July 1, 1972. His other comments concerned explanatory language included in my proposed draft which he did not think necessary but which I had deliberately included to provide the Soviets with the rationale of our proposal.

2. Dobrynin did not respond until March 12, when he handed me the Soviet version of a draft letter.3

This document proposed a separate ABM limitation this year with each side defending its capital. Only after such an agreement were the Soviets ready “in principle” to “discuss the question” of freezing offensive strategic weapons, with the caveat that modernization and replacement of weapons would be permitted. The Soviet text also provided that the ABM agreement would have a clause obligating us to continue active negotiations on offensive weapons. It did not include a commitment to reach agreement. Apart from the call for a separate ABM agreement this year, no dates were mentioned in the Soviet document.

The Soviet paper in effect was a repetition of their formal SALT position and gave no ground on our requirement for an early offensive freeze. It did, however, broaden our freeze language to include strategic offensive weapons generally, not simply ICBMs. (We, of course, are mostly concerned about the SS–9 and possibly newer large missiles.)

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I made clear to Dobrynin that the Soviet text did not advance matters. He indicated that a shorter version of our February 17 draft would be easier to handle in Moscow where the specific dates we proposed could not be readily focused on before the Party Congress. We agreed that each of us would attempt to draft shorter and more generally phrased versions.

3. On March 15, Dobrynin gave me a one-page draft simply calling for instructions to the SALT delegations to draw up an ABM agreement which would also include an obligation to continue active negotiations on offensive weapons.4 But there was still no reference to a freeze or to an eventual negotiated agreement covering offensive weapons. Again no dates were mentioned. However, the Soviet text dropped the definition of the ABM agreement as involving defense of capitals.

4. Meanwhile, I gave Dobrynin my shorter version.5 It provided for an ABM agreement, if possible, this year which would include the obligation to also reach an offensive weapons agreement by a fixed date to be agreed. (This removed the previously specific date of January 1, 1973.)

In addition, according to my text, there would be an understanding associated with the agreement under which no additional strategic offensive missile launchers could be brought to completion as of a fixed date to be agreed. This differed from my earlier version by not stipulating the effective date for the freeze as January 1, 1972. It also broadened the freeze to include not only ICBMs but other types as well, i.e. Soviet Y-Class submarines. As before, modernization and replacement would be permitted. The text also said that the freeze understanding would be superseded by a formal offensive weapons agreement as soon as one enters into force. The purpose of this was to make it harder for the Soviets to break out of the freeze, especially, of course, as regards SS–9s.

The text also included abbreviated language indicating that the ABM agreement would include radar limitations and that the geographic definition of where each side could maintain ABMs would be settled in the negotiations. In other words, I did not repeat the three Safeguard/Moscow formula. (In the meantime, Gerard Smith had been instructed to put a four Safeguard site/Moscow proposal to the Soviets in Vienna. This should give us some bargaining room while we seek to obtain further information on, and make additional analyses of the significance of the newly-discovered Soviet missile construction.)

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5. On March 16, in the light of further discussion, a still more abbreviated version of the US text was worked out.6

The first point was that the SALT delegations would be instructed immediately to work out the text of an ABM agreement, with the precise nature of the limitation to be settled in the negotiations. The reference to an agreement “this year” was dropped in view of the “immediate” character of the instruction to the negotiators.

Secondly, the text provided that the ABM agreement would contain an obligation to continue negotiations and reach agreement on limiting strategic offensive weapons. This essentially met our point that the ABM agreement contain as an integral part the commitment to reach an offensive agreement. The reference to a fixed date was dropped but the Soviets know from the earlier texts that the absence of an agreement after a lapse of time could serve as cause for abrogation of the ABM agreement.

More important, however, the March 16 text included a provision that there would be an understanding that strategic offensive weapons would be frozen at the level of a fixed date to be agreed. Again, modernization and replacement would be permitted. But in this version, to avoid letting the Soviets “replace” old ICBMs with SS–9s, there was a stipulation that replacement could only be by weapons of the same category.

Before this final version of the freeze provision was agreed, I had proposed the formula that “no additional offensive strategic missile launchers would be brought to completion after a fixed date to be agreed”. But Dobrynin preferred the broader reference to a freeze on “strategic offensive weapons”. Since “freeze” is defined as applying to a level as of a fixed date, this change did not change the substance.

However, we still face in the negotiations the problem of how to define “strategic offensive weapons”. The Soviets may seek to include bombers and forward-based systems in Europe, Asia and on carriers. We would continue to reject any such definition if its effect were to inhibit our present forward deployments and alliance commitments.

I am now awaiting Dobrynin’s official response to this draft which we jointly worked out. If it is positive, I would propose to hand him an oral note making clear that the ABM agreement would not be initiated until the provisions for the offensive freeze, including the date on which it would take effect, were settled. This will mean, in effect that negotiations on defining the terms of the freeze will run essentially concurrently with the formal negotiations of the ABM agreement.

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The text, as it now stands, is of course only an agreement in principle. The details of the ABM agreement will have to be worked out. But the present text meets our essential requirement for coupling an offensive freeze with any ABM agreement.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Kissinger/Dobrynin, 1971, Vol. 5 [part 2]. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of the memorandum to Kissinger on March 19. Kissinger wrote “Excellent!” in the margin of the draft and a handwritten note indicates that it was “sent forward” on March 22. (Ibid., Box 880, SALT, SALT Talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIV) A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Kissinger gave Dobrynin the draft letter for Kosygin on February 22. That version of the letter, however, had evidently been revised on February 17. See Document 121.
  3. See Document 135.
  4. See Document 139.
  5. Also at the March 15 meeting; see Document 139.
  6. See Document 142.