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

    • My Recent Conversations with Dobrynin

As you know, this past week I met and talked with Ambassador Dobrynin several times. We made significant progress on SALT and Berlin and covered several other topics. Attached at Tabs I and II respectively are full records of our March 22 and 25 meetings.2 Following are the highlights of these sessions and several phone conversations.


On March 26 Dobrynin finally received instructions from Moscow on SALT and passed us a note (Tab III)3 which accepts in principle the freezing of strategic offensive weapons but with details to be discussed after reaching an ABM agreement. After talking with you on the plane I phoned Dobrynin with our position that there should be simultaneous discussions of an offensive weapons freeze and a separate ABM agreement.4 Dobrynin will consult the Soviet leaders on the formulation that the details of a freeze would be discussed simultaneously with the conclusion of an ABM agreement. He cautioned that there might be some delay in getting a response because of preoccupation with the Party Congress.

I also raised our bureaucratic problem of getting this approach into formal channels before we could instruct our delegation. I told Dobrynin that we were open to any reasonable proposition and suggested two: (1) through an exchange of letters or (2) with your answering a question at a press conference or a formal statement and the Soviet Union responding through a TASS statement. He said he would check this out in Moscow.

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Dobrynin and I had several conversations on Berlin, proceeding from the draft Soviet text of an agreement which he had given us in advance of the formal Soviet tabling at the Four-Power talks on March 26. As you know, I have been in constant contact with Ambassador Rush in order to give Dobrynin preliminary comments on the Soviet draft which Rush will now parallel in his formal negotiations.

On March 22 I told Dobrynin that on some points the Soviets followed the concept of our February 5 draft and had made some progress. A number of items gave us difficulty, however, and I gave him some partial comments based on suggestions from Ambassador Rush (attached at Tab I A and I B).5 These concerned FRG-Berlin ties and the authority of the Western powers in the Western Sectors; commitments by the other side on access and inner-Berlin improvements; and some other drafting changes designed to strengthen Berlin’s status, Soviet commitments, and the Western Powers’ authority.

On March 25 I also handed Dobrynin some specific formulas on access, inner-Berlin arrangements and Federal presence that Rush had sent me. (I C)6 Dobrynin asked for clarification of our comments on the Soviet draft, in particular whether they covered all our objections. I explained that I was not conducting negotiations, but was just giving him the general sense of our reactions. Dobrynin probed specifically on issues of Federal presence and Soviet commercial representation in West Berlin:

  • —I made clear that Soviet movement on access arrangements was required for our movement on Federal presence. While certain prohibitions on Federal presence would probably not be acceptable, I said we would make every effort to move toward the Soviet position if they became more flexible on access. Dobrynin maintained that the Soviet commitment on access in their March 26 draft was verbatim what we handed them in our draft. After checking with Rush, I later told Dobrynin that we would compare the drafts on this issue.
  • —I said that a Soviet Consulate General in West Berlin was unacceptable, and that anything that had a diplomatic status was probably not acceptable. Dobrynin said that this presented a major problem for the Soviet Union since obviously every enterprise was a State enterprise and their representatives abroad were State officials. He also wondered whether Soviet missions would be given non-discriminatory treatment. After consulting Rush, I later indicated to Dobrynin that we [Page 477] could agree to an increase in Soviet commercial offices and that we would give them equal, non-discriminatory treatment.

We also discussed how Ambassadors Rush and Abrasimov could proceed. I suggested that at the next meeting of the four Ambassadors, on April 16, Rush could request a private meeting with Abrasimov at which he would follow essentially the same points that I had already given Dobrynin and also work out any procedures they might wish for additional meetings. I emphasized again to Dobrynin the necessity to maintain the secrecy of our channel. (We have had indications that Abrasimov has been indiscreet on this subject.)

Ambassador Rush’s full comments on the Soviet draft are at Tab I D.7

Middle East

On March 22 Dobrynin expressed his Government’s “extreme concern” to resume discussions with us and said that they remain extremely interested in serious talks with me. In response to this request for my personal views, I said that I thought that moving ahead on the Suez Canal opening might gain time for discussion of a more fundamental settlement. I thought that Israel would probably not yield on Jerusalem, the major part of the Golan Heights, and some very significant security arrangements and guarantees in the Sinai.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

On March 25 I pressed Dobrynin hard for Soviet responses, saying that we would be making fundamental decisions after the middle of April. I told him we would not tread water and would move in one direction or the other. I said the presence of the submarine tender in Cuba does not improve our relations, and pointed out that there was no answer to our SALT note and that nothing had happened on a Summit.

Dobrynin replied that he could not understand our concern about the tender, since it was not doing anything. He said that SALT involved complex decision-making in the Soviet bureaucracy (as indicated above we did make progress on this issue after the March 25 meeting). He thought that the Soviet leadership firmly planned a Summit and asked if the first week of August was still acceptable. I replied either then or the first week of September, but in any event I would have to check this with you. If there were to be a Summit, I pointed out, there would have to be some progress on SALT and we would need an announcement reasonably soon. Dobrynin said the announcement was no problem.

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Dobrynin pressed me repeatedly on March 25 for a possible communication for him to carry to the North Vietnamese leaders who would be in Moscow for the Party Congress. I declined to give him any specific message, repeating that if Hanoi wants to talk seriously that I was ready. I pointed out that we have always been ready to talk seriously to Hanoi, but its representatives had never said anything in their conversations with me that differed from what they had already said publicly in Paris. Thus unless there were really something to talk about I could not go beyond what I told him on January 9, namely that a separation of political and military issues was a possible negotiating approach. Dobrynin said he would communicate this; he thought the Soviet Government was prepared to relay messages.

Soviet Decision-Making

On March 22 Dobrynin made some interesting comments on the Soviet decision-making process in foreign policy:

  • —In the Soviet system junior people are rarely asked for their advice; Brezhnev and Kosygin, for all practical purposes, never consult anyone other than Gromyko or Kuznetsov.
  • —They do discuss all significant foreign policy issues in the Politburo. Brezhnev generally decides the agenda; every major Soviet communication going abroad is treated, with messages to Washington always given high priority. There is no vote in the Politburo but rather a discussion guided by Brezhnev. He states what he takes to be the consensus; if there is significant disagreement Gromyko prepares another note and the matter is automatically taken up in another Politburo meeting. These sessions always take place on Thursday, with special meetings held only on the rarest occasions, on matters of extreme urgency.
  • —No Politburo member, not even Brezhnev, can take any unilateral decision. This was different under Stalin who would make the decisions; he sometimes asked the Politburo to ratify them but he never really consulted. It was extremely dangerous to contradict Stalin, particularly if you were a senior official.
  • —Those on the Politburo who have an interest in foreign policy do not number more than five.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 5 [part 1]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Nixon and Kissinger were both in San Clemente. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Documents 149 and 154.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 160.
  4. See Document 161.
  5. See Document 149 and footnote 5 thereto.
  6. See Document 154.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 149.