189. Memorandum of Conversation1

Lunch Meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin, April 23, 1971, 1:00 p.m., Map Room

I invited Dobrynin to lunch when he called me for an appointment upon his return from Moscow.2 The conversation was cordial but businesslike. Dobrynin began the conversation by saying he had read the [Page 548] accounts of the Party Congress with great interest. He did not read in them a particular direction or new departure in foreign policy. On the contrary, he thought it in effect reaffirmed the direction of the previous Party Congress; that is to say, it stated a general proposition vis-à-vis the United States which would have to be given content by the Soviet Government later. However, it was in general to be stressed that the Soviet Union desired to improve relations. Dobrynin added that he thought the composition of the Politburo had not changed, contrary to what Western newspapers had said. The four new members had been candidate members previously and had attended the meetings. The fact that Kosygin followed Podgorny in the rank order was of no significance but reflected only the higher offices in the state that Podgorny occupied. It was clear that Brezhnev was the stronger figure but then the Party Secretary had always been strong. He had until recently not been as interested in foreign policy as some of his predecessors but this was beginning to change.

We then turned to current matters. I first asked Dobrynin what had happened to the private meeting between Abrasimov and Rush.3 Dobrynin answered that Abrasimov had had the impression that Rush was evading him. He had left early from a lunch that he had attended and at which Abrasimov had intended to ask him for a private meeting. [Note: I consider this very improbable. If Abrasimov had been instructed to have a private meeting, he would have found a way of making this known.]

We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin pulled out of his pocket a draft reply to a proposal of the President which conceded most of our points except for the Safeguard/Moscow arrangement. [A copy of the Soviet letter is attached at Tab (a).] I told Dobrynin that we would have difficulty accepting a Moscow/Washington exchange. Dobrynin said that it would be politically very difficult in the Soviet Union to accept it on any other basis. He said it would be hard to sell to the Politburo, that we could protect weapons while they had to protect their populations. He said that this might look like a cover for improving our ability to attack them.

I said this was wrong on two grounds. One, if we wanted to attack them we did not need to protect the missiles. The missiles were protected against an attack by them and therefore it was clearly a defensive [Page 549] intent. Secondly, the Soviet ABM ring around Moscow did protect 500 of their missiles. Dobrynin said this was nonsense, that no Soviet missiles were within a hundred kilometers of Moscow. I said I did not say they were within a hundred kilometers of Moscow, but that they were protected by the ABM ring within a hundred kilometers of Moscow. Dobrynin said that this was highly unlikely and even if it were true, it would be next to impossible to explain to the ordinary Soviet citizen. I said he was not doing justice to the ability of his government to convince their citizens. Dobrynin said it would be a really major matter to reopen the issue within the government. I said I would have to take up their reply with the President and let him know.4

The conversation then turned to Berlin. Dobrynin said that the Western response had been very disappointing to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Government had tried to meet our points on a number of key issues but had failed to obtain our support. At the last meeting, Rush had been very negative and so had Hillenbrand in conversations with Vorontsov. The Soviet Government was wondering just what was going on. I told Dobrynin that the President was not prepared to issue orders until we had agreed in principle on the direction we were going to take and that until then Rush was going to get the ordinary instructions from the bureaucracy.

Dobrynin agreed to my proposal that instead of Abrasimov and Rush meeting, there should be meetings between Falin and Rush. Dobrynin wondered whether we could not ask Hillenbrand to participate in these meetings. I said this would be very hard from the instruction point of view—it would put matters into normal bureaucratic channels. Dobrynin wondered whether I could have a talk with Bahr, since Bahr, he said, knew the Soviet position very well and might have some ideas on how to handle it. I said I would talk to Bahr in Woodstock, Vermont this weekend. I would assure him that we would go as far as we could consistent with our obligation to our Allies and our relationships with the Federal Republic. But it was necessary that the Soviet Union understood our special problems.

[Page 550]

I then asked Dobrynin about the prospects of a Summit Meeting. Dobrynin said he wanted to repeat the invitation of the Soviet Government for a visit by the President. He also wanted to make clear that September was a reasonable date. On the other hand he was bound to tell me that he did not think that a visit was likely until after the Berlin question was settled. It would be impossible to convince their Allies—Soviet Allies—that such a meeting could be fruitful unless the Berlin question was settled first.

I reacted very sharply. I told Dobrynin that I had heard many eloquent descriptions of the difficulties of linkage. We had proposed a Summit Meeting over a year ago in order to make some progress in basic Soviet/American relationships. If this was to be the case, then it was inconceivable for the Soviet Union to make prior conditions. I did not yet know what the President’s reaction would be but I suspected that if there existed a definite plan to have a conference, the President might feel that he had some obligations of good faith. If the conference were used to bring pressure on him, his reaction was likely to be the opposite.

Dobrynin then said that I must have misunderstood him, the Soviet Government wanted a Summit Meeting but it was a reality that there should be some progress on Berlin, not a condition. I told him I was familiar with that formulation since I had used it very often to justify the theory of linkage and I simply wanted to stress that it was an unacceptable formulation to use towards the President.5 We agreed that I would consider further the issue of the SALT exchange and that we would be in touch next week.

With respect to the agenda of a Summit, Dobrynin said that it could include Middle East and SALT, and he also wanted to stress that the Soviet Union was prepared to sign something on provocative attack. I told him that we would probably not be prepared to sign anything regarding provocative attack, but we would be prepared to discuss it in a very restricted circle. Dobrynin said that the Soviet leadership was relaxed about the subject, but they just wanted to indicate that they remained ready to discuss it.

[Page 551]

Dobrynin then turned to the Middle East. He asked me whether I could give him some details about the Israeli proposal on the Suez Canal. I said that it had been essentially covered in the press. Dobrynin said that he could not understand the Secretary’s trip.6 The United States seemed to be mediating, negotiating, coming up with all the proposals, and then receiving them at the other end. He said there was a lot of activity, but it wouldn’t get anywhere. At some point, he said, you will have to wind up talking to us, but we will not propose it any further.

[End of Conversation.]

Tab (a)

Draft Letter From the Soviet Leadership to President Nixon7

“The Soviet Government has carefully considered the course of the exchange of opinion between the USSR and the United States delegations at the strategic armaments limitation talks.

Proceeding from the situation shaping up now at those talks, the Soviet Government believes it expedient to concentrate in the current year on solving the questions related to the limitation of ABM systems in order to conduct after the conclusion of a separate agreement on ABM limitation, active talks aimed at limiting strategic offensive weapons. The Soviet Government proceeds in this from the mutual understanding to the effect that the ABM limitation will constitute an important factor also in restraining the strategic offensive armaments race.

In order to facilitate more favorable conditions for finding ways of reaching an agreement on strategic offensive weapons limitation, the Soviet side considers acceptable in principle the idea of ‘freezing’ strategic offensive weapons and is prepared for reaching a basic understanding on this point having in mind that concrete details of such understanding—including questions related to the composition of strategic offensive weapons, as well as to the nature and dates of possible ‘freezing’—could be discussed before the work on the separate ABM agreement is completed. We proceed from the assumption that a ‘freeze’ on strategic offensive weapons should not affect the possibility of modernization and replacement of such weapons.

[Page 552]

Guided by this, the Soviet Government will give instructions to its delegation at the strategic armaments limitation talks with the United States delegation to conduct negotiations in Vienna, aimed at drawing up the text of the ABM agreement proceeding from the assumption that deployment of the ABM systems by the USSR and the United States should be limited to the systems needed for the defense of the capitals—Moscow and Washington.

In such an agreement the obligation of the sides to continue active negotiations on the limitation of strategic offensive weapons will be fixed.”

  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. All brackets are in the original. According to another copy, Kissinger and Young drafted the memorandum of conversation on April 26. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Berlin, Vol. 3 [1 of 2]) Kissinger then forwarded it and a memorandum summarizing its “highlights” to the President on April 28. A note on the summary memorandum indicates that the President saw it. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted until 3:13 pm. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) For their memoir accounts, see Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 817, 827–828, 834; and Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 220–221.
  2. No record of the telephone conversation has been found.
  3. In an April 19 message to Kissinger, Rush reported that Abrasimov had canceled their meeting, which had been scheduled for April 16; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 221. In his summary memorandum to the President, Kissinger added the following parenthetical comment: “I have since queried Rush on this and he answered that Abrasimov had ample opportunity to indicate to him that he wanted to arrange a private meeting. It is more likely that Abrasimov was not instructed, though Dobrynin says that it is untrue.”
  4. In an April 24 memorandum to Sonnenfeldt, Haig reported: “Henry would like you to prepare a reply to the note which he got from Dobrynin Friday [April 23] which is attached.” According to Haig, Kissinger wanted a “very brief reply,” expressing appreciation for the Soviet draft but emphasizing the “fundamental principle of simultaneity” as a “non-negotiable precondition.” Haig, however, added at the end of the memorandum: “Henry called me Saturday morning and suggested that he was now thinking of a tougher response to the Soviets which would attempt to preserve the Safeguard option while of course not giving on the principle of simultaneity for the ABM agreement and the offensive freeze.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 5 [part 1])
  5. According to Dobrynin, the Politburo met after the Party Congress in early April to discuss its response to Nixon’s “message” on the summit. During the meeting, Gromyko convinced his colleagues to delay agreement on the summit in the hope that Nixon would then expedite an agreement on Berlin. “When the Politburo meeting was over,” Dobrynin later recalled, “Brezhnev told me in private that although the decision of the majority not to agree right away on a summit had to be respected, I was on the right track toward a summit and should ‘proceed along these lines.’ He added, ‘The summit is most likely to be held next year.’” Dobrynin further noted: “I knew perfectly well why Kissinger was disgruntled, but I was bound by the Politburo decision. I was not surprised later that our tough response on Berlin made Nixon set his sights on visiting China before he would visit the Soviet Union. That was a direct result of Gromyko’s Politburo proposal.” (Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 218–221)
  6. Rogers attended a SEATO Council meeting in London and a CENTO Ministerial meeting in Ankara before beginning his tour of the Middle East on May 1, which included stops in Riyadh, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Tel Aviv.
  7. No classification marking. A handwritten notation at the top of the first page reads: “Delivered 1:00 pm, 4/23 to Mr. Kissinger by Amb D.”