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

    • US-Soviet Incidents at Sea: Prospective Negotiations

The Under Secretary of the Navy, John Warner, will be flying with you to California on April 30.2 He is scheduled to head the US delegation to the proposed bilateral talks with the Soviets on avoiding incidents at sea, a study on which is nearing completion within the NSC system. Mr. Warner may raise this with you and I thought you might wish a brief status report.

In February you approved the issuance of NSSM 1193 requesting a study of the issues, alternatives and negotiating plan for the prospective talks with the Soviets. (The previous Administration had suggested bilateral discussions in 1968, and late last year the Soviets finally responded favorably.) The basic study has now been completed, and we are seeking formal agency comments.4 I shall provide you with a more detailed memorandum as soon as all comments have been received.

The main US objective in the talks, which will be held in Moscow, will be to obtain Soviet agreement to interpret the international Rules of the Road in such a way as to impose a duty on (Soviet) ships to stay well clear of (US) ships conducting air operations, underway replenishment, underwater operations and maneuvering in formation. In return for Soviet agreement on these points, we would agree that our aircraft and ships would remain more distant from Soviet surface ships—but not to a point which would seriously impair our intelligence collection capabilities.

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In light of the significant third-country interest in these talks, the NSC study provides for consultation in advance in NATO and with other countries (e.g., Japan, Philippines, Spain), and will give the British a special advance briefing.

A successful outcome of the talks is by no means assured. The Soviets might try to make it a propaganda exercise either by one-sided allegations against us or by making grandiose proposals. However, the draft NSC study concluded that a low key approach dealing with specific maritime practices may possibly reduce the number of incidents and resultant exchanges of protests.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret. Sent for information. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger on April 26 for “prompt action.” Haig approved the memorandum for Kissinger. A notation and attached correspondence profile indicate that the President saw and noted it.
  2. According to his Daily Diary, the President flew by Air Force One from Andrews Air Force Base at 9:28 a.m. on April 30 and arrived in California at 11:25 a.m. (PDT) (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  3. See Document 113.
  4. Robert C. Brewster, Acting Executive Secretary of the Department of State, forwarded the interagency study in an April 16 memorandum to Kissinger. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–181, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 119) Jeanne Davis circulated the study to the relevant agencies on May 4. (Ibid.)