201. Memorandum for the Record1

    • Meeting Between Ambassador Dobrynin and General Haig on May 4, 1971, at 1:00 p.m., in Dr. Kissinger’s Office at the White House2

[Note: The occasion for the following meeting was the receipt of a message (Tab B)3 from Gerard Smith which indicated that he had, the previous evening, been told by Soviet Ambassador Semyinov that the Soviets were thinking of offering a halt to new starts on ICBM’s in connection with an ABM/NCA agreement.]

In light of the above message, Dr. Kissinger instructed General Haig to summon Ambassador Dobrynin to the White House on an urgent basis in order to ascertain the circumstances which led Semyinov to make this statement.

General Haig greeted Ambassador Dobrynin and told him that in Dr. Kissinger’s absence and because of a sudden turn of events he had been asked by Dr. Kissinger to meet urgently with the Ambassador. General Haig explained that the purpose of the meeting was to outline our current thinking with respect to the special channel between the Ambassador and Dr. Kissinger.

General Haig first showed the Ambassador a message from Ambassador Rush (Tab A).4 The Ambassador read the message carefully. General [Page 583] Haig noted that it was evident from that document that our side was moving constructively in response to the agreement which had been arrived at between Dr. Kissinger and the Soviet Ambassador in their special channel. General Haig continued that both the President and Dr. Kissinger were now, however, beginning to question the value of this special channel because of various actions taken on the Soviet side.

General Haig recalled the discussion between Mr. Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin on February 8th of this year,5 in which the Soviet Foreign Minister had stated that the Soviet Government was interested in arriving at an agreement on SALT and “the sooner the better.” Subsequently, however, in his last meeting with Dr. Kissinger, the Soviet Ambassador had commented to the effect that the Soviet Government was approaching the issue of a SALT agreement as a matter which lacked urgency.6 This apparent change in Soviet attitude was a source of some confusion in the minds of the President and Dr. Kissinger.

General Haig continued that, in addition, during the last meeting between Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin, Dr. Kissinger had provided the Ambassador with a formal U.S. proposal which would provide the basis for a possible agreement between the two governments.7 Since that time, our side has been waiting for a formal response to this proposal from the Soviet side. Then, today, we learned, through our Ambassador in Vienna, of the approach made by Soviet Ambassador Semyinov with respect to the future Soviet position at the Vienna talks.

General Haig then permitted Ambassador Dobrynin to read Ambassador Smith’s reporting telegram. After the Ambassador read the message, General Haig continued to the effect that both the President and Dr. Kissinger were shocked that the Soviet side would see fit to convey such a message in Vienna before a Soviet response to the last exchange between Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin had been received here in Washington. Because of this turn of events and the apparent shifting Soviet attitude on SALT, both Dr. Kissinger and the President were beginning to seriously question the value of continuing with this special channel and wondered whether or not it might not be more advantageous to terminate this channel now and return the discussions on the range of issues which had been covered in this channel to their regularly established forums.

[Page 584]

Ambassador Dobrynin reacted somewhat sharply and asked General Haig what he interpreted the word “foreshadowed” to mean in Ambassador Smith’s telegram.

General Haig stated that in his view it could be interpreted to mean that Ambassador Semyinov “had suggested” or “predicted” or “forecast” how Soviet thinking was turning toward the framework of a possible SALT agreement.

Ambassador Dobrynin replied that this was exactly his reading and that, at most, it was probable that Semyinov had merely hinted at the direction in which Soviet thinking was progressing. He stated that the U.S. side should be encouraged by the Semyinov comment because it indicated that the Soviets had, in fact, accepted the linkage between an ABM/NCA agreement and the simultaneous acceptance of a freeze on offensive ICBM starts.

Ambassador Dobrynin stated that he could not be sure what Semyinov had actually said or why he had chosen to hint in this manner during a dinner conversation with the U.S. Ambassador. He added, however, that he had had similar problems with Semyinov in the past and that he would promptly communicate with Moscow with a view toward putting an end to this kind of speculation. He reaffirmed, however, that the U.S. side should be encouraged by this turn of events in that it suggested an acceptance by the Soviet Union of the U.S. position.

With respect to the Soviet position, Ambassador Dobrynin stated he anticipated a formal response to Dr. Kissinger’s last proposal on Thursday or Friday of this week.8 He added that he would be perfectly frank with General Haig and point out that he had personally cleared with the Politburo the earlier versions of the proposed exchanges of notes between the Soviets and the U.S. which would provide the basis for a viable agreement. This clearing process, he emphasized, required the personal attention of the Soviet leadership and a meeting of the full Politburo. He added that the Soviet leadership did not welcome becoming involved in this kind of detail and that in doing so, they had required Ambassador Dobrynin to assure them that the language which they were approving would be acceptable to President Nixon.

Ambassador Dobrynin inferred that he had provided them with this kind of specific assurance. Then, when he presented the proposal to Dr. Kissinger, he was shocked that the U.S. side now wanted to make a substantive deletion in the Soviet note. This fact had resulted in some irritation in Moscow and would require a complete review of the matter by the Politburo.

[Page 585]

Ambassador Dobrynin then stated that as he had informed Dr. Kissinger, this procedure would probably require two full sessions of the Politburo. He added that in addition, Premier Brezhnev had been away from Moscow for a holiday and that for all these reasons he was unable to get a substantive response at an earlier date.

Ambassador Dobrynin then restated the fact that he did not know how the Soviet Government and leadership would respond to the modifications asked for by Dr. Kissinger but that he was confident that a reply would be forthcoming in the very near future. He added somewhat sarcastically that had Dr. Kissinger accepted the original language which he, Dobrynin, had cleared with the Politburo, both sides could have made a formal announcement on a SALT agreement this week, but that the U.S.’s sudden change with respect to the timing of a freeze agreement had definitely thrown the entire matter off schedule.

Ambassador Dobrynin then asked to read again the message at Tab A. After doing so, he asked General Haig whether or not this message was designed to convey to him the fact that progress was being made on the Berlin issue.

General Haig stated that the message spoke for itself, adding that obviously the U.S. side had been and was prepared to continue to act in good faith as a result of the discussions which were held in the special channel between Ambassador Dobrynin and Dr. Kissinger. However, when incidents arose such as that which occurred yesterday in Vienna, it could not help but shake our confidence in the value of continuing these discussions.

General Haig stated that the Soviet side must understand that the U.S. Government had to maintain a level of discipline within its own bureaucracy in its dealings with the Soviet Union and comments like those made by Ambassador Semyinov could be the source of serious confusion and make the continuation of the special channel counterproductive. For this reason, it was important that the Soviet side deal solely in the special channel and coordinate carefully with Dr. Kissinger before new initiatives can be taken in the Vienna forum.

Ambassador Dobrynin smiled and reiterated that we should be assured by the statements made by Semyinov and not be so suspicious of Soviet intentions.

Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Brigadier General U.S. Army
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip File, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Kissinger was on a working vacation in Palm Springs, California. Although dated May 4, the available evidence—in particular, the reference to the letter from Smith (see footnote 2 below), as well as references in Documents 202 and 203—indicates that the meeting took place on May 5. Haig also prepared a sanitized version of the memorandum, dated May 5, for Kissinger to give Rogers on May 19. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 79, Country Files, Europe, USSR, SALT Announcement State Department) For his memoir account of this “bizarre incident,” see Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 817–818.
  3. At Tab B is a letter to the President, May 5, in which Smith reported: “After dinner last night, Semenov, speaking from prepared notes and on basis of new instructions, foreshadowed Soviet position offering to halt new starts of ICBMs in connection with ABM/NCA agreement. He also suggested SALT adjournment May 28 and Helsinki resumption about end of June.” For his memoir account of the dinner, see Smith, Doubletalk, pp. 218–219. When Nixon failed to reply to his letter, Smith became suspicious. “The first inkling I had had that something was up,” he later recalled, “was when my message reporting Semenov’s offer of May 4 to stop ICBM construction starts when an ABM agreement was reached went unanswered. Here was a major negotiating signal and Washington was silent.” (Ibid., p. 222)
  4. Dated April 29; not attached. See footnote 6, Document 192.
  5. During his meeting with Kissinger on February 10 (not February 8), Dobrynin told Kissinger that the Politburo (not Gromyko) had instructed him to deliver a message to this effect to the President. See Document 110.
  6. See Document 195.
  7. Reference is presumably to the draft texts Kissinger gave Dobrynin on April 26, not at their last meeting on April 27. See Document 192.
  8. May 6 or 7.
  9. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.