207. Memorandum for the Record1

    • Luncheon Meeting, May 10, 1971, Dr. Kissinger and G.A. Arbatov, Chief of Soviet Institute for the Study of the U.S.A.2

Dr. Arbatov began by noting that the 24th Party Congress had expressed a desire for improved relations with the United States, but many in Moscow had doubts that this was possible. The doubts were [Page 609] based on the view that there had been no progress on major issues, no improvements in US-Soviet atmosphere. Earlier, in 1969, there had been hope in the USSR that progress was possible. They had welcomed the era of negotiations concept, but now there was no affirmative hope of improving relations with the US.

One sign of this, Arbatov added, was that special channels that had been hopeful early now seemed not to yield any results. Under questioning he indicated he meant the channel to Dr. Kissinger through Ambassador Dobrynin. There seemed to be a difference between this channel and other official channels.

Dr. Kissinger replied that we could say much the same thing about the USSR. Frankly, we were getting fed up. The President especially was impatient with the fact that his messages were not answered for weeks. While we recognized that there was a different policy mechanism in Moscow, this situation was not acceptable. Dr. Kissinger added that we would not say that mistakes had not been made on both sides and every opportunity may not have been seized, but the fact was that for well over a year we had made a serious effort on a number of important issues. We had seen no sign of reciprocity. Maybe this was a wrong evaluation, but we were beginning to wonder if any agreement was possible with the USSR. We had been impressed with the Brezhnev speech, and, in fact, Dr. Kissinger had said publicly that its tone was constructive and positive.3 We have tried to show goodwill toward the USSR. This year would be decisive for Soviet-American relations. Next year there would be problems associated with the elections. Dr. Kissinger wanted to reiterate that we had a genuine interest in improving our relations with the USSR. We realized that if our two countries, as the nuclear superpowers, could reach better relations this would strengthen peace, and the remaining world problems would be assured of peaceful settlement. Our relations with China were minor in comparison with our relations to the Soviet Union.

Arbatov replied that nevertheless there were doubts there could be achievements in practical fields such as SALT or West Berlin. As for the delay in replying to messages he did not know the details, but the mechanism in Moscow was quite different from the United States where the President could make decisions rapidly. The main thing, however, was that when the USSR made approaches on issues, they found that the US took actions that in themselves were only nuisances but that accumulated to create a bad impression. Asked for examples, he cited the refusal to participate in the Moscow film festival, harassments by the Jewish Defense League, and our refusal to grant a license [Page 610] for the sale of Yak–40 commercial jets in the US. (On this latter, Arbatov did not really know the details.)4

Dr. Kissinger said he could understand the Soviet government’s view of the Jewish Defense League activities, but he assured Arbatov that these activities in general were carried out over the strongest opposition of the White House. The Government has used all legal procedures for restraining them. As for the film festival, this was related to the controversy over carrying out the Cultural Exchange Agreement and the conditions the Soviets were posing. Dr. Kissinger said he was unaware of the Yak–40 incident, but, in any case, it would be ludicrous for the White House to pursue a policy of deliberate minor needling in order to thwart a major agreement.

Dr. Arbatov said that while he recognized this because he was familiar with the US, others in Moscow did not. He said they seemed to see a policy of linkage and that this could only be counterproductive.

Dr. Kissinger responded that the Soviets seemed to be linking issues more than we. Arbatov said that we tend to underestimate the emotional side of politics. There are those in Moscow who have the impression that we are deliberately seeking crises, to blame the Soviets for lack of progress.

Dr. Kissinger replied that he could say on behalf of the President, with whom he had just had a brief conversation on Soviet relations,5 that the President now felt frustrated, impatient and personally annoyed. (At this point Arbatov asked that this be repeated and took notes.) Dr. Kissinger continued that the President was not used to having his messages go unanswered for a month at a time. What seems ridiculous is that, on the one hand, the Soviets say they want to improve relations based on reciprocity, and, on the other hand, we want exactly the same, but that we cannot seem to make a breakthrough. It may have been that in the beginning of this Administration we made some mistakes, but for the last year we had made a major effort to achieve such a breakthrough but had not succeeded. If there were major [Page 611] differences this would be understandable, but there did not seem to be this kind of insurmountable differences. Thus we could achieve a breakthrough if the Soviets met us half-way. He had noted Gromyko’s formulations that we should stop “fencing.”6 This was a good formulation. After the Party Congress we had expected a change but we were still waiting.

The President is now wondering about the prospects of relations with the USSR. The President is not determined to be anti-Soviet. This President could reach agreements that probably no other President could.

Arbatov said again that there was a difference in procedures of decision making. They had said before that they wanted to improve relations, but what had happened? There were difficult and easy problems. Some could be solved now, but the Americans have the idea of extracting a price, for example, in Europe. For obvious reasons European matters were high on the Soviet list. But Moscow feels that the US is deliberately making matters worse by blocking agreements.

At this point Arbatov again complained that the special channel through Dobrynin did not seem to be producing any practical results. Though European affairs were important to the Soviets, they could live without a European settlement; it could be postponed for as long as necessary for the West to show its readiness. Dr. Kissinger said that we have used our influence to keep the Berlin negotiations going. This should be obvious to those who know the details of the negotiations. There was a difficult internal situation in West Germany and we had tried to play a constructive role.

Arbatov said that they had the impression that we were using these internal German difficulties to turn the negotiations against the USSR. Dr. Kissinger replied that with all the problems we had, we scarcely needed to add the German domestic problem.

Arbatov turned to the matter of trade as an example of linkage. There were many in the Soviet Union who said there was no prospect for economic relations with the US, and that the Soviets could leave trade with the US outside their calculations. Nevertheless, they had decided to try to improve trade relations. However, people in Moscow have the impression that we are using trade prospects to influence other negotiations.

At the Party Congress there had been a “success,” in that the Soviet Party had laid out its plans and principles. They intended to pay attention to improving the life of the Soviet people. They had laid down [Page 612] foreign policy principles that accompanied this. There was no sense of urgency and they would now begin to elaborate what these principles meant.

Dr. Kissinger said that on our side as well there was a serious interest in arrangements with the USSR that were compatible with Soviet security. We would not try to trick the Soviets into agreements simply because they were too intelligent to fall for such tricks and if they should, such agreements would not be kept. We wanted a relationship in which both sides acquired a stake in maintaining agreements. The problem now was how to give tangible expression to this mutual desire. If we made a breakthrough then trade would take care of itself. We recognize that settlements would be decided on their merits and not be influenced by trade.

Arbatov said that in Moscow, looking back at the last two years, there was an impression that we either deliberately made certain moves, or that we did not control our bureaucracy. Dr. Kissinger said that the latter is true to some extent. Some agencies do take actions that depart from the central theme of Administration policy. The Soviets must have somewhat the same problem.

As examples of actions he was complaining about, Arbatov cited statements last year by Frank Shakespeare and William Buckley concerning the sharpening of official “anti-Soviet” propaganda.7 He added that the personnel quality of the Embassy was declining which they believed to be deliberate, and that Ambassador Beam had supported Shakespeare proposals for a tougher anti-Soviet line. Dr. Kissinger replied that if there was an atmosphere and attitude of profound suspicion then something was bound to happen to confirm suspicions. The answer was some success in our relations. We believe that SALT would be the starting point, and perhaps Berlin. The issue was how to break out of the pattern. The President questions why it takes so long to receive Soviet responses. If there was a major issue in dispute, this would be understandable, but the differences between us on concrete issues were much narrower. We seem to come close but never quite succeed. We had hoped that after the Party Congress we would see movement that would permit a serious dialogue. We could continue to score debating points but in this contest no one really wins.

Arbatov again said that the question was one of US policies (but never completed his thought). Dr. Kissinger continued that he would cite a recent example of problems from our standpoint. There were the new ICBM silos. There could be many explanations. He could understand if the Soviets were only increasing numbers. The problem was [Page 613] that we were told in various ways last year that the Soviets had stopped and this was some sort of signal and then we were confronted with new deployments; not just more numbers but something new and apparently different. Some people in the United States naturally conclude that there is something devious involved. In itself this may be a minor matter; if it were to suggest some important change in the balance, we will do whatever is necessary in our own programs. Nevertheless, we did not understand Soviet actions in this respect.

Arbatov said the United States had to understand that for years after World War II the Soviets felt inferior. Indeed this went back to historic attitudes of Russians. Now this is changing. The Soviets felt no obligations to put aside their defense programs. When this question came up in Moscow, someone usually said look at what the Americans are doing. For example, the deployment of MIRVs and Safeguard. Why should the Soviets put aside their programs. Last autumn there was a feeling that they were exercising some restraint. We should know that on the Soviet side (military) experts played a large role, perhaps more so than in the United States. But the US plays a different game. When the Soviets agree to a proposition, the US withdraws it. The conclusion seems to be that the United States is trying to create justification for propaganda to blame the Soviets for failure. The purpose of our proposals might therefore be only a trick.

Dr. Kissinger said that we could have no interest in such marginal propaganda games. Perhaps we could trick the USSR once, but then we could never expect to do serious business with them again. As for US programs, we had demonstrated considerable restraint in pressing ahead without Safeguard. The Soviets also were testing their MIRVs. When we made our proposals last August the Soviets were beginning a new ICBM program. Nevertheless, he could say that we were interested in serious SALT agreements. We believe an agreement can be accomplished this year. It is time to stop fencing. (Arbatov was taking notes at this point.)

Arbatov started to refer again to Jewish Defense League and the Yak–40, but Dr. Kissinger interjected to say the White House attitude toward the JDL was clear and that he would look into the Yak–40. He added that from Moscow it might look as if we were not active enough in restraining JDL activities.

Arbatov took his leave and thanked Dr. Kissinger for taking his time to see him.

W.G. Hyland

P.S. The following morning while waiting to see Mr. Ehrlichman, Arbatov told Mr. Hyland that he wanted to assure Dr. Kissinger that he had not been the source of the story by Joe Kraft concerning [Page 614] Arbatov (which mentioned that Arbatov had lunch with Kissinger).8 In fact he disagreed with Kraft’s conclusion that the outlook was for “more tension than accord” in Soviet-American relations. On the contrary, at the Party Congress the Soviet leaders had taken a position on internal affairs and it would make no sense to take an entirely contrary position on foreign policy. He said he hoped that he had not added to tensions in his talks with Dr. Kissinger. He then went to his appointment with Mr. Ehrlichman.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret; Sensitive; Outside System. Sent for information. Drafted by Hyland on May 12; cleared by Sonnenfeldt.
  2. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Arbatov on May 10 from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 169.
  4. Reference is to the small jet aircraft developed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau and manufactured in Saratov. In a May 29 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt reported that the Department of Commerce, acting on the advice of the Department of State, had refused to issue the requisite certificate of “air-worthiness” for selling YAK–40 aircraft in the United States. In view of Arbatov’s complaint, Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Hal—How about the YAK 40? Should they be reconsidered?” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII) Sonnenfeldt advised against reconsideration in a memorandum to Kissinger on June 18. “To my knowledge the only complaint was from Arbatov,” Sonnenfeldt observed, “and even he did not know what it was all about. Later, if trade and other matters are moving we might reopen it, but in light of present publicity to Mack Truck etc., I would recommend we ignore the YAK–40.” Kissinger approved this recommendation. (Ibid.)
  5. See Document 206.
  6. Gromyko made this remark during his speech at the Party Congress on April 3. See Document 167.
  7. See footnote 22, Document 74.
  8. In his syndicated column on May 11, Kraft reported that Arbatov had been “cordially received in very high places,” including his lunch with Kissinger at the White House. Kraft concluded that, in spite of Arbatov’s conciliatory efforts, the immediate outlook for Soviet-American relations was “much more for tension than accord.” (Kraft, “Big Two Impasse,” Washington Post, May 11, 1971, p. A19)