210. Editorial Note

After his telephone call with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin on May 11, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger decided to link the tactics of Soviet Ambassador Vladimir Semenov in the SALT talks to the tactics of Ambassador to West Germany Kenneth Rush in the Berlin negotiations. Kissinger met President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office from 10:27 to 10:41 a.m., presumably to discuss the decision. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule) No record of the conversation has been found. Later that day, however, Kissinger sent the following special channel message to Rush in Bonn:

“For the time being, the President desires that there be no private meetings with Falin and that you cool matters with Bahr. Adoption of this tactic is due to circumstances not related to the Berlin issue. It is important that in cooling things you do so in such a way that the obstacles appear technical at your end rather than a result of instructions from here.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1)

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Kissinger later recalled that his message to Rush was intended “as a response to Semenov’s conduct in circumventing the Channel during the SALT talks.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 829)

Before he received these instructions, Rush reported on his conversation the previous evening with West German State Secretary Egon Bahr and Soviet Ambassador to West Germany Valentin Falin. The meeting—the first of the so-called “Bonn triangle”—began the process of secret negotiations for a quadripartite agreement. In a special channel message to Kissinger on May 11, Rush noted that Soviet behavior on Berlin, without the “rigid, polemical approach” of Soviet Ambassador to East Germany Pyotr Abrasimov, had suddenly improved: “Falin whom I met last summer in Moscow, adopted throughout a lowkey, non-controversial negotiating stance of give and take. The discussion of our respective points of view was very helpful to Bahr and me in clearing up many ambiguities of the Russian position, and in turn Falin evidently understood for the first time much of the reasoning underlying our position. A continuation of this type of approach could lead to substantial progress and possibly a final agreement in the near future.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1)

The decision to punish the Soviets for Semenov’s conduct placed Rush in a difficult position. Although he promised to follow Kissinger’s instructions closely, Rush replied the next day, May 12, by raising “some serious problems” in their execution, in particular regarding his next meeting with Bahr and Falin, scheduled for May 19:

“I shall cancel this so far as my attendance is concerned. However, Bahr may take a strong stand with regard to his seeing Falin alone, something which, as you know, he has done rather frequently for some time, according to our intelligence information. Also, since the Chancellor and Bahr have been pressing hard to give to Falin the substantive portions of the Bahr draft, it will be very difficult to persuade them not to do so, particularly since the meeting with Falin on May 10 seemed to go so well and has aroused high hopes with the Chancellor and Bahr for real progress. I assume that I should make every effort to attempt to persuade them not to pass the substantive parts to Falin and, in fact, for Bahr not to have private meetings with Falin concerning Berlin. Please give me your thoughts concerning this as soon as possible.” (Ibid.)

After his meeting with Dobrynin that afternoon (see Document 211), Kissinger informed Rush that the situation had already changed. “The obstacles to your attending the next meeting have been substantially removed,” Kissinger reported, “though if it could be conveniently delayed by a few days say to the week of May 24 it would still be very helpful. But I prefer you to attend than to have Bahr go to the meeting [Page 631] alone. Do your best to get a postponement. I agree that at the next meeting you should give Falin the substantive portions of the draft.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1) Rush expressed considerable relief on May 14 that Kissinger had been able to overcome the problems in Washington that would have undermined progress with Bahr and Falin in Bonn. “[T]hese talks show such promise,” Rush advised Kissinger by special channel, “that I feel we might miss some real opportunities if they should be discontinued at this point.” (Ibid.)

For the full text of the messages cited above, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Documents 235238.