228. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Henry A. Kissinger
    • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

I initiated the meeting when I saw a news report that the submarine tender and some submarines were going back to Cuba.

[Page 678]

I opened the conversation by showing Dobrynin the TASS announcement.2 Dobrynin asked whether the submarines were nuclear. I said no. I said, nevertheless, I had told him previously that the presence of the tender was all that was needed to make Cienfuegos a base and that we considered it inconsistent with our understanding. I recalled the oral note I had handed to him previously.3 I said that to make such an announcement the day after our SALT announcement certainly did not help matters and, frankly, infuriated the President.4

Dobrynin said that it was not a deliberate move and that I had to understand the Soviet system. In the Soviet system, military movements of this kind are taken by the Defense Department. The Politburo keeps an eye on nuclear submarines, but not on conventional ships. He could assure me that the operations of nuclear submarines in the Caribbean had been severely curtailed. Indeed, when he was in Moscow for the Party Congress, the military had been outraged at the understanding at which he had arrived. The military took the view that once the Soviets circumscribed their military movements at all, we would keep pressing and pressing until there would be no military operations in the Caribbean whatever. He did not understand why this was elevated to the Presidential level.

I told him that on a number of previous occasions he had pointed out that matters certain to irritate both sides should be avoided. Of course, if the Soviets serviced nuclear submarines or any submarine carrying offensive weapons from Cuba, it would lead to a show-down, and it is precisely for that reason that I could not understand the Soviet position.

Dobrynin said the position was clear—that nuclear submarines and submarines carrying offensive weapons could not be serviced from Cuba and this was understood, but it would be better if we did not constantly raise military operations since this would just get their back up. He could assure me that there was a massive problem with [Page 679] the Soviet military about restrictions on any military operations, and the understanding had not been well received in Moscow. He looked at the announcement and said he wanted to assure me he did not know about it and indicated that if it had not already been stated publicly, he would try to reverse it. We left matters at this point.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum and another summarizing the “main points of the exchange” to Nixon on May 28. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting began at 5:45 and lasted until 6:35 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. The English text of the TASS announcement, as published in Pravda on May 22 and Izvestia on May 23, is as follows: “In accordance with a mutual arrangement, a detachment of Soviet warships, consisting of a submarine and an auxiliary vessel that are on a training cruise in the Central Atlantic, will pay a friendly visit to ports of the Republic of Cuba at the end of May and the beginning of June for the purpose of taking on supplies and granting a brief shore leave to the crews.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 21 (June 22, 1971), p. 19)
  3. Reference is presumably to the oral note Kissinger gave Dobrynin on October 9, 1970. See Document 6.
  4. No evidence has been found that Kissinger mentioned the TASS announcement to Nixon before his meeting with Dobrynin the afternoon of May 21.