23. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • PARTICIPANTS
    • US:
      • The President
      • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
      • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
      • William D. Krimer, Interpreter, Department of State
    • USSR:
      • A.A. Gromyko, Soviet Foreign Minister
      • A.F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
      • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter, Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The President welcomed Foreign Minister Gromyko to Washington and said that he appreciated the opportunity to have a talk with him. He had been informed that Mr. Rogers and Mr. Gromyko had held useful conversations in New York. It would be helpful if today they could discuss the questions of the general relationship between their two countries. The President said he was prepared to take up any items [Page 87]that the Minister wanted to bring up. Specific problem areas, in his view, which could be usefully discussed concern the Middle East, the Berlin negotiations between the Four Powers, SALT, a most important issue, Western Hemisphere problems, specifically Cuba, and problems in Asia, specifically Vietnam.

Mr. Gromyko suggested that each problem be discussed in turn and as one was finished the next problem be taken up. This procedure was agreeable to the President.

Mr. Gromyko appreciated the opportunity to hold this exchange of views and to express the point of view of the Soviet leadership on a number of problems. These problems included the bilateral relations between the two countries as well as a number of international problems. The first thing that the Government of the Soviet Union was interested in was to find out what direction the foreign policy of the United States would take with respect to the Soviet Union. What policy did the United States and the President as head of state, personally intend to pursue? Naturally, he and his government were interested in the President’s appraisal of the present state of relations between our two countries, but to an even greater extent they were interested in the future prospects for the development of relations between us. In what direction did the U.S. Government intend to lead its foreign policy? Was it in the direction of developing and expanding relations with the Soviet Union, or was its policy directed toward increasing tensions? He and his Government were well acquainted with the President’s formula which he had put forward some time ago, that is, his announced intention to proceed from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation. The President must be aware of the fact that that formula had met with a positive response in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately he had to say that the way relations between the two countries had developed and the concrete foreign policy steps taken by the U.S. Government appeared to him to be in conflict with the formula the President had announced. This applied both to the bilateral relations between the two countries and to the outstanding international issues. He came to this conclusion by noting certain recent events and facts.

Speaking quite frankly and directly, the Soviet Government was puzzled by a number of campaigns which flared up in the United States from time to time. In some cases these campaigns were more than unfriendly, they were even hostile to the Soviet Union. He would not be speaking frankly if he did not tell the President that the question was being asked in Moscow: What was the reason for these campaigns and what purpose were they pursuing? The sad thing was that the impetus for these campaigns appeared to be provided by statements of high officials and by encouragement on the part of the official circles of the United States. He repeated that this question was puzzling to the Soviet leadership. He thought that it would have long since become quite [Page 88]clear that any attempts to influence the Soviet position by such methods could not possibly be successful. If there were some internal political motives which gave rise to these campaigns, he could only say categorically that it was the Soviet view that the relations between our two countries should never be affected by any temporary internal considerations and should not be burdened by them. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were major world powers and it was the Soviet view that the interests of both countries required peace and an approach to foreign policy that would not escalate tensions, but, on the contrary, lead to international détente. This should certainly be clear to all. Temporary considerations of an internal nature, transitory situations, should not be permitted to affect our relations; these should rather be based upon the vital fundamental interests of the peoples of our two countries, in whose interests it was to strengthen peace rather than increase tensions. Should the President ask him what the basic position of the Soviet Union and the Soviet leadership was in regard to relations with the United States, he could state officially on behalf of the Soviet leadership that they would like to see an improvement and expansion of the relations between our countries and a lessening of tensions between us. It seemed to him that if both sides were to take a realistic view, such a state of affairs was clearly in the interests of not only the Soviet Union but also of the United States. Of course, all problems could not be solved at one go. Some of them were far too complex to be susceptible of easy solutions.

The President replied that with respect to the bilateral relations between our two countries, Mr. Gromyko had indeed described his policy correctly, the policy of moving from an era of confrontation into an era of negotiation. The President also agreed with Mr. Gromyko’s comments to the effect that the internal situation of a country should not be allowed to influence its foreign relations. However, since both countries were great powers, he was enough of a realist to know that when great powers are involved there were inevitably bound to be some differences and misunderstandings. He thought Mr. Gromyko would agree that the President had been extremely careful to try and limit differences between our countries to private discussions rather than discussions in public. Mr. Gromyko, being a realist, would know that in our country whenever elections approached, political leaders were tempted to take a belligerent anti-Communist line. As for the President personally, he did not consider such an approach to be in the interests of world peace or of Soviet-American relations. For this reason, he had personally tried to avoid any statement that might make the situation worse.

The President continued that he felt very strongly that both sides, allies during World War II, who were instrumental in bringing into being the United Nations, must realize on this 25th anniversary of the [Page 89]UN that the relations and the interests of the two great powers could hardly be submitted to the United Nations where their differences would be publicly aired.2 Mr. Gromyko had spoken before the General Assembly yesterday,3 and the President intended to do so tomorrow.4 However, in the next 25 years, world peace in general and, more precisely, even the avoidance of smaller wars would depend to a much greater extent on the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union than on anything else. For this reason, he felt unhappy that the relations between our countries were now described as the coolest since the Cold War began.5 He had been very careful not to contribute to the difficult situation by rhetoric. He thought it was of greatest importance now to give a signal to the world that the United States and the Soviet Union were not looking for areas in which to confront each other. To be honest, we had to realize that our interests in many parts of the world differed and that on some questions it would be most difficult to reach agreed positions. However, it was clearly in the common interests of both great powers to limit the burden of armaments, to increase trade and communications between them. It was in this spirit that he was resolved to view our bilateral relations.

Mr. Gromyko replied that he found the President’s appraisal of the situation to be a reasonable one. He asked the President’s permission to summarize what had been said to the effect that the policy of the United States would be directed at reducing the tensions which were bound to arise from time to time and that the President’s formula of negotiation rather than confrontation remained in effect; also that the President personally intended to work for an improvement and deepening of the relations between the two countries and the international situation in general.

The President agreed that this was correct and added the further point that in the past we had been reasonably successful and it was his hope that we would be even more successful in the future whenever [Page 90]difficulties arose to keep them in private channels rather than expose them in public. In the past we may have been at fault to some extent, and so was the Soviet Union, in publicizing our differences. This was in the past, however, and it would be important to avoid that in the future.

Mr. Gromyko said this was correct. Articles in the Soviet press in the past, reporting what was being said in the United States in regard to the Soviet Union, had been but a small fraction of unfavorable American statements about the Soviet Union. After all, when hostile statements appeared in the U.S., what was there left for the Soviet Union to do but to react accordingly? The Soviet side would not remain indebted when it came to hostile statements. This was not the right path, however. He noted that the President had mentioned the development of trade relations between the two countries. In this respect, we were faced by almost a vacuum. Was this indeed the policy of the United States Government? He simply would like to know the President’s attitude to this question.

The President said that there were possibilities in this field. He thought one would have to be realistic and say that some of the other problems come into play when it comes to considering the possibility of increasing trade between the two countries. For example, the Vietnam war, which involved our primary and basic interests, was bound to have an inhibiting influence upon trade. It was a fact that under our legislative arrangements some items which could be used to aid North Vietnam could not be exported to the Soviet Union. We were indeed prepared to explore ways in which trade between our two countries could be increased. He did not like to use the word “linkage,” but it was true nevertheless that a settlement of these other matters would lead to increasing economic exchanges between us. He therefore felt that if our political relations improved, increased trade would follow naturally. This was in our interest as well as in the interest of the Soviet Union.

Middle East

Foreign Minister Gromyko said that he had had a good exchange of views with Secretary Rogers in New York on the subject of the Middle East. To restate the Soviet position briefly, the Soviets were for peace in the Middle East. They would not like to see a new military clash in this area. The independent existence of all states needed to be assured and secured, and saying this, he included the existence of Israel as a sovereign independent state. If someone ever told the President that the Soviet Union had some other objective in the Middle East, or if it was alleged that it had some idea of subverting the independent existence of Israel, the President should not believe any such allegations. What was required today was a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the [Page 91]Arab territories they were occupying and a formal, detailed agreement insuring a stable peace in this area. To accomplish these purposes, the role of the two great powers was far from being the least important. It was the Soviet position that peace in this area should be secured by a most solemn act, if necessary involving the participation of the UN Security Council, an act stating that troops are to be withdrawn, that peace is established, and that no one needs to be apprehensive for the security of any of the independent states of the Middle East.

It would be good if some work could be performed in the direction of a solution now. It was important that these efforts not be discontinued at the present time. As to the Soviet view of what needed to be done now, he had already told Secretary Rogers that the first thing required was a resumption of the Jarring mission. Let there be exchanges of views between the Israelis and the Arab states. Such exchanges could certainly not be harmful to any of the parties involved. Secondly, agreement must be reached on extending the ceasefire. The present situation must be formalized in the form of an appropriate agreement to the effect that firing between the sides will not be resumed and this was to be without any preconditions. Attempts to impose conditions on the extension of the ceasefire could only complicate the situation. After all, a ceasefire was a ceasefire, meaning that the two opposing sides had agreed not to shoot at each other.

Third, the bilateral contacts between the Soviet Union and the United States on this question should perhaps be renewed. They had been suspended for some time now and should be reactivated. It would be good to resume these contacts, and not only from the point of view of attempting to facilitate a solution for the Middle East. So far, the American side had not yet responded to the Soviet proposal on the substance of the matter6 even though that proposal had been submitted in response to the expressed wishes of the American side. Fourth, Four Power consultations should be continued. This would be a step creating more favorable conditions for consideration of various possibilities to solve the problem.

As for Israel, Mr. Gromyko said that the Soviet Union was prepared to give the most solemn guarantees of its existence.7

Secretary Rogers said that he and Mr. Gromyko had discussed this question at some length in New York and seemed to agree on many aspects of the problem, but differed on how to get started. He asked [Page 92]Mr. Gromyko if, assuming that agreement would be reached, the Soviet Union would be willing to undertake peacekeeping activities together with the United States, specifically whether the Soviet Union was prepared to send troops for that purpose.8

Mr. Gromyko inquired what the Secretary meant by peacekeeping activities. In the Soviet proposal they also mentioned the use of United Nations guarantees and personnel. He had thought this discussion was procedural; peacekeeping should be kept for substantive meetings.9 When would negotiations on substance begin, however? In his view the matter was pressing and this should be the first order of business. The four points he had just made were intended as steps to be taken at the present time.

Secretary Rogers said that the reason he had asked the question was that it affected the security of the parties involved.

President Nixon remarked that Israel no longer had any confidence in the ability of the United Nations to keep the peace.

Mr. Gromyko replied that what he was proposing was procedural in nature. These were the first steps to be taken and he realized that they were procedural rather than substantive. However, Secretary Rogers’ idea was not excluded.10

Secretary Rogers inquired what steps the UAR intended to undertake in regard to a UN resolution on the Middle East.

Mr. Gromyko replied that they had this idea because there had been no forward movement toward a solution of the problem. Should the situation change, should the Jarring mission be resumed and the ceasefire continued, he thought the Arab position might change as well. Since he had not received an answer from the United States, he had not as yet contacted the Arabs in this regard. Secretary Rogers remarked that Mr. Gromyko should certainly be able to influence the Arabs.

President Nixon said that the Secretary had reported to him the conversations he had held with Mr. Gromyko about the Middle East. He was aware of the concern Mr. Gromyko had expressed regarding what he believed were misunderstandings which occurred at the time the ceasefire first went into effect. He was aware of Mr. Gromyko’s position that (1) the Soviet Union had not been a party to the ceasefire agreement, and (2) it was unfair to say the Soviet Union had collaborated in violations of that agreement. He did not want to go into this question in detail, but as practical men we had to recognize that a problem did indeed [Page 93]exist. In fact, this was our problem with the Israelis and affected our ability to influence them.

Mr. Kissinger recapitulated the procedural steps mentioned by Mr. Gromyko, namely, (1) resumption of the Jarring mission, (2) resumption of bilateral contacts, and (3) resumption of Four Power contacts. He asked whether they could be separated or whether Mr. Gromyko was proposing a package.11

Secretary Rogers remarked that it would be a mistake to go into bilateral and Four Power meetings prior to reactivating the Jarring mission. Mr. Gromyko agreed, but added that purely bilateral contacts could take place at any time.12

The President remarked that in the Middle East our respective interests differed considerably and that it was logical for great powers to compete with each other in this area. It was in the paramount interest of both sides, however, to secure the peace in this area since we would be very foolish to allow conflicts between minor powers to lead to a collision between us.

Mr. Gromyko agreed that the President was right and said we should stress what unites us rather than what divides us.

Berlin

Mr. Gromyko said he was convinced that it was in the interests of both countries to achieve a reduction of tensions in Berlin and to create a situation there which would work for stability, détente, and general peace in Europe. The American side had many times referred to the status of West Berlin. He wanted to assure the President that the Soviet Union had no intention to weaken the status of the allied powers in West Berlin. In fact, at times he had the impression that the Soviet Union did more than anyone else to respect the special status of West Berlin. The principal question there was the political presence of the Federal Republic of Germany in the city. This presence affected the interests of the Soviet Union and undermined the special status that the American side had so frequently talked about. The Soviet Union advocated the inviolability of the inter-allied agreements concerning Berlin, which were in effect. The Soviets were against anything that would violate these agreements. In his view it was possible that the American side misunderstood the Soviet position to some extent. He sometimes felt that representatives of the United States, at least at the ambassadorial level, regularly meeting to discuss the Berlin question, [Page 94]misunderstood the Soviet position. The Soviet Union as well as the German Democratic Republic, were ready to find a favorable solution for the two principal problems affecting West Berlin, those of transit from West Berlin to West Germany and vice versa, and access to East Berlin. These solutions would certainly serve the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as those of the people of West Berlin. The major stumbling block at the moment appeared to be the question of political ties (and he stressed the word “political”) between the Federal Republic and West Berlin. He strongly felt that there was a real possibility of reaching agreement here and this would help ease the situation in the area.

Mr. Kissinger asked for clarification. He had heard Mr. Gromyko use the phrase13 that West German political activity in West Berlin must be “curtailed,” rather than “eliminated.” Was this a correct interpretation?

Mr. Gromyko [using the Russian word “svyortyvaniye”]14 said that in his view there was no need to continue the political activities of the Federal Republic, since they constantly created new disputes. It would be comparatively easy to list what activities of the Federal Republic in Berlin could be continued and which political functions it should not be permitted to exercise in West Berlin. Above all, this referred to such matters as meetings in Berlin of the West German Bundestag, meetings of various Bundestag committees, and activities of the West German Chancellor in West Berlin. It was entirely possible that some of the activities in West Berlin had not come to the attention of the Allied Powers; they might require close examination under a microscope, as it were. First and foremost, the West Berlin problem, from the Soviet point of view, consisted in the political presence of the Federal Republic as a state in that city.

Secretary Rogers also inquired whether the Russian word meant eliminate or curtail. He said that elimination was certainly out of the question and that the Government of the FRG would be unable to enlist the support of its people for complete elimination of all political ties with West Berlin.

The President said that the umbilical cord between the city and the FRG could not be cut. Looking back over the years at the numerous Berlin crises during the Eisenhower Administration, he saw the city as a central problem in Europe. It was precisely for this reason that we must have a clear understanding on West Berlin in order to reduce [Page 95]the frequency of these crises. Mr. Gromyko must be well aware of the fact that ratification of the Non-aggression Treaty between the Soviet Union and the FRG depended upon substantial progress on the West Berlin problem. On this point he, too, said that all political ties cannot be cut, this simply cannot happen. West Berlin cannot be allowed to become a third German state. But if he understood Mr. Gromyko correctly, a low profile of the federal authorities in West Berlin, as opposed to the high profile represented by meetings of the Bundestag, might be acceptable to the Soviet side. We could not agree to eliminating all political ties for the simple reason that we could not sell this to the FRG any more than the FRG could sell this to its own people.

Secretary Rogers remarked that it should be a matter for negotiation what lines and limits should be drawn for the FRG in West Berlin. If we were to continue negotiations on this issue some progress must be made.

Mr. Gromyko again said that it was a matter of bodies and sub-bodies of the Federal Republic in West Berlin. As for a method for achieving concrete progress on this question, we should list specific activities to be eliminated. Mr. Gromyko expressed his appreciation to the President for the fact that the United States had taken a positive view of the treaty between the FRG and the Soviet Union. He considered this treaty to be an important step in the direction of creating a détente in Europe. As for the list of activities in West Berlin, these could be considered in detail in the course of negotiations.

The President said that our reaction to the Soviet-German treaty was based upon the fact that we respected the independence of the FRG and that when it signed a treaty in its own interests, we approved of this action, of course. The treaty had been their idea, not ours. It was the Federal Republic that had taken the initiative to negotiate on the questions of borders and non-aggression. It should be realized, however, that this was only a first step. To complete it and obtain ratification of the treaty, it would be absolutely necessary that progress in the Berlin question be achieved. If we could cool down the Berlin problem, even apart from our bilateral relations over Germany, the whole situation in Europe would be affected positively.

Secretary Rogers said it was a simple fact of life that the Federal Republic could not ratify the treaty unless a satisfactory solution was found for West Berlin. He thought we might hold two more Ambassadors’ meetings to see if we can make some progress, and also that all of these various matters, political presence, transit and access, should be negotiated at one and the same time.

Mr. Gromyko agreed and expressed the hope that the U.S. Government would work with the Soviet Union to find appropriate solutions.

[Page 96]

Secretary Rogers added that in his view an agreement on West Berlin should also provide for negotiation of any possible disputes there that might arise in the future.

European Security Conference

Mr. Gromyko inquired about the attitude of the United States Government toward the idea of convening a European Security Conference. He did not know whether the President had had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the Soviet proposal to call such a conference. The substance of that proposal was to call a conference of all European states, as well as Canada and the United States, in order to see if there was a chance of improving the relations between various states in Europe in the interests of a political détente. The United States had said that it favored such a détente, and so had the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he had the impression that the U.S. was somewhat apprehensive in regard to the ESC. It should be clear that any decisions adopted at such a conference would be joint decisions, taken in the interests of all the states concerned. There was no question of trying to impose a one-sided solution on any state during this conference. For this reason, he believed the U.S. apprehensiveness was quite unfounded. According to information he had received, the United States seemed to be bringing its influence to bear on some other countries, to discourage them from taking a positive attitude toward the ESC. He wanted to emphasize that the Soviet Union had no intention of trying to claim the major credit for calling such a conference, that it was the position of the Soviet Government that a détente in Europe, which could result from the ESC, would benefit all interested parties and the world as a whole.

The President wanted to tell Mr. Gromyko quite directly that in our view the success of such a conference would depend primarily on the United States and the Soviet Union. Mr. Gromyko’s impression that we were trying to discourage the convening of the conference was incorrect. We took the position that for the successful conduct of a conference it would be necessary to sit down and explore an appropriate agenda. By saying that the success would depend on our two countries primarily, he did not mean to speak of a condominium of the two powers in Europe.

Secretary Rogers remarked that there was no point in having a conference unless we could foresee what results would likely be achieved. In this respect, our Berlin negotiations could serve as a good indicator. If we could make progress on the question of Berlin, the prospects for a European conference would improve. But, if no progress was achieved on Berlin, what would be the purpose of holding another conference?

[Page 97]

Secondly, we were not too sure that the Communiqué of the Warsaw Pact Powers15 had indicated a willingness to discuss reduction of military forces in Europe. Was the Soviet Union suggesting that this question be included on the agenda of a European Conference? With respect to reduction of forces, what did the Soviet Union mean by foreign troops?16 Did this include Russian troops in Eastern Europe? Mr. Gromyko replied that in the Soviet view, it would be better not to consider military questions at the European Conference. We could agree, however, that if some kind of a body—perhaps even permanent17—were created at the European Conference, this body could discuss the question of troops. The Soviet Union would be agreeable to such a procedure. As for the term “foreign troops,” it had been meant to include Soviet troops as well.

President Nixon remarked that a Soviet-American understanding on primary issues, such as SALT and Berlin, would have a beneficial influence upon any possible conference of European states.

Secretary Rogers said that if complex questions were to be excluded from discussion at a European Conference, it was difficult to see what could be accomplished. In brief, if we could foresee the achievement of positive results, we would be interested. If not, we would have doubts about the usefulness of such a conference.

Mr. Gromyko said we could not ignore the fact that for 25 years the Soviet Union had discussed disarmament questions in the United Nations with the United States, and with other countries, without being able to find any solutions. For this reason, the question of disarmament and force reduction was not perhaps quite suitable for discussion at an ESC. Should a body be created by that conference, however, he would have no objection to force reduction being discussed in that body. The President said that in principle we were not opposed to the conference. We would be in favor of it if preliminary discussions showed that it would be helpful.

SALT

The President said that it was his impression our two sides were dealing seriously with substantive matters on Strategic Arms Limitation.18 [Page 98]We did think that it was a constructive phenomenon for the two sides to be discussing this major issue. On November 2, the conference would resume in Helsinki. We were prepared to enter these discussions in the same spirit as we had entered them last year. He was going to instruct the U.S. Delegation to SALT to explore all possibilities of agreement. He recognized that this would require some time because the vital interests of the two countries were involved here. He felt that hard bargaining on both sides would be involved, but that some agreement could result from this bargaining process.

Mr. Gromyko said the Soviet Union approached these negotiations in all seriousness, fully aware that the questions under discussion were extremely difficult. His side would do all in its power to reach agreement. While in their view, a broad agreement would be the most desirable, if for some reason such broad agreement could not be reached at the present time, more limited agreements could be negotiated. In the future, such limited agreements could also serve as a basis for a broader understanding. His delegation would conduct the negotiations in Helsinki in this spirit.

The President said that the trouble with limited agreements was that they favored one side or the other. If the agreement dealt only with ABM we could not accept it. If it dealt only with offensive missiles, the Soviet Union would not accept it. Dr. Kissinger made much the same point. Secretary Rogers interjected that he, Mr. Gromyko and Gerard Smith had defined “limited” as the subject matter covered by our latest proposal rather than the earlier options. Mr. Gromyko was non-committal.19

Vietnam

The President said that he would raise the subject of Vietnam only in passing, in view of the fact that Mr. Gromyko and Secretary Rogers had already discussed it in New York, and that it had been reported to him that Mr. Gromyko saw no prospects of North Vietnam or the Provisional Revolutionary Government engaging in a discussion of our proposal. Our position in this matter was as follows: we have made a proposal and this is as far as we would go. It had been suggested, for example, that unilateral withdrawals be made without discussion with the other side. This was completely out of the question. The President said he had carefully considered the recent proposal advanced by the United States and if North Vietnam and the PRG declined to discuss our proposal in Paris, we would simply have to proceed down the other [Page 99]road, our program of Vietnamization. That program also would end the war, although the road would be longer. We would much prefer to shorten the war by meaningful discussions with the other side. The problem of Vietnam, of course, involved the United States to a far greater degree than the Soviet Union, for the simple reason that so many U.S. soldiers had been killed there. If, in the future, we should have to undertake forceful moves to protect the interests of our men, we would do so resolutely, but would also inform the Soviet side as we had done at the time of Cambodia. The President hoped that Mr. Gromyko would understand our position, by putting himself in our place. Since we were in this area we must protect our interests. We had made our proposal and hoped that it would be a basis for negotiation. If this failed to stimulate an interested reaction on the other side, we would proceed down the other track as forcefully as we considered necessary.

Mr. Gromyko said that in his view there was no prospect of the other side engaging in discussions unless the United States was willing to work out the timing for withdrawal of its troops, and agreed to the establishment of a coalition government for South Vietnam. His statement was based upon his knowledge of the position of North Vietnam. The President had spoken of the possibilities open to the United States and had said that the recent proposals were as far as we could go. Of course, we would be able to judge the situation better than he, but it was his impression that if we were serious about wanting to put an end to the war, we would have to go along with the two conditions he had mentioned. He would be less than frank if he did not tell the President the same thing he had said to Secretary Rogers.

The President appreciated Mr. Gromyko’s candor and said he knew that we disagreed on this subject. Regarding a date for withdrawal of U.S. troops, we were willing to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of forces. We were not going to indicate any date in advance on unilateral withdrawal,20 however, since to do so would mean to destroy our negotiating position. In regard to the coalition government, the opposition spoke of a coalition government as one that would be set up after removing all elected people in the present government. This was totally unacceptable to us. As he had said earlier, and as Secretary Rogers had told Mr. Gromyko in New York, whatever the leaders of North Vietnam and the PRG could arrange with South Vietnam would be acceptable to us.

If North Vietnam tried to step up military operations we would take strong actions. In that case, we would inform the Soviet leaders [Page 100]in advance.21 We had our interests in the area and we had our plan which was succeeding. We were confident that our plan would succeed. Time was now on our side, even though we regretted that it would take longer than the negotiating route. The President emphasized that we would do our best not to permit the Vietnam situation to interfere with our bilateral relations with the Soviet Union.

Conclusion

The President said he believed that he had covered most of the subjects that required discussion. Referring to earlier discussions, he said that as realists we knew, and Mr. Gromyko knew, that the question of the future of Europe, as well as the question of arms control, would depend upon whether the United States and the Soviet Union could work out solutions aimed at strengthening peace. We recognized that there were also a number of other factors threatening peace, but if the great powers worked together, the peace could be kept. As practical men, we knew that US-Soviet understanding was essential for the future of the world. He wanted to be sure that Mr. Gromyko would not leave with the impression that the internal political situation in the United States would lead the President to take a course opposite to the one he had followed until now. He noted that he would make a temperate speech before the United Nations tomorrow.22 Both Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Dobrynin were well acquainted with U.S. politics. Both had been in this room before with President Johnson and President Kennedy. The President said that he was in an unusual position. When he was elected to office, it had been said that President Nixon would not be able to work with the Soviet leaders because of his past background of anti-Communism. He did not believe this to be so. More than any other President since World War II, he felt that he could be flexible for precisely this reason. He was prepared to be flexible in all negotiations with the Soviet Union and wanted Mr. Gromyko to realize that his approach would not be doctrinaire on any subject, but, rather, pragmatic in all cases.

Mr. Gromyko thanked the President for his views and said that the President had correctly emphasized the role of the Soviet Union and the United States as the two great powers responsible for keeping peace in the world. The Soviet leadership was in full agreement with the premise that the future of the world depended to an enormous extent upon the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. If the U.S. Government worked in the direction of peace, if it respected [Page 101]the interests of the Soviet Union, it would find a vigorous, energetic and determined partner in its search for ways to improve relations. This policy of the Soviet Union was not new. It had been inviolable since the very inception of the Soviet State. It was important, however, to stress the concept of reciprocity. Mr. Gromyko repeated this statement for emphasis. As for what the President had said about the internal political situation influencing American foreign policy, it was not for him to offer any evaluation of this influence. He repeated however that his Government sometimes had the impression that the U.S. Government paid some tribute to the internal political situation in the U.S. in the conduct of its foreign affairs. If this was indeed so, it could only be harmful to the relations between our two countries. Mr. Gromyko said that he was gratified to learn that President Nixon’s speech before the UN would be temperate. One should be able to rise above transitory phenomena and guide our two countries to work for the interests of peace.23

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. According to another copy, Krimer completed the draft memorandum of conversation on October 23. (Ibid.) In an undated memorandum forwarding the draft to Kissinger, Haig noted that “Win[ston Lord] and I have reviewed and clipped where questions exist.” (Ibid.) A copy of the draft memorandum with Kissinger’s handwritten insertions and corrections is ibid. Substantive revisions are noted below. On October 26, Haig returned the final version to Kissinger with a note stating that it was “revised per your instructions.” (Ibid.) Kissinger also approved Haig’s suggestion to provide a copy of the final version to the Department of State for Eliot and Rogers on an “Exclusively Eyes Only” basis.
  2. Kissinger substituted the word “aired” for “resolved” in the original draft. Lord had written “(poorly [worded])” in the margin.
  3. During his speech before the General Assembly on October 21, Gromyko charged that the United States had deliberately misrepresented Soviet conduct in the Middle East and in Cuba, but he reiterated his willingness to negotiate on such issues as Berlin and SALT. For excerpts from the speech, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXII, No. 41 (November 3, 1970), pp. 4–7. Kissinger called Dobrynin at 8:35 a.m. on October 22 and remarked: “You kept your promise on the speech.” Dobrynin replied: “It was much better than it was before.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File)
  4. See Document 28.
  5. Kissinger inserted the words “described as.” In reference to the statement that Soviet-American relations “were now the coolest since the Cold War began,” Lord had written “(really?)” in the margin.
  6. Reference is presumably to the Soviet proposal on the Middle East, which Dobrynin gave Rogers on June 2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 159 and 162.
  7. Kissinger inserted this sentence.
  8. Kissinger inserted the phrase “specifically whether the Soviet Union was prepared to send troops for that purpose.”
  9. Kissinger inserted this sentence.
  10. Kissinger inserted this sentence.
  11. Kissinger inserted this sentence.
  12. Kissinger revised this sentence, which had read: “Mr. Gromyko thought that since our contacts were purely bilateral they could take place at any time.”
  13. Kissinger substituted the words “Mr. Gromyko use the phrase” for “that the Soviet position was” in the original draft.
  14. Brackets are in the original. The figurative usage of the Russian word “svyortyvaniye” may be translated into English as either “reduction” or “cutting down.”
  15. Reference is presumably to the so-called “Budapest Appeal” for a European security conference, which was issued on March 17, 1969, at a meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders in Budapest. For the text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1969, pp. 106–109.
  16. Kissinger deleted a previous sentence in the draft (“The Communiqué had also mentioned reduction of foreign troops in Europe.”) and revised this one, which had read: “What was meant by foreign troops?”
  17. Kissinger inserted this phrase.
  18. Kissinger substituted the words “dealing seriously with substantive matters” for “rather far apart on substantive agreement” in the original draft.
  19. Kissinger inserted this paragraph.
  20. On Lord’s suggestion, Kissinger inserted the words “on unilateral withdrawal.”
  21. Kissinger inserted the previous two sentences.
  22. Kissinger deleted the following words from the draft: “Mr. Gromyko had made a temperate speech before the UN yesterday, and said that,” in response to Lord’s question in the margin (“Gromyko speech temperate?”).
  23. Rogers called Kissinger at 2:11 p.m. to discuss the meeting, including his exchange with Gromyko on the Berlin negotiations. The following are excerpts from a transcript of the conversation: “R: I think the meeting was good. I didn’t mean to interrupt him on progress—. K: What you said was essential. They can give us internal access in Berlin which means nothing.” “[R:] The holdup was the condition [that] [w]e had to eliminate FRG in Berlin. They backed away from that. They did in NY and again today. He made it clear. I am going to work on the other thing. Let’s not say anything. K: That’s in your hands. We will not do anything.” “R: I think Russian things have gone well. We have taken the chill out of it but it’s not hearts and flowers. K: I think it’s well.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) The “other thing” is an apparent reference to the Middle East.