238. Editorial Note
On May 27, 1971, the Department of State acted on its own initiative to enunciate the administration’s policy on the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. According to his Appointment Book, Secretary of State William Rogers met at 11:40 a.m. with Robert J. McCloskey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Press Relations, and Richard T. Davies, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers) Davies was the Department’s principal officer on Soviet affairs, including the Jewish question. Although no record of the conversation has been found, the three men presumably discussed the Department’s daily press conference that afternoon. Charles W. Bray, Director of the Office of Press Relations, opened the press conference at 12:12 p.m. by reading the following “short statement” on the recent trials in Riga and Leningrad:
“The continued Soviet practice of trying people in secret is a matter of deep concern to us. There is great interest among Americans in these trials which, as I said here a week ago, have not been open to any impartial foreign observers. We understand that foreign newsmen have applied to cover the trials but that the Soviet authorities have refused each application. Based on accounts from TASS, the trial which concluded today in Riga claimed that four Jewish defendants were [Page 700] charged with, quote, ‘fabricating and circulating slanderous materials for subversive purposes’, unquote.
“It would appear that the defendants were tried for an action or actions which are not even considered a crime in most countries. We trust that the Soviet Government realizes that Americans of every political persuasion and religious belief deplore the persecution of persons simply for studying a foreign language—in this case, Hebrew—and for running materials off on a mimeograph machine, as seems to have been the case, judging from TASS reporting of the Riga trial. These trials and the previous trials at Leningrad are abhorrent on three grounds—the denial of the right to an open trial, persecution of people for their beliefs, and the denial of the right of people freely to leave any country and to travel or reside abroad in the country of their choice.
“We deeply regret these deprivations of fundamental human rights, rights which should not be in question anywhere in the second half of the Twentieth Century.”
During the conference, Bray received several questions on whether this statement represented a departure from the administration’s policy:
“Q: Charles, a historical question which maybe you can answer: Is there any precedent for a statement like this from the State Department about a criminal trial in the Soviet Union?
“A: I wasn’t incarnated at the time, but I think that you will find a statement in connection with the first Leningrad trial and a number of statements issued, either in the name of the Secretary or in this forum, with respect to the right of peoples to their beliefs and to the right of emigration.
“Q: Nevertheless, Charles, frequently the Department has declined to comment on trials or political actions within any number of countries on the grounds of noninterference with internal affairs. Could you elaborate a little further why interference was deemed necessary in this case?
“A: Well, I’m not sure that I would characterize it as ‘interference,’ Gary.
“Q: Well, simply becoming involved in the internal affairs of another Government.
“A: We’re addressing ourselves here to what seems to us to be a very clear violation of the Declaration of the Universal Rights of Man.
“Q: Well, Charles, you set down three criteria for things that are abhorrent and denial of the right to an open trial and so forth. Are these covered in the Declaration of Human Rights? I don’t think they’re covered in Soviet law, and I’m just wondering the basis for finding this abhorrent—an action at a trial and internal affairs in the Soviet Union.
“A: I’ll have to check that as a factual matter, Stu.”[Page 701]
When a reporter asked whether the statement had been “cleared with the White House,” Bray replied: “I simply don’t know the answer to that question, but I think you can take this as a statement by the Department of State on behalf of this Government.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of News, Transcripts of Daily News Conferences of the Department of State, Vol. 60)
Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin called Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger at 5:46 p.m. to complain about the Department’s statement, as reported in a ticker item released that afternoon by United Press International. According to a transcript, the conversation included the following exchange:
“D: In connection with the talks about the White House and State, I have just seen UPI 117 [read it] to the effect that the U.S. today publicly condemned Russia for the conviction of the four Jews. The ticker said it was the strongest ever issued by the Department.
“K: God-damn them! When was it issued? I gave them instructions at 1:00 …
“D: It’s on the ticker.
“K: Oh, God-damn. You have to believe me—I did not know about this. The President did not know about it. I will have to check into it. I haven’t seen the ticker, but I’ll look at it immediately.
“D: It is the strongest ever.
“K: Tell them that I instructed the Department …
“D: What kind of fools do they have? It is our law. Why should the Department be involved in our condemning them? I just want to know.
“K: Tell them that you brought it to my attention.
“D: And that from now on you will use much more control on this?
“K: From now on, I will take responsibility for matters of this kind. I will found out what happened.
“D: It definitely looks political.
“K: It may be something that was authorized three days ago. I will look into it and give you an informal opinion tomorrow.
“D: You don’t have to give me an opinion. It’s public—on the radio.
“K: You mention to them this was done prior to my discussion with you.
“D: Okay.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File)
Kissinger’s instructions to the Department that afternoon have not been found.[Page 702]
As soon as he was finished with Dobrynin, Kissinger went to the Oval Office to brief President Richard Nixon. When Kissinger arrived at 5:56 p.m., Nixon was discussing domestic policy with his Assistant for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. Kissinger reported that Dobrynin had already “complained this morning that he was being constantly called in by the State Department, the lower officials, to make petty complaints to him.” In response to Dobrynin’s complaint, Kissinger pledged that “we will now check these things personally to make sure that there was no harassment.” According to Kissinger, however, the situation had suddenly become “quite serious”:
Kissinger: “The State Department issued a terrific blast against the treatment of Jews in—”
Kissinger: “—the Soviet Union.”
Nixon: “Oh, why—didn’t we stop that? Goddamn, I thought we just had that little—”
Kissinger: “I had thought—I reaffirmed—I may ask you to sign—”
Nixon: “All right. I’ll sign a letter.”
Kissinger: “—that they—any statement concerning the Soviet Union for the next two months has to be cleared here no matter how trivial.”
Nixon: “I think you should get the memorandum to me today. I mean—”
Nixon: “—first thing in the morning, Henry. It’s so important.”
Kissinger: “Because it’s a—”
Kissinger: “—it gets us nothing to—”
Nixon: “Yeah. But I don’t want to—because of very high considerations, indeed, I want no statement concerning the Soviet Union of any kind, public statements, to be made without clearance with me. [unclear]”
Haldeman: “Unless somebody comes—”
Kissinger: “With all—you know, I’m Jewish myself, but who are we to complain—”
Kissinger: “—about Soviet Jews? It’s none of our business. If they complain—if they made a public protest to us for the treatment of Negroes, we’d be—”
Nixon: “I know.”[Page 703]
Kissinger: “You know, it’s none of our business how they treat their people.”
Nixon: “Yeah. Well, we—that’s why I think your—that’s why I couldn’t see Max Fisher and that other fellow, Schacter. Christ, I can’t see these people about the treatment of—we’re—they know how we feel for Christ’s sakes.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 504–15) The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.
Before Kissinger could draft a memorandum, Rogers called at 6:40 p.m. to review the day’s events:
“R: I am just calling on that damn statement Bray made at the briefing.
“K: Yes, I mentioned to the President that you were mortified and it was a mistake and he understands.
“R: I said if the question was asked we should express our concern and say we still believe in the Human Rights Convention and that people should be able to emigrate. Said don’t know about evidence in the trial. Instead of that we volunteered a statement.
“K: The President feels, for obvious reasons, that he would like to cool the debate between us and the Soviet Union.
“R: I think there is this to be said—and I’m not trying to justify the mistake; it was a mistake and I was screaming about it before I heard from over there—but the only bright side is that this may help cool those who might help the JDL. Every time the JDL gets aroused it causes additional problems in the Soviet Union.
“K: I think that is right and it’s done now, but we are going to make sure we don’t make any belligerent statements. We can always go back to the hotline.
“R: This is just one of those mistakes. You don’t have to send any memo to me.” (Ibid., Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File)
Kissinger called Dobrynin at 6:48 p.m. to report that the administration would henceforth speak with one voice on the Soviet Union, including the emigration of Soviet Jews. “I just wanted to tell you,” Kissinger explained, “that I have looked into this and it was done before our instructions reached them, or so they say now. At any rate, we will send out a Presidential order tomorrow preventing this, and you can assure them that what I told you is correct. No department will be permitted to say anything about the Soviet Union that has not been checked in the White House. I regret that this happened and so does the President with whom I have taken this up personally.” Dobrynin thanked Kissinger for the call. (Ibid., Box 27, Dobrynin File)
On May 28, the President signed and sent the following memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of [Page 704] Central Intelligence: “Until further notice any public statements or press guidance, on or off the record, dealing with the Soviet Union or the status of U.S.-Soviet relations will be cleared by the White House.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 284, Agency Files, Dept. of State, Vol. XII)