24. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • 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
    • Summit Meeting

Foreign Minister Gromyko said that, of course, he was acquainted with the President’s views in regard to a possible meeting at the summit level. He was convinced that certain important questions, including that of the bilateral relations between the USSR and the United States, required consideration at that level. He was authorized by his Government to say that the idea of having a meeting of the top leaders of the two countries is acceptable to the Soviet Union. He was aware of the preliminary considerations expressed by the American side regarding the time for such a meeting. As for the Soviet views on this question: in March of 1971 the Party Congress will be in session in Moscow. Consequently, April also will be a very busy month and would not be quite suitable as a possible date for a summit meeting. It would have to be a date sometime after April which could be agreed upon subsequently. In general, the President’s considerations on this question are not in conflict with the Soviet views and there should be no difficulty in reaching an understanding.

Taking the President’s considerations into account, as for a place for a summit meeting, the Soviets thought that it would be correct that such a meeting be held in the Soviet Union. That was the Soviet proposal. [Page 103] As for problems to be discussed at the summit, he did not think that it would be difficult to reach agreement on an agenda in the future. Of course, in connection with the problems to be discussed and with the very idea of holding a meeting at the summit, it would be important for both sides to conduct their bilateral relations in such a way as to insure that the summit meeting would be productive of positive results to a maximum extent. Mr. Gromyko felt there was no need to discuss in detail the impact that a Soviet-American summit meeting would have on the international situation. He thought that a positive outcome would have a tremendous effect upon the relations between his country and the United States and also would have a most important positive influence on the state of international affairs generally. He asked for the President’s views on this question.

President Nixon replied that it was true he had said that a summit meeting would have a very dramatic effect. However, Mr. Gromyko, who had been at Camp David,2 must certainly also be aware that summit meetings could produce a very dramatic hangover in terms of the great expectations that people placed upon such meetings when not much agreement is produced in the result. He agreed that it would be good to hold this kind of a meeting. He had never met Mr. Kosygin or Mr. Brezhnev3 in person and thought it was most important that they meet personally. He also thought it was important that we have enough time to prepare for this meeting in order to achieve concrete progress on basic important matters, such as SALT, for example, as well as on some collateral issues, such as the Middle East, if these issues were still active by the time of a summit meeting. He had discussed the idea of a summit meeting with Secretary Rogers and they both agreed that Moscow would be a suitable place. Mr. Khrushchev had come here about ten years ago. Mr. Kosygin and President Johnson had met in Glassboro4 and therefore it would be quite correct now for an American President to visit the Soviet Union.

Secretary Rogers remarked that it would be important to give thought to the subjects to be discussed at the summit.

President Nixon said it seemed to him that we had basic agreement on setting the time for the meeting sometime next year in order [Page 104] to minimize any problems he might have with Congress, and he remarked that undoubtedly the Soviet side had similar problems with its own Parliament. It would be desirable to make a formal announcement of the intention of holding a summit meeting rather than risking the possibility that the information might leak out.

Mr. Gromyko replied that he would welcome the President’s suggestion as for when an announcement of the intention to hold a summit meeting should be made. Of course, he did not think that this should be done today or tomorrow. He would be returning to his country on the 29th of October and would then be reporting to his Government. Perhaps then, or about a week later, the timing of the announcement could be coordinated between both sides.

The President repeated that it would be useful to announce it before there was any chance of a leak so that there would then be no need to deny the information and then confirm it at a later time. It would be better to do it formally.

Secretary Rogers remarked that it should also be announced that the summit level idea had come about by mutual agreement rather than detailing who had invited whom.

The President agreed that it would avoid embarrassment for either side if we were simply to announce that during the conversation between him and Mr. Gromyko both sides had agreed that it would be useful for the top leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States to meet personally.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Presumably prepared by Krimer (see footnote 1, Document 23). Haig sent the memorandum to Kissinger and noted it “appears to be okay.” (Undated memorandum; ibid.) Kissinger approved a suggestion from Haig to restrict access to the White House “until after the [summit] announcement is made.” (Memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, October 26; ibid.)
  2. Reference is to the series of meetings between President Eisenhower and Chairman Khrushchev at Camp David, Maryland, September 25–27, 1959.
  3. Kissinger added Brezhnev to the list of Soviet leaders Nixon had “never met.” Vice President Nixon, however, had met Brezhnev during his trip to the Soviet Union in July 1959. In his published account of the famous “Kitchen Debate” with Khrushchev, Nixon recalled that “[s]tanding next to Khrushchev … was one of his chief aides, a young party official named Leonid Brezhnev.” (Nixon, RN: Memoirs, p. 209)
  4. President Johnson and Premier Kosygin met at Glassboro, New Jersey, June 23–25, 1967.
  5. As previously arranged by Kissinger and Dobrynin (see Document 18), Nixon gave Gromyko a tour of the West Wing and his private office from 1:15 to 1:27 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this private meeting has been found. According to Haldeman, who recorded the day’s events in his journal, Nixon “took [Gromyko] to EOB for private talk at the end. Got agreement on Summit, but not on announcement next week. Will have to push Dobrynin on this. P. obviously enjoyed the confrontation. Says talking w[ith] Communists is easier than others because they are hard, tough, blunt, direct—no diplomatic flummery. Coming out of EOB they started down opposite sides of the center hand rail—Gromyko moved over & said ‘we should have no rail between us’.” (Ibid., Haldeman Diaries, Handwritten Journals and Diaries of H. R. Haldeman, Box 1, Vol. VI) Kissinger later recalled the President also “explained to Gromyko that all preparations for the summit should take place between Dobrynin and me.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 794)