252. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

The three-hour dinner, interspersed with social talk, took place in order to give us an opportunity to review the international situation.2 The following subjects were covered in this order.

Vietnam and China

I told Dobrynin that we had made our final offer to the North Vietnamese. He was surprised by the fact that I had seen them. This, in itself, is significant since, in the past, he had always been informed when these meetings had taken place. He asked me what the offer was. I said that I had no objection if the North Vietnamese told him, but I did not feel that I could. I said that I thought it was a fair offer, and I wanted it understood that it would be the last one in this Administration and that if it were rejected it might lead to serious consequences.

Dobrynin asked whether I thought the Chinese would really permit peace. I said I didn’t know but they had moderated some of their public statements. Dobrynin said, well, in their talks to Moscow, the Chinese were taking a very tough line about the United States, accusing the U.S. of being the hotbed of imperialism. I said that we had very little direct contact with the Chinese but what there was was not quite that recriminatory. Dobrynin said he couldn’t understand why we seemed so eager to make concessions to the Chinese. There didn’t seem to be that much public pressure.

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I told him that we were not responding to public pressure so much as we were trying to remove some anomalies in the international situation. I asked whether the Soviet Union objected to an improvement in our relations with Communist China. Dobrynin said it would depend entirely on how it was done. If it were done in a manner that was designed to embarrass the Soviet Union or if it were publicly justified on the grounds of encircling the Soviet Union, then the reaction would be very strong. If, on the other hand, it were put on the basis of normal diplomacy and if it were kept within some bounds, reactions would be different. He asked whether we had sent a message through Ceausescu. I replied that there were limits to the messages third parties could carry.

Dobrynin then asked about the Chinese representation issue. I told him that we were still considering it. He said he didn’t see any future in our current position, but then he had to say he didn’t see any future in any new position either, and he thought it was essentially a tactical problem. The people in New York were all excited about it, but he didn’t attach too much importance to it. He repeated what he had said earlier—that he wasn’t sure whether China really wanted to be in the United Nations.

Middle East

The conversation then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin professed to be completely baffled by our policy in the Middle East. He said, “Did you really think you can push the Soviet Union out of the Middle East?” The Rogers trip was taken very badly in the Soviet Union, but it didn’t make any sense from any other point either. Sadat was genuinely astonished that Rogers had come to Cairo without any proposals of his own. Now we had made a new suggestion from Bergus to Sadat, but Dobrynin didn’t know whether the Israelis were in favor of it and, therefore, it might just be another theoretical exercise. The plan apparently was for Israel to withdraw to the east of the mountain passes leaving some demilitarized zone in between them and the Egyptian forces.

Dobrynin said that the Politburo was still eager for direct Soviet-U.S. conversations and that he was authorized to talk to me, but he had the impression that the United States was not prepared to engage in such conversations and, therefore, the initiative was up to us. I told Dobrynin that the time might come where direct talks between him and me were possible, but first we had to construct a negotiating context in which we could bring about some results. We also had to agree on what objective we were trying to achieve. I therefore thought that the best possibility was to let the Suez Canal opening talks proceed and then we could see further. Dobrynin said, “But do you not believe that we have an interest in opening the Suez Canal? Why, therefore, [Page 750] don’t you talk to us? We can always prevent a settlement if you push us to it. We got a 15–year treaty out of the Rogers visit and we have taken adequate precautions, you can be sure.” I said that it was not our policy to push the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. Politically, though, some reduction in the Soviet military presence there had always been part of our program.


The conversation then turned to Berlin. Dobrynin said that his impression was that matters were going forward well. There was, however, the fact that Rush, at the end of the last private meeting, had said that he had not studied the problem of Soviet presence in West Berlin, while Dobrynin had reported that we would be prepared to concede a trade mission. This was true. I had been told this by Rush. I told Dobrynin I would have to check into it since Rush was coming home for consultations. Dobrynin also made some comments about our alleged recalcitrance on the issue of Federal presence in West Berlin. But, on the whole, he thought matters were on the right track.


We then turned to SALT. I said that I hoped that the Soviet negotiators would come to Helsinki in a positive spirit—that this had become a test case, and it would be very important for us to proceed properly.

Dobrynin said that in a way he regretted that SALT had become the test case of our relationship. “In a way,” he said, “you’ve even imposed it on us.” The reason he regretted it was because, whether I believed it or not, he was in favor of closer Soviet-American relations and so, on the whole, was the whole Foreign Office. On the other hand, this was an issue which was essentially out of their control because the military played a very important role. Moreover, he said, in the Soviet system they did not have the cushion that was provided by our staff system. When any issue arose, therefore, it was taken directly to Brezhnev by the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry. The Foreign Ministry was precluded from making any comments on military issues. They could only defend their proposals on the grounds that it would help relations with the United States. The military were precluded from making any political judgments, but on the other hand, their military judgments were pretty definitive. This separation was being strictly maintained. For example, when Dobrynin was in Moscow for the Party Congress, he wanted military briefings. This required special Politburo clearance which was reluctantly granted, partly on the basis of his new membership in the Central Committee.

Therefore, Dobrynin could not in good conscience predict just how things were going to go in Helsinki. He was strongly advocating, and [Page 751] he knew Gromyko was also, that progress be made. But he also knew that this was not a matter entirely up to them. He thought that the issue of missile defense as against NCA would present some conceptual difficulty since their military frankly didn’t understand why we were so interested in that. He also said that he did not think the idea of Semenov coming over here in the interval would work because Semenov would be too busy preparing for Helsinki.


I raised the Summit issue by pointing out to Dobrynin that we had now been talking about a Summit for 14 months, and there was nothing we were going to find out that we did not already know. It, therefore, now simply came down to the issue of whether a Summit was wanted. The President felt that we had to know by the end of this month, and if we didn’t know by the end of this month, we would have to defer a decision until later this year and plan on a Summit sometime next year.

Dobrynin said he thought on the whole it would be better to have the Summit after the Berlin negotiations were concluded. I said they were far enough down the road, and we could not have them used as a blackmail. In any event, we would be unable to meet in September if we could not decide it by the end of June.

Dobrynin then said that he knew that Brezhnev was planning to go to Paris in October, but he would have to get instructions. He literally did not know what the thinking was in Moscow on the Summit. He wondered whether a Summit in the winter might be possible. I said if it weren’t in September, it would probably be best to defer it until early spring. I said that, from a political point of view, it would come in very handy next year, but from a substantive point of view, we strongly favored it this year.

Dobrynin said that he thought that our political situation was good and was improving. He saw no Democratic candidate who could beat the President. Moreover, we were mistaken if we believed that the Soviet Union preferred the defeat of a Republican President. From many points of view, a Republican was easier for them to deal with than a Democrat. Dobrynin said he would have a reply within two to three weeks.


We finally talked about odds and ends. For example, Dobrynin said that of American post-war leaders, Eisenhower was the one who had impressed the Soviets most as an honest man, and Dulles had impressed them most as being in command of the subjects.

Dobrynin said we had no idea of how little was known in the Soviet Union about the American mentality. For example, the Soviet [Page 752] leaders and public had been very impressed by the demonstrations against the Administration in late April and early May, despite Dobrynin’s reports that they were helping the Administration. What turned the tide was the showing of some television films of some of the demonstrators which offended the Soviet puritanical sense and which were barred from Soviet television after some viewers protested.

Dobrynin continually returned to the Chinese theme, saying that Chou En-Lai was their ablest man, but that they were dedicated to tension between the United States and themselves. He also thought that Southeast Asia would be a natural area of expansion for China. He rejected my suggestion that the Soviet Union might begin to take an interest in Southeast Asia.

Dobrynin at one point mused whether Japan would cooperate with China or become a rival. He thought that they might cooperate with China on an anti-white basis. When I said, well, maybe they’ll agree on some spheres of influence, Dobrynin said, “Well, they compete in all the important spheres.” I said what about Siberia? He laughed grimly and said, “We are building it up at a very rapid pace and we even told the Chinese we would let them do some investing there.” I asked, “How about Chinese immigration?” He replied, “We are not crazy.”

I recounted to Dobrynin some of the naval moves of recent months, and he said he would report to Moscow what the interaction could be between their tender and some of our maneuvers in the Black and Baltic Seas.

The meeting ended on an extremely cordial note, since he was very impressed by Camp David.3

  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; Eyes Only. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum and another summarizing its “highlights” to Nixon on June 15. A note indicates that the President saw both memoranda. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Dobrynin at the White House; the two men then left at 6:20 p.m. for an “overnight” at Camp David. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) For their memoir accounts, see Kissinger, White House Years, p. 834, and Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 221–223.
  2. During a telephone conversation at 4:56 p.m. on June 3, Kissinger invited Dobrynin for a “general review” of Soviet-American relations. They agreed to meet on June 8 for a dinner cruise on the Potomac. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 27, Dobrynin File) Kissinger called Dobrynin at 9:35 a.m. on June 7 to report that a White House yacht was not available for the occasion. He suggested instead an overnight visit to Camp David. (Ibid.)
  3. Kissinger called Dobrynin at 11:31 a.m. on June 9 and proposed the following cover story for the meeting: “I have told our bureaucracy that you and I had breakfast and I took you for a helicopter ride around the city. You don’t have to say anything but just don’t say the opposite.” Kissinger also reported: “on that issue of your presence in W. Berlin, I have now received other communications from Rush and it will move in the direction I talked about with you.” (Ibid.)