259. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

    • Premier Kosygin’s Speech

In many ways the Premier’s “election” speech of June 9 was a curious presentation.2 It combines rather harsh criticism of the US with some more positive forecasts that relations may improve. It is also contradictory: he refuses to make a distinction between bilateral relations with the US and our “aggressive policy,” yet he announced, at the same time, that the USSR is prepared for talks with the US on a “wide range of questions of mutual interest.” The ambiguity in treatment of the US carries over to several areas.

  • Kosygin acknowledges that relations with the US merit “special attention.” On the other hand, he went out of his way to deny that the USSR would ever engage in “super-power” collusions with the US to settle international issues.
  • —He criticized us for attaching conditions to international issues and linking one issue with another, especially pointing to delaying tactics in taking up the Soviet MBFR proposal (after the Soviets waited three years). But he made his own linkage by stressing that our support for Israel worsened the Middle East situation, and could not fail to have an effect on other areas.
  • —He noted that relations with the US were “far from satisfactory” and went on to talk about the so called crisis of capitalism and US exploitation [Page 773] of its allies. Yet, he ended the foreign policy section of his remarks by concluding that the USSR had reason to be optimistic concerning the developments of international affairs.

In short the Premier gave an “election” speech in which he carefully covered all bets. For him this may have been necessary. You may recall he suffered a demotion in the hierarchical rankings at the Party Congress, and his is the first of three major speeches. He will be followed by President Podgorny and then on Friday by Brezhnev.3 Considered in this light, it was probably prudent for Kosygin to balance his remarks and avoid straightforward positions.

Since there will be two important speeches coming, too much importance should probably not be attached to Kosygin’s alone as a clear policy signal. What will be more interesting will be the emphasis Brezhnev chooses in discussing relations with the US. Kosygin, for example, totally ignored the subject of SALT, which may be reserved for Brezhnev.

For now, one could conclude that the Soviet top leaders seem to be cautiously avoiding any verbal commitment to the thesis that relations with the US are improving, but suggesting to their audiences, that this is the more likely trend. This was evident in Kosygin’s standard descriptions of the two choices facing Washington: continuing tensions, or “mutually acceptable solutions to pressing problems.” He implied that the second road was the more likely choice.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Confidential. Sent for information. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger on June 10 with the comment: “Though our press has played it as an attack on us, there is also in the speech some optimism about improving relations.” Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Do wrap-up of all these speeches, comparisons & trends—soonest—At any rate by COB June 15.” (Ibid.) No other memorandum has been found. According to a notation and an attached correspondence profile, the President saw the memorandum on June 22.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 255. Rogers also noted the speech in a telephone conversation with Haig at 9:18 a.m. on June 10. “I am not sure we are doing the right thing on our attitude toward the Soviet Union,” Rogers told Haig. “That speech by Kosygin wasn’t exactly conciliatory. We are losing ground with our allies. But I will talk to the President about it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Alexander M. Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons, 1971 [2 of 2]) Nixon and Rogers discussed the Kosygin speech, as well as the Podgorny and Brezhnev “election” addresses, during a meeting in the Oval Office on June 14 at 12:26 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 519–7.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 256.