260. Memorandum for the President’s Files1

    • The President
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting was arranged by Dr. Kissinger in response to the request by Ambassador Dobrynin that he personally deliver the message of the Soviet Government for a Five-Power nuclear conference.2

Ambassador Dobrynin opened the conversation by handing to the President the official Soviet text and a translation. He said, “As is obvious, the Soviet Union is asking for a conference of nuclear powers to discuss the question of general and complete nuclear disarmament. The place can be wherever is convenient and the agenda is open. A preparatory meeting is acceptable. The Soviet Government hopes that your reply will be positive. Of course, Soviet/US talks will continue bilaterally outside the conference as part of the SALT talks. The note is being delivered today in Paris, London, Peking and Washington.” (Copy of note is attached)3

The President asked what preparatory work Ambassador Dobrynin had in mind. Was he thinking of Foreign Ministers? The Ambassador said, no, they were thinking of Foreign Ministry officials and Ambassadors. The time, place and modalities could be handled either through diplomatic channels or otherwise.

The President then said, “Let’s be realistic. The key to this sort of thing is what the two major nuclear powers will do. It is a question of leadership at the top—I don’t mean at the top of the governments, but at the top of this group of five.”

Ambassador Dobrynin asked, “Do you have anything in mind, Mr. President?” The President replied, “We will consider your proposal seriously. The way our two governments can make the most progress is [Page 775] through the talks that you and Kissinger have been having. They are completely confidential with nobody leaking. Your government has confidence in you; Kissinger has a special relationship with me. Apart from the cosmetics of a Five-Power discussion, the real issue is the Two-Power relationship.”

Ambassador Dobrynin said, “Well, how shall we do it?” The President answered, “We will make a formal reply. Then you have a little talk with Henry Kissinger.” The Ambassador said, “What do you think of US/Soviet relations in general?” The President said, “We can make a breakthrough on SALT and Berlin, and then our whole post-war relations will be on a new basis. The whole relationship can, indeed, be on a new basis. The press last week spoke of the failure of Berlin. You know better. We are at a point where we should make some agreement. If we culminate one, it will have a massive effect.”

Ambassador Dobrynin said, “Are there any other areas of discussion?” Dr. Kissinger said, “Mr. President, he is trying to lead you into the Middle East,” and the Ambassador laughed. The President said, “As for the Middle East, there is, of course, a fear of a US/Soviet condominium. Of course, Soviet and U.S. interests are quite different. We both have constituents we may not be able to control, and this makes the situation very explosive. The Middle East is very much on our mind and, at some point, discussions between us will be possible.”

The meeting then ended with an exchange of pleasantries.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [part 1]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted until 3 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) A tape recording of the conversation is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 521–5.
  2. See Document 257.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 257.
  4. After his meeting with Dobrynin, Kissinger met Haldeman for 10 minutes to discuss several issues. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule) Kissinger, for instance, told Haldeman that “we’ll probably drop the Midway visit now.” “Henry’s quite optimistic about all the rest of his initiatives,” Haldeman reported in his diary, “and feels that we don’t need this on top of all the rest. He had Dobrynin in today to present some proposal of no significance to the P and feels that the way things are rolling along, it’s all going to come together.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) Kissinger then met Nixon in the Oval Office from 3:19 to 3:31 p.m. to review the afternoon’s events. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) The two men agreed that “something’s going to happen.” Nixon: “Henry, can you wait to see their faces, though, if they do not give us the summit?” Kissinger: “And you announce [China]? [laughs] Mr. President, no matter what we do—what they do, we are so, for once, we are ahead of the power curve with them.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 521–7)