29. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

The conversation came about because the President wanted me to take up the issue of how to deal with getting substantive talks started between Israel and the Arab countries, and also to explore the possibility of the Summit.2

Middle East

I began the conversation by telling Dobrynin that the President had decided after the conversation with Gromyko that he would use his influence to move the negotiations forward. However, the Soviet Union had an important decision to make. Did it want to handle the problem purely tactically in order to get the maximum benefit with the [Page 117] Arabs, or would it cooperate with us in a way that would let negotiations proceed towards a reasonable conclusion? Specifically, it was essential if negotiations were to start that there not be too much of a strain between us and Israel. This meant that we should not be pushed into a position either of disassociating ourselves from Israel in the UN debate or of being pushed with it into a position of relative isolation. We, therefore, would suggest either that there be no debate on the issue or that the Soviet Union use its influence in the direction of a moderate resolution.

I said that I would be talking to Golda Meir on Sunday3 and I would be able to give him a better assessment then of how quickly we could move matters to a negotiation. However, we would attempt to do it in a way that met the legitimate concerns of all sides. We wanted the Soviet Union to take the same attitude, however.

Dobrynin replied that it was one thing for us to have this understanding between our two countries. It was another, though, to get the Arabs to call off a debate on the basis of such a vague assurance. He therefore wondered whether it might not be better to let the debate proceed with the understanding that the Soviet Union would use its influence in the direction of moderation. In any event, the Soviet Union would not exacerbate the situation. It was not possible though for the Soviet Union to go to the Arabs and say they had a vague understanding—all the more so if they would not be able to describe the nature of that understanding or the channel.

I said that another aspect of the proposition was that the ceasefire would have to last six months this time if the talks proceeded. Dobrynin said that this was being seriously studied in Moscow. Finally, I said that if we found it necessary to give military equipment to Israel in order to move it towards negotiations the Soviet Union should not use this in order to inflame Arab feelings.

Dobrynin asked whether I was saying we were giving military equipment beyond what had already been agreed to by the Johnson Administration. I replied that, since the Soviet Union did not give us a schedule of its deliveries, no point was served by my being more specific. He knew very well what I meant.

Dobrynin asked me whether it might not be best to have the debate proceed and to try to concert our actions with respect to the Resolution. I told him this might be a possibility.

[Page 118]


We then turned to the Summit announcement. Dobrynin asked me which of the two dates the President had mentioned for the announcement—October 29 or October 30—we were thinking of. I told Dobrynin that the President was now thinking of a Summit announcement for October 30, in California, and I added that it seemed to me unnecessary to wait for final word until Gromyko returned to Moscow since I had every confidence that their communications system was adequate to getting a response.

Dobrynin replied that the communications had indeed been used and that a full report had been sent to Moscow. He hoped to have a reply by the first half of next week. He asked the reason for the hurry. I said that it was to prevent leakage and, in any event, if these things were done, they were just as well done quickly.4

I then requested Dobrynin to see to it that the two Generals that had been captured because their plane was forced down at the Turkish border be released as quickly as possible. Dobrynin asked whether I could assure him that they were not on an intelligence mission. I replied that, to the best of my information, they were not on an intelligence mission, certainly not one of which the White House had any cognizance. If investigations should turn up that they were, it was a local affair. However, I did not believe that they had been on such a mission. Dobrynin said, “If they have been on an intelligence mission, will you reprimand them?” I said I would have to look into the matter, but I wanted to tell him that it would make a good impression if they were released as quickly as possible. Dobrynin said he would transmit this to Moscow.

Dobrynin then said that the Soviet Union had a concern that they had raised with a number of people. The Ivanov 5 case had been hanging fire for a long time. It had been raised with Secretary Rogers and previously with Secretary Rusk. It was a matter of great concern to the Soviet leadership. Ivanov was not, himself, an important person, but it would be taken as a sign of good will if he were released. I told Dobrynin I did not know anything about the case, but I would look into it. If I had anything to say about it, I would communicate with him.

[Page 119]


Dobrynin then raised the issue of Cuba. He said Gromyko, the previous day, had been amazed that the President had listed Cuba among the topics to be discussed, but had never returned to it.6 He wondered whether that had any significance. Were we planning anything with respect to Cuba?

Dobrynin said that if the issue had been raised, Gromyko had been instructed to say the following: “We do not have a submarine base in Cuba, nor are we building a military naval facility. We do not intend to have a military naval facility, and we will abide strictly by our understandings of 1962. We are also making the exchanges from August onward part of the understanding of 1962.” Dobrynin added an oral comment that the list of excluded provisions in my oral note7 could not be accepted in that form because it was not based on reciprocity. The Soviet Union had not given us a list of what sort of exile activities we could not support and we could not give a list of legal standing to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the Soviet Union understood from that list what we considered a naval base, and it would take it into serious consideration in interpreting what constituted a base. The one thing that concerned the Soviet Union was the implication that occasional visits by ships or submarines were excluded, particularly if they were courtesy and ceremonial visits.

I replied the distinction was perfectly obvious. We could not object to an occasional ceremonial visit. We would object, however, to a visit of a nature which extended the operating radius or the length of time that the ship could stay at sea, using Cuban facilities or Soviet facilities based in Cuba. Dobrynin said this was covered by the phrase “Soviet military naval base.” I responded that I wanted to make sure, for example, that he understood that we could not consider the presence of the Soviet submarine tender a courtesy visit when it had been in Cuban waters for over a month and it continued to stay. It would raise serious questions again. Dobrynin said, “Well, in due time, it will probably leave, but we understand the proposition you are making. [Page 120] We simply cannot accept the proposition that we do not have a right to make occasional visits.”

I said, “I want you to know that we will consider this list as an indicator of what constitutes a base, and we note as a positive contribution your statement about a military naval and submarine base.” Dobrynin replied that he wanted to call particular attention to the phrase “we will strictly observe these agreements” and that the exchange of views from August onward would be incorporated into the understandings of 1962.


There then was some desultory conversation about the organization of government. It was Dobrynin’s view that the method of having one central focus into which flowed information from the State Department, the Defense Department, and intelligence was something that the Kremlin was lacking, and that they should implement.

Dobrynin then made some small talk about various personalities and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was extremely cordial throughout. Dobrynin served brandy and tea, and was his most affable self.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Soviet Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Kissinger forwarded and summarized the “full records” of his meetings with Dobrynin on October 23 and 27 in a memorandum to the President on November 3. (Ibid.) In a memorandum to Rogers on October 28, Kissinger also forwarded “a record of my Cuba and Summit discussions with Ambassador Dobrynin” on those dates, which was comprised of selected excerpts from his memoranda of conversation. One substantive deletion from this record is noted below. According to Haig’s handwritten notation, Rogers saw it aboard Air Force One on October 28. (Ibid.)
  2. As Kissinger commented in his memoirs: “One did not have to be too well versed in American politics to understand this rather transparent maneuver so close to our Congressional elections.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 795)
  3. October 25.
  4. Kissinger deleted the last two sentences from the record he gave Rogers.
  5. Ivanov is a spy we have been holding and do not wish to release because we are using his case to get a constitutional determination on wire tapping. If we let him go now, we lose the opportunity to get a ruling. Once we have a determination in hand there should be little problem in releasing him. This should take about another year. [Footnote is in the original. For background on the case, see Document 33.]
  6. On October 25, the New York Times reported that Kissinger met Gromyko, as well as Dobrynin, during his visit to the Soviet Mission two days earlier. According to this report, Soviet and American sources had “reluctantly confirmed” that the meeting had taken place but refused to disclose the subject of conversation, “which might have dealt with American concern about possible construction of a Soviet submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba.” (Hedrick Smith, “Gromyko Meets Kissinger Quietly,” New York Times, October 25, 1970, p. 20) No evidence has been found, however, that Kissinger also met Gromyko on October 23.
  7. Dated October 9. See Document 6 and footnote 3 thereto.