303. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Henry A. Kissinger
    • Ambassador Dobrynin

The meeting was arranged at my request2 because I wanted to have an opportunity to talk with Dobrynin about Vietnam.

Kama River Project

I opened the meeting by informing Dobrynin of the decisions with respect to the foundry for the Kama River Project. I told him that the decision had been favorable and amounted to about $170 million. Dobrynin asked what that meant for the rest of the Kama River Project, and I replied that we needed another four to six weeks to make up our mind. Dobrynin then said, in the usual ungenerous Soviet way, that he hoped we realized the foundry had already been taken for granted in Moscow. I said that that was their problem; my problem was to inform them of the decisions we had made, and considering that it was a unilateral American gesture for which we didn’t ask reciprocity, it didn’t make any difference whether it had been taken for granted or not. Dobrynin then changed tack and rather effusively thanked us for the very positive steps that had been taken on trade since the SALT agreement.


Dobrynin then reviewed the SALT situation in Helsinki. He thought we were on a positive course. He said there was still some hesitation in Moscow on the number of Safeguard sites, and of course, an NCA agreement would be a lot easier. I went over familiar grounds with him and told him that that, in effect, meant zero for us and [Page 894] Moscow for them. Dobrynin said they were prepared to examine the zero-ABM proposal. I told him we would be back to them.3


With respect to Berlin, Dobrynin said that he thought that we were on a good course and that things were working out exactly as I had predicted. He said it had made a good impression in Moscow.


I then turned the conversation to Vietnam. I said we had reason to believe that Hanoi was at a very crucial point in its decision. I knew that Le Duc Tho was returning to Hanoi. While in the last year and a half I had accepted the proposition that the Soviet Union could not do much about Vietnam, I was now approaching him because I thought there was a useful moment for intervention. If the war in Vietnam continued, it was certain that the bargaining position of Hanoi vis-à-vis us would decline. In fact, Hanoi was in the curious position of threatening us with a continuation of the war, at the end of which—whether Hanoi won or lost—we would not be in a position to do for them what they were asking simply because the number of our troops would have declined too much.

Dobrynin said that he had had a full report about my meeting with Le Duc Tho in Paris on July 12.4 He said I had fooled even him. At first he had thought that of course I was going to meet Le Duc Tho, no matter what the press said; but then when the China initiative was sprung he thought that maybe I had used Le Duc Tho as a cover for Peking. Now he did not know whether I was using Peking as a cover for Le Duc Tho or whether the two were independent. At any rate, he received the telegram about my meeting with Le Duc Tho just after I had had lunch with him to tell him about the Peking meeting.5

Dobrynin said that Hanoi told them that there were only two issues left—setting a deadline and overthrowing the Thieu Government. All other issues Hanoi believed could be settled. I said that I did not think the deadline was an insuperable difficulty; Dobrynin said that this was his impression also. But with respect to the overthrow of the [Page 895] Thieu Government, I said that this was a condition we could not accept. First, because we did not have the power to do so. Second, because it would be dishonorable even to discuss overthrowing the government of an ally. On the other hand, we had made proposals whose practical consequence had to be to give maximum freedom of choice to the South Vietnamese. I recapitulated the proposals we had offered: to set a deadline after final agreement; to affirm the concept of neutrality for Vietnam; and to accept limitations on military and economic aid after a settlement. It was hard to see how much more we could do. I said this would have a profound impact on the election campaign. Dobrynin said, yes, he had to admit that.

Dobrynin then asked me how I proposed to proceed. I said that our idea was that we could sign a statement of principles on the points which we had agreed upon at the private talks and then transmit those to the conference for implementation. He asked how the PRG and the Saigon Administration were going to be handled. Were they going to associate themselves with these principles? I said, yes, they would have to associate themselves with these principles, but I thought this would not be a major difficulty on our side. Dobrynin said, well, it should be possible to find some formula to do this.

Dobrynin asked whether we were going to set a firm deadline or whether we were going to make it dependent on the final agreement. I said we were going to make the deadline start running on the day the final agreement was signed, because otherwise I was afraid their allies were going to delay forever, and we would still be talking to them about the other point while the last American troops had left Vietnam. Dobrynin said, well, the trouble with the North Vietnamese is that they want everything signed and delivered. It isn’t enough for them to start a political process. They want to make sure that Thieu is overthrown. I said that, short of giving them that assurance, I thought the other points were manageable. Dobrynin said that Hanoi had told them they were willing to continue fighting, but he felt that there was a real desire to come to an agreement this year.


Dobrynin then returned to the Berlin talks. He said it was a pity that the Peking trip had supervened, because he was certain that within five days of the preliminary agreement on Berlin an invitation to a summit in Moscow would have been issued. I said that this was an example of the difficulties in our relationships. The President had given his word that he would work constructively for a Berlin solution. After some initial fumbling about setting up the right channels, we had carried out exactly what we had told him. Yet the Soviet leaders had continually started bringing little pressures on us. I said the President would be as willing to make a big move with Moscow as he was with [Page 896] Peking; in fact, given the nature of our relationships, he would probably attach higher priority to Moscow than to Peking. However, it was important to put relationships on a level that was worthy of the President instead of this constant nitpicking argument.

Dobrynin replied that we just didn’t understand. The Soviet leaders had really made a decision to see the President, and had just expressed it in a clumsy way. They couldn’t do it in September; October was taken by the trip to France; so they had picked November as the earliest possible date—and instead we preferred to see Mao Tse-tung. He had to admit, he said, that I could not believe him if he said they were not concerned in Moscow. But they were willing to retain an open mind. He said that the way to deal with this was to proceed on the basis of the future and to see whether we could work out a more constructive relationship. I told him I agreed, and we departed after some exchange of amenities.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 7 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in General Hughes’s office in the East Wing of the White House. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum and another summarizing its “highlights” to the President on August 9. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Dobrynin from 6:38 to 8:10 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. See Document 301.
  3. In a backchannel message to Smith on August 3, Kissinger expressed concern about the “leisurely pace” of the negotiations in Helsinki. As Smith later recalled, Kissinger also raised the proposal of an ABM ban: “From his talks with Dobrynin, [Kissinger] had believed that it would never be seriously considered by the Soviets because it would require costly dismantling of assets already paid for. He concluded disingenuously, ‘But I will yield to wiser heads’!” (Smith, Doubletalk, p. 259)
  4. A memorandum of conversation and Kissinger’s memorandum to Nixon on the meeting with Le Duc Tho are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Documents 236 and 237.
  5. See Document 288.
  6. Kissinger met Nixon in the Executive Office Building from 8:30 to 8:50 p.m., presumably to discuss his meeting with Dobrynin. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No record of the conversation has been found.