305. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin)1

K: Anatoliy, how are you. I have a number of items which I want to take up with you. (1) Our Ambassador deduced from his conversation with your Foreign Minister that your Foreign Minister was eager for a channel between the President and your Chairman Brezhnev. At any rate we don’t want to use a channel through Beam, but through the established channel. He got the impression that Gromyko was hinting that Brezhnev wanted some indication from the President on policy views.

D: Brezhnev knows everything I am doing, so it’s not quite clear.

K: Let me find it. I will read my cable to you since you read my cables anyway. [read Smith’s cable].2

D: It means that he mentioned in passing the importance of …

K: “It seems significant that Brezhnev asked the President to be informed.” I don’t care much as long as you understand it.

D: I know perfectly well. It means simply they want to emphasize that Brezhnev is really the number one man from this point of view.

K: We wanted to say we will not reply in that channel. We are assuming you understand that what I say to you comes from the President and that any suggestions directly concerning the President are more efficient to discuss in your channel.

D: I am sure 100 per cent.

K: I am sure, too, but on the off-chance, we want you to understand.

D: It is my impression that, in passing, Gromyko wanted to emphasize it is a good idea that they communicate person to person.

K: If you think it’s a good idea. We have no problem with writing a letter to Mr. Brezhnev on some occasion.

D: I think it’s a good idea.

K: Do you?

[Page 900]

D: Yes. In this context of what you read, I interpret the words of my Minister—that he raised the question of a different channel, no. I am inclined to interpret it that he simply wants more personal basis between the two bosses. I know our point of view and personally that of Brezhnev and Gromyko. I have no doubts. There is no question on a new channel. We don’t want to go through Beam. I am positive this is not the meaning.

K: If you think sometimes it is a good idea to send a letter, we will initiate something.

D: On this telegram, I am 100 per cent sure.

K: Anything I tell you comes from the President.

D: Sometimes person to person is not a bad idea. It is very clear that what you tell us is from the President. All answers you receive are directly from my President.

K: I understand perfectly.

D: My interpretation is he feels it is a good idea to have some human-being touch.

K: The second item—Semenov and Smith had a meeting on July 29.3 Semenov said—without being insistent—that he understood the May 20th understanding to mean that there should be a separate ABM agreement worked out completely and only when that was worked out would they discuss offensive limitations. My understanding has been we would agree to discuss for several weeks the ABM limitations. Concurrently there should be some offensive discussions. This is the sort of issue that raises irritations. We have gone far to meet your point on this.

D: Our understanding is we should finish everything. If you put it this way. You didn’t give consent to finish everything. No one was precise.

K: I am not insisting that it has to happen next week. They have been meeting for three weeks now.

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D: The problem is psychological. It is much better to handle and easier from your side than from mine. I am receiving so many telegrams from Semenov. Each day I get two or three because they discuss several questions. [He listed several including accidental war.] You introduce a paper—we introduce a paper. Reading them occupies a lot of time. My personal feeling is they discuss so many issues simultaneously. Now on what specific dates we discuss this offensive weapons …

K: It doesn’t sound like the sort of issue … I think it is the sort of issue you will have to solve. You know we won’t agree to settle an ABM agreement first. But it can go on another week or two. We should settle it gracefully.

D: Sometimes there are things from our and your side. I am thinking aloud. Give them a chance and not time it to two to four weeks, but to concentrate on this particular issue. At least get half of it.

K: It is going to get completely stuck if you take the position ABM must be completed.

D: But your man keeps pushing.

K: I told you he would introduce it, and he didn’t push it as I told you he wouldn’t.

D: But he does. They discuss lines in general or after at a cocktail party.

K: I told you this would happen because we have to do it from our point of view. In the plenary they have been discussing only ABM.

D: But in the plenary session there was your paper on offensive weapons.4

K: But we dropped it.

D: Semenov sticks to the formal initiative.

K: My recommendation is since we have to settle it anyway, if we want an agreement, let’s do it generously on both sides.

D: I think so.

K: I have no specific proposal. This can go on a week or two anyway.

D: Without an agreement on ABM, you won’t accept anything?

K: I don’t want to be in the position where one agreement is completed. But they can go a few more weeks on ABM. If we can have an understanding that after a few weeks, they will begin discussing offensive weapons.

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D: It’s a question of substantial things triggering it.

K: As long as we have it understood it will not be after the conclusion of an ABM agreement, but once we have decided some of the sites.

D: I am not in a position to say what is first or second. I will send to Moscow this notification. We should go through now agreement government to government. And there will be progress simultaneously. I will put it this way.

K: That’s right. One other piece of information, strictly for your information. The British have told us they would slightly prefer to suspend Berlin negotiations for the month of August for a vacation. We have told them we want to continue and we believe they will accept our recommendation. Our position is we want to continue the talks.

D: I understand.

K: It is the White House position which will prevail. And I have communicated this to Bahr.5 I wanted you to know that. We are sticking to the schedule.

D: Thank you very much.

K: That last point treat with special confidence.

D: All right. Thank you.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 27, Dobrynin File. No classification marking. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Reference should be to “Beam’s cable,” telegram 5368 from Moscow, July 28. For the text, see footnote 7, Document 302.
  3. Kissinger and Smith discussed this meeting with Semenov in an exchange of backchannel messages. As Smith later recalled: “On July 29, I again asked the architect of May 20 what his understanding of the sequence issue was. Kissinger reported that Dobrynin’s understanding was that the offensive limitations measures would have to be discussed before the agreement on ABMs was concluded. Dobrynin had told him that if the United States insisted on talking about offensive as well as defensive systems right from the start of the Helsinki session we would meet with a stone wall. Dobrynin had offered his personal opinion that this matter would be amicably settled as soon as there was agreement on some aspect of ABM limitation, for example, the number of sites to be permitted.” (Smith, Doubletalk, p. 251) Smith’s message of July 29 and Kissinger’s reply of July 31 are both in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, SALT, 1971.
  4. Reference is presumably to the draft interim agreement on offensive weapons, which the U.S. Delegation tabled (along with a draft ABM agreement) in Helsinki on July 27. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 183.
  5. See Document 299.