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

    • US-Soviet Relations

Ambassador Beam has had a rather long conversation with Gromyko as a follow up to Secretary Rogers’ recent talk with Dobrynin.2 Both the Secretary and the Ambassador emphasized the importance we attach to the various discussions underway with the USSR. The response from Gromyko as well as Dobrynin seemed intended to convey reassurances of Soviet interest in pressing forward on current issues under negotiation or proposed for negotiations. In effect, they seem to be saying that the Chinese factor would not interrupt US-Soviet relations.

Gromyko made a special point of saying he had just talked with Brezhnev , who had asked him to appraise the course of US policy toward the USSR. Gromyko claimed that he had answered by saying that much was presently unclear in US policy, but that fairly soon certain questions (Berlin? SALT?) would be answered and this would clarify our overall policy. Gromyko made a point of saying that his conversation with Brezhnev should be brought to your attention.

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This particular byplay was probably meant to tell us that Chinese developments had raised questions in Brezhnev’s mind, and that he would judge the prospects for American-Soviet relations on the grounds of both our behavior in current talks as well as the handling of the Peking visit. The Ambassador believes that it may be significant that Gromyko made a point of drawing your attention to Brezhnev’s alleged question. He sees this as a possible opportunity, if not an invitation, to a high level dialogue, should you be interested.

As far as the substance of the conversation, Gromyko pointed out that Soviet policy was “consistent” (unlike American “zig-zags”) and Moscow was ready to cooperate with the US wherever possible and was prepared to show “good will in seeking solutions.”

  • —He touched briefly on Vietnam—mentioned only that an end to the war would improve Soviet-American relations.
  • —On the Middle East, his main point was that we seemed to be losing interest in a solution.
  • —On Berlin he expressed satisfaction that some progress had been made in the talks. (Beam found him optimistic.)
  • —On SALT he said it was difficult to forecast results but Soviet desire to find common language on “central points” is not lessening.
  • —On MBFR , Gromyko seemed to revert to the previous Soviet position favoring reduction for all of Europe, not only in Central Europe, as Brezhnev had said at the Party Congress and later; he also pressed to know whether we accepted their proposal to begin negotiations, but indicated that they would oppose “bloc-to-bloc” negotiations. (This meets a major French objection to MBFR.)

On the subject of China, Gromyko avoided it entirely, perhaps because the Soviets had already published their official line in the press, after ten days of virtual silence.3 However, Dobrynin had covered the issue in some detail with the Secretary (Tab A).4 Dobrynin was rather [Page 907] moderate in his comments, implying that we would find the Chinese difficult negotiators but the Soviets recognized that our contacts with Peking were not directed against other countries and would not affect our talks with the USSR.

Dobrynin commented at some length on Vietnam, claiming that Moscow had no real discussion with Peking on the question, because Chinese diatribes against the US always made discussions impossible. According to Dobrynin, the Chinese were convinced that the US would not have the stamina or zeal to maintain its influence in a part of the world so far removed from its shores.

To the extent that these two high level contacts are indicators of Soviet policy in reaction to Sino-American relations, Moscow seems to be making an effort to play down the significance of your visit in terms of its impact on Soviet-American relations. This is more or less the line adopted in the Soviet press, which emphasized that Soviet policy all along has been “correct” and need not be changed—except should some “combination” of other powers try to pressure on Moscow. This seems generally a defensive, holding action, since the Soviet leaders can scarcely admit to any setback or to any failure in their calculations.

Probably, the Soviets will reexamine their positions and some of their underlying assumptions, but a new line is not likely to emerge quickly, if at all. Whether there is a shift in Moscow will, of course, be influenced by the course of the Berlin and SALT talks as well as internal Kremlin politics.

Ambassador Beam may be right that Gromyko, by recounting an alleged recent conversation between himself and Brezhnev, was trying to open some sort of a channel to you via the Ambassador. If so, his motive might have been to use the Foreign Ministry–State Department channel to bring pressure to bear on other exchanges between us. There may also be an element of competition between Gromyko and Dobrynin. (A similar Soviet tactic was used toward the end of the negotiations leading up to the May 20 SALT announcement.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 716, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XV. Secret; Nodis. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger on July 30 with the comment on the BeamGromyko meeting: “I doubt that you want this channel to become active.” Haig wrote in the margin: “HAK, I’ve told State this channel is not to be used—they understand.” A notation on the memorandum from Kissinger indicates that the President saw it.
  2. See Documents 302 and 291.
  3. On July 25, Pravda published an article by “I. Alexandrov,” a pseudonym used for official comment from the Central Committee. (See footnote 151, Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, p. 270) According to the article, the Kremlin saw no “sensation” in the announcement of Nixon’s trip to China. In accordance with the principle of “peaceful coexistence,” Moscow was prepared to cooperate with any country, including the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The article, however, also issued a warning: “Of course, the further development of events will more fully reveal the true intentions of Peking and Washington. Our party and state will take into consideration all the possible consequences of the Chinese-American contacts. Needless to say, any hopes of using the contacts between Peking and Washington for exerting some kind of ‘pressure’ on the Soviet Union and on the states of the socialist commonwealth can only be the consequence of a loss of a sense of reality.” For the complete text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 30 (August 24, 1971), pp. 1–4.
  4. Printed as Document 291.