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

    • Letter to Brezhnev

Pursuant to our discussion,2 I have prepared a letter for your signature to Communist Party Secretary Brezhnev. The letter is designed to relieve somewhat the concerns generated by the Peking initiative. It attempts to:

  • —note that our dealings with the Soviets and others have been conducted on the basis of recognition of the legitimate interests of both sides;
  • —note that the steps taken to improve contacts with the PRC are not based on hidden—especially anti-Soviet—motives;
  • —endorse further improvement in US/USSR relations and emphasize that tactical considerations should not detract from efforts to achieve longer term goals;
  • —urge continuing progress in SALT and Berlin negotiations and register concern about the dangers of the Middle East situation.

Ambassador Dobrynin believes that a letter of this kind will be most helpful in deflecting pique resulting from the Peking initiative and hopes to have a letter at an early date.


That you sign the proposed letter to Communist Party Secretary Brezhnev.

[Page 915]


Letter From President Nixon to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 3

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Ambassador Beam has reported to me his recent conversation with Foreign Minister Gromyko.4 Of course, I am in close touch with the conversations conducted between Ambassador Dobrynin and my Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger.5 I should like, in the light of these conversations, to set forth certain thoughts concerning relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

My Administration has from the outset conducted its policy toward the Soviet Union, and all other states, on the basis of mutual recognition and respect for the legitimate interests of each side. This is particularly important in the relations between our two countries, for our size and power impose upon us a special responsibility to understand each other’s purposes and to deal with care and restraint with those issues that affect our respective security interests.

In the numerous negotiations in which, I am pleased to say, our two countries are now engaged in various forums, my premise has been that both of us will approach the issues concretely and in a spirit of mutual accommodation. We do, of course, confront many divergences, some due to misunderstanding or inadequate communication but many the result of differing needs and interests.

It is clear that in relations between great powers such clashes of interest will not be resolved by superficial formulae nor by attempts to obtain a unilateral advantage.

Experience has clearly shown that unless a genuine effort is made to resolve conflicting views and interests to the satisfaction of each [Page 916] party, there will either be no agreement or any agreement reached will not last and may indeed lead to new misunderstandings and tensions. No power, and certainly not a great power, can be expected to abide by arrangements that operate to its disadvantage.

It follows from this approach that it is futile to expect powerful nations to be swayed by pressure, exerted either directly, or indirectly, through third parties. I wish to emphasize this point in order to avoid any misinterpretation of my Administration’s efforts over the past two and a half years to normalize and improve relations with a number of countries. Thus, the several steps which I have already taken toward better contacts with the People’s Republic of China and, in particular, my forthcoming visit to Peking have no hidden motives. They are designed to end the hostility that has unfortunately existed between the United States and the mainland of China for over twenty years and to lay the basis for relations which will be mutually beneficial and contribute to peace and stability in Asia and the world as a whole. Such a relationship between two peoples which have had a history of past friendship is not aimed at any third country, including, specifically, the Soviet Union. Indeed, I firmly believe that in restoring contacts that have been so long broken, the United States will be contributing to a wider normalization of international relationships.

United States policy with respect to the countries of Eastern Europe, an area which we recognize is historically of special concern to the Soviet Union, is likewise intended to contribute to a broad improvement of international relations, to widen contacts and to stimulate mutually beneficial cooperation in practical matters. In shaping our policies toward these and other countries, we raise no conditions concerning the internal order or the foreign associations of the countries concerned; the only test is whether there is a mutual readiness for good relations on a basis of reciprocity. Friendship with the United States, in my view, does not imply hostility toward any other country.

Mr. Secretary, as you are aware, I have maintained a close personal interest in the developing relations between our two countries and particularly in the major negotiations in which both our governments have been involved. I have noted with satisfaction that a businesslike manner, constructive tone and spirit of compromise have been manifest in these negotiations. As Mr. Kissinger has already explained to Ambassador Dobrynin, I have felt there has at times been excessive emphasis on shorter term tactical considerations to the detriment of longer term objectives. Precision about details is, of course, important in any agreement if it is to be viable. But I believe we should never lose sight of the goals to be achieved. American negotiators, acting under my instructions, [Page 917] will continue to be guided by this general approach and will not engage in bargaining simply for its own sake.6

The agreement announced on May 20 represented a commitment at the highest levels of the political leadership of both our countries to achieve a successful outcome in the negotiations for the limitation of strategic armaments. My representatives in Helsinki are under instructions to complete an early equitable agreement on ABM’s as well as a parallel agreement on certain measures with regard to the limitation of strategic offensive weapons. We will then have a basis for a more complete limitation of offensive weapons. The final result will strengthen security, permit valuable resources and talents to be used for constructive purposes and, together with progress in the resolution of other differences, contribute to a stable and peaceful world. As the two countries possessing the most powerful arsenals of destructive weapons, we have, I believe, a unique obligation and a unique opportunity to achieve these goals.

I am likewise confident that a successful outcome can be achieved in the negotiations on Berlin in which our two countries are joined by Britain and France. I have always believed that constructive cooperation in Europe and world peace generally will be difficult if not impossible to obtain if Berlin remains a source of tension and crises. Peace will not, of course, be automatic once a satisfactory Berlin agreement is reached; but at least one major threat to it will have been set aside. A foundation will have been laid for removing other long-standing sources of strife and tension in the center of Europe. In this connection, my Administration has welcomed the improvement in relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and its eastern neighbors, including the Soviet Union. I am convinced, and hope you share this conviction, that a successful completion of the Berlin negotiations will further accelerate this trend and strengthen peace between East and West in Europe.

I also remain deeply committed to the search for a lasting settlement of the crisis in the Middle East. This will be achieved only if all the parties to the conflict there are confident that their vital interests are safeguarded. The task is complex and requires patience. As great powers we have a special responsibility not to undertake any action that would complicate the situation. The United States seeks no uni-lateral advantages or special position. We believe that this should be the attitude of all outside powers.

[Page 918]

In assessing the issues which affect the constructive evolution of our relations, one should not overlook the complications posed by the continuation of the conflict in Southeast Asia. As long as the war persists, it inevitably introduces distortion into the policies of some key countries beyond the basic principles outlined in this letter. As Dr. Kissinger has explained to Ambassador Dobrynin, we have made an eminently fair proposal for bringing an end to that conflict on a basis just to all sides. I would hope that the Soviet Union would exercise its influence to achieve peace in that area of the world. Such an action would give a great impetus to the policies of reconciliation we intend to pursue.

Without reviewing in detail the other issues on which our Governments are in contact, I wish merely to state my expectation that our two countries can make steady progress in improving bilateral relations and in expanding the numerous areas of practical cooperation—such as trade or the exploration of outer space—where our interests run in parallel, where each of us can learn and benefit from the accomplishments of the other and where resources and experience can be shared.

I do not minimize the problems that remain and will persist between us. Differences in social and political systems, in historical background and in geographic position will not disappear. But I believe that if our two countries conduct themselves with restraint and display understanding and tolerance of our respective interests, we of this generation will be able to pass on to our children a better and safer world.


Richard Nixon
  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; Eyes Only. Printed from an uninitialed copy.
  2. See Document 308.
  3. No classification marking. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of the letter to Kissinger on August 3. In an attached note to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt wrote: “Could you let me know if you would like me to do any additional work on it in the next day since I am planning to take my family to the beach for a week on Thursday [August 5] morning.” Kissinger and Haig revised the text; two substantive additions are noted below. For his memoir account, see Kissinger, White House Years, p. 837.
  4. See Document 302.
  5. Kissinger inserted this sentence.
  6. Haig inserted the second half of this paragraph, i.e., the passage on what Kissinger had “already explained” to Dobrynin.