31. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
    • Mr. Hugh Sidey, Time–Life
    • Mr. Simmons Fentress, Time–Life
    • Mr. Herman Nickel, Time–Life
    • Mr. William Mader, Time–Life
    • Mr. Gerald Schecter, Time–Life
    • Mr. Mikhail Zimyanin, Editor-in-Chief, Pravda
    • Mr. Leonid Zamyatin, Director of TASS
    • Soviet Interpreter
    • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt

The meeting took place in the Time–Life offices on 16th Street and ran about from 6:40 p.m. to 7:35 p.m., Monday, October 26, 1970.2

Approximately the first half hour was taken up with questions relating to the press. The Time–Life people noted the troubles their correspondents had had in Moscow, and stressed the desirability for more reciprocity. Zimyanin went into a rather lengthy and defensive dissertation on the nature of the Soviet press, seconded from time to time by Zamyatin. His basic point was that it was wrong to see the Soviet press, and Pravda in particular, as monolithic and “totalitarianism!” There were differences of view and self-criticism as well as spirited debates. Basically, of course, he stressed the Soviet press reflected the socialist system and the commitment of the Soviet people to it.

Sidey asked how the Soviets viewed President Nixon. Zimyanin said they recognized him as the President of the United States, who [Page 125] had been elected by the American people and was in charge in Washington. Zamyatin interjected that it was no secret that in previous administrations there had been an understanding that there would never be personal attacks on each other’s leaders and he implied that in this administration this understanding was being violated by the US. (Time’s correspondent was expelled because two Time stories had referred to leadership struggles in the USSR and the role of the military.)3 Dr. Kissinger noted that the President had never attacked any Soviet leader nor indeed the Soviet system and that this was our general rule. He noted that we could not control what the American press said; in fact, what it said about President Nixon and the US Administration was a lot rougher than anything it said about the Soviets. Sidey said there was a “friendly adversary relationship” and that any US news-paperman who was uncritical of the President and the Administration might as well turn in his White House press card.

The Time people urged greater reciprocity for US correspondents, noting that the TASS man was always the first one in the White House press office to pick up texts of Dr. Kissinger’s backgrounders. Zamyatin said these were read very carefully in Moscow. Both Soviets stressed that all foreigners, except socialist ones, were subject to the same restrictions in the USSR and that no one minded if they performed their duties as journalists. It was only when they performed other activities and wrote slanderously that trouble occurred.

In making the point that the President and his associates had not criticized the Soviet leaders or their system, Dr. Kissinger noted that actually the President’s constituency was such that it would be easy and natural for the President to attack the Soviets, but he had deliberately chosen not to do so. Zimyanin said this was understood in Moscow.

Sidey then asked whether US-Soviet relations were better or worse now, nearly two years after the President had enunciated the principle of negotiation rather than confrontation. Zimyanin took over and, looking mostly at the floor, spoke rapidly and intensely. He said Vietnam continued to be the great stumbling block. The US talked of an “honorable settlement” but it was not taking into account what the other side would regard as honorable. In general, we did not show responsiveness in our proposals to those made by the other side, which the USSR supports. Sidey commented that the President was trying to end the war. Zimyanin persisted.

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Dr. Kissinger said that we had done just about everything that we had always been told would produce constructive negotiations. We had stopped the bombing; we had begun withdrawals; we had withdrawn 100,000 men; we had agreed to accept a fixed timetable for complete withdrawal; we had agreed to talk to the NLF; we had appointed a new senior negotiator in Paris. None of this had produced the results we were assured would ensue. The only thing we had not done was to accept the other side’s demand for a coalition. In fact, the other side was not even proposing a genuine coalition; it was trying to name the people on the Saigon side that fitted its own definition of people committed to “freedom and independence.” Dr. Kissinger concluded that we obviously had an interest in achieving an honorable and lasting settlement because we would be 10,000 miles away while the Vietnamese would be on the ground; if they did not accept the settlement they would obviously wreck it.

Zimyanin expressed appreciation for Dr. Kissinger’s systematic exposition of the US view. He then delved into history, noting his own tenure as Soviet Ambassador in Hanoi from 1956–1958. He argued that the people of VN had elected Ho Chi Minh democratically after World War II; then the French had tried to reconquer the country; then Geneva ensued and there was agreement for free elections by 1956. But the US sabotaged this agreement and instead installed a “democratic” regime in the South which has changed 13 times and now is dominated by Ky, who has openly expressed his admiration for Hitler. Dr. Kissinger observed that there was obviously much more to say and there undoubtedly would be many matters on which we would not reach agreement, including, perhaps, the precise meaning of the concept of an “honorable settlement.” In any case, he noted that despite all our actions in response to the advice we had received no negotiations were taking place and that all we were confronting in Paris was a repeated examination by the other side in our comprehension of the terms and meaning of its five, eight, or whatever the number, of points they happened to be putting forward at a given moment.

Zimyanin repeated that we should remember that the other side wanted an honorable settlement too. He said the Soviet position was simple: there could only be a settlement by political means. Dr. Kissinger said we fully subscribed to this principle.

In parting, Zimyanin said that the Soviets this summer just had to react to the aspersions being cast on them in connection with Jordan, Suez, Cuba etc. He said the Soviets had nothing to do with what Syrian tanks did in Jordan and found it baffling that we should have been beating our breasts about somehow having faced down the Soviets by our military moves. No Soviet military moves had occurred, no rockets were moved. He went on, in rapid-fire fashion to deny that [Page 127] the Soviets were anti-Israel or anti-semitic or, for that matter pro-semitic. Pravda’s whole message had been that Israel may think it was sitting pretty now but in the long run its policy was suicidal because it was surrounded by vast sea of hostile Arabs. The US was backing the wrong horse; it was time to change the Rogers Plan,4 and for the US to stop backing the Israelis 100%. Dr. Kissinger commented that that was not the version we got from the Israelis as regards to our backing them.

The meeting ended with expressions of appreciation all around that at least a brief talk had been possible.

In parting Dr. Kissinger mentioned to Sidey that at one point in the Jordan crisis when he had talked to Soviet DCM Vorontsov about Soviet involvement in the Syrian tank invasion of Jordan, Vorontsov had commented indignantly that all the Soviet advisors had jumped off the tanks before they entered Jordan.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 713, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. IX. Confidential. Sent for information. Drafted by Sonnenfeldt on October 27. Kissinger wrote “Good job” on the memorandum. According to an attached note, Kissinger saw it October 29.
  2. Kissinger also briefly attended a luncheon for Zimyanin and Zamyatin at the White House that afternoon, arriving in time to answer a question from Zimyanin on “an alleged anti-Soviet campaign” in the United States. According to a memorandum of conversation, “Dr. Kissinger said that the Administration did not conduct and has no intention of conducting an anti-Soviet campaign either for domestic or propaganda reasons. To set the record straight, Dr. Kissinger noted that the months of June and July were marked by a feeling that progress was being made with the Soviet Union in some areas. However, events surrounding the standstill violations in the Middle East, developments in Cuba—about which he did not believe it necessary to elaborate—as well as other Soviet actions led people to question the motives and intentions of the Soviet Union.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR)
  3. Stanley W. Cloud, a correspondent for Time magazine in Moscow, left the Soviet Union on June 13.
  4. Reference is to the joint U.S.-Soviet working paper of October 28, 1969, to implement Security Council Resolution 242 for a “final and reciprocally binding accord” between Israel and Egypt. For the text of the paper, see William Quandt, Peace Process, pp. 437–440. Rogers outlined the plan on December 9, 1969, in a speech at the 1969 Galaxy Conference on Adult Education at Washington. See Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, pp. 7–11.