328. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • Brezhnev’s Reply to Your Letter of August 5, 19712

Soviet Party Chief Brezhnev’s letter to you (Tab A)3 is generally constructive in tone, looks to further progress in US-Soviet relations and is clearly intended to maintain the personal dialogue opened in your original letter.

At the same time, Brezhnev’s treatment of China and, to a lesser degree, Eastern Europe reflects Soviet suspicions of our motives. He reiterates Moscow’s criticism of our Middle Eastern and Vietnam policies. Overall, he again strikes the theme that our foreign policies are uneven and in some respects “puzzling.” Not unnaturally, Brezhnev contrasts this with the constancy of Soviet peace policies. This aspect of the letter is the only one with much ideological content.

Following are Brezhnev’s more significant points:

  • —He repeats the Soviet view that an ABM agreement should be the first order of business in SALT. He stresses the “principle of complete equivalence” which in practice has been reflected in Soviet proposals in Helsinki for precise identity of what is to be defended and of levels of missiles to be retained, etc. Brezhnev fails to mention the offensive side of the May 20 understanding to which you had referred in your letter.4 This difference, too, has been reflected in Helsinki where progress has consequently been rather slow.
  • —As regards both the Middle East and Vietnam, Brezhnev asserts a direct Soviet interest in settlements based on the proposition that “the consequences of [foreign] intrusions should be eliminated,”5—in Vietnam, because it is a Socialist country, and in the Middle East because the USSR has friends there and the region is close to it geographically. He denies any intent to infringe on someone else’s (i.e., our) interests. [Page 988] While on Vietnam, Brezhnev in effect says we should accept the other side’s position, on the Middle East he makes no particular proposal but expresses dismay that we broke off earlier direct dealings with the USSR. He leaves the Middle East with the somewhat ominous point that it would be extremely sad if developments there led to another aggravation or explosion.
  • —On China, as noted, he is cautious and suspicious, taking a wait-and-see attitude.
  • —On Eastern Europe, he asserts a mild but unmistakable form of the Brezhnev Doctrine—that it is of principal importance for the USSR to “ensure” that no one threatens the security and political systems of the countries in the area.
  • Brezhnev echoes your interest in improved direct bilateral cooperation in trade and various scientific-technical areas, although making it somewhat dependent on prior progress in disarmament. With respect to the latter he stresses paramount US/Soviet responsibility and urges that efforts in this field should be multiplied.
  • —As a general approach to negotiations between us, he urges that basic understandings be first reached with you personally (he cites Berlin and SALT) so that practical details can then be more easily solved.

In sum, this letter is a further direct expression of the line with which Brezhnev personally has become identified since the last Soviet Party Congress: emphasis on negotiations and better bilateral relations with us, and a general posture of conciliation toward the West. On specifics, not surprisingly for this type of letter, Brezhnev foreshadows no particular Soviet move; indeed, he generally holds the line on existing positions, and where he does get into more detail puts the onus of movement on us (e.g., SALT, Middle East, Vietnam).

The letter itself sheds no new light on the motives of current Soviet policy. But Brezhnev’s personal identification with this policy suggests that in his judgment dealings with us can be profitable to the USSR and thus to him personally. This judgment originally was undoubtedly based on the premise that the balance of power is moving favorably for the Soviets. But it is now reinforced by more defensive calculations stemming from our China policy.

Brezhnev’s letter is at Tab A; yours of August 5 at Tab B.

No written response is required for now.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 7 [part 1]. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. See Document 309.
  3. Document 324.
  4. Nixon highlighted the paragraph, underlined this sentence, and wrote in the margin: “K—Brace Dobrynin on this.”
  5. Brackets are in the original.