338. Conversation Between President Nixon and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko1

Nixon: Well, I thought it would be helpful if we could have a private chat like we did before, and to say that I am pleased that we are now going forward on our meeting, which I think can—will come at a useful time. A meeting at the top level. I have noted with—

Gromyko: Good.

Nixon: I think it’s good—

Gromyko: Very good.

Nixon: —and it’s time. It’s time we begin with our list of the—[with] Berlin out of the way, and then if we can move on these other areas, it will be—for example, if we could get the SALT thing ready, that would be a pretty good time. But maybe we can get it ready before that. Who knows? The Mideast and SALT—the main thing at such a meeting is to have some things that we can make progress on.

Gromyko: It must be done—something good.

Nixon: Yeah. That’s right.

Gromyko: What is possible—what is possible on the—

Nixon: Yeah. Right. You know, or maybe—

Gromyko: Even before.

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: For that we—

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: —which is, it must be done.

Nixon: We have to decide—

Gromyko: Must be done.

Nixon: Yeah. Then, for example, at such a meeting we can—I would like to, I want to talk to you about the channel to use here. We might be able to make some significant announcement on trade and [Page 1045] things of that sort. You see there—we must have some positive things come out.

Gromyko: Just now? No.

Nixon: No, no. I meant when the meeting takes place, that we should plan it so that some positive—

Gromyko: Yes, yes.

Nixon: —statements can be made. I thought—basically, I think we would have a new—

Gromyko: Whatever—

Nixon: I have nothing in mind, but something to do with trade or something to do with, as well as on the political side.

Gromyko: Before the May meeting?

Nixon: Before—or at the meeting.

Gromyko: Or at the meeting. Yes.

Nixon: So that when, for them to come, when leaders at the top sit down, they produce something.

Gromyko: Yes. Yes.

Nixon: You see, the mountain cannot labor and produce a mouse.

Gromyko: Yes.


Nixon: Right. You know this? It’s an American expression.

Gromyko: This is—this subject, as well, I would say.

Nixon: All right.

Gromyko: This subject, as well.

Nixon: And I will—I shall look forward very much to meeting the—I do not—I have not met either Mr. Brezhnev or Mr. Kosygin, and I shall look forward to it. And we will be forthcoming, and we hope—and we know you will too.

Gromyko: Good. Mr. President, I would like to open—broach essentially two questions.

Nixon: Sure.

Gromyko: Yes?

Nixon: Sure. Sure.

Gromyko: First, you received letter from our Mr. Brezhnev.2

Nixon: Right.

Gromyko: Mr. Brezhnev attaches importance—I would say major importance—to the letter.

[Page 1046]

Nixon: The one that he sent?

Gromyko: Yes.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Gromyko: That is right.

Nixon: I have not replied yet. I didn’t.

Gromyko: No. You didn’t.

Nixon: I have not yet. No.

Gromyko: Not yet. Not yet.

Nixon: You see, that correspondence is private. The letter I sent to him—

Gromyko: Letter.

Nixon: —was private, too.3

Gromyko: Private. Yes.

Nixon: So, let’s see, the State Department doesn’t know, so—

Gromyko: I know. But I’ve got—

Nixon: But I will respond soon.

Gromyko: Nice idea.

Nixon: I see.

Gromyko: Good idea.

Nixon: Good. It may be—

Gromyko: Only for us two.

Nixon: Good.

Gromyko: Only the Ambassador—

Nixon: Good. Us two.

Gromyko: —who will be—

Nixon: It’s best to keep it to us two.

Gromyko: I think Mr. Brezhnev attaches great importance—

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: —to the letter, and I am sure when you reply, he will study your reply—

Nixon: All right.

Gromyko: —most thoroughly.

Nixon: Good.

Gromyko: I wish to also tell you something that I know: [I saw] Mr. Brezhnev twelve days ago—

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: —and maybe it could be useful to have.

[Page 1047]

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: He is not a new man—

Nixon: No.

Gromyko: —in our leadership. He is not new man. He—

Nixon: A long time.

Gromyko: —has been in the Politburo a long time. He was one of the Secretaries, a State Provincial Secretary, and an authoritative, I would say, Secretary of the Communist Party. Even before, he was Chairman of the, even on the Supreme Soviet, our parliament—

Nixon: Hmm.

Gromyko: —for a long time.

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: And he followed, he became Joint Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, and then Secretary-General of the Central Committee. He is man of great authority in hands.

Nixon: Hmm. He’s in charge.

Gromyko: Yes. Yes.

Nixon: That’s good. That’s the man we want to talk to us.

Gromyko: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Nixon: And also you know that we know—

Gromyko: You probably know this, but I think it is not, it is not uninteresting now to hear it from me—

Nixon: Yeah. Sure.

Gromyko: —today. I know Mr. Brezhnev for a long period of time. He spoke with me; we met on the eve of my departure from Moscow to the United States to attend the session of the [United Nations] General Assembly, and then to meet you.

Nixon: Hmm.

Gromyko: We spoke quite extensively, a great deal, on Soviet-American relations. And he expressed his urgent wishes to see improvement of our relations.

Nixon: Good.

Gromyko: He said this. And he said that he stands for—whether if you can achieve it or not, we do not know—but he would like to see friendly relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And he knows that I’m going to tell you—

Nixon: A couple things.

Gromyko: Then, after conversation, we went together to—he received [unclear]—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

[Page 1048]

Gromyko: —of that organization. Then next, we continued conversation, left together to the airport, because he was going to meet—to Crimea to meet Brandt.

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Gromyko: To meet Brandt.

Nixon: [unclear]

Gromyko: I needed to do some interview. And we continued to discuss this matter in the car to the airport.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And he especially expressed his hope that it would be good if we can achieve sometimes point of view to say—I stressed the point in my conversation—to say that, “All—at last our relations are good, and maybe even friendly.”

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: This is the thing I wish to tell—to tell you personally.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: Not in presence of—

Nixon: I understand.

Gromyko: —interpreters.

Nixon: Translators.

Gromyko: The second thing, he is not the man, which would like for you to dismantle the NATO.

Nixon: Oh, no, no.

Gromyko: Test NATO. He does not like. He does not like.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And maybe you sometimes, sometimes read or hear information about the Soviet press, hear your name, well, in connection with the policies sometimes of another correspondent—private correspondent. But this is not the line of the leadership—

Nixon: Right, right. I understand the difference. I understand the difference—

Gromyko: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. And he does not like this line they employ.

Nixon: No. Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: He is against it. He is against it. I wish just to inform you, if you don’t know about it. Never he—what still more, I would like to tell you, so he—[laughs] initiative he’s asked me to tell you about, this guarantee. But I’m privy because I know him very well.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And I take this responsibility.

Nixon: Sure.

[Page 1049]

Gromyko: Responsibility. He is man of strong character, strong character—strong character, strong will. And when he says that something must be done—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: —he is going in the direction he outlined.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: It relates to all questions. It relates to the question of our relations with the United States.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm. Good.

Gromyko: If I did not knew you for a long time, maybe I would not go this far.

Nixon: Well, I appreciate that.

Gromyko: But I think—

Nixon: Let me say that—let me—let me just—let me say that, first, I will continue the private correspondence with him. You tell him that—

Gromyko: I will tell him.

Nixon: —that I will respond personally, myself. Second, and—I appreciate his sentiments that he’s expressed and I have the same sentiment. I am known, I know, as the—it’s rather ironical—as really anti-Communist and all that, but I’m a very realistic man, a very practical man. Also, I am one who has, as I’ve often said, enormous respect for the Russian people—a great people. I know that looking at the world, even if we—even though our political systems are very different, that the future of peace in the world for 25 years—and nobody can look further than that, I think—is in our hands. It’s in the hands of the United States and Russia. Nobody else. Someone else can stir it up, but if we put our foot down, we can make a great contribution. I think that the—I think that it would be a great signal to the world if—not only the announcement that we’re doing, but also if, at such a meeting, it could be said that the relations that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Great War began—were—are again resuming. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean—we have to be practical—that we’re going to agree on systems of government, that we won’t be competing here and there. But it does mean that we have a new dialogue, a new relationship where we solve the problems. That’s what I want. And I—you can tell the Chairman—

Gromyko: I will—

Nixon: —that I feel exactly the same way. And I also feel that now is the time. I think it’s very important. If we let the time slip by, the events may drag us into something, so now is the time to get together if we can.

Gromyko: That means that both sides must work with patience—

Nixon: That’s right.

[Page 1050]

Gromyko: —work with will—

Nixon: That’s right.

Gromyko: —and—

Nixon: That’s right.

Gromyko: —with determination.

Nixon: Determination. Bargain hard, but agree.

Gromyko: This, let me say, it will require time and energy—

Nixon: Let me—let me suggest a couple of things that are very important. Kissinger’s meetings with Dobrynin are very important. As you know, they were helpful in—

Gromyko: In Berlin.

Nixon: Yes. Tomorrow, I have asked Kissinger to meet with you, to call on you, or I guess he’s going to meet you. He has a message—

Gromyko: I know.

Nixon: —that he would like to convey. It’s from me—

Gromyko: Yes.

Nixon: —on a technical matter. It has to do with Vietnam. And we just want to pass it on to you.

Gromyko: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: The other thing that I didn’t want to go into in the circle here is on the Mideast.

Gromyko: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: Now, it may be that working very, very quietly—Kissinger and Dobrynin, you see—that we can explore something on the Mideast. I don’t know.

Gromyko: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: But you raise that subject with him, with Kissinger, if you like.

Gromyko: I will tell you—

Nixon: Then the—

Gromyko: —I will tell you something there though.

Nixon: Yeah. Just—and so, because it may be that the Mideast is too complicated to handle at the—

Gromyko: With Rogers?

Nixon: —or SALT. Well, at the Foreign Secretary level. See?

Gromyko: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: It may be we have to work very privately.

Gromyko: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: Now, I think that those—but I think—I think that in—and even take a matter like the European Security Conference: I think it’s [Page 1051] probably better to keep that in this channel, you know, where we’re very private. And it will—and, sure, of course, some things will be at the State—Ambassador level, and the Secretary of State, and the rest—but the more we can have in this channel, then I will personally take charge, which is what is important. And Brezhnev, of course, must do the same.

Gromyko: Good. Good.

Nixon: Is that fair enough? Good?

Gromyko: Good. Good. Good. We—

Nixon: Good. You see, I—we’re—I do not take charge of things that don’t matter, but where they matter, like between our countries, then I make the decisions.

Gromyko: The channel proved to be effective, in the experience of the Berlin negotiations for us.

Nixon: It couldn’t have been done without that channel.

Gromyko: One thing on the Middle East, I would like, if you had not mentioned it, I would mention it. I wish to tell you privately, strictly privately—

Nixon: Yeah?

Gromyko: —two key points. Frankly, some time ago, the United States Government, and you personally—and I think a sufficient decision was made—expressed concern how about delivery of armaments—

Nixon: To Egypt? Right?

Gromyko: Right.

Nixon: Fine.

Gromyko: We think that it would be possible to reach understanding, if some kind of framework is reached, which would provide [for] withdrawal of Israeli troops from all occupied territories. We would agree on the limitation, or, if you wish, even on stoppage—full stoppage of delivery [of armaments]—

Nixon: Hmm.

Gromyko: —in connection—even in connection with understanding on the first stage—

Nixon: What to do here—

Gromyko: On the—

Nixon: Exactly. In terms of the—

Gromyko: —even in connection with the interim [agreement]—

Nixon: —interim. Right.

Gromyko: You agree.

Nixon: Right.

[Page 1052]

Gromyko: Even in connection, provided that this is the—connected with the final, with the withdrawal—

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: —of—from all territories, within a certain period of time. More than this, I would like to tell you, also frankly, confidentially, both this point and then the third one I discussed with Mr. Brezhnev. So this is not the second point here. The second point is this: some time ago, you expressed interest—oh, I don’t know—in Egypt, about our presence there, our military—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gromyko: —presence in Egypt.

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: I do not know whether you know precisely our position, or not, on our presence, but, in a sense, we are present there. In a sense—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: North of Cairo, certain personnel, and certain forces—

Nixon: I see.

Gromyko: —and such presence, the presence is agreed. We are ready, in connection with understanding, full understanding, on the Middle East—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: —we are ready to agree not to have our military units there.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: Not to have soldiers based there—

Nixon: Not the civilian, I understand.

Gromyko: Not precisely. Not to have military units, you know, there—

Nixon: Not there.

Gromyko: We probably—we would leave a limited number, a limited number of advisers for purely advisory—

Nixon: Advisory purposes.

Gromyko: You know—

Nixon: Technical advisers.

Gromyko: —like you have in Iran.

Nixon: Like we have in Cambodia and the rest.

Gromyko: Yes, that is right.

Nixon: That’s right.

Gromyko: I said it’s for—

Nixon: I understand.

[Page 1053]

Gromyko: —for purely advisory purposes.

Nixon: But not for—I see.

Gromyko: Hmm.

Nixon: Right. I understand.

Gromyko: Absolutely right. I know that you—

Nixon: But these are matters that I deal with.

Gromyko: Okay.

Nixon: Yes.

Gromyko: I know. You understand very clearly.

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: I would say limited, and maybe very limited.

Nixon: I understand.

Gromyko: Maybe very.

Nixon: Well, those are matters that could threaten—be discussed, if—but that has to be very private.

Gromyko: And it would be very private, very private—

Nixon: Right. Right. Right. The Mideast is so tense—so touchy, politically, in this country—

Gromyko: All these—

Nixon: —it has to be private here.

Gromyko: All these—

Nixon: Right.

Gromyko: —ideas, we did not put into motion—

Nixon: Sure. Right. Right—

Gromyko: —with anybody. Never. This is—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: —new, and this is principle.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And the third point, whether you attach importance or not, but Israel always stresses anything you don’t want to stress. It would be—we would be ready, even if this accord is written on this basis, even in connection with the interim agreement, in the third stage.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: And we will be ready to deal—to sign, if you wish, together with you, or with U.S. and other powers, or with all other powers who are on the [United Nations] Security Council. This initiative [is] possible in a document, if with additional—

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm.

Gromyko: —agreement and understanding on security for Israel [unclear exchange] that is—

[Page 1054]

Nixon: Sure.

Gromyko: —in connection with the interim. With the interim—

Nixon: I see.

Gromyko: —provided that interim is—

Nixon: All right.

Gromyko: —connected. [unclear] and our own suggestion was that, well, when vis-à-vis the border or finalization of the agreement, only some kind of decision—

Nixon: True.

Gromyko: —should be taken on guarantees. But we are ready to discuss this idea in connection—we can sign any agreement with guarantees in connection with the interim, provided that the interim is linked with Israeli [withdrawal]. The limitation of even—limitation, even stoppage [unclear]—

Nixon: Your arms?

Gromyko: Second—

Nixon: Present?

Gromyko: —not presence of any Soviet units. Not—

Nixon: Sure.

Gromyko: —[unclear] heavy units, intermediate military—

Nixon: Right.

Gromyko: —you could say.

Nixon: Sure.

Gromyko: Some of the limited—I say this would [be] limited number of advisers for purely, purely, purely advisory purposes.

Nixon: I understand.

[unclear exchange]

Gromyko: If you—

Nixon: Let us do a little—as I say, we’ll do a private talking on this. And then, on this message that Kissinger brings you tomorrow on Vietnam, I think you’ll find very interesting. It could be very—

Gromyko: Good.

Nixon: It could be very important.

Gromyko: Very good.

Nixon: If we could get that out of the way, you could see—and I don’t, we don’t want to ask you to do anything that’s not in your interest—but if we get that out of the way, it opens other doors. You see?

Gromyko: Good. I have to say—what I told you about this Middle East, this is—

Nixon: Comes from—

[Page 1055]

Gromyko: —result of the conversation personally with Brezhnev. And he wants me to say to you—

Nixon: Yeah.

Gromyko: So we are taking a position.

Nixon: I understand.4

[Omitted here is a brief, largely unclear exchange as Nixon and Gromyko evidently left the room.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 580–20. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume; the conversation was conducted in English without interpreters. According to the President’s Daily Diary, this “one-on-one” meeting last from 4:40 to 5 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) No written record of the conversation has been found. Although neither was present, Kissinger and Dobrynin both described the meeting in their respective memoirs. See White House Years, pp. 838, 1287; and In Confidence, p. 234.
  2. Document 324.
  3. See Document 309.
  4. Nixon escorted Gromyko and Dobrynin to the Map Room at 5:03 p.m., and they proceeded to the South Grounds of the White House, where the Soviet party departed at 5:04. Nixon then met Rogers and Kissinger in the Oval Office for 10 minutes. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) During this meeting, the President finally briefed the Secretary on plans for the Moscow summit and showed him the text of the joint announcement, scheduled for release on October 12. A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 583–1.