44. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

It was Dobrynin’s birthday and there were some pleasantries at the beginning of the conversation. I then handed Dobrynin the talking points approved by the President giving our side of the November 5th and 6th incident (copy attached). Dobrynin said, well this means that both sides are maintaining their position.

He said that he had hoped that I had called him over to tell him some good news. I said I also had some good news and I wanted to inform him of the fact that as a sign of our goodwill, Ivanov would be released. The Secretary of State would be in touch with them to work out the details in about three weeks. Dobrynin said that that was good news indeed.

Dobrynin then raised the issue of the two newspaper articles over the weekend—one in the New York Times2 and the other in the Washington Post (attached).3 He said the one in the New York Times had not bothered him too much because it was obviously inaccurate in essential parts, but he had to say that the one in the Washington Post was extremely worrisome. It mentioned five private meetings between him and me—something that no one could have known except me and therefore he thought I had leaked it to the press as a means of bringing pressure on them.

I replied I would not engage in such a cheap method of pressure and that in fact if I had wanted to use that for pressure I would not have had to call him in. Dobrynin said that the impact in Moscow [Page 151] would be extremely unfortunate because they would think that we were giving them a veiled ultimatum. He thought that perhaps the Soviet submarine tender would have left in a few days, but now they may keep it there for a week just to show that they are not to be intimidated by us.

Dobrynin wondered whether there had been any Congressional pressure on us. I said that pressure existed and it was going to get worse and worse. He said there obviously is some limit to the power of the White House if we cannot even stop press leaks. I said that it was a question of what we chose to do, not of what we were able to do.

I then said, on the instruction of the President, that I would prefer really to talk about constructive things, such as the agenda for the forthcoming summit meeting. Dobrynin said that he would not be ready for three or four weeks just as I had told him when I would be ready. I said I would call him on December 1; we set a luncheon date for December 5th at the White House.4


Note From President Nixon to the Soviet Leadership

The President has noted the communication of the Soviet Government handed to Mr. Kissinger on November 14.5 He wishes to draw the attention of the Soviet Government to the following facts:

On October 23, Mr. Kissinger told the Soviet Ambassador of the President’s personal interest in this case.6
No reply of any kind was received until November 5. Despite the President’s intervention and seven requests by the U.S. Embassy, Consular access was denied until October 27.
On November 5 at 1530, the Soviet Ambassador on a confidential basis informed Mr. Kissinger that the Soviet Government would release the generals as a political act upon completion of the investigation.7 No date was mentioned.
Mr. Kissinger pointed out to the Soviet Ambassador that instructions had been dispatched forbidding attendance of high-ranking U.S. personnel at Soviet Embassy receptions on November 6.8 Because of the confidentiality of the Kissinger-Dobrynin channel, these could not be reversed unless there were some official communication or public statement from Moscow. Mr. Kissinger emphasized the extreme sensitivity through which this channel was maintained and the difficulty of modifying instructions already widely promulgated solely on the basis of exchanges through this delicate channel. He expressed the strong hope that some official communication or public statement would be forthcoming from the Soviet side before the embassy receptions took place. The order would then be cancelled immediately.
The Soviet Ambassador said that he would communicate this to Moscow, pointing out that it was near midnight there. He said nothing else to indicate that an answer might not be forthcoming. No word was received from the Soviet Ambassador on November 6.
Because the Soviet Ambassador was aware of the delicacy of the channel, was told in advance of the difficulty involved and the means to overcome it, the implication that the failure of the U.S. to rescind the order was due to “some other aims” is highly inappropriate.
The President wishes to reaffirm the Kissinger-Dobrynin channel for subjects of the highest sensitivity and for the purpose of bringing about a fundamental improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 3. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House (see, however, footnote 4 below). According to another copy, Kissinger drafted the memorandum of conversation on November 23. Kissinger then forwarded the memorandum, and another summarizing its “highlights,” to Nixon on the same day. (Ibid.) According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted until 3:40 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. See footnote 3, Document 42.
  3. The attached Washington Post article (p. 12), November 15, reported “contradictory claims” over the “understanding” on Cuba. The article also repeated a report the previous day in the Los Angeles Times, “that this new U.S.-Soviet understanding on Cuba came after five secret exchanges between Washington and Moscow, controlled in the White House and unknown to lower-ranking officials.”
  4. Nixon called Kissinger at 6:45 p.m. to discuss the meeting with Dobrynin. A transcript of the conversation records the following exchange: “P: How did you meeting come off[?]—when I called you[,] you were in the Situation Room. K: I said what you had suggested. First I told him about Ivanov. I said why don’t we start talking about the agenda. He said when he said we should talk about it. I said in three or four weeks—now he says he has authority to talk about it after December 1. He said he was going to communicate with Moscow. They are playing it cool. P: We will play it the same way.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File)
  5. See attachment to Document 41.
  6. See Document 29.
  7. See Document 36.
  8. See Document 37.