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

    • My Recent Conversations with Ambassador Dobrynin

My four recent meetings with Ambassador Dobrynin, twice on September 25 and October 6 and October 9, were clearly very significant in the short term and potentially very important for our overall [Page 24] relations with the Soviet Union. I thought it would be useful if I reviewed the highlights of these sessions. The full records are attached in chronological order at Tabs A through D2 along with our note to them on the Cuban base issue and their note to us on the Middle East.3

I plan to send you shortly a separate memorandum setting forth some of the implications I see flowing from these conversations.4

In brief these meetings produced the following results:

  • —We appear to have resolved, without a public confrontation, the potentially explosive issue of a Soviet base in Cuba;
  • —There was a clear demonstration of Soviet interest in pursuing a Middle East settlement as well as a denial of any Soviet bad faith with regard to the standstill ceasefire;
  • —We agreed in principle to a Summit meeting in Moscow in June or September 1971; and
  • —There was a recognition on both sides that we are at a crossroads with respect to US-Soviet relations.

Soviet Base in Cuba

Our concern over this issue was the principal theme in my presentations during these sessions and its apparently satisfactory resolution was, of course, the most concrete outcome. In our first session on September 25 this subject did not come up but was behind my firm tone with regard to our overall relations while I singled out Soviet actions in the Middle East.

Later in the day the details about the Soviet Cuban base were released by the Defense Department and I then elaborated upon the issue at my press backgrounder on your trip,5 along the lines of inter-departmental contingency guidance. Thus, while the ostensible purpose of our meeting on the afternoon of September 25 was to discuss a Summit meeting, Dobrynin was obviously preoccupied with the Cuban base question, and I moved to make our position clear on the subject. I explained that we had deliberately inferred in our public statements that we did not know whether there was an actual submarine base in Cuba in order to give the Soviets a chance to withdraw without a public confrontation. We had no illusions and knew that there [Page 25] was already a submarine base there and I told Dobrynin that we would view it with the utmost gravity if the construction continued and the base remained. We did not want a public clash and were giving them an opportunity to pull out, but we would not shrink from necessary measures if we were forced to do them. I added that we considered the following up of Vorontsov’s August 4 démarche6 with construction in Cienfuegos as an act of bad faith, but if the ships, especially the tender, left we would treat the whole matter as a training exercise.

Dobrynin asked if we believed that the 1962 understanding7 had been violated. I responded that this was a legalistic question, that I did believe it was a violation, but that in any event in 1962 we had taken the most drastic action even though there was no understanding. Dobrynin said he would report this to his Government and give us an answer soon. In response to his question I said that we did not plan a big press campaign, but we were determined that there would be no Soviet base in Cuba. Whatever the phraseology of the understanding, its intent was clearly not to replace land-based missiles with sea-based ones in Cuba.

Dobrynin informed me on October 9 that Moscow had come back with a quick reply which he stated he was unable to give me until we returned from your trip. The Soviet note on Cuba said that they had received “with attention” your communication indicating uncertainty in your mind concerning the 1962 understanding. They welcomed your reaffirmation that we would stick with our side of the understanding, and stated that the Soviet Government in turn proceeded from this understanding. They said that they had not and were not doing in Cuba anything that would contradict that understanding. They would continue to adhere to it if we would. They added that they considered groundless our assertion that we had the right to send atomic submarines into the Black Sea, claiming this is prohibited by the 1936 Convention.8 Dobrynin said that his government could not promise that the Soviet subs would never call at Cuban ports, but he said that they would not call there in an operational capacity.

I told him I considered this a forthright statement and said that we would have some clarifying questions on this issue because of the ambiguity of the term “base” and possible major disagreements concerning it. I said that we considered the presence of ships at Cienfuegos, especially the tender and barges, clearly inconsistent with the 1962 understanding.

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At the October 9 meeting, called at my initiative, I handed Dobrynin our note on the installations in Cuba (Tab E) to tie down our understanding. Dobrynin said that the only point which seemed bothersome was on communications facilities, that he would await further instructions from Moscow, and that Tass would soon publish a statement9 which would repeat in effect their October 6 note, denying any Soviet intent to establish a base in Cuba. I said that we would judge their actions by the criteria of our oral note. Later in the conversation Dobrynin started to say that the Cuba situation was not clear, to which I replied that we should not kid ourselves and that both he and I knew what was there.

Middle East

Throughout our conversations Dobrynin was eager to discuss the Middle East, as well as other issues, but I continually postponed any such discussions until the Cuba matter was resolved.

At the first meeting Dobrynin asked why we had never replied to Moscow’s note concerning the Syrian invasion10 and wondered whether we were interested in consultations. I replied that we were interested, but over a period of weeks every Soviet démarche had been followed by a contrary action and we simply wanted to wait to see what would happen. Dobrynin claimed that the Soviets had not known beforehand of the Syrian invasion and then added contradictorily that Soviet advisors had dropped off Syrian tanks before they reached the front.11 I emphasized that we were always ready to consult at times of crises but that the ceasefire violations, Soviet responsibility, and the Jordanian situation did not provide an atmosphere for a frank exchange of views. I stated that we had no intention of launching military operations in Jordan if other outside forces stayed out.

In the afternoon meeting of September 25 Dobrynin again tried to raise the Middle East and other matters, but I cut him off, saying that I was only authorized to discuss Cuba and the Summit with him.

In the October 6 meeting Dobrynin gave us the Soviet communication on Jordan (as well as Cuba)12 which by then was somewhat dated. The note said that the Soviets had received with satisfaction your communication that the US contemplated no military action in Jordan. [Page 27] The Soviets were restraining interference by other states both in and outside the area, and this had produced results. However, the note continued, the situation was still complex and “all states should exercise necessary prudence in their actions” so as not to aggravate the situation but to help end the Jordan conflict. A speedy peaceful settlement in the Middle East was needed to prevent events like Jordan. In response to his later attempts to engage in discussions on the Middle East, I remarked that Middle East negotiations would probably mark time for the moment.

On October 9 Dobrynin handed me a note on the Middle East (Tab F). He complained about our press campaign, declaring that the Soviets were never part of the ceasefire agreement and that they were only informed of our understanding of the ceasefire. He pointed out that Rogers and Sisco had said that the ceasefire and the negotiations need not be linked although this was desirable. The Ambassador said that his Government was seriously considering starting a press campaign along similar lines and that we should not conclude from the Middle East crisis that they could be intimidated by a show of US force.

At the close of our October 9 talk, Dobrynin reiterated the importance of discussing the Middle East and related issues. I responded that this was not the time, but that if they ever took up our offer for serious bilateral talks between him and me, we would make every effort to proceed.

Dobrynin added that the Soviet memorandum on the Middle East was only for you and would receive no publicity and be referred to nowhere else. He particularly underlined the note’s point that there were no Soviet personnel with the missiles in Egypt.

Summit Meeting

Our first September 25 meeting took place after some fencing during which Dobrynin finally agreed to see me after initially insisting that he had a personal message to you only from the leadership. You will recall that we played it this way because of the developing Cuban problem. He said that his country was ready to proceed in principle on a Summit and had agreed to the agenda outlined in our previous communication (i.e. SALT, Middle East, European security, provocative attacks, principles of coexistence, trade and other topics). The Soviets also agreed that Dobrynin and I should proceed with exploratory conversations. In response to his query about preferred time and place I said that I would let him know later.

In our meeting that afternoon I gave him your response, namely that in principle you were willing to consider a Summit meeting, either in June or September 1971, and were willing to consider Moscow as the site.

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US-Soviet Relations

In our September 25 afternoon meeting, I said that we and the Soviets were at a turning point in our relations and it was up to them to decide whether we should go the route of conciliation or that of confrontation. The US was prepared for either.

On October 9 Dobrynin said that it was hard to exaggerate the concern of the leadership in Moscow. The feeling was that the US had already decided on a hard line and was whipping up a propaganda campaign to get a larger Defense budget and perhaps affect the elections. For example, our Middle East campaign was out of all proportion to the provocation. After telling us not to draw the wrong conclusions from the Middle East Crisis, Dobrynin stated that if its national interests were involved, the Soviet Union would act with great force and it would be hard to dissuade.13

I replied that we looked at the situation with great care and knew that when the Soviets used their forces they did so massively. However, the main point was that we were asking the same questions about the Soviet leaders as they were asking of us. They had not replied formally to our offers on two occasions on a Summit and their response was the missile activity in Egypt and the base activity in Cuba.14 Dobrynin came back strongly, saying that they knew how to deal with Americans and could wait six years until President Nixon is out of office if necessary. He said that all senior officials in the Soviet Union thought that relations with the US were at the worst since the Cuban Missile crisis.15

I repeated that we were at a turning point. Neither side could gain in an arms race, but if present trends continued they would force us into enlarging our military budget. I concluded that rather than arguing about each side’s endurance, we must work to turn the present impasse into a more fruitful direction.

In our September 25 morning session Dobrynin informed us that Kosygin would not be coming to the UN, and on October 9 we tentatively scheduled a meeting between you and Gromyko for the afternoon of October 23 after your UN speech. I cautioned Dobrynin against anyone’s raising the subject of a summit before we were able to put this into formal channels.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The date is handwritten. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Lord reported to Kissinger on October 14: “Attached per your request is a summary of your last four conversations with Ambassador Dobrynin. The summary arranges material by subject heading so as to trace the development through the four meetings of each topic. It does not try to get into extended commentary on the significance and potential significance of these talks, promising this for the President in a later memorandum which you may wish to ask Sonnenfeldt/Hyland to do.” Lord added that Haig had approved the memorandum in draft. (Ibid.) No subsequent memorandum from either Sonnenfeldt or Hyland has been found.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 218, 220, 224, and 228.
  3. Tabs E and F; both printed as attachments, ibid., Document 228.
  4. No separate memorandum has been found.
  5. A copy of Kissinger’s press backgrounder of September 25 is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 2. From September 27 to October 5, Kissinger accompanied Nixon on his visits to Italy, Vatican City, Yugoslavia, Spain, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
  6. Printed as an attachment to Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 192.
  7. See footnote 6, Document 4.
  8. Reference is to the Montreux Convention; see footnote 4, Document 5.
  9. See footnote 2, Document 3.
  10. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 218, footnote 4.
  11. Nixon underlined the phrase “Soviet advisors had dropped off Syrian tanks before they reached the front.”
  12. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 224.
  13. Nixon underlined this sentence.
  14. Nixon underlined this sentence.
  15. Nixon underlined this sentence.