90. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • PARTICIPANTS
    • Anatoliy Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting took place at Dobrynin’s invitation.2 He had been called back to the Soviet Union unexpectedly for consultation only 24 hours after he had submitted to me the attached note on Berlin.3 He delayed his departure for 24 hours so that he could see me.

Dobrynin began the conversation by expressing his outrage over the behavior of the Jewish Defense League.4 I told him that the President was unhappy about these actions; that we were seeking indictments where that was possible; and that we would use whatever Federal resources were available to increase the protection for Soviet installations.

Dobrynin said that what rankled most in the Soviet Union was the absence of any court action. It was inconceivable in the Soviet Union that such actions could take place without connivance by the authorities. While he was taking a slightly more tolerant view of that aspect of it, he was at one with his colleagues in his inability to understand why there had been no court action of any kind.

Dobrynin added that, in a synagogue in New York, right across the street from the Soviet Mission, a loudspeaker had been set up that was blaring obscene words at the Soviet Embassy every day. This was intolerable.

I repeated that we were taking the measures that were possible and expressed the personal regret of the President. I said there was no [Page 277]official connivance, but the overlapping of authority between Federal and State governments presented particular complications for us; however, we would seek court action wherever that was appropriate.

We then turned to substance. I told Dobrynin that I had an answer from the President to the Soviet note on Berlin—specifically, whether the President still stood by his conversation with Gromyko. I said a lot depended, of course, on how one interpreted the President’s conversation with Gromyko. In the sense that the President said that he would be well disposed towards the negotiations if they did not cut the umbilical cord between West Berlin and the Federal Republic, there was no problem. With respect to the Soviet proposal that the process be accelerated and that we review again the Soviet propositions, I said the following: I had reviewed the Soviet propositions and wanted to distinguish the formal from the substantive part. If the Soviet Union could give some content to the transit procedures and if the Soviet Union could find a way by which it could make itself responsible, together with the four allies, for access, we would, in turn, attempt to work out some approach which took cognizance of the concerns of the East German regime. I would be prepared, at the request of the President, to discuss this with him in substance, and if we could see an agreement was possible, we could then feed it into regular channels.

Dobrynin said that this was very important because Rush was clearly an obstacle to negotiations since he either didn’t understand them or was too intransigent. I told him this was not an attempt to bypass Rush, but to see whether we could use our channel to speed up the procedure. I was prepared to have conversations with high German officials to find out exactly what they were prepared to settle for and then to include this in our discussions. Dobrynin said he would check this in Moscow and let me have an answer by the end of the week.

We then turned to SALT. I told Dobrynin that the President had decided the following: We were prepared to make an ABM agreement only, provided it was coupled with an undertaking to continue working on offensive limitations and provided it was coupled with an undertaking that there would be a freeze on new starts of offensive land-based missiles during the period of these negotiations. There might be some special provision that would have to be made for submarines, but we would have to leave this to detailed negotiations. I told Dobrynin that if he were prepared to proceed on this basis, I would be prepared to talk to him about it on behalf of the President. We could settle the basic issues in February. Prior to the resumption of the SALT talks there could be an exchange of letters or public statements between the President and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. The SALT talks in Vienna could then concentrate on implementing the agreement in principle.

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Dobrynin asked how I understood limitations on submarines to operate. I said I had no specific proposal to make, and I mentioned it only in case we wanted to raise it later so that he would not feel that he had been mistaken. I thought, however, that the question of equality was recognized in principle. Dobrynin said he would have an answer when he returned.

Dobrynin then raised the Middle East. He wanted to know whether the President was prepared to move that discussion into our channel also. I told him we would have to see how the Jarring negotiations went first. Secondly, we would have to then see whether the Four-Power forum might not be more appropriate. In any event, he could be sure that the President would take an interest in the negotiations and whomever he negotiated with would have Presidential backing.

Dobrynin then launched into his usual recitation of Mid-East events—how he had been misled by Sisco; how the Secretary of State had never told him the stand-still and the ceasefire were linked; how the Soviet Union could not be held responsible for a document that was handed to it after it had already been given to the Egyptians; and how, above all, the Soviet Union had never had a reply to its last note to Joe Sisco. He said if he talked to Sisco, it would be an endless series of legalistic hairsplittings that wouldn’t lead anywhere. I told him that we would have to see what progress we were making on other matters before I could give him an answer.

We then turned to Vietnam. I said to Dobrynin that we had read Kosygin’s interview with the Japanese newspaper5 with great interest. We had noticed that Kosygin had listed the usual unacceptable Hanoi demands, but he had also indicated a Soviet willingness to engage itself in the process of a settlement. This was stated, it seemed to me, more emphatically than had been said in the past. Was I correct?

Dobrynin merely said that he noticed that sentence also. I asked whether the two statements were linked; in other words, whether the Soviet willingness to engage itself was linked to our prior acceptance of Hanoi’s demands. Dobrynin then said he wanted to ask me a hypothetical question. If Hanoi dropped its demands for a coalition government, would we be prepared to discuss withdrawal separately. I said as long as the matter was hypothetical, it was very hard to form a judgment, but I could imagine that the issue of withdrawals was a lot easier to deal with than the future composition of a government in South Vietnam. Indeed, if he remembered an article I had written in [Page 279]1968,6 I had proposed exactly this procedure. Dobrynin asked whether I still believed that this was a possible approach. I said it certainly was a possible approach and, indeed, I had been of the view that it would be the one that would speed up matters. Dobrynin said he would report this to Moscow.

At the end of the meeting, Dobrynin gave me an art book with an inscription for my son, since he had read somewhere that my son was very interested in art.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4 [Part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum of conversation and a memorandum summarizing its “highlights” to Nixon on January 25. A note on the summary memorandum indicates that the President saw it. (Ibid.) According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting lasted from 10:30 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) For memoir accounts of this meeting, see Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 802–803; and Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 210–211.
  2. See Documents 84 and 85.
  3. Attached but not printed; see Document 83.
  4. See Document 89.
  5. Asahi Shimbun published its account of the Kosygin interview on January 2. For a condensed text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 1 (February 2, 1971), pp. 7, 11.
  6. Reference is to the article published in January 1969 in Foreign Affairs (Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 211–234), which Kissinger had written before his appointment in December 1968 as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.