1. Memorandum of Conversation1
HENRY A. KISSINGER BRIEFING OF WHITE HOUSE STAFF
- Soviet Summit Announcement
Kissinger: I want to read the announcement that the President is making. Then I will make a few general comments; then answer any questions you may have.
[Reads text: “The leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in their exchanges during the past year have agreed that a meeting between them would be desirable once sufficient progress had been made in negotiations at lower levels. In light of the recent advances in bilateral and multilateral negotiations involving the two countries, it has been agreed that such a meeting will take place in Moscow in the latter part of May 1972.
“President Nixon and the Soviet leaders will review all major issues with a view towards further improving their bilateral relations and enhancing the prospects for world peace.”]2
This will be made simultaneously in Moscow and Washington at 12:00 Noon today.[Page 2]
Now, the major point I would like to get across to this group is this. While the President sometimes accuses us of not pushing him enough, in this case the danger is of overkilling. We must maneuver this between China, Russia and our allies. The danger is that if we claim too much, we will infuriate the Chinese and give impetus to feelings in Western Europe similar to Japan. And above all we lose our negotiating position with the Soviets. Success will come not from the fact of the visit, but from what comes out of it.
We have to be hard. Our experience was that the Soviets before July 15 thought they had us on the ropes; the China announcement3 has had an effect. We have had the best period with the Soviets since then.
The meeting speaks for itself; we should hold it in low key. With my interim trip to China,4 and beating them over the head in Vietnam, this is as much as the traffic will bear. It will help us if each thinks we have an option, but neither thinks we are squeezing them.
R. Allen: Were the Germans and the others notified? Won’t there be a Nixon shock?
Kissinger: The key ones have had fair advance warning,5 though not all of them.
Flanigan: Some will have had more than the Japs have had.
Kissinger: There have been six months of consultation. Some of them have been travelling without telling us. The United Kingdom, France and Germany have had substantial advance notice.
Allen: Will this take the wind out of the Ostpolitik sails?
Kissinger: It is hard to tell with that government. If there is a race to Moscow, they won’t win it.
Colson: Why announce it now? There will be speculation.
Kissinger: It was arranged some weeks ago; it fitted in the game plan. It is the same lead time as the Peking trip. Our judgment was to make it open, so that both sides knew.
Colson: Will it be interpreted as a delay in SALT or MBFR?
Kissinger: You have to assume the opposite: the leaders would expect to have an agreement by then. How we stage the completion is a tactical issue. In a negotiation started by an exchange of letters, you have to assume that the summit is not predicated on failure.
Colson: The speculation will be.[Page 3]
Kissinger: Let Humphrey6 scream if it is not this year. We will do it in March.
Ehrlichman: What response do we give to questions about the domestic impact? Is it a cheap political shot, or a dumb play into Russian hands?
Kissinger: Let them compare what the President said about summits at the beginning of his term with the situation at the summit. He said there had to be progress. Progress there has been, on SALT, on Berlin, on accidental war, and so on. This is the earliest possible time. Secondly, we are engaged in an historical process and we will be judged by the outcome.
Flanigan: Why is the President going there?
Kissinger: The last time Khrushchev came here. That was the last official bilateral visit. Khrushchev issued an invitation to Eisenhower; it was accepted and then cancelled.7
Allen: Richard Nixon in the campaign (“Nixon on the Issues”)talked of a “series of summit meetings.” We should get that out.
Garment: Are there any theories of the likely Chinese reaction?
Kissinger: We have some idea, but I don’t want to get into that.
McGregor: The President is going to the Hill and will get a warm reception. Is this consistent with low key?
Kissinger: A good reception in Congress will be great. As long as he doesn’t get carried away. The key thing to avoid is a statement that the United States and the USSR as two superpowers can settle everything. This will drive the Chinese and our allies up the wall.
Petersen: “First China, then Russia.” Where do our friends stand? The Japs will ask.
Kissinger: We have an answer. Emperor Hirohito had to come first—this was their requirement. Second, the Japanese can’t do it in the summer because Sato8 will be stepping down then.
Scali: How do we answer the question: Were the Chinese advised in advance?
Price: Specifically, will the Mideast be discussed?
Kissinger: Look at the text: “all major issues.”[Page 4]
Colson: Who announces in the USSR?
Scali: Who arranged it?
Kissinger: Gromyko brought an invitation to the President.
Scali: And the President agreed in that meeting?
Kissinger: Yes—but we have been discussing it for a year.
Scali: Through State channels?
McGregor: My wife says I believe you, sweetheart, but millions wouldn’t.
Shultz: I have suppressed euphoria.
Kissinger: The building blocks are getting in shape. It is a delicate structure. If one part unravels, all of it will.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1025, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcon—Henry Kissinger, Briefing of White House Staff, Oct. 12, 1971. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. No drafting information appears on the memorandum.↩
- Brackets in the source text. President Nixon read this announcement at his press conference in the White House Briefing Room, beginning at 11:27 a.m. on October 12. The President then answered questions on the upcoming summit in Moscow, U.S.–USSR relations, and other issues. The press conference ended at 11:55 a.m. The announcement and the text of the press conference are in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 1030–1037.↩
- Reference is to Nixon’s announcement of Kissinger’s secret trip to China via Pakistan, July 1–13.↩
- Reference is to Kissinger’s upcoming trip to Beijing, October 20–26, to prepare for the President’s visit to the People’s Republic of China, February 21–28, 1972.↩
- The German, French, and British Governments were informed on October 11.↩
- Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D–Minnesota).↩
- Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made an official visit to Washington and Camp David, Maryland, September 15 and 25–27, 1959. President Eisenhower’s scheduled June 10, 1960, visit to the Soviet Union was cancelled by Khrushchev on May 16, 1960. Khrushchev cited U.S. unwillingness to apologize for U–2 reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union as the cause.↩
- Eisaku Sato, Prime Minister of Japan.↩