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


  • Secretary Butz’s Meeting with Brezhnev

Secretary Butz was received by Brezhnev on Tuesday2 for an informal conversation on political subjects as well as on trade and the current grain negotiations. The fact that the Secretary was received—the first American official visitor Brezhnev has talked to since 19633—was an unusual gesture, and received front page Pravda treatment. Though this was in part a courtesy in return for your having met with Agriculture Minister Matskevich,4 it is relevant to Vietnam and the summit; it may be a signal to us that the Soviets are apprehensive about Vietnam, and to the Soviet people (and Hanoi) that Brezhnev is interested in keeping our relations on an even keel.

In any case, Brezhnev assured the Secretary that you would receive a “big welcome” and the visit would be a new, big step since he (Brezhnev) was sure that there would be many points in common. Brezhnev referred to having been in touch with you recently,5 “answering” many of your questions. (This is a reference to his correspondence with you, which may arouse curiosity in our Embassy and the recipients of the reporting cable from Moscow.)

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Brezhnev said you would be invited to stay in the Kremlin, and a plane would be at your disposal to visit places you wish to go. He said, however, that more emphasis would be put on useful discussion than protocol. In a different context, Brezhnev stressed the US and Soviet people are genuinely for peace and the two greatest nations must live together in mutual respect and understanding. He was “pondering” ideas about new contacts which should be established. (This rather cryptic reference might be an allusion to establishing some sort of a permanent consultative mechanism, which the Soviets have in their agreement with France and Canada and which has been mentioned in my talks with Dobrynin.)6

Brezhnev referred to your trip in 1959, and seemed to criticize Khrushchev for initiating the Kitchen Debate.7 He added that he remembered you from that visit, since he was a member of the Politburo. (In fact, Brezhnev was present at Sokolniki Park during the debate.)

On Vietnam, Brezhnev said to bring to your attention the deep feeling of the Soviet people over the bombings—which he said was an unnecessary extension of the war. The Soviet people were saddened (by the bombing) because of their own experience in World War II. Secretary Butz and Ambassador Beam were unable to reply to this intervention because Brezhnev kept changing the subject. The Ambassador notes that though the remarks were gratuitous, they were not made in an offensive tone.8

Much of the conversation was about US-Soviet trade, in a very general fashion. Brezhnev called for increase on the basis of equality. He noted the grain talks and said he would be following them. Secretary Butz mentioned grain purchases of about $200 million on terms as favorable as we give to any nation (this was also proposed in the talks). Brezhnev merely replied he wanted the talks to succeed, but that the USSR would need adequate credit terms. The Soviet Union could survive without such deals if necessary, he added. (In fact, in the negotiations the Soviets opened with a proposal for 10 year credits of 2 per cent interest, which was suggested only half jokingly. They later mentioned 6–8 years and wanted major concessions.)

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On other trade matters, the Secretary suggested the Soviets could expand their exports to repay credits by supplying natural gas since our energy needs were doubling within ten years. Brezhnev said they favored “big scale” trade, and he promised to send the Secretary a list of suitable Soviet exports.

The Secretary is returning to the US on Thursday, and will probably want to meet you after the Canadian trip.9

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 718, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XXI. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Sent for information. The memorandum is largely based on an attached report from Beam. (Telegram 3355 from Moscow, April 12; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/BUTZ) No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt forwarded it to Kissinger on April 12 under cover of a separate attached memorandum, in which he recommended a postponement of several days on Butz’s request for an appointment with the President. “To receive him immediately,” Sonnenfeldt explained, “would certainly play up the grain talks (which Butz already did for the press in Moscow) and undercut any other efforts to make a record on Vietnam.”
  2. April 12. Kissinger briefed the President that afternoon on the meeting between Brezhnev and Butz. Haldeman noted in his diary: “K came in to report on Vietnam and said the Russians are falling all over us, that they had a glowing meeting with Butz and were in great praise to the P[resident] and so forth.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) A tape recording of the meeting is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, April 12, 1972, 12:41–12:55, Oval Office, Conversation No. 707–10.
  3. Reference is to the meeting on May 29, 1963, between Brezhnev and Glenn Seaborg, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission; see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. V, Document 325.
  4. See Document 23.
  5. See Document 72.
  6. Kissinger and Dobrynin discussed the issue during their meeting on March 9; see Document 56.
  7. Reference is to the exchange between Vice President Nixon and Soviet Premier Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow on July 24, 1959.
  8. In addition to the telegram cited above, Beam later forwarded in a separate telegram his impressions of Brezhnev from the meeting. “Brezhnev struck me as crude but impressive,” the Ambassador reported. “He is a burly man and seems to move massively and fast in everything he does. Although mentally collected, he was physically nervous, like someone who has been ordered by his doctor to give up smoking and cannot do it. He smoked three cigarettes while we were there, and kept compulsively playing with a stack of pens on the table.” (Telegram 3463 from Moscow, April 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/BUTZ)
  9. Butz met Nixon on April 18 from 3:12 to 3:37 p.m. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A tape of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Butz, April 18, 3:12–3:37 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 711–21. In an April 18 memorandum to the President, Kissinger briefed Nixon on the meeting with Butz, including “a Moscow press conference during which he made several remarks which Peter Flanigan has since pointed out to him when beyond the scope of his mission.” Kissinger suggested that the President “inform Secretary Butz that with regard to credits you are considering EXIM and Most Favored Nation treatment but that this is heavily related to the situation in Vietnam and to negotiations with the Soviets during your forthcoming visit to Moscow.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 196, Agency Files, Agriculture, 1971–[1974], Vol. II) On April 18 Sonnenfeldt also forwarded Flanigan’s account of his meeting with Butz on April 13 and a transcript of Butz’ press conference in Moscow the previous day. (Memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, April 18; ibid.)