112. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Soviet Message of April 16 on Vietnam2

The Soviet message is in the first instance the minimal, required communication to the President. It makes a record of rejecting our present course of conduct and of avoiding any implication of Soviet collusion with us against the DRV.

Beyond that, it does two things:

It lays the basis for disrupting the Summit and the HAK mission if this layer becomes their choice. (Incidentally, while the note calls for a “reaction” from the President to the appeal to stop bombing it does not stipulate that this be in the form of explicit assurances.)
It threatens military responses by Soviet vessels (an unsurprising threat in these circumstances).

While the note seemingly rejects our manner of dealing with DRV maneuvers over the secret talks, it ends up by assuring us that Moscow has nevertheless transmitted our last proposal. The Soviets are thus in a position where the DRV has now explicitly made cessation of bombing a precondition to secret talks while the Soviets have not (except in the elliptical manner indicated above) made it a precondition either to the Wednesday3 mission or to acting as an intermediary with Hanoi.

With no further attacks against Hanoi and Haiphong now scheduled, the Soviets may try to hold to this position (despite the discrepancy with Hanoi). —but obviously one cannot be 100% certain that a demand to stop the bombing will not still be made. However, it is virtually certain that such a demand will be the Soviet starting position for the HAK mission. For us, this means countering with a package involving simultaneous obligations on both sides, with the Soviets using [Page 353]their aid as leverage. (This is the gamble we are taking on the assumption that Brezhnev has so much riding on his relations with us that he will go to considerable lengths to save it).4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 11. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sonnenfeldt did not initial the memorandum.
  2. Document 110.
  3. April 19.
  4. In his memoirs, Kissinger assessed the second Soviet note of April 16 as follows: “What was significant was not that the criticism stopped well short of a protest but that Moscow maintained its invitation even in the face of an unprecedented assault on its client. Moscow obviously would not lightly hazard the forthcoming summit after Nixon had already visited Peking.” (White House Years, p. 1122)