13. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

The dinner lasted three and a half hours. It was marked by great cordiality.

Advance Trip to Moscow

Dobrynin opened the conversation by saying that he had been asked by his government to find out in an informal way whether there was any possibility of my visiting Moscow. Gromyko had been very much impressed by his conversation with me, and he felt that it would advance the Summit significantly if I could go there. He said I could arrange it either secretly or openly, and, of course, a secret visit would be guaranteed to remain so. He said the issue was all the more urgent because the Secretary of State had already asked twice to be invited. [Page 47] Dobrynin said there was no particular desire to invite Rogers to Moscow, but there was a great interest in seeing me.

I said that we had thought, on the whole, existing channels were working very well and that it was not a situation comparable to the one we faced with Peking where there really were no channels of communication. I therefore did not see too much point in a visit by me to Moscow. A secret visit would compound the problem because it would leave an impression of collusion that would be totally unwarranted by the facts.

Vietnam

Dobrynin then wanted to return to the Middle East, but I interrupted him to tell him that I wanted to discuss Vietnam. I began by reciting the events that had led to the Vietnamese cancellation of the meeting,2 adding to it my conversation on September 29 with the Soviet Foreign Minister.3 (See note to North Vietnamese at Tab A.)4 I said I wanted to make it absolutely clear that we were reaching the end of our patience. If present methods continued, we would have to reserve the right to take whatever action was necessary. We would not tolerate the humiliation of the President, and if the North Vietnamese thought that they could bring about a military solution, they would confront the most violent opposition from the United States. In fact, I wanted the Soviet leaders to be aware that we reserved the right to take strong action to bring about the release of our prisoners in any event.

Dobrynin said he was very surprised. He could understand, of course, that we would react strongly to an attack. This would not be approved in Moscow, but it would be understood. But we had always said that we would end the war either through negotiation or through [Page 48]Vietnamization. Had we lost faith in Vietnamization? If we escalated the war without provocation by the other side, then the reaction in Moscow might be very serious, and Moscow might have to take certain preparatory steps in any event to make clear its position in advance.

I said that I wanted to sum up our views. If there were a North Vietnamese attack, then we would respond without restraint. If there were no North Vietnamese attack, then we nevertheless reserved freedom of action. If we went substantially beyond the existing framework on such matters, e.g. operations approaching Laos and Cambodia, the Soviets would have some advance indication that methods like this were being considered.

Dobrynin then asked whether I was disappointed in the Chinese efforts to end the Vietnamese war. I said that I had never expected any significant Chinese effort to end the Vietnamese war, and therefore I was not. Dobrynin said that he knew that Hanoi had brought Peking back into line by threatening a public attack on Peking’s policies and by taking its case to the Communist Parties around the world, on the ground that Peking was betraying their revolution. I said there was no cause for it because we had never expected Peking to intervene directly in the negotiating process.

Middle East

We then turned to the issue of the Middle East. Dobrynin said he had answers to two of my questions.5 The first question was whether Moscow insisted on the settlement of all the Arab/Israeli border issues. He said that while the Soviet Union had to insist on the fact that all these settlements were connected, de facto it was prepared to proceed with an Egyptian agreement alone.

The second question was with respect to my point that some Israeli presence in Sharm El-Sheik was essential. He said a military presence was out of the question, but that the Soviet Union was prepared to explore some other type of presence and wanted some specific proposals from me along that line.

I told Dobrynin that I had explored the possibility that the White House might enter the negotiating process with Rabin, without going into any specific Soviet proposals that might have been made to us. In response to a question, I said Rabin had been very intransigent and indicated no particular willingness to yield, but had indicated a desire for me to enter the negotiating process which was slightly inconsistent.

[Page 49]

Dobrynin asked me what I thought Israel wanted. I said Israel might accept Egyptian sovereignty over the Sinai, but it would ask for some presence beyond its borders. Dobrynin said it would be difficult but not impossible to negotiate on this basis. I asked Dobrynin what the Soviet reaction was to my proposition that perhaps the Middle East negotiations might be concluded secretly and not surfaced with respect to the Israelis until 1973. Dobrynin said that he construed the silence on the Soviet side to mean that they agreed to this procedure.

Dobrynin then asked how we might proceed. I told him that Golda Meir was coming, and that we expected to have full talks with her.6 This would give us an idea of what was possible. Dobrynin asked whether I thought it might be possible to have a settlement by the time the President was in Moscow. I said it was conceivable that there could be an interim settlement then, and some agreement on what steps might be taken during 1973 and 1974, but that of course could not be published.

Dobrynin said that he would try to add a vacation to his visit to Moscow for a Central Committee Meeting and that, in that case, he might not be back until after the first of January. I said this would not be inconsistent with the schedule that I outlined.

SALT

We then discussed SALT. Dobrynin asked me what possibilities I saw. I said it was important that we concluded an agreement. Was it his understanding that it would be finished by the time of the Summit? Dobrynin said it was the firm intention of the Soviet leadership to conclude the agreement in such a manner that it could be signed at the Summit.

Dobrynin asked about my view with respect to defensive weapons; specifically, whether I could imagine a compromise. What was our reasoning for rejecting the Soviet proposal of September 7th?7 I replied that the practical consequence of it might be that it would give them three sites as against one for us. They would defend two missile fields plus Moscow while we would have to destroy our defense at one missile field but would get the right to defend Washington, for which we could not get any money. Dobrynin said he believed this but no one in Moscow would believe that the American Government could not get money for the defense of its capital, and therefore this was considered a weak argument in Moscow.

[Page 50]

I pointed out that the Moscow system already defended 400 missiles. He said, “Yes, but it is only one point, while the American system has two points and thus provided a basis for area defense.” Dobrynin asked whether I thought we would accept a two-for-two trade—one missile field in the Soviet Union, even if it had fewer missiles, for NCA. I said it was premature, but I did not think so. He said “let them talk another few weeks, and we will reconsider it in January.”

We then turned to offensive limitations. He said that the record of the discussions prior to May 20th was unclear, but he had to say that it concentrated, in his mind, mostly on ICBMs. I said that the situation seemed to me to be as follows: Legally, the exchange of letters certainly left us free to include SLBM’s, and there had even been some discussion of it in our conversations.8 At the same time, I had to grant him the fact that we were more concerned at that time with ICBM’s, and the thrust of our conversations dealt with them. I was not concerned with the legal argument, but with the substantive one. It would be difficult to explain to the American people why ICBM’s should be constrained but a race at sea should continue. I had to tell him frankly that there were many in our government who were not particularly eager to constrain SLBM’s because it gave us an opportunity to relaunch a new weapons program at sea. Therefore, if the Soviets rejected our SLBM proposal, our Joint Chiefs of Staff would in my judgment not be a bit unhappy. On the other hand, it seemed to me it would be best if we did limit it. Dobrynin asked why, if we insisted on maintaining superiority at sea, would we be willing to settle for 41 modern submarines for each side? I said I was not sure, but this was not an unreasonable proposition, though I recommended that they surface it through his channel first so that I could make a final check.

Dobrynin said that when he came back from Moscow, he would have an answer, but he hoped we had until March.

Dobrynin then asked how all of this would be affected if China started developing a large nuclear arsenal. Did we think that China could have 50 nuclear submarines while we were constrained to 41? I said that, of course, if we agreed on SALT, we would start an evolution of a common approach to the whole issue of strategic arms that would have to take into account an evolving threat by other nuclear [Page 51]countries. We could not use SALT agreements to give other countries an opportunity to outstrip us.

Dobrynin then suggested very strongly that the chief Soviet reason for an ABM buildup was Communist China. I said, on the other hand, we are told by Smith all the time that you really want a zero ABM. Dobrynin said, “I wish Smith would stop playing games. We are only dealing with him on this basis so that we do not have to bear the onus of rejecting a zero ABM, but please do not propose it to us.”

China

The conversation then turned to China. Dobrynin said that he found the long-term trend of our China policy hard to understand. He said that my trip to Peking to some extent, and certainly the President’s visit to Peking, is giving the Chinese status that they could not have achieved through years of effort on their own. In return for that, what were we getting? A little publicity and the uncertainty of all of our allies. Was it really such a good bargain? Moreover, he said that he had noticed that the Chinese speech at the UN was really more hostile towards us than towards them.

I said that our China policy had to be seen in a general context—that is to say, it was all very well in the abstract to speak about long-term and short-term interests, but one had to keep in mind the circumstances. As I had told him, there were two conditions that made the trip to China inevitable: first, the Vietnamese war; secondly, the rather ungenerous reactions of the Soviet Union to our repeated efforts to bring about a fundamental change in our relationship. In the face of these conditions, we had no choice but to get ourselves freedom of maneuver. If Dobrynin asked what we had achieved with the China initiative, it was freedom of maneuver.

As for the benefits China was supposed to derive, one had to remember that many of those could have been achieved—most of those, in fact could have been achieved—no matter what we did. If one remembers the tremendous publicity for the invitation of the table tennis team, and if one considers that the next Chinese move might have been to invite leading Democratic politicians, the impression would have been created in every country, in any event, that the People’s Republic’s rapprochement with the United States was to all practical purposes inevitable, and then the consequences he described would have occurred. We may have speeded up the process a little bit, but that had to be measured against the increasing freedom of action.

Dobrynin said then one had to ask oneself what the freedom of action would consist of. He said he hoped we didn’t consider Communist China a superpower, because it wasn’t a superpower. It was very weak. I said I could only repeat what I had told him last time, that the [Page 52]Vietnamese war introduced distortions out of proportion to any possible benefits. If we could deal with Asian problems on their merits, we could then deal with Communist China as a reality in terms of its real power.

Dobrynin said he did not mind telling me that my visit in Peking had produced consternation. Moscow had had a few days advance warning that I was in Peking, but they had no idea that I would come back with the announcement of a Presidential trip. Now Moscow was watching warily. Of course, China could not be a threat for five years, or even ten years, but it was a major long-term danger as he had already pointed out to me with respect to the SALT negotiations.

South Asia

We then had a brief discussion on the situation in South Asia. Dobrynin said that he saw no reason why we should be competitive in that area and that the Soviet Union was urging restraint on India. I said the shipment of arms was not restraint. He responded that the shipments had been kept at very low levels. I told him it would make a very bad impression if Soviet actions produced a war.9 He said there was no danger of that, though their assessment was that there were many elements in India which wanted war.

Miscellaneous

We talked briefly about the Stans visit.10 Dobrynin asked whether there was any possibility for Most Favored Nation treatment. I said there was a chance that this might come along if the Summit proved successful.

The meeting ended with a general exchange of pleasantries dealing with the life of Cossacks and the beauties of Siberia.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The dinner meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy.
  2. On November 17 the North Vietnamese informed Kissinger that Special Adviser Le Duc Tho was “ill” and could not meet secretly with Kissinger in Paris on November 20. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1040)
  3. The memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  4. Attached but not printed at Tab A is an undated U.S. note to North Vietnam recalling that on October 11, the United States made a “comprehensive proposal” to end the war “on a basis just for all parties,” taking into account the concerns raised at the last KissingerLe Duc Tho meeting of September 13. The note expressed U.S. willingness to take into consideration other points discussed in the secret channel and reviewed how the meeting for November 20 had been agreed upon and then cancelled by North Vietnam. The note stated: “The U.S. side regrets this illness. Under the circumstances, no point would be served by a meeting.” It concluded: “the U.S. side stands ready to meet with Special Adviser Le Duc Tho, or any other representative of the North Vietnamese political leadership, together with Minister Xuan Thuy, in order to bring a rapid end to the war on a basis just for all parties. It will await to hear recommendations from the North Vietnamese side as to a suitable date.”
  5. Dobrynin is referring to issues raised at the previous meeting with Kissinger; see Document 10.
  6. Israeli Prime Minister Meir made an informal visit to Washington December 2.
  7. Apparent reference to the Soviet proposal that the United States have one ABM site to defend its national capital area and retain another ABM site to defend one of its ICBM sites where ABM construction had begun. The Soviet Union would deploy ABM sites to defend an equal number of ICBM silo launchers. (Smith, Doubletalk, p. 268)
  8. On May 20 President Nixon announced that the United States and Soviet Union would work out an agreement for the limitation of ABMs during the year as well as agree on “certain measures with respect to the limitation of offensive strategic weapons.” The text of the announcement is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, p. 648. President Nixon and Premier Kosygin also exchanged letters, negotiated by Kissinger and Dobrynin, that mirrored the President’s statement but also provided that replacement and modernization of weapons would not be precluded in measures to limit strategic offensive weapons, which are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  9. On November 15 at 12:33 p.m., Kissinger had telephoned Dobrynin to remind him that “we are extremely concerned about the South Asia situation. India–Pakistan. We will not put it as rudely in diplomatic cables. We think India is determined to have a showdown. When I see you I will tell you what we suggested for a reasonable solution if someone could encourage them.” Dobrynin responded that “Both sides play down.” Kissinger answered: “In our view sending arms into India is adding fuel.” Dobrynin retorted, “I doubt that. I think it’s publicity. I will check.” (Transcript of a telephone conversation; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 369, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  10. Reference is to Commerce Secretary Stans’ trip to Moscow for trade talks and a meeting with Kosygin on November 20; see Document 14.