134. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of Central Committee of the CPSU
- Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister
- Anatoliy Dobrynin, USSR Ambassador to the United States
- A. Alexandrov-Agentov, Assistant to Mr. Brezhnev
- Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter Notetaker
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Helmut Sonnenfeldt, National Security Council Staff
- Winston Lord, National Security Council Staff
- Summit; Vietnam; Principles of U.S.-Soviet Relations
(There were some opening pleasantries during which Dr. Kissinger said what a tough negotiator Mr. Dobrynin was. Mr. Brezhnev asked Dr. Kissinger if he were comfortable. Mr. Brezhnev said that they could have given the U.S. party more pleasant accommodations but they wanted to be close to their plane. Dr. Kissinger replied the Americans appreciated not only the technical arrangements but also the human warmth. Mr. Brezhnev said that he was glad and as for the warmth, perhaps they could add to it in the talks. Dr. Kissinger wondered [Page 475] whether that was a threat or a pleasant prospect and Mr. Brezhnev replied pleasant prospect. They were against threats.)
Mr. Brezhnev: How is President Nixon?
Dr. Kissinger: He is fine. He sends his warm personal regards.
Mr. Brezhnev: Thank you.
Dr. Kissinger: He lays great stress on personal contact and looks forward to his meetings with you.
Mr. Brezhnev: In fact I have met President Nixon personally, but it was some time ago. I was in a different position and he was too at that time. He probably did not pay attention to me at the time. I even have a photo of myself with him which I have now found. He may have one too.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand the General-Secretary was present during the so-called Kitchen Debate.2 We don’t expect to have the same at this meeting during this visit.
Mr. Gromyko: The famous Kitchen Debate.
Mr. Brezhnev: God forbid. I would never be capable of such debate. It was one of President Nixon’s most famous debates. The great debate as the Foreign Minister said. But that indeed is talking of the past and has no bearing whatever on the present.
Dr. Kissinger: That is exactly our feeling.
Mr. Brezhnev: Is this the first visit to Moscow, Mr. Kissinger?
Dr. Kissinger: I was in Moscow once as a member of a scientific delegation. I met with some members of the Soviet Academy of Science to discuss disarmament.
Mr. Brezhnev: Let us endeavor to lead matters into a direction to enable us to visit one another’s countries more often, Moscow and Washington. After all it does depend on us.
Dr. Kissinger: Exactly. We have an historical opportunity.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is true. I will, of course, convey friendly regards for President Nixon at the close of our discussions. But since you are probably in touch with him even today, even now I convey my warm good wishes to him.
Since you did mention earlier on the significance of our meeting, I would like to start out by elaborating on that subject for a little time. And we certainly understand and believe that President Nixon and your leaders generally attach great importance to this meeting. As for myself and my colleagues we too attach great significance to these meetings and express the hope that they will be successful and culminate in [Page 476] useful and constructive decisions. All hesitations or vacillations in regard to these meetings have now become a thing of the past. The decision that we took was a considered decision and we are therefore entitled to believe that these meetings will be not only important but perhaps even historic and epoch-making. This will all depend on the decisions arrived at.
We have already traversed a long road toward one another in preparation for these meetings. There are quite naturally on these roads various bumps and cracks, but that is not the crux of the matter. The most important thing is that both sides were guided by a desire to achieve positive results for this meeting and to ensure that it ends well.
Now I gather that you are aware of our desire as regards the way in which the meeting should be completed. We have no wish to bring about a quarrel in the meeting. That is something we could easily do by staying in Washington and Moscow.
Dr. Kissinger: We have proved that.
Mr. Brezhnev: And to quarrel so badly as not to be able to patch up the quarrel, that is something that requires no great wisdom. That is something any leader of much less rank can easily do.
But to find a good solution for our two big powers—such two big powers as the Soviet Union and the United States—is something that requires great statesmanship and foresight, and we will need to look forward into the future.
Of course, we can both note that the general atmosphere and general political situation is well. It is a fact that it plays not a second rate importance in our meetings, but that is only too natural. I would not be saying anything new, and you are as aware of this as we. We like yourselves want there to be a good atmosphere at the time of our meeting. At present world public opinion is riveted to the forthcoming meeting and a great deal is being said on the subject. We believe we should utilize all useful things and cast aside all harmful things. In the remaining month we should do what we can to produce what we can for successful negotiations. That is very important I feel.
You know we live at a time when due to well-known circumstances things can change very rapidly in world politics. There are forces in the world which seek …
At this point Mr. Brezhnev offered Mr. Kissinger some tea and told him not to drink water. Mr. Gromyko said that he had already earned some tea. Ambassador Dobrynin commented that the General-Secretary had earned some tea since he had done all the talking. Dr. Kissinger remarked that he hadn’t said anything and that was right. Mr. Brezhnev promised to give him an opportunity. Dr. Kissinger remarked that maybe then he would want to take the tea away. Mr. Brezhnev replied that after that he would give him brandy, although perhaps he favored [Page 477] whisky. Dr. Kissinger replied that he preferred brandy. Mr. Brezhnev and Ambassador Dobrynin noted that it would be a 5-star brandy.
Mr. Brezhnev: There are forces in the world which seek to bring about a heightening of tension, but of course the majority of the countries of the world endeavor to bring about an atmosphere conducive to the lessening of tensions and improvement in the atmosphere.
So both you and we can see both sides of this matter and others. Unfortunately it so happens that events in the recent period—shortly before this private meeting between us—dampened the atmosphere somewhat. I am not saying that this will reduce the prospects for our meeting. I am merely saying it as a statement of facts. Of course, the general question of atmosphere is one we will be able to elaborate on as the talks proceed. Now I wish merely to mention it as such. All the more so since I do not believe that either of us is limited in the time set aside for these negotiations. I am assuming—in fact I am counting on it—for myself and all my colleagues that the discussions with you and the discussions with President Nixon will be as frank as possible, direct and honest. This should be an obligatory condition if we want to assure a complete mutual understanding and leave behind no doubts or anything unsaid. The spirit of frankness I feel is the spirit of confidence. Because we intend to be very frank in our discussions with President Nixon, I believe this spirit of frankness should be the dominant spirit in these conversations we are going to have with you.
I was satisfied indeed to hear the news that you have broad authority to conduct discussions on a broad range of important issues and this I feel is a very important factor. I would say that the basic issues which will be subjects for discussions at the summit meeting have in principle been identified in the process of preparatory work in which you are playing a most active and perhaps a decisive role. There are included the basic issues of the day which neither of us can bypass in our discussions. I do not on the other hand rule out, in fact I assume, that we can discuss any question which you may wish to raise or I wish to raise. I would be happy if you acquiesce in that feeling.
Dr. Kissinger: Absolutely.
Mr. Brezhnev: If any of our aides would like to say anything, let’s give them the opportunity. I don’t mean that they should say nothing. That is the worst way to do that.
Dr. Kissinger: I don’t run my staff as democratically as you, Mr. General-Secretary.
Mr. Brezhnev: I’m a great democrat, a great democrat, a great democrat. (He laughs). Dr. Kissinger, you are in agreement to that approach to our discussions.
Dr. Kissinger: Completely.[Page 478]
Mr. Brezhnev: Thank you. When I saw the range of questions we might discuss was very broad I decided to have no preparations in writing. It gives me a complete freedom of maneuver.
That was what I really wished to say by way of introduction. I would like to invite you to feel completely free in these discussions.
Here try this candy. It is very good; it is plums in chocolate.
Dr. Kissinger: I just started a diet before I came here, which has already been destroyed in 12 hours in Moscow. It is very good.
Mr. Brezhnev: Let me just record in that connection that I was a guest of President Kekkonen of Finland, and I gained 2½ kilograms in several days. I complained to him that this was all wrong. He asked me how much I had gained so I told him 2½ kilograms. He said that’s nothing. When two of our engineers were in Moscow ten days with a delegation, each one added 8 kilograms in ten days. (Dr. Kissinger laughs.) About that I was very happy since I had only gained 2½ kilograms and not more. In good neighborly fashion.
May I make a few comments on procedures on our work with you?
Dr. Kissinger: Please.
Mr. Brezhnev: I would like to devote the maximum possible time to our meetings and discussions. Because they are indeed serious negotiations we ought to do our best to introduce the greatest possible clarity in our discussions and that will take time. I was in fact the sponsor of your coming earlier.
Dr. Kissinger: I know.
Mr. Brezhnev: you’ve got me revealing my secrets already. You haven’t told me anything and I am giving away all my secrets. I’m losing all of my advantages now all because I am so kind. Now today unfortunately I can only stay with you until 4:00 p.m. Because after that we have a solemn meeting dedicated to Lenin’s birthday and I have to attend it. Later in the evening I have family circumstances to prevent me from resuming discussions. But tomorrow and the day after I can devote all day to discussions. Perhaps that is all for the good because this evening you will have a chance to have some rest. If there is no objection to that procedure we could then be ready to start.
Dr. Kissinger: It seems like a very good procedure to me.
Mr. Brezhnev: I think it is business like.
Dr. Kissinger: Good. Yes.
Mr. Brezhnev: Very well. Dr. Kissinger, I know you have many instructions and duties to perform, and I would like to hear what you say.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. General-Secretary, I appreciate your observations which are exactly in the spirit of my instructions and in fact also of the purposes which brought me here. The General-Secretary was very kind in calling me a diplomat, but I think that my major contribution [Page 479] to these meetings can be to cut through diplomatic discussions and to speak with you in complete frankness and answer any questions you might have with great openness.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is very very good. If you get rid of the State Department we will get rid of the Foreign Office.
Mr. Gromyko: Shall we burn the buildings down?
Mr. Brezhnev: we’ll burn them down. Otherwise you’ll get back into them again.
Mr. Gromyko: That’s okay; you can build new ones.
Dr. Kissinger: With all respect, Mr. General-Secretary, we have made more progress in abolishing the State Department than you have in abolishing the Foreign Office. (Russian laughter.)
Mr. Brezhnev: I have to get to the bottom of that. I’m not all that familiar with American realities.
Dr. Kissinger: You can be sure that this part of our notes will be suppressed.
Mr. Brezhnev: You may rest assured that the same fate will befall our notes on this question. We are always true to our word. We have agreed that the talks will be strictly confidential, and that’s the way it will be. If I may say in a very friendly way, sometimes your safes leak. There are holes in them, and things get into the papers. Perhaps it is necessary to send someone to put plaster or weld them tight. Perhaps there should be one big patch for the State Department.
Dr. Kissinger: You can be absolutely certain, Mr. Secretary, that these discussions will never leave the White House and will be seen only by the President and no one else.
Mr. Brezhnev: That’s the way it should be. There is nothing to fear, however, since we are talking honestly.
Dr. Kissinger: So we can speak with complete openness and without fear of any embarrassment.
Mr. Brezhnev: This is the only way we can proceed, I’m sure.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. General-Secretary, let me make a few general observations and then we can decide what topics to go into in greater detail.
Mr. Brezhnev: Well I’m prepared for anything you have to say in any order. You go ahead in any way that you see fit.
Dr. Kissinger: First, the spirit of the General-Secretary’s remarks reflects the attitude of President Nixon. (Mr. Brezhnev nods.) He, too, believes we have an historic opportunity. The leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States have met on several occasions since the end of World War II when we were allies. But they have never managed to recapture the spirit of cooperation which characterized our relationship in that period, that is before the end of World War II. Their [Page 480] meetings were episodes. We feel, as the General Secretary does, that we should begin an epoch.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is very true indeed if I may just butt in. Please excuse me if I occasionally interject.
Dr. Kissinger: That’s much better. Otherwise we are just exchanging diplomatic notes.
Mr. Brezhnev: That’s exactly right. If I wait until the end for my observations I have to write things down or forget them, and later I trust you will act in the same fashion.
Dr. Kissinger: Thank you.
Mr. Brezhnev: The name of President [Franklin] Roosevelt is very popular in the Soviet Union and whose name remains very popular in the minds of the Soviet people. I can say very sincerely, truly the Soviet people have maintained very good feelings toward President Roosevelt. There is no other President in my lifetime, and I am 65, in the history of Russian-American relations who enjoyed such a respect among the Russian people. I know about our people. I have been active in party life for 40 years. I am a war veteran. I know the attitude of our party generally and of our people. I agree with you when you talk about the attitude in that period. The attitude in that period was very important. I think all of us are so conditioned, so built in fact, that we always maintain in our memory either things that are very good or are very bad. The mediocre or second rate goes away from the memory. I think that concerns all nations, the Russian or American nation or anyone else. Those who really leave their mark in history are either bad ones or very positive figures relative to the times past, present and future. Napoleon, Wilhelm or Hitler are known in history, and in a positive sense President Roosevelt. This also goes for the various Czars. Peter the Great was one kind of Czar, Nicholas the Second another, and Catherine another.
Dr. Kissinger: Lack of personality was not one of the problems of Russian history.
Mr. Brezhnev: There were certainly different kinds of personalities.
Dr. Kissinger: You have had dramatic figures in your history.
Mr. Brezhnev: There were different kinds.
Anyway that’s just by the way. I just touched on an area which belongs more to scholars, historians or other scholars. But even so it illustrates—the illustration might teach us where to go and the correct path.
Dr. Kissinger: Very much. Our intention is to recapture the spirit of the Roosevelt period. The reason why summit meetings since the war have never had a lasting effect was either because they only dealt with surface events and with personal relationships of leaders, or because they concerned only very narrow individual problems. On our [Page 481] side there may have been the difficulty that we felt that we had to deal with you from a position of superior strength. That was in the past. I was speaking of the past. On your side there may have been the difficulty of looking at us in a certain way …
Mr. Brezhnev: That is completely fruitless. One does not deal from the position of strength.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is a complete waste of time.
Dr. Kissinger: On your side there may have been, in the earlier time, too much of the ideological aspect. In any event there were specific incidents, which may not have been intended by either side, that thwarted the progress of previous meetings.
On this occasion our opportunity is so unique because for the first time since the cooperation in the second World War we are proceeding on a very broad front. We are dealing with you from an attitude of complete equal and no pretense of a position of strength.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is very true indeed. I recall that when President Nixon first came into office, indeed he indicated when he was seeking office, that he advocated the formula that we should proceed from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation.3 Perhaps it is taking too long a time in coming; the good thing is that the process has not stopped completely.
Dr. Kissinger: We are dealing with you on the basis of complete reciprocity. Any agreement we make with you must be in your interest as well as ours. You must want to keep it. It must be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Mr. Brezhnev: Certainly, just by a word of addition, I certainly am in full agreement with that. I merely wish to add it is my view that we should conduct negotiations in a big way, not a small-minded way. And the arrangement which we achieve should be significant and should be well understood by the peoples of our countries. The arrangement should encourage tranquility in the world and respect in all states. I believe both states, the United States and the Soviet Union are worthy of such agreements. We are against talking about petty things, although that is necessary sometimes, but only as a corollary of big things.
Dr. Kissinger: That reflects exactly the attitude of President Nixon. Indeed, we believe the meeting between the General-Secretary and President Nixon is so important because our two countries are the two [Page 482] strongest powers in the world today. The future peace of the world and the well-being of the world depend on big decisions made by the two leaders and not simply on tactical moves to deal with immediate crises.
Mr. Brezhnev: There is no machine in the U.S. which could translate your language into Russian and mine into English?
Dr. Kissinger: It would make things much easier.
Mr. Brezhnev: Perhaps we might make a resolution that you learn Russian and I English.
Dr. Kissinger: I started to learn Russian one summer but I am very bad at languages.
Mr. Brezhnev: I don’t think I am too good. Besides I have no time.
Dr. Kissinger: The President once tried a system with a man speaking softly into a microphone simultaneously while he had on earphones. We threw the machine out after five minutes because it made him nervous. (Mr. Brezhnev laughs.)
Mr. Brezhnev: You just suggested one comment to me. Frankly, I did not intend to mention this at all, at least at the first meeting. In this connection, I do recall and I had occasion to mention it in one of my speeches when I referred to a remark attributed to President Nixon during his China visit.4 He said, these two countries, the U.S. and China, were holding the future of the world in their hands. I don’t know whether he was misrepresented. I’m not asking a reply to this point. Maybe at some time in our discussions we can return to it. You pushed me into saying it. When I speak to President Nixon I will say that Dr. Kissinger pushed me into saying it. On second thought, I will just mention it to President Nixon, [without saying you pushed me into it].5 I don’t think the crux is holding the future of the world in our hands; that is not the important thing. The important thing is to secure peace and tranquility in the world and respect others. That is what we should endeavor to do, our two countries.
Dr. Kissinger: If the General-Secretary will permit me, perhaps I can give an answer if we can keep it informal.
Mr. Brezhnev: I give you my word that this is between us. I will be content to wait for that reply, but not at this juncture. I would rather hear you go on with the general discussion.[Page 483]
Dr. Kissinger: I may forget; therefore, I will give it to you now anyway. There are two things I would like to say very briefly about this comment. First, it was correctly reported. Secondly, it was made in a toast at the end of a very long banquet in which very much mao tai was consumed.
Mr. Brezhnev: I certainly don’t want you to forget, so I want to listen to you now.
Dr. Kissinger: It was not a fully worked-out statement of national policy.
Mr. Brezhnev: Does President Nixon feel a bit bad about it now?
Dr. Kissinger: It was to express a general mood of friendliness rather than a detailed statement of our policy. In fact, since the General-Secretary mentioned this occasion and since I intended to speak about it anyway, why don’t I just make a few observations on the subject of China? I had intended to do it anyway.
Mr. Brezhnev: No, no. We can get to that sometime in the future; I prefer you do what you planned. Had you intended to talk about it anyway? If you prefer, you can go on.
Dr. Kissinger: I was going to say three or four sentences in my opening remarks as I told the Ambassador on the plane yesterday.
Mr. Brezhnev: I too on my side have many questions I would like to raise and discuss. One thing I omitted to mention in my opening remarks. The way I see it, before we get to questions such as the relations with China and other countries, and we should discuss many such countries; perhaps we would make better progress by starting out on relations between our two countries, the Soviet Union and the United States. Of course, other issues hinge on this question—all are interwoven. I think the basic issue is U.S.-Soviet Union relations. You set out your views in any order that you prefer.
Dr. Kissinger: Our conviction is that peace in the world and progress in the world depends on the relations between our two countries. We are the two principal countries on whom this depends.
Mr. Brezhnev: Do you smoke?
Dr. Kissinger: I never learned to inhale.
Mr. Brezhnev: That’s good then. Inhale or exhale?
Dr. Kissinger: Many of my colleagues in the bureaucracy hope that I also forget how to exhale. (Mr. Brezhnev laughs.) There are no other countries in the world that can take a global view of events or take the generous farsighted attitude which the General-Secretary described.
Mr. Brezhnev: I fully agree. I certainly agree with the additional thought that it is very true we can play such a role in the world provided we pursue a policy of peace. Then we can play a decisive role in the world. Of course, we can take different stands on different issues. [Page 484] The role we can play is different, too. This is certainly something that is important to bear in mind considering the fact that the last century has been marked by wars. (Mr. Brezhnev stands and says, “Excuse me, I get tired of sitting.”) There are still alive men and people everywhere who recollect the last war. During the war we had occupation and really great sacrifices, and wars are still going on in the world and one can not abstract one’s self from this on this occasion.
Dr. Kissinger: In our view we can cooperate on many occasions and in others we can differ on occasion and in those cases we can cooperate to exercise restraint and keep our differences within limits.
With these attitudes, we believe we can settle a number of issues at the summit. We believe we can complete an agreement on limits on strategic arms. We should make important progress on the question of European security and other European issues. We are prepared to review the Middle East question. We are prepared to discuss any other part of the world in which we have a mutual interest. With respect to economic questions, we are prepared to consider such issues as most favored nation and long-term credits, a whole range of bilateral relationships, such as science and the environment in which negotiations are now progressing.
More important than these specific issues is that we have an opportunity to engage our peoples and governments on such a broad range of issues, that every time there are conflicts in parts of the world we will remember what unites us rather than what divides us. That could be the greatest achievement of the summit.
(Mr. Brezhnev then offered the Americans some pie that had been brought in. Dr. Kissinger said we would break Kekkonen’s record and complained about gaining weight and Mr. Brezhnev said that he could start losing weight after the negotiations. Dr. Kissinger then said the summit would come and we would all put our weight back on. Mr. Brezhnev said that was right. By photos he saw that President Nixon had been losing weight. Dr. Kissinger replied that he kept quite stable. Mr. Brezhnev commented that was good. There were further exchanges between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Gromyko and Ambassador Dobrynin in which Brezhnev said they were all youngsters. Mr. Gromyko said he appreciated that very much. Mr. Brezhnev said that he and Dr. Kissinger were much more serious minded than all those youngsters there.)
Dr. Kissinger: I am authorized to discuss all these subjects with the General-Secretary and bring them either to conclusion or closer to conclusion. Also, as I told the Foreign Minister yesterday, we should begin working on final statements of the meeting.
Mr. Brezhnev: I agree.
Dr. Kissinger: But there is one problem which I must discuss with the General-Secretary. The General-Secretary speaks about obstacles [Page 485] that may be in the way of the summit that we should try to remove. That is a subject I would now like to address.
Mr. Brezhnev: Certainly.
Dr. Kissinger: That is the problem of Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. I will put our point of view before the General-Secretary with complete frankness.
Mr. Brezhnev: Please.
Dr. Kissinger: The Soviet Union did not start the war in 1963 and 1964, and there have been many mistakes made since then. But the past is not of interest in the immediate crisis. I am talking about the situation of 1972, specifically April 1972. We are confronted now with a massive offensive by the North Vietnamese four weeks before a summit meeting, at a time when we are withdrawing our forces and in the process of slowly liquidating American involvement in the war. We had no intention of having a crisis at this time. As your Ambassador knows, I intended to take a vacation at this time. The only reason I didn’t take one was he thought that the more intensive period for summit preparations would be now, so I moved it up three weeks.
Let me give you my judgment of North Vietnam with total frankness.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is the only way to talk.
Dr. Kissinger: You, of course, know them better than I.
Mr. Brezhnev: But I have never been there myself.
Dr. Kissinger: I haven’t yet either. They are a heroic people but not a wise people. They are sometimes more afraid of being deceived than of being defeated. They are not prepared to leave anything to history. I know they believe that in 1954 they were deceived by the settlement at Geneva.6 But the objective conditions between 1954 and 1972 are entirely different. In 1954 John Foster Dulles conducted our foreign policy and he was constructing positions against what he considered Communist aggression all over the world. We were going into countries.
But in 1972, when President Nixon is conducting American foreign policy, we are seeking a policy not of confrontation with the Soviet Union or for that matter other major Communist countries, but negotiations. We are doing this in the spirit of cooperation which I described. We are not going into countries to build barriers; we are trying to work out cooperative arrangements. We don’t want any permanent bases in Vietnam.[Page 486]
We have two principal objectives. One is to bring about an honorable withdrawal of all our forces; secondly, to put a time interval between our withdrawal and the political process which would then start. We are prepared to let the real balance of forces in Vietnam determine the future of Vietnam. We are not committed to a permanent political involvement there, and we always keep our word.
Mr. Brezhnev: Do you have a sort of judgment of your own, an assessment of your own, as regards the withdrawal of your forces, or is this just a general principle?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes. We have some ideas. We are talking of months, not years. The number of months is a detail.
Mr. Brezhnev: These plans or projections you have, have they already in any way been communicated to North Vietnam?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes. But we don’t believe … the difference is that the Vietnamese … we cannot withdraw our forces without getting our prisoners back and without some perspective of what follows afterward. This North Vietnam refused to do. But if we can get this, we are prepared to withdraw all our forces without any residual forces, and to close all bases within a period of months, which remains to be negotiated, but is not an obstacle to a solution.
Amb. Dobrynin: Within this year?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes, by the end of this year. By the end of the year. The number of months will not be a question of principle. We have said six months in our last proposal.
Mr. Brezhnev: That would be starting from what date?
Mr. Kissinger: The date of agreement.
Mr. Brezhnev: Do you have really accurate data as to the number of American prisoners in Vietnam?
Mr. Kissinger: Not as accurate as the Vietnamese. They have never given any names officially. They have the irritating habit of dealing only with our domestic opposition. They have given others the names of about 500 prisoners but have published pictures of prisoners whose names they didn’t give anybody.
Mr. Brezhnev: What would be the approximate figure? More than 500 or less; about what figure?
Mr. Kissinger: The confirmed number is about 500. Then there are about one thousand missing, not all of whom are confirmed as prisoners. Therefore, there is a maximum of 1500, certainly less than that, and a minimum of about 500.
These are our two objectives. What we will not do under any circumstances, no matter what military pressures and no matter what the results, is to meet their demand which is to install their government in Saigon. They claim that isn’t what they want, but I can explain to the [Page 487] General-Secretary that the objective consequence is that. I do not wish to waste time on that now because I wish to make a more fundamental point. But we are prepared to have a political process which gives political forces in Vietnam a chance to express themselves over a period of time, although we recognize this is difficult to design.
These are the general considerations which the President would have [sic] discussed with you in May. I only mention them to explain the immediate crisis. And that is the crisis started by the North Vietnamese offensive on March 30 which has the additional complication that it is conducted almost completely with Soviet equipment.
This affects us in four ways. First, as great powers; second in terms of what I already mentioned, whatever the Soviet role in this offensive has been. Third, the impact of this offensive on our immediate situation which also affects you, which I will explain in a minute. And fourth, the measures which must be taken to end the crisis.
Let me talk about the last two points first. If this offensive succeeds—and if I read Pravda I would be very concerned7—the impact on our relationship, quite unintentionally, would be very serious. I hope my reports are better than your newspaper.
Amb. Dobrynin: Unintentionally?
Mr. Kissinger: Unintentionally. I hope the General-Secretary forgives me for being so frank, but Ambassador Beam can put it in diplomatic language later on.
Mr. Brezhnev: That is exactly what I expect. Complete frankness is the only way to gain a true perspective of the state of affairs.
Mr. Kissinger: If the North Vietnamese offensive succeeds, there will be another 69,000 Americans who will become prisoners.
Ambassador Dobrynin: Do you believe in this?
Mr. Kissinger: That’s at least what we must protect against. They are trying hard. If the South Vietnamese army collapses, which is what the North Vietnamese army is attempting to do, this will be the consequence. We cannot tolerate it, and we will not tolerate it at any cost.
Secondly, if we look at the perspective which we described before, it would deprive an American President of any authority to have the sort of discussions with the General-Secretary that it has been the principal objective of his Administration to bring about. We have had the … we are discussing now, for example, in Helsinki the limitations on [Page 488] strategic arms, and the Soviet proposal is that submarines should not be included, the one that came through the confidential channel.8
Now, as I told the Ambassador, our military people have an almost religious conviction. The President, assuming he could come to Moscow, which would be very doubtful, [the translator omitted the last phrase] even if he came to Moscow he would have to be a very rigid participant. He could not say, after having suffered an enormous defeat in Vietnam, I have made the following concession to the leader of the country whose arms made our defeat possible. I want to tell you the truth. I am telling you facts, not subjective speculation. I am just telling you what the facts are.
But let us take a more realistic case, which is that North Vietnam will not win but will continue its offensive in order to gradually undermine our domestic support. Then we will be in Moscow under conditions where the issue is still in doubt, when major military operations are going on and our retaliatory measures are also going on. We understand that this creates great difficulty for you, and it also creates enormous difficulty for us. In that case, the major campaign will concern our domestic public opinion. Now, as your Ambassador knows, we have had riots every May since we came into office. And we have defeated them each time—by October people are always wearing American flags in their lapels each time. Upper middle class students are not good revolutionaries. In America at least, the upper middle class does not make good revolutionaries, but they make a lot of noise. [Mr. Brezhnev laughs.]
In order to defeat this domestic upheaval, especially in an election year, we will have to go right and have to appeal to those people who normally vote for Wallace.9
In short, a little country whose heroism derives from a monomaniacal obsession with local problems is bringing about a situation where the whole situation is clearly developing in a direction which neither of us wants, and which is not our preference, and which is imposed on us by developments which we would not have chosen. This is why we are determined to bring this issue to some sort of conclusion, either a final one or an interim one which removes it for this year, while you and we settle fundamental issues and while other developments take place.
We are doing this in no spirit of hostility. We are not asking for anything other than the two objectives I mentioned to the General-Secretary. And even if we defeat the offensive we will not change our objectives.
But what I must in all honesty tell the General-Secretary is that if developments continue unchecked, either we will take actions which will threaten the summit or, if the summit should take place, we will [Page 489] lose the freedom of action to achieve the objectives which we described and which are the principal goal of our Administration.
We have read your last communication10 with great care, Mr. General-Secretary. We chose not to reply to the specifics because we knew we would have an opportunity to talk. We recognize that the Soviet Union is pursuing a principled foreign policy, and we would never ask you to betray an ally. I also, as a professor, have studied Russian history and know that it has not happened infrequently that certain sentiments of loyalty are put before tactical considerations. That’s not the worst trait a country can have. All I can say is that we are prepared to deal with the issue with a spirit of generosity, fairness and broad-mindedness, and we hope this lays the basis for the development of U.S.-Soviet relations which will be a historic departure.
Mr. General-Secretary, I am sorry to have spoken at such length, but as a former professor it seems that my internal clock is geared to 50-minute presentations.
Ambassador Dobrynin: Fifteen minutes or 50 minutes?
Mr. Kissinger: Fifty minutes.
Mr. Brezhnev: No, I think that is all to the good because I do want to gain a better understanding of the way in which President Nixon and his Administration in general views the prospects for all these problems. After all, it is the United States and not the Soviet Union which is conducting this war in Vietnam.
(Mr. Brezhnev takes a document from Mr. Aleksandrov and reads it in Russian. Dr. Kissinger interrupts by saying that the only thing he understood was his name which happened very often.)
Mr. Brezhnev: I would like to broaden the Vietnam question in this discussion by introducing the following matter. Can you tell us why the U.S. suspended talks and what your view is regarding the resumption of talks in Paris? Because after all the questions have to be resolved by you and the Vietnamese, no one else, President Nixon and yourself. We have been in communication with Vietnam and have received this communication today. They have advanced their views regarding the resumption of meetings with the Americans. I have had no time to distribute this to my colleagues and will do so whenever there is an opportunity. They have informed our Ambassador about their position in response to the proposal put forward by Dr. Kissinger.11 That is where I started reading from the cable:
“The Vietnamese are of the view that the Vietnamese problem must be resolved through negotiations in Paris and in no other place and [Page 490] only between the Vietnamese and the Americans. In this connection Dr. Kissinger’s proposal for a confidential meeting in Moscow is not accepted by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
“The Vietnamese side continues to insist on the parallel conduct of talks, both official and restricted, but in this case the resumption of official talks must precede the resumption of the meetings between Special Advisor Le Duc Tho and Dr. Kissinger.
“The U.S. side has proposed first to have a restricted meeting, and if they should yield progress to resume official negotiations. The Vietnamese side has made its proposal regarding the date of the resumption of the official negotiations, that is April 27.
“The restricted meeting could then take place on May 6, but the U.S. side is free to make its own proposal as regards that date.
“If the U.S. side should state its readiness to hold the 148th meeting of the Paris talks on the 27th, Special Advisor Le Duc Tho could without delay fly to Paris. On April 20, instructions have been sent to Minister Xuan Thuy to get in touch with the U.S. side and communicate the above to the Americans, but it is also said that at their own discretion the Soviet comrades can communicate this reply to Dr. Kissinger in person.”
This, as I have said, I received this morning. Only I have seen it; I have not had time to acquaint my colleagues with it. I will do it. (Mr. Brezhnev shows the document, pointing out that only his name had been checked off on the distribution list.)
Ambassador Dobrynin: They should have contacted you yesterday.12
Mr. Kissinger: They did. I was going to tell you.
Mr. Brezhnev: I see in that cable they have instructed Xuan Thuy to deliver this message to the U.S. side.
Mr. Kissinger: If I may point out to the General-Secretary, this note, even to the Soviet Union, and even more marked in dealings with us, contains an attitude which we cannot accept any more. They make proposals not as proposals but they say “must”, “the U.S. must”. If it is about a meeting, it is not so bad perhaps but it is impossible for proposals of substance; then it takes on an ultimate non-like character. And in negotiations they always take the attitude, even in private talks, as if I were a student taking an exam on the adequacy of my understanding of their proposals. They never answer my proposals.
But I will then give an answer to the question you gave me, Mr. General-Secretary, and will then give you our answer to this part of it.
Mr. Brezhnev: I wanted to add something.
Mr. Kissinger: The General-Secretary asked me why we suspended talks on March 23. I would be glad to answer his question if he wants. First of all, Mr. General-Secretary, there have been 147 plenary sessions [Page 491] which have settled absolutely nothing, not one thing of even the most minor kind. Indeed, it seems to be the North Vietnamese strategy to demonstrate no progress in negotiations in order to maximize our domestic difficulty. Let me talk about specifics here. Since this is not a public forum, I can tell you absolutely honestly how the sequence of events came about.
Mr. Brezhnev: Perhaps we can take a ten-minute break and give the interpreters a break, a breather.
(There followed a 20-minute break during which the two parties walked around outside. 2:25 p.m.–2:45 p.m.)
Mr. Brezhnev: So how will you deal with this proposal of whether to resume the Vietnam talks or not to resume them? What is to be done, in short?
Mr. Kissinger: I don’t insist—does the General-Secretary want an answer as to why we suspended talks? It is up to him.
Mr. Brezhnev: Of course, I want to hear everything you want to tell me.
Mr. Kissinger: Then I will give an answer to his question. First, as I already pointed out with regard to the plenary sessions, there have been 147 without any results. Now let me give the General-Secretary the sequence of events of recent months. I am doing it from memory, so my dates may be off by a day or two, but they are generally correct.
On February 15 (sic) North Vietnam proposed to us a private meeting for anytime after March 15. On February 18 (sic) we accepted this and proposed a date of March 20.13 The reason we proposed March 20 was because for reasons of secrecy, we always do it on a weekend, so we did it for the first weekend after March 15. On February 29, the North Vietnamese accepted the date of March 20.
Mr. Brezhnev: Some tea?
Mr. Kissinger: That would be good.
On March 7, they cancelled the meeting of March 20 and proposed instead April 15. They said we had bombed between March 2 and March 6, and also February 19 and 20. The first dates we had bombed, but this preceded the acceptance of our dates so they were irrelevant; they were 10 days before the acceptance of the date. The second date, it was a lie. We had not bombed; it was just an excuse.
On March 13, we accepted to meet in April, but we proposed April 24. The reason we proposed April 24 was that I had already agreed, as you know, to go to Japan the weekend of April 15, so we suggested the first weekend after my return from Japan.[Page 492]
To this they didn’t reply. When they had not replied for 10 days, we suspended the plenary sessions. We saw no sense in plenary sessions when they were playing games with the private sessions, and we were making no progress on plenary sessions. We suspended on March 23, 10 days after we accepted their date and had received no reply.
On March 27…
Mr. Brezhnev: Please eat up. You will certainly have to report back to the President.
Mr. Kissinger: On March 27, the North Vietnamese accepted the date of April 24. As soon as they accepted the date, we notified them that we would return to the plenary sessions on April 13. We told them, in other words, that we would return to the plenary sessions, not because of their offensive but because they accepted the private meeting. The offensive had not started, or we didn’t understand that it had started. So then the offensive had started, and so we cancelled the plenary meeting, but we maintained our willingness to go to the private meeting. They cancelled the private meeting again, and now we are playing children’s games.
But the basic issue isn’t this. We are prepared to find a solution as to how to have plenary and private sessions concurrently. We can probably tomorrow make a concrete proposal to you as to how we can do this because that is a subsidiary issue.
Mr. Brezhnev: You have not yet arrived at a final decision on that?
Mr. Kissinger: I will let you know tomorrow. I have an idea. I will let you know exactly what we propose to do. Because we just got their message and I want to think about it a little more.
Mr. Brezhnev: I was too late in communicating it to you.
Mr. Kissinger: No, it was really simultaneous.
The real issue is this. First, it is now obvious that they used this private meeting really in order to deceive us about their offensive. It is clear to us that they scheduled the private meeting to happen some period after their offensive started, and when their offensive was delayed they always delayed the private meeting.
But we will leave that aside. There is a more fundamental point. (The Soviet side holds brief discussions among themselves.)
But a more fundamental point is this. The North Vietnamese for four years now have pursued the tactics of selling us talks for concessions. They have done it with great skill. But they have to understand now, as far as we are concerned, the party is over. We are not interested in talks. We are interested in results. I like Mr. Le Duc Tho. He is a most impressive man, but the reason I want to see him is not for the pleasure of his company, but to have some concrete results. All their communications always talk as if it is a favor to see us and act as if a private meeting is a special concession to us.[Page 493]
So we have two requirements. The first is that the meeting cannot take on May 6; first, because I am occupied on that day and secondly, because that is too late, as I told your Ambassador. May 2 is the latest date I can attend and on which private talks still make sense. But we will make a proposal as to how to bring this about.
Mr. Brezhnev: As they write in their message, the American side is free to make their own proposal with regard to a date.
Mr. Kissinger: That is why I think it is a solvable problem, and I will make a concrete proposal tomorrow, but the second point is more important.
Mr. Brezhnev: It is an easier decision to make than the decision to bomb.
Mr. Kissinger: Bombing is very painful for us. In your own experience, when a leader has necessities and a country has necessities, he must take painful steps which he doesn’t like to do. I have told your Ambassador socially that when you have acted, I have been impressed that you have done so massively, without looking back. These were observations that I made as a historian; it doesn’t have anything to do with a specific situation.
But I agree with you, Mr. General-Secretary, we can solve this problem.
(During this time Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Gromyko exchanged animated words.)
Mr. Brezhnev: You can hear what I said. You were evidently hinting at Czechoslovakia.14 I see you are a very astute lecturer.
Mr. Kissinger: And you a very good debater. But as your Ambassador can tell you, Mr. General-Secretary, I made the comment to him at the time in a spirit of understanding, in a complimentary way, not critically. (Ambassador Dobrynin explains to Mr. Brezhnev.)
The second point I wanted to make …
Mr. Brezhnev: You availed yourself of that opportunity to make a point; because I jokingly wanted to divert you from the subject you immediately seized on it. That is a diplomatic strategy. Although at first you said you were not a diplomat, I see that that is not so. You are just doing it as a diversionary tactic so you were starting an attack on me. So then it is a matter of a counterattack on my side. So you resorted to your lecturing tactic. So I resorted to my experience in war, though my true nature is that of a very peaceful man.
Mr. Kissinger: The General-Secretary is an expert at flanking maneuvers.[Page 494]
Mr. Brezhnev: War can teach you anything—flanking maneuvers and mounting frontal attacks. You weren’t actually in the war, were you?
Mr. Kissinger: First, I was in the infantry, and then I was in intelligence.
Mr. Brezhnev: That’s something I experienced from beginning to end. The Soviet people, our people, did too.
Mr. Kissinger: It was a very heroic effort.
Mr. Brezhnev: It was an awesome thing.
Mr. Kissinger: Yes.
Mr. Brezhnev: Our people are still very sensitive to matters related to that, and it is really something that no amount of propaganda can dull, particularly since the generation that really fought the war is still living. There are still hundreds of thousands of war victims, invalids, still living. There are still millions of families who lost their dear ones in the war—their mothers, their fathers and brothers.
Mr. Kissinger: The casualties, the deaths of the Soviet people were unbelievable.
Mr. Brezhnev: Entire generations of modern society have been affected by the war or the results of the war.
Mr. Kissinger: Our people did not suffer anything the way you people did. We didn’t have nearly the casualties and none of the devastation.
Mr. Brezhnev: I am sure, God forbid, if your people had had to suffer anything like the Russian people did, the post-war American foreign policy would have been different. The average American is just not familiar with this, has not gone through this, and his mind is conditioned entirely differently.
Mr. Kissinger: Except in the South, where they had an experience with tragedy, most Americans have not experienced this.
Mr. Brezhnev: I have just developed this a little bit now. It is certainly not a time when anyone or any people can welcome anything like what happened before. It would do no one any good. The world is moving away from all such concepts. And particularly with the development of civilization, the raising of educational standards and the independent-mindedness of social groups is growing, especially working people. The opposition to war is mounting constantly everywhere. In these circumstances it is hard for anyone to justify a possible war in any way. And particularly if the clouds of world war, or even the prospect of anything like that, drives fear into the hearts of all people. They gird their loins to oppose such a possibility and any proposal of that sort breeds in the people a desire to rise in self-defense to oppose that. Perhaps these are invisible factors, but they are a very powerful force, and something that each of us must be alive to.[Page 495]
This is just an aside. I am sure we all understand it equally well. When we do talk about military action, it is something that must be borne in mind. That is particularly so for you historians—any war has always left a trace on human history. Conclusions have been drawn, and the wars, of course, more recently have taught people of all the world very important lessons. This is one digression which I wanted to make.
Mr. Kissinger: It is very important, because the overriding consideration must be to avoid confrontation and improve the general prospects for peace in the world.
Mr. Brezhnev: (Gesturing with his hand.) I vote for that. Our people and our Party are wholeheartedly in favor of that, and I also mention this because we will certainly spend as much time as possible on it in our talks with President Nixon. This topic is bound to come up.
Mr. Kissinger: The preservation of peace.
Mr. Brezhnev: We must find principles on which to base our relationship in this regard. It is always better to discuss this in man-to-man talk than to set it down on paper, because, for example, if the Politburo had asked me to write out exactly what I intended to tell Dr. Kissinger, I would have been hard-pressed because I don’t know how the talks would develop, and how we would get along. As it turns out, these are frank and free discussions. We do have a chance to put forth views, to speak from the heart. And that is how it will go with President Nixon: talk about the prospects of peace. It is wrong to formally set out positions, to abstract oneself from the overriding problem of peace and the prospect of developing bilateral relations. Perhaps we will not write down all that we discuss. The mere fact that we talked about it and nodded to each other in a friendly way might sometimes be even more important than what is written on a piece of paper.
I am again saying this because as I see it, the talks you will have here will perhaps be more than one-half the discussions at the summit meeting. After all if we can reach mutual understandings—the problems we discuss with President Nixon when he comes—you can convey the substance to President Nixon and then we won’t have need to cover the same ground if agreement is already reached. We will spend less time on these subjects.
Mr. Kissinger: But more time on broad perspectives.
Mr. Brezhnev: Yes, and we can then spend time on more specific and concrete things.
Mr. Kissinger: I agree, Mr. General-Secretary, that peace is not a piece of paper but an attitude. One of the more important things that could come out of the meeting is that, without formal obligation, we would ask ourselves what the General-Secretary thinks. And then this rapport between the two leaders would mean that they take each other seriously even without written commitment.[Page 496]
Mr. Brezhnev: I certainly have no intention of arguing with Mr. Nixon about whose kitchen is better, the U.S. manufacturer or the Russian one. (Mentions name of Soviet factory.)
Mr. Kissinger: This will not occur.
Mr. Brezhnev: Undoubtedly.
Mr. Kissinger: To get back to Vietnam, to our two difficult allies. Assuming we solve the problem of the sequence of plenary and private meetings, then the problem is what happens at the private meeting. We will not be satisfied simply with the presence of Mr. Le Duc Tho, much as I enjoy his company. We will come up with some formula for that prestige issue which we will settle.
Mr. Brezhnev: Parallel talks. It’s really a procedural matter which one shouldn’t fight over.
Mr. Kissinger: We will make a concrete proposal which we find acceptable, and we think they will find acceptable. And what must happen at this meeting or very shortly afterward is either a final settlement of the war, which is probably not possible, or a definite reduction in the violence which will be guaranteed at least for a substantial period of time, say through the period of this year. If this reduction of violence is achieved, we will, of course, be prepared to reduce our activities and remove some of our reinforcements that we have sent out.
Mr. Brezhnev: You have been sending in some reinforcements in certain quantities? Troops?
Mr. Kissinger: We have sent in substantial amounts of Air and Navy.
Mr. Brezhnev: Mainly Air Forces?
Mr. Kissinger: And Navy.
Mr. Brezhnev: Marines?
Mr. Kissinger: We have sent in Marine Air Force. We have not yet sent in ground forces. I can only repeat, Mr. General-Secretary, as a statement of objective fact, that if we are confronted with a continuation of major military operations, first we will have to take very drastic military steps, but secondly we will have to depend on people domestically that we would rather not choose to work with. So as I said, we have two problems—one the sequence of meetings, and second to bring about at least an interim result to the meetings.
Mr. Brezhnev: Well, as I understand the position of our Vietnamese Comrades, they too are prepared to resume the Paris negotiations and also seem to agree to the holding of a private meeting. The question is which comes before which.
Mr. Kissinger: That we will resolve.
Mr. Brezhnev: It should not be a stumbling block when dealing with the all-important issue of war. In any negotiations, for example [Page 497] on matters of commerce and trade, people also barter and agree on sequence of steps to take and there is sometimes haggling. But in matters relating to war, resumption of negotiations, particularly as far as a private meeting is concerned, should not be affected by the prestige of either side.
Mr. Kissinger: We will make a concrete proposal tomorrow and solve the problem, even though we have been trying to set up a meeting since March 15 and our confidence in North Vietnam is not exactly overwhelming. We agree with the General-Secretary on which comes first. We will make a proposal tomorrow, and I think you will find it reasonable. We won’t treat it as a prestige question. What is important is what happens at the meeting. This is a matter of great importance.
Mr. Brezhnev: Well, as I see it Dr. Kissinger will have the appropriate powers to conduct constructive discussions with Le Duc Tho.
Mr. Kissinger: Yes, but will Le Duc Tho?
Mr. Brezhnev: That honestly I can’t say. Well, that will probably depend in some measure on the proposal you come up with tomorrow and on what you want us to convey.
Mr. Kissinger: Our proposal tomorrow will only be procedural, how to get the talks started.
Mr. Brezhnev: But you probably have some plan in your mind as to what to endeavor to do whenever the meeting is finally organized.
(Ambassador Dobrynin to Dr. Kissinger: I just recalled what you told me recently.)
Mr. Kissinger: Mr. General-Secretary, I want to be honest with you. If North Vietnam follows their usual practice—I don’t know how they talk to you—but if they follow the usual practice, they have a document with points, eight points, five points, etc., and each point says “you must.” Then I say something, and they say you are not yet “concrete.” Not being “concrete” means that we do not agree with them. If I accept one of their points, they say now I am concrete, and we go to the next point. In other words, they give a series of ultimatums. This will under no circumstances be acceptable. If this process is maintained, we will act unilaterally, at whatever risk to whatever relationship. I say this not as a threat but as our objective policy so that there is no misunderstanding.
I can give you tomorrow, if you are prepared to consider it, our idea of what steps should be taken this year to reduce the level of violence without giving up principles. I can give it to you tomorrow. If they proceed in normal fashion, it will be a very difficult session.
Mr. Brezhnev: Just by way of putting some lining in there at that point, let me comment that sometimes Americans find life too dull. Rock and roll is dull, and there are no domestic problems, so let’s start a war in Vietnam.[Page 498]
Mr. Kissinger: With the most difficult people in the world.
Mr. Brezhnev: Now you complain. That was just an aside. Later certainly we will set out our views in detail on the Vietnam problem as a whole. But go on.
Mr. Kissinger: I said essentially what I have to say. As I said, there are two problems. First, the start of the talks on which we will make a proposal tomorrow and which is soluble. Second, how to make the talks fruitful in a brief period of time. On that we could make some suggestions. I would be glad to have your ideas.
It is a matter not only of Vietnam but a question really of the whole international situation. If it is not resolved, events will happen domestically and internationally—and basically for nothing. We don’t want to stop there; we want to get out. You don’t want to go in. For us to run the risk of a conflict in an area where neither of us have any vital interests left would be an historical absurdity.
Mr. Brezhnev: On Vietnam we will certainly continue our discussion tomorrow, perhaps in the context of concrete considerations and observations. We will be ready tomorrow to listen to any proposal you can state, and perhaps something practical will result. On the whole I would like to say that we would favor that. Of course, it’s a very complex problem. I don’t want to delve into the history of the Vietnam conflict except to say that it was not ourselves who started the war. It is the United States who started the war, the U.S. who intensified it when Kosygin visited Vietnam.15 Of course, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is a socialist country, and we fulfill our international duty of solid support for a socialist country. We make no secret of our support for the victims of aggression and the people who uphold independence and freedom.
What is the United States defending in Vietnam? It doesn’t matter anyway. I doubt anyone would understand that the United States is truly defending that country. The war has been going on eight years, but for what sake? For what sake is money being squandered, for what sake are so many Americans being killed and thousands of Vietnamese? Has the war brought the United States anything positive? Surely nothing. For eight years this shameful war brought on the United States nothing but the wrath of the peoples. We did not engineer it. It is not something we are engaged in or directly involved. It is people’s feelings coming to the surface. You know better than we the strong protests in the world against the war raging in Vietnam. This evokes all over [Page 499] cries of imperialism all over. All this is on the shoulders of the present United States Government. Certainly this is a subject that you know better than we. Bombing is not a solution to any problem. Bombing will not solve the problem. It never has. Sometimes it will soften the opposition, then again there will be new fighting. Then what if there is another period of bombing, surely that is not the path for the United States to win new glory in the world.
If we take the situation today, the bombing at this time has particular consequences because it takes place at a time when we are preparing major steps forward to improve the world climate through the summit meeting between the leaders of our two countries. This will be a meeting which has significance not only from our point of view but great significance in the view of all public opinion. In the meetings we hope to affect the attitude of the world and attract the sympathy of the people all over the world to such decisions as we might take during the meeting.
I certainly don’t think that the bombing at this time will help President Nixon get elected. I know he wants to have a successful election. We take no position in any way to prevent his re-election. That is why we are going to the summit meeting at this particular time—surely on our part this is the best assistance to the President. The best policy is for both of us to look at the problem from the standpoint of casting aside all negative things and for an attitude on all positions that will help ease and resolve this problem.
From some remarks that you made I tend to draw the conclusion that you feel we are in part to blame for the escalation of the fighting, for the offensive in Vietnam. Surely you do not dispute that you are fighting, not we. Is this your method of bringing certain indirect pressures to bear upon us? I feel that both perhaps President Nixon and yourself have been misled and deluded in this regard. There are certain forces in the world who by their activity try somehow to obstruct the American-Soviet summit meeting. They would be very gleeful and would gloat to see the Chinese meeting come off while with the Soviet Union no meeting would come off. We take a very firm decision about the meeting with the United States—we are taking no steps to prevent it, but it is not easy.
As regards Soviet assistance in Vietnam, I wish to say very clearly and openly that in the recent period there have been no additional agreements with regard to Soviet supplies, and I am sure you are aware that throughout the history of the Vietnam war we have nothing to do with the planning of the war. This is up to the North Vietnamese themselves. They never ask us to take part in the planning or ask for our acceptance. They know about wet and dry seasons. They know when to act in war.[Page 500]
Mr. Kissinger: They know too well.
Mr. Brezhnev: I for one, never having been there, would not have the slightest idea when things are best.
Mr. Kissinger: It took me two years to learn the rainy and dry seasons, because every region is different.
Mr. Brezhnev: And secondly, I take the sequence of events that preceded the offensive. President Nixon travelled to Peking and before he visited Peking Chou En-lai went to Hanoi and there was no offensive.
Mr. Kissinger: I thought that was after his visit.
Mr. Brezhnev: No, before.
Mr. Kissinger: I get it.
Mr. Brezhnev: There was no offensive during President Nixon’s visit to China. Then after his visit Mr. Chou En-lai went again and then came the offensive.
Take a look at the Chinese press concerning Vietnam. It is now saying that the Soviet Union is now rendering immense assistance to Vietnam. They never said this before. They always said that our assistance was negligible. Now in one month’s time all has changed in the Chinese press. And what is more, the American opposition press is writing in unison with the Chinese press. They too are writing that the Soviet Union has given North Vietnam such great assistance, not only to overrun South Vietnam but to go as far as India. That certainly shows that both the Chinese and opposition press are writing in parallel. They are acting to prevent, to block the summit between the Soviet Union and the United States.
I mention all this and list all the arguments because I feel they are weighty proof in opposition to what you said concerning Soviet arms in the offensive. Before our meeting, because of the continued talk about Soviet weapons and planning in Vietnam, I asked my people to draw up a special list of all weapons sent to Vietnam during recent years. I have it before me. Look at it. It definitely concludes that it is certainly not the Soviet Union who has organized the latest offensive in Vietnam. It is not the right time to show it to you. But you would see the point. It proves whether the Soviet Union is instrumental or not in organizing the offensive.
I say also that you should bear in mind that powerful forces in the world are out to block the summit meeting. It certainly would be quite a big gift to the Chinese if the meeting did not come off. It would only help China.
(Dr. Kissinger, noticing that Mr. Brezhnev is standing up, comments that he did not wish to keep him from his next appointment. Mr. Brezhnev looks at his pocket watch and indicates he still has time.)[Page 501]
I don’t know whether President Nixon and yourself grasp Chinese philosophy. It is certainly centuries old and goes back in age. But China today, the country, does not really have a principled policy of its own, no consistency. First they took advantage of the international Communist movement to build hegemony. On other occasions they use accusations: “Social imperialists”, they call us.
Mr. Kissinger: I thought they called you “revisionists.”
Mr. Gromyko: That was in the past. They use stronger words now.
Mr. Brezhnev: “Revisionists” is old hat. They use “social Imperialists” now. For me they have ordained an honorable death. They plan to shoot me. Mr. Kosygin they plan to hang, and Mr. Mikoyan they will boil alive. At least I have an honorable fate, not like Mikoyan, like those who will be boiled alive. Just last year that country beheaded their own people, which is what is to be expected at a time of the so-called Cultural Revolution.
It is a very strange country indeed. First, they called our assistance negligible and now they call it tremendous. I don’t know if you have studied their minds. They are certainly beyond the capacity of a European mind to fathom. (Mr. Brezhnev says to Mr. Gromyko: “beyond my European mind.”)
We are in no way against the improvement of U.S.-China relations. I am not personally opposed, nor is the Communist Party. As I said publicly, we regard this as a natural process, provided it is not prejudicial to the interests of any third country. That is the position of our Party and Government.
The main thing you must understand is that nothing is accomplished by bombing. It can only spoil the atmosphere in light of forthcoming events. It objectively can lead to a situation where for President Nixon the trip might be impossible, just as events might confront us with a very difficult situation for the summit meeting.
I don’t know the impact on U.S. society. That is up to you. I know the President wants to preside over an honorable expression of your 200th anniversary. You realize—we don’t know what kind of celebration, but it would not be a good celebration, a happy holiday, if it comes at the time of unfriendly relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Before we end the meeting, I would very much like you to convey to President Nixon that I can confirm and reconfirm our view and the desire of our government to have a Soviet-American summit meeting. We attach immense importance to it. We believe it can be not only historic but epoch-making. We believe it is in the American interest and the Soviet interest, in the best interests of the Soviet and American peoples. We believe both our sides can exert a beneficial influence on all world affairs.[Page 502]
On that I will end this meeting. We believe the main issue between our two countries is the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, our two countries. To this end I would like to leave a document with you. It is entitled “Foundation of Mutual Relations between the United States and Soviet Union.” This is a very important document, because we have several other suggestions about decisions that could be taken as to the outcome of the summit meeting with President Nixon. But I will announce this in our subsequent meetings.
This bears no relation to our previous discussions, but just last year I found a document in Leningrad, a document drawn up in 1894 by a certain geographer who lived near China. His name was Maximov. He was evidently a most intelligent man, and he gives a character study on the Chinese. I will read this later. Let me say that I don’t think either your scientific institutes or ours studying China could produce anything better about China today. This is just a piece.
Mr. Kissinger: I would love to have it.
Mr. Brezhnev: It is just a piece of literature.
Mr. Kissinger: Could I get it?
Mr. Brezhnev: I will read it first.
It is in Russian and an unofficial translation into English. (Mr. Brezhnev hands over the document “Foundation of Mutual Relations between the United States and Soviet Union” to Dr. Kissinger. Attached at Tab A.)16
Mr. Kissinger: Mr. General-Secretary, we will read it with great care and give you our preliminary reactions certainly while I am here.
Mr. Brezhnev: We would certainly welcome any chance to reach a preliminary understanding or a final understanding while you are here. If you want to make it stronger, not weaker, we would welcome that. If you weaken it, we will make a public statement and say we had a very fine draft to improve relations on which we wanted help and wanted to adopt it, but Dr. Kissinger was against it, and he refused it. We would go on and say that since we were not willing to complicate relations with President Nixon, we were forced to accept a weaker document, but the blame lies squarely with Dr. Kissinger.
But if you strengthen the document, I will find equally strong words to praise you. I will then say that our Foreign Minister was very poorly informed about the conciliatory mood of Dr. Kissinger and [Page 503] therefore submitted a weak document and we are indebted to Dr. Kissinger for having strengthened it.
Mr. Kissinger: We will study it with great sympathy and try to reach a preliminary understanding.
Mr. Brezhnev: I trust you will take a serious view of it. It is a considered proposal of our government and the Central Committee, not just a man-to-man document.
As I said, I will not be able to give you more time today. We can meet tomorrow, Sunday and Monday if necessary.
Mr. Kissinger: I am prepared to stay through Monday17 if that turns out to be necessary. If I don’t get home by Monday night, they will all think I have a new girl friend.
Mr. Brezhnev: That’s not so bad. We hand out prizes for that, especially concerning men as old as I. If that were to happen to me I would get a medal. After 65, one gets the “order of the badge of honor” for one’s ability.
So what do [you] say about a meeting tomorrow?
Mr. Kissinger: Any time.
Mr. Brezhnev: I am taking into consideration the fact that your body clock is at 5:00 in the morning.
Mr. Kissinger: No, that’s okay.
Mr. Brezhnev: So I think 11:00.
Mr. Kissinger: Any time. It can be earlier.
Mr. Brezhnev: Let’s aim for 11:00.
Mr. Kissinger: I know, Mr. General-Secretary, that today is a solemn day for you to celebrate the birth of one of the great figures in history. I would like to extend the best wishes and the respect of President Nixon and the American people on this occasion.
Mr. Brezhnev: Thank you very sincerely.
And I will see you tomorrow. I, for one, am satisfied with our discussions today. I am satisfied with the frankness with which we speak and the general method of discussing these questions. Let us try to look back on our experience today and work better tomorrow so that the President on no account will be angry with you, and I will not be criticized by the Central Committee. Both of us must take that into account. Both of us are charged with responsible duties and risk of being scolded.
Mr. Kissinger: I run a greater risk of having the President scold me than the Central Committee scold you.[Page 504]
Mr. Brezhnev: Perhaps. I wouldn’t like you to get into hot water either. We will in large measure affect the considerations of the President. He has to take our opinions into account. He is not all-powerful. The two of us will outvote him.
Mr. Kissinger: I have been pleased to meet you.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 72, Country Files, Europe, USSR, HAK Moscow Trip—April 1972, Memcons. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Guest House on Vorobyevskii Road.↩
- Reference is to the exchange between Vice President Nixon and Soviet Premier Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow on July 24, 1959.↩
- Reference is to the President’s first inaugural address, in which Nixon declared that the superpowers should move from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 1–4)↩
- Reference is to Brezhnev’s speech at the 15th Congress of Soviet Trade Unions in Moscow on March 20. For an English translation, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, April 19, 1972, vol. XXIV, No. 12, pp. 1–9. In his speech Brezhnev cited the toast at the final budget in Shanghai on February 27, in which Nixon declared not only that “our two peoples [the Americans and Chinese] hold the future of the world in our hands,” but also that “this was the week that changed the world.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 379–380)↩
- All brackets in the source text.↩
- Reference is to the Geneva Accords, three agreements signed in Geneva on July 20, 1954, to end hostilities in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. For texts, see American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 750–785.↩
- In an April 20 message to Kissinger, Haig forwarded an Associated Press account of an article in Pravda which charged that “the United States bombed downtown Hanoi Sunday and then lied about its targets.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2])↩
- See Document 84.↩
- See footnote 14, Document 126.↩
- Documents 107 and 110.↩
- See Document 100.↩
- See footnote 7, Document 126.↩
- The correct dates are, respectively, February 14 and 16. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1105.)↩
- Reference is to the invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 23, 1968, by the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact.↩
- Kosygin was leading a high-level Soviet delegation in Hanoi when—in response to the Viet Cong attack of February 7, 1965, on an American military installation at Pleiku—the United States began to bomb targets in North Vietnam.↩
- Not attached but both, including the unofficial translation printed as an attachment here, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 72, Country Files, Europe, USSR, HAK Moscow Trip—April 1972, Exchange of Notes.↩
- April 24.↩
- The English language text is an “unofficial translation.”↩