136. Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Moscow1

Sitto 21. Communication failure at your end has been most disconcerting at this end.2 I hope in future if situations like this develop, you can have Sonnenfeldt or Win call us on telephone using alias of member of advance and double-talk problem.

Secretary Rogers called President and passed to him substance of message from Smith which is attached.3 The President immediately concluded that your hosts may be hoping to trade flexibility in SALT for U.S. concessions on South Vietnam. The President is very concerned that we hold first and foremost to tough position on South Vietnam—that we not giving up bombing of North for illusory promises of negotiations with Hanoi or any other promise that is not firmly guaranteed.

Please note TDCS report contained in noon notes of April 21st4 touching upon discussions in Paris by Madame Binh and Xuan Thuy. This report is considered fairly reliable and would suggest that air action in north has been major shock to the other side. The President is apparently determined to continue raids on Hanoi/Haiphong area if your discussions do not appear fruitful. I impressed upon him the need to relax on this subject until May 2nd session, if the session gels.

The President informed me he is convinced that Soviets have been in league with Hanoi on the timing and objectives of Hanoi’s offensive. He considers that Soviet summit was to be leverage that both sides considered would deter air action against North. He is now doubly suspicious that reasonable posture on SALT may be designed as pot-sweetner for concessions by us on South Vietnam. He has asked that [Page 509] you recall Brosio’s 1965 assessment to effect that hosts are biggest liars, best actors and greatest cheaters in international diplomacy.5

The President has asked that I convey foregoing to you in precise terms outlined. I have assured him that no one has better understanding of hosts than you do.

Situation in Vietnam is still under control with greatest danger area in III Corps. ARVN are moving one airborne brigade from II Corps to III Corps and replacing that brigade with Ranger group from I Corps. An Loc has been under heavy attack for past two days but remains intact although some apprehension is developing.

We are, of course, most anxious to receive report from you,6 as you can tell from this message, the President’s mood is very strong at the moment.

Warm regards.


Backchannel Message From the Head of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) 7

0328. Top Secret/Sensitive 211845Z Fm. Amb. Smith SALT Helsinki 0328. To the White House Exclusive Eyes Only Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

Dear Henry

Semenov returned today at three. We met at six with Garthoff and Kishilov. Semenov reported that he had met several times at the highest level to consider SALT questions.

[Page 510]

He then read the following: “The question on certain launchers in connection with a possible agreement on certain measures with respect to strategic offensive weapons was presently under serious study in Moscow.” I noted the positive nature of this statement for SALT prospects.

He said his instructions were to try to finalize both agreements here for summit signing.

Semenov then probed about the authoritativeness of the Kishilov/Garthoff conversation of April 16th, USDEL SALT 1265.8 I stressed the informal and unofficial aspect of this exchange and asked Semenov if this approach was of interest to his side. He said categorically that it was. I told him that I, personally, thought it had a good deal of sense, but I still had to persuade my authorities and it would help if I had the specifics of his post-Moscow visit position. I hinted that I might return to Washington soon, and that it would be helpful promptly to have his new position.

Pleading need to study his voluminous Moscow record, he suggested deferral of substantive discussion between us until tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.

My three main impressions from this meeting are:

The USSR want to complete the two agreements at Helsinki for summit signature.
The USSR will on a general ABM approach involving one NCA and one ICBM defense site for each side, with ICBM deployment area expanded to 150 kilometers, and 75 or 100 launcher level per site.
Something is possible in SLBM freeze area.

Warm regards.

Gerry Smith
  1. Source: 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]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Flash.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 135.
  3. Rogers received a separate message from Smith in which he reported that Semenov “expressed desire of his authorities to prepare both draft ABM treaty and interim offensive freeze for consideration and signature in Moscow at summit.” After a brief exchange, Semenov suggested meeting the next day for a “fuller substantive discussion on informal basis with aim of developing mutually acceptable solutions to remaining issues.” The telegram was received in the Department at 3:15 p.m., i.e. shortly before the first telephone conversation between Nixon and Rogers. (Telegram 1270 from USDEL SALT VII (Helsinki), April 21; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 18–3 FIN(HE))
  4. Transmitted in message Sitto 18 from Haig to Kissinger on April 21. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Trip to Moscow Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2])
  5. Nixon met Brosio, then Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, during a trip to Europe and the Soviet Union in March 1967. According to Nixon, Brosio “emotionally and emphatically expressed his doubts about Soviet intentions.” “I know the Russians,” he said. “They are great liars, clever cheaters, and magnificent actors. They cannot be trusted. They consider it their duty to cheat and lie.” (Nixon, RN: Memoirs, p. 281)
  6. In message WTE 005 to Haig, April 21, Kissinger briefly reported: “It is hard to overemphasize Soviet eagerness for summit. President will be royally treated but none of this matters if we do not settle Vietnam.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [1 of 2]) The message, however, was also initially garbled in transmission. (Ibid.)
  7. Another copy of this message is ibid., Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages SALT 1972.
  8. Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 18–3 FIN (HE))