14. Editorial Note

During the last 2 weeks of November 1971, Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans traveled to the Soviet Union for trade talks with Soviet officials. On November 20 Stans met in Moscow with Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin. Their discussion was summarized in telegram 8649/Stansto 05 from Moscow, November 20.

  • “1. Major development in full, friendly three-hour twenty minute talk with Kosygin latter expressed strong desire for greatly enlarged commercial relations with US and made expected pleas for end of US ‘discrimination’ against USSR in economic matters. He avoided other contentious matters. No specific political matters mentioned.
  • “2. Stressing that Stans’ visit should leave ‘notable trace’ for President’s visit, Kosygin proposed exchange of aide-mémoires in which two sides would envisage setting up four expert working groups to consider elements of a new economic relationship. These would draw up arrangements and propositions in 3 and 4 months which might be signed before or at summit and announced at that time. Aidemémoires, Kosygin twice stressed, would not imply legal or legislative commitments.
  • “3. Experts would deal with
    • “(1) general legal/legislative issues such as MFN
    • “(2) various financial issues
    • “(3) ‘pure trade’, i.e. all commodities other than ‘equipment’, which presents more complex problems. (Kosygin subsequently clarified that ‘equipment’ also included in trade.)
    • “(4) general economic ties such as joint development of Soviet natural resources and major manufacturing projects, also schemes involving third country marketing.
  • “4. Kosygin suggested experts could meet in Soviet Union and US and he himself prepared to meet them from time to time to help move matters along and same might be done on US side.
  • “5. Stans indicated interest but reserved specific response pending further discussions with Patolichev. Indicated desire to work with Patolichev on aide-mémoire idea and go as far as we able to at this time.
  • “6. Kosygin later suggested adding experts group on science and technology.
  • “7. Rest of discussion ranged widely over economic issues. Specific item of interest was Kosygin’s reference to Soviet interest in five-year agreement to buy 2–3 million tons of corn per year provided credit available. Also suggested possibility of immediate order for synthetic leather technology.
  • “8. Stans noted inter-relationship between progress in political and economic relations and need for US public opinion to be sympathetic to improved economic relations. Kosygin said political relations should be even better by time of summit. On basis of own experience he thought most political and business circles in US now oppose tensions and confrontations, though some probably will always exist who advocate tensions.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume IV, Foreign Assistance, International Development, Trade Policies, 1969–1972, Document 349.

On November 22, 1971, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger sent a memorandum summarizing this discussion to President Nixon who saw it. Kissinger wrote on the November 22 memorandum transmitting the summary the following directive apparently from the President: “Instruct Stans to reserve final decisions to Washington.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 213, Agency Files, Commerce, (1971), Vol. II) On November 26 Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig sent a message to Stans which reads: “The report of your conversation with Chairman Kosygin has been reviewed by the President with appreciation. As to the specifics of the program outlined by Kosygin and other proposals Soviets may make during course of your visit, President prefers to reserve final decisions until after you have returned to Washington. He wishes to review substantive findings of your mission in their entirety.” (Ibid.) On November 25 Stans met with Soviet Minister of Trade Patolichev, a report of which was transmitted in telegram 6231 from Moscow, November 25. (Ibid.)

On November 29 National Security Council staff member Helmut Sonnenfeldt prepared an analysis of the Stans trip for Kissinger, noting at the beginning that the trip “is a good example of what happens to American negotiators, under pressure of atmosphere, the need to be successful and domestic pressure.” At the end of the memorandum, Sonnenfeldt assessed the damage:

“I think when all is said and done, Stans avoided concretely committing the President; and with one major exception (the “Watershed” comment to the press) confined his remarks to economic matters. On the other hand, his mission has obviously generated enormous momentum to move ahead in trade matters and does create implied commitments—both to the Soviets and the American business community—that (1) we will continue to liberalize export controls, and (2) seriously consider and perhaps grant in the next several months EXIM credits and guarantees. He is also committed to some form of follow-on to his trip, though for now only on matters within the jurisdiction of Commerce; and that this work will produce some concrete results by the time of the summit.

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“He is less committed, though not excluding it, on MFN and on a possible umbrella trade agreement (for which the Soviets are very anxious). He also showed sympathy, but without commitment, to Kirillin’s proposal for a formal agreement on scientific and technological cooperation.

Stans did an effective job in impressing on the Soviets the need for better facilities for US businessmen.

“He also made a cogent statement on the need for trade to be based on a constructive political relationship (no contradiction from the Soviets), but diluted it in public with cliches about how trade will breed understanding which ‘diplomats’ are unable to produce.” (Ibid.) Additional documentation on Stans’ trip is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume IV, Foreign Assistance, International Development, Trade Policies, 1969–1972.