141. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of Central Committee of CPSU
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Foreign Minister
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Soviet Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

SUBJECT

  • Summit Preparations; Vietnam; China; Economic Relations

[After the formal meeting broke up, General Secretary Brezhnev took Dr. Kissinger aside for a private conversation.2 They stood by the window in the same room where the formal meeting had taken place.]3

Summit Preparations

Brezhnev: I want you to tell the President of our serious intention. He can count on an unlimited number of personal conversations with me, at any time. The program we have is a very good one. I have several additional pleasant suggestions, for example, a visit to the Ostankino TV tower. There will be the least possible attention to protocol. We could put aside all second-rank and petty matters.

[Page 547]

Everything will have been prepared, so that we do not burden ourselves with all the arguments. Of course, it will be impossible to pass over certain questions in silence. But we will be able to deal with them in a tranquil way. There should be nothing unexpected.

In the future, there should be further steps to reduce arms and reduce tensions and improve relations. In fact, it will be envisaged in the SALT agreement itself. In this connection, your bases with your air force will have to come up.

Kissinger: This was always foreseen.

Brezhnev: There are some enterprises we want to show President Nixon that are not far from Moscow. Your advance group4 has not given a definite answer; they fear overburdening the President. This is a restricted enterprise, which is the most modern we have.

Kissinger: Mr. General Secretary, if there is something you are particularly interested in and recommend, tell your Ambassador about it.

Brezhnev: This is a new satellite town we have recently built. We want with an open heart to show him the best we have.

Kissinger: I will take care of it. Our advance people are rather complicated.

Brezhnev: Our people have been instructed not to object to any reasonable request. We will generate an appropriate atmosphere for the correspondents. The program for Mrs. Nixon will also be suitable. There will be a visit to a chocolate factory—there will be women workers there; chocolate seems to be a female weakness. Also the Palace of the Pioneers, the Osipov Ensemble, and “Swan Lake.”

[The General Secretary then handed Dr. Kissinger the attached note on the Middle East.]5

[Page 548]

Kissinger: Do you want to discuss that subject [the Middle East] tomorrow?

Brezhnev: Monday is better.

Are your communications all right?

Kissinger: They broke down last night for a while. The President nearly had a heart attack.

Vietnam

Kissinger: I have to tell you frankly, Mr. General Secretary, that we will have a difficult four weeks coming up. The President genuinely believes that the dignity of America and the dignity of his office is involved.

Brezhnev: Every question has two sides, like a medallion. One side of a medallion has an image of a soldier or a general, etc., but if you look at the other side sometimes there is something like “rest in peace.”

Kissinger: When you and the President meet, I know the spirit in which I had the privilege of seeing you work and speak.

Brezhnev: There are times in negotiation when I feel compelled to raise acute matters. But in these forthcoming meetings there will be no such talk. We have now to overcome the forces in the world which are doing their level best to prevent our meeting. There is opposition in America. The way I see it, they are preparing to do battle. I don’t know in what terms they can become your allies.

Kissinger: Let me give you my honest judgment, unofficially. If it had not been for the North Vietnamese offensive, the President could have mobilized the center and the moderate left, and he would have been certain to be reelected this way.

Brezhnev: I have said many things on this offensive. So I do not want to repeat myself. It has to be borne in mind that the next 3–4 weeks should generate a background conducive to the Summit. You still have time to generate this favorable background. We are doing what we can.

Kissinger: If the North Vietnamese do not stop this offensive, I can foresee only bad consequences.

Brezhnev: If you really do, there will be serious consequences. But the American bombers and the proposals you make are not in my hands. I did make the reservation at the outset that I am in no position to negotiate for the North Vietnamese. But I made a few suggestions which in my personal view could be useful, in order to help. If ever the Vietnamese found out that I was making these suggestions to you that could only worsen matters for you.

Kissinger: You can be sure we will not disclose it.

China

Brezhnev: I do not know how and in what way the Chinese could find out, but they would put a definite interpretation on all this. There [Page 549]is a lot I do not know about the Chinese philosophy, just as the President does not.

Kissinger: Yes.

Brezhnev: I realize there are certain reasons and motives behind the President’s visit to China, but I am certain he does not have the full picture.

Kissinger: One related point. There have been rumors spread by Soviet personnel that there were discussions between us and the Chinese on military matters. I don’t care about your propaganda, but I want to assure you that there were no military discussions.

Brezhnev: There was only the one occasion when the Ambassador on instructions cited reports received from Chinese sources.6

Kissinger: Governmental sources?

Brezhnev: We don’t want to be more specific.

Kissinger: It is a provocation anyway.

Brezhnev: It was related to that speech of the President’s in Peking, when he made the remark that the U.S. and China were holding the fate of the world in their hands. This remark circled the world. It gave us concern.7

Kissinger: Let me give you our view. The People’s Republic of China is very important in the Asian area, and in 10–15 years it will perhaps have a role in other regions. Peace in the world now depends on relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. We can settle things concretely; with others we can settle only theoretically.

Brezhnev: The Chinese general tendency for world hegemony is an obsession with them. It is something they will not give up. It is important not to encourage it, but to localize it.

Once they made an enormous effort to gain hegemony in the world Communist movement. I can give you an example. A Soviet diplomat was in Algeria on business, and he happened to visit an outlying district where their were oil refineries and a workers’ settlement. Many tourists and delegations go there. Right there, in the middle of the desert, was a Chinese restaurant! The diplomat was interested in this. Anyone who came into the restaurant for a meal left with a bundle of free Chinese propaganda. This was the period when they tried to split [Page 550]the world Communist movement. They would throw bundles of Chinese literature at the Peking–Moscow train. Well, when they lost in their attempt at hegemony over the movement and lost their foothold, they closed up this restaurant in Algeria.

This presents a very big question: What tendencies does one want to encourage? Although, as we have said, we believe it quite natural for two countries to improve relations, provided that it is not done in a way that is harmful to third countries. Short-run considerations do not always yield benefits in the long run. Do you understand me?

Kissinger: Yes I do.

Brezhnev: I am just philosophizing. It may help us both to delve deeper into this matter.

Kissinger: We have no interest in encouraging anti-Soviet policies on the part of the PRC.

Brezhnev: There is enough of that already without you. If I am shot 150 times and buried with a cross on my grave, what more can you do? I have resigned myself to my Chinese death, though not to my natural death.

Kissinger: You seem very much alive to me.

Brezhnev: My wife asked me at breakfast yesterday how I feel. About 40–45 years old, I said. Have you been feeling this way for long? she asked. For the last 5 years, I said. She understood my answer!

We have had fruitful talks, you and I. If we left it to Gromyko and Rogers, they would be talking for two months.

[The General Secretary and Dr. Kissinger then walked out of the meeting room together. Outside the door, before going down the few steps toward the lobby, the conversation resumed.]

Economic Relations

Brezhnev: Monday we will want to discuss trade, credits, exchanges, and so forth. There is a Presidential decision involved.

Kissinger: There are two different things. One involves a Presidential decision; the other involves a Congressional decision.8

Brezhnev: But you yourselves write the laws. It is for you to change them. It is to the U.S.’s advantage to extend us credits. Certainly something can be done. We have vast resources of gas. There will be a crisis in that respect in the U.S. in a few years’ time. We could have said [Page 551]to ourselves, to hell with them, let the Americans have a crisis. But instead we say, let us build a pipeline and let you have millions of barrels of gas.

That is the purport of our policy.

Kissinger: Mr. General Secretary, in principle we are prepared. We have concrete schemes. Your Minister is coming on May 7.9 I have instructed Secretary Peterson—who is a very intelligent man—to deal with him with a constructive approach.

Brezhnev: We once had an arrangement with the Japanese. We could revitalize that.

Kissinger: Our conception is that if our relations go during the Summit the way we hope, then during the Summit we can work out a complete project and make it concrete in the summer.

Brezhnev: As I see it as a politician, if business circles in the U.S. see government support for this they will support the President in the campaign.

Kissinger: It may be tactless for me to say this on Lenin’s birthday, but frankly Lenin was wrong in one respect—when he said businessmen understand their political interests. Most businessmen I know are political idiots!

Brezhnev: I have no comment on that! You know the best!

[There were some closing pleasantries and handshakes all around, and Dr. Kissinger departed.]

  1. 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; Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Guest House on Vorobyeskii Road.
  2. Although no verbatim account has been found; see Document 148.
  3. All brackets in the source text.
  4. Reference is to the U.S. advance team, headed by Dwight Chapin, the President’s appointments secretary, which was in Moscow to handle arrangements for the summit.
  5. Not attached. The unofficial translation of the note and the Russian original 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. The Soviet note stated that a final settlement in the Middle East should “contain an obligation by Israel for a complete withdrawal of her troops from all Arab territories occupied in 1967 and obligations by the sides in the conflict for a termination of the state of belligerency and the establishment of peace among them.” Once Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, Egypt would take steps to ensure freedom of navigation through both the Suez Canal and the Strait of Tiran as well as in the Gulf of Aqaba. The Soviet proposal further suggested the establishment of demilitarized zones, possibly manned by troops and military observers from the United Nations, on both sides of the Israeli border. As part of the settlement, either the United Nations or the great powers should agree to assure the security of Israel and neighboring Arab states. Although it called for measures to resolve the plight of Palestinians, the Soviet note emphasized that “the final settlement in the Middle East shall not be delayed until translating into reality practical measures for solving the refugee problem.”
  6. In a meeting with Kissinger on March 9, Dobrynin raised the question of whether the United States and the People’s Republic of China had discussed the “dislocation” of Soviet forces along the Sino-Soviet border; see Document 56. Kissinger relayed Soviet concern on the matter in a meeting on March 14 with Huang Hua, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 134.
  8. As Kissinger explained to Gromyko in their meeting on April 23, the President could exercise executive discretion in the awarding of loans from the Export-Import Bank; but the Congress would have to pass legislation to establish Most Favored Nation trade relations with the Soviet Union; see Document 150.
  9. Reference is to the meeting in Washington between Nixon and Soviet Trade Minister Patolichev, which was postponed until May 11; see Document 215.