160. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Soviet Foreign Minister
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to USA
  • G. M. Kornienko, Chief of USA Division, Foreign Ministry
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Soviet Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

SUBJECT

  • Announcement of Kissinger Visit; Vietnam; SALT

[General-Secretary Brezhnev had commented in the morning meetings that “except for some minor alterations,” the U.S. draft announcement of Dr. Kissinger’s visit was “generally acceptable.” When he departed at 1:45 p.m., he left a new Soviet draft with the Foreign Minister, who handed it over to Dr. Kissinger. The Soviet draft consisted of handwritten changes on a copy of the U.S. text which Dr. Kissinger had discussed and agreed with the Foreign Minister Sunday morning (Tab A).2 The Soviet text read as follows:

“By mutual agreement, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, was in Moscow from April 20 to April 24, 1972. While there he conferred with the General-Secretary of the CPSU, Mr. Brezhnev, and Foreign Minister Gromyko. Their talks, which were in preparation for the discussions between President Nixon and the Soviet leaders in May, dealt with bilateral matters and with important international problems.”]

[What follows is a record of the highlights of the discussion.]3

Dr. Kissinger: Why have you deleted the phrase “frank and useful throughout?” Weren’t our talks frank and useful?

Gromyko: You know that in our lexicon “frank” implies disagreement. Everyone will read it that way.

Dr. Kissinger: [Referring to the second sentence of the Soviet draft.] We cannot accept it this way. Your Ambassador knows what our concerns [Page 619]are. The President prohibited me to come here for Summit preparations. For internal reasons, we have to say that other matters were discussed. And why are you reluctant to say that our talks were useful, when we settled SALT here?

Gromyko: I am not empowered to make any changes. It is his [Brezhnev’s] decision.

It does no good to insist.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not insisting. I am pointing out that it is improper to do it without any discussion. If we had a discussion about it, that is something else. I have no authority to accept this. You know there are nuances important to our discussions here. We cannot have “bilateral” come first.

Gromyko: You prefer to have “international” first? Okay.

Dr. Kissinger: I will tell you quite honestly. It will make a bad impression on the President that you refuse to call useful a series of talks in which we settled SALT and the basic principles of our relations, and had useful talks on the Middle East.

More than this, I object to the method.

Gromyko: I will call the General-Secretary.

Dr. Kissinger: You still have “by mutual agreement” in here. I told Dobrynin why that is bad. He knows what my situation is. I will be under attack for coming in the first place. We will have internal problems in our Government. Yet you refuse to say that you invited me, even though it is true. And you refuse to say “useful.” But the phrase “frank and useful” you agreed to yesterday.

[At that point, Ambassador Dobrynin and Mr. Kornienko entered the room.]

Anatol, I have been telling the Foreign Minister what the situation is. What conclusion is the President to draw? He will conclude that you maneuvered him into getting me over here, which you wanted for whatever reasons of your own, while reserving the right to suggest publicly that it wasn’t very significant.

Gromyko: What do you suggest?

Dr. Kissinger: I made my suggestion. I am not rigid. We could discuss it. To attempt it this way is unacceptable.

For my purposes it is essential to put the phrases about bilateral issues and Summit preparations second.

Where is the new draft I gave your Ambassador?4

[Page 620]

[Dr. Kissinger took out a carbon of the most recent U.S. draft, which read: “Between April 20 and April 24, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger was in Moscow to confer with the General-Secretary of the CPSU, Mr. Brezhnev, Foreign Minister Gromyko and other Soviet officials. They discussed important international questions of interest to both governments as well as bilateral matters preparatory to the meeting between President Nixon and the Soviet leaders in May. The talks were frank and useful throughout.”

This U.S. draft was used as the basis for the ensuing discussion, and some corrections and stylistic changes were made. The phrase “of Central Committee” was added to Brezhnev’s title. The phrase “and other Soviet officials” was deleted. The phrase “[questions] of interest to both governments” was dropped.]

Gromyko: I will communicate this to the General-Secretary by phone.

Dr. Kissinger: It is up to you how you do it.

Gromyko: The President will attach importance to this?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, he will. Secondly, the President, you know, personally told Dobrynin he was opposed to my coming at all.5

Sukhodrev: Having “international issues” first is a matter of principle?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Sukhodrev: And “frank and useful”?

Dr. Kissinger: That part would be extremely useful.

Your Ambassador can tell of the extraordinary difficulties this will cause in Washington. Any demonstrations of coolness on your part would have serious consequences.

Gromyko: We would like to omit the phrase “frank and useful throughout.”

Dr. Kissinger: I can live without it. But I can tell you it makes a very bad impression. It would be extremely useful to have it.

Gromyko: Please do not insist on the last line [of your draft].

Dr. Kissinger: I won’t. But you are paying a hell of a price for nothing. You are losing goodwill for this. This would be the sort of thing that would mean a hell of a lot. You know, you have the habit that when someone drops a nickel you will do anything to get the nickel, even if you lose a million dollars of goodwill in the process.

There are many in Washington who oppose this. As a friend, I can tell you I have been telling Washington that you have made significant [Page 621]concessions. Now you are telling me that you have tricked me. You are weakening my arguments.

Gromyko: I will call the General-Secretary.

[He takes the working text and goes out to call the General. Secretary, at about 2:25 p.m. Ten minutes later he returns.]

Gromyko: Mr. Brezhnev regrets that he had to leave. He accepts the new draft, except for the last line, “The talks were frank and useful throughout.”

Dr. Kissinger: All right. I have pointed out what the consequences will be.

Gromyko: You can point out, if somebody asks, that the talks were useful. We will be positive, too. On the invitation, we will take care of that.

Dr. Kissinger: We will deal with the situation. I know it’s not your fault. You have to do what you’re told. The President—and here I am speaking to you without authority—already believes, first, that you got me here so you could say you matched the Chinese, and had me stay longer than I did there, and secondly that all this is a maneuver to keep us from pursuing the course we have chosen in Vietnam by stringing us along.

Gromyko: That is a most impossible interpretation.

Dr. Kissinger: If it were mine, I would not be here. And I would not tell you.

Gromyko: On Vietnam, we will communicate your proposals to Hanoi.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. I believe it is not in your interest [to invite me here as a maneuver] because it would undermine what we have achieved. I will be telling the President when I return that I believe you have a major interest in a successful Summit, and that it governs all your actions.

SALT

There is also a small problem on SALT. Semenov unfortunately said a little too much. This is another problem. The President himself sent me a message personally.6 Let me read part of it to you:

“As Al may have already messaged you, any SALT announcement by me now presents a serious problem. Rogers called me Saturday and told me that Semenov had given Smith exactly the same offer that you set forth in your message of April 22.

[Page 622]

“I realize that we can point out that there is a shade of difference since you now have apparently an agreement with the Soviet to include SLBM’s whereas we could say that Smith only had an agreement to discuss the inclusion of SLBM’s. On the other hand, I fear that we have the problem in making any Presidential announcement that Smith and his colleagues will simply say that I was trying to point to your trip and my upcoming visit as having been responsible for accomplishing a breakthrough in SALT which Smith had already accomplished at lower levels. Perhaps we can find a way to handle this problem but I think in view of the call I received from Rogers we will find it pretty difficult.”

And Anatol can tell you it is very very unusual for the President to write me at all.

Gromyko: This is a very improbable thing.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me propose this, Mr. Foreign Minister. The President can step out to the press when he sends Smith back to Helsinki and say that he had been in touch with Mr. Brezhnev and that a new proposal had been made to Dr. Kissinger here.

Gromyko: Certainly.

Dr. Kissinger: You should tell your number two guy to keep quiet. What is his name? Kishilev. He and Garthoff think they are running the negotiations themselves.

Could someone bring Ambassador Beam over here now?

[Kornienko goes out of the room to call Semenov in Helsinki. He returned a few minutes later, saying that Semenov was at the office and they would try again later.

[Dr. Kissinger and Foreign Minister Gromyko, who had been standing and walking back and forth through most of these discussions, then sat down in adjacent chairs by the table, and the discussion resumed.]

Dr. Kissinger: I want to thank you again for your courtesy. We will work to make the Summit a success. We know you have problems here domestically, and we do as well.

This is not meant as a bluff or a threat, but I cannot overestimate what Vietnam has now come to mean with this offensive, and the lengths the President is prepared to go. If we can do for the next three– four years as we have been doing here, our two countries can have a totally new relationship. I am talking to you man to man. It would be a great tragedy if this were lost.

If there had been no offensive, that would be one thing. But now it is such a direct challenge that it has become a tremendous issue for us.

Gromyko: A great issue.

Dr. Kissinger: On the other hand, we will work with great dedication on what we have done here. And the visit has been enormously useful from my point of view.

[Page 623]

Gromyko: What do these dates of meetings mean, except prestige?

Dr. Kissinger: But they have changed the dates three times.

Gromyko: Small countries may be more sensitive.

Dr. Kissinger: I cannot come on May 3, 4, or 5. On the 4th I have to talk to some people from Life magazine about the Moscow Summit. You don’t want me to cancel that. On the 5th, there is a big dinner for me with people coming from many parts of the country. The earliest I could do it is the 7th.

We cannot accept that they continue the offensive until the 7th and then present us with a fait accompli. In fact, if there is a big offensive this week—there is a new offensive already in the Central Highlands yesterday…. Let me say this: Do not encourage them that we will be flexible, because you will confuse them.

Gromyko: Why should we take on the responsibility? Because, what do we really know of their position?

Tell the President that the man he will meet has broad views, and means what he says.

Dr. Kissinger: I will tell the President what an impressive man the General-Secretary is, and that he is sincere. This will be an enormous opportunity.

Gromyko: It remains for me to convey my best wishes to you and to the President.

Dr. Kissinger: Thank you.

[The meeting broke up. Shortly thereafter, Ambassador Beam was brought in. Dr. Kissinger introduced him to everyone, told him that he had been in Moscow a few days, showed him the agreed draft announcement, and then took a walk with him around the garden.]7

  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; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Guest House on Vorobyevskii Road.
  2. A copy of the Soviet draft, including handwritten revisions, is ibid.
  3. All brackets in the source text.
  4. A copy of the U.S. draft, including subsequent handwritten revisions, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 72, Country Files, Europe, USSR, HAK Moscow Trip—April 1972, Memcons.
  5. See Document 62.
  6. Document 157.
  7. Although no substantive record of the discussion has been found, Beam later wrote the following account: “Just before leaving, [Kissinger] called me to his Soviet villa to give me a fill-in on his discussions. At the end, he explained that while the president had confidence in me, I was not to report to the State Department about what he had told me, since the president could not rely on ‘Rogers not to leak.’ I told Kissinger I never had in mind telegraphing the State Department about what was obviously presidential business. Incidentally, we were then taking a stroll in the dark through the trees and bushes outside the villa when I heard the click of a rifle and yelled out to the guard that we were Americans (hopefully assuming that at least the guard had advance notice of Kissinger’s visit).” (Beam, Multiple Exposure, pp. 263–264) see also Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1153.