161. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

Unnumbered. Thank you for your cable2 which meant a great deal to me.

Let me make a few preliminary comments as I get ready for the final meeting with Brezhnev.

I agree completely with your strategy. If the plenary session and the May 2 private meeting fail to make major progress we must make, before the end of that week, a major onslaught on Haiphong. The question is whether we are in a much better position now. I have no doubt that Moscow is pressing Hanoi to be reasonable. I am certain that Moscow will try to avoid a confrontation with us over Vietnam though there is a limit where things will get dicey.3 We have used the summit ruthlessly as a means of pressure. And on the summit we have harvested concessions. The major issue is not what they promise but what they will do. I have no doubt they got the message. Indeed just to make sure I read major portions of the Vietnam part of your cable to Dobrynin.4 If we turn the screw too far and they decide all is lost they will jump us. Brezhnev is no softie.
With respect to the plenary I do not share your fear. First, after the Moscow trip announcement everybody will figure that more is going on than meets the eye. Second, we can strongly hint that this is tied to private meeting.5 Third, we can confine the plenary to a discussion of how to end the North Vietnamese invasion and make clear that we shall discuss no other subject till that is done.
With respect to the final communiqué we have a far stronger and more substantive document than Peking and we have avoided the danger of the nightmarish confrontations of Peking.
With respect to SALT, what was achieved is 100 percent due to the private channel and the meetings here. Let us get the sequence straight. Semenov was called back when my trip was settled. He left Saturday;6 my trip was agreed to Wednesday. He returned to Helsinki with two elliptical comments. First, he was prepared to respond to our ABM proposal. Second, Moscow was reconsidering its SLBM position. He has not made a specific proposal. He will not make one until I tell Moscow what to do. All the specifics have been worked out here. These represent an acceptance of what I proposed to Dobrynin on your behalf. Brezhnev told me that your brief conversation with Dobrynin in the Map Room7 for the first time made them address the substance of SLBM. In short, you can claim with justice to have broken the log-jam on SLBM.
As to substance, the Soviet SLBM proposal is totally new and will be so perceived by our bureaucracy. It is a direct result of what was said in the private channel, and here. In the first place, Soviet proposal to include a precise limit is precisely what I indicated should be done with stipulation that they dismantle old ICBM’s as they build up to the SLBM limit. Brezhnev has categorically stated that they agree to phase out old ICBM’s. This was never discussed by Smith who never gave Soviets any precise formula for calculating numbers in any event. Secondly, I had repeatedly told Dobrynin that you could not accept equal ABM concept if SLBM’s were left out.
As regards ABM, Soviet proposal is indeed similar to what Smith discussed with Semenov. But there is one important addition obtained here: Brezhnev explicitly said that the ICBM area they will protect will contain fewer ICBM’s than Grand Forks. Thus we have an advantage in the numbers of ICBM protected. We cannot of course confirm this until we know precisely what area they pick but the record of Brezhnev’s statement is clear and his appeal that we not make too much of the disparity suggest that this was a sensitive issue in the Politburo. (Incidentally, I told him frankly that eventual Congressional testimony by us will bring this point to the surface.)
In short you can claim next week a major accomplishment and at a time just when you may have to go very hard on Vietnam.8 Rogers had as much to do with this as with the Berlin settlement.
I shall report on the Brezhnev meeting from the plane.9
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File. Top Secret. Sensitive; Eyes Only. Received at 6:22 a.m., retransmitted to Camp David, and received there at 7:16 a.m. The President’s notations on the retransmitted copy and cited in footnotes below. (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, April 1972, Kissinger Trip to Moscow)
  2. Document 157.
  3. The President underlined this sentence.
  4. Since Nixon’s memorandum arrived in Moscow at 1:07 a.m. (April 24), Kissinger must have read “major portions” of it to Dobrynin before meeting Brezhnev later that morning.
  5. The President underlined this sentence and wrote “no” in the margin.
  6. April 15.
  7. Reference is presumably to the meeting that Nixon briefly attended between Kissinger and Dobrynin on March 17; see Document 62.
  8. The President underlined this sentence and wrote “Haig?” in the margin.
  9. See Document 163.