17. Editorial Note

At 4 p.m. on December 5, 1971, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger met Soviet Minister Counselor Yuli M. Vorontsov, acting for Ambassador Dobrynin, who was on leave in the Soviet Union, to discuss the undeclared war between India and Pakistan. For over a year, natural disaster, Bengali demands for autonomy, a local guerrilla war in East Pakistan, a refugee crisis, and Pakistan’s anti-guerrilla campaign had steadily escalated the crisis to the point of conventional war. India invaded East Pakistan on November 22; Pakistan attacked India on December 3. Although the Department of State maintained a neutral position, President Nixon insisted that the United States “tilt” toward Pakistan. Kissinger passed the following oral message for Secretary [Page 60] General Brezhnev to Vorontsov, noting that he was doing so at the instruction of President Nixon:

  • “—The President did not understand how the Soviet Union could believe that it was possible to work on the broad amelioration of our relationships while at the same time encouraging the Indian military aggression against Pakistan. We did not take a position on the merits of the developments inside Pakistan that triggered this sequence of events. We have, indeed, always taken the position that we would encourage a political solution. But here a member country of the United Nations was being dismembered by the military forces of another member country which had close relationships with the Soviet Union. We did not understand how the Soviet Union could take the position that this was an internal affair of another country. We did not see how the Soviet Union could take the position that it wanted to negotiate with us security guarantees for the Middle East and to speak about Security Council presence in Sharm El-Sheikh, while at the same time underlining the impotence of the Security Council in New York. We did not understand how the Soviet Union could maintain that neither power should seek special advantages and that we should take a general view of the situation, while at the same time promoting a war in the Subcontinent. We therefore wanted to appeal once more to the Soviet Union to join with us in putting an end to the fighting in the Subcontinent. The TASS statement which claimed that Soviet security interests were involved was unacceptable to us and could only lead to an escalation of the crisis. We wanted to appeal to the Soviet Union to go with us on the road we had charted of submerging special interests in the general concern of maintaining the peace of the world.
  • “—The President wanted Mr. Brezhnev to know that he was more than eager to go back to the situation as it was two weeks ago and to work for the broad improvement of our relationship. But he also had to point out to Mr. Brezhnev that we were once more at one of the watersheds in our relationship, and he did not want to have any wrong turn taken for lack of clarity.”

After listening to the oral message, Vorontsov told Kissinger he hoped that the United States and the Soviet Union “were still at this good point in their relationship” as they were 2 weeks ago. Kissinger told Vorontosov that “we were developing severe doubts, both because of the Subcontinent and because of developments in Vietnam.” Vorontsov then asked Kissinger if he could convey to the Soviet leadership something positive from the United States about a political settlement in the Subcontinent. Kissinger stated that if there was a cease-fire and a withdrawal of Indian troops, the United States would be prepared to work with the Soviet Union on a political solution that could include “substantial political autonomy for East Pakistan.” [Page 61] Kissinger stated that “the major thing was to get the military action stopped and stopped quickly.”

The two men then discussed a Soviet proposal for Kissinger to visit Moscow in January to discuss issues, especially the Middle East, in preparation for the Moscow summit in May. Kissinger responded:

Vorontsov asked me what was happening on my invitation to Moscow. The Soviet leaders, he said, were really looking forward to seeing me at the end of January. I said, ‘There are major bureaucratic obstacles, but now there are major substantive ones as well.’ Vorontsov said, ‘In a week the whole matter will be over.’ I said, ‘In a week it will not be over, depending on how it ended.’ He said he would transmit this immediately to Moscow.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 5; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8) The invitation handed to Kissinger on December 1 by Vorontsov is ibid.

On the evening of December 5, Kissinger telephoned Vorontsov and returned to their conversation of that afternoon:

K: I am sorry to call you on a Sunday, but I was just talking to the President to report our conversation and I mentioned that at the end of our conversation you said that in a week or so it will be over and he said that he would like you to report to Moscow that in a week or so it may be ended but it won’t be over as far as we are concerned if it continues to take the present trend.

V: Yes.

H: He wants it to be clear that we are at a watershed in our relationship if it continues to go on this way.

V: I understand.

H: We cannot accept that any country would take unilateral actions like that.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) On December 8 at 3:50 p.m., Haig called Vorontsov on Kissinger’s behalf to remind the Soviet Minister that the “watershed” term that Kissinger relayed in his telephone conversation with Vorontsov “was very, very pertinent, and he [President Nixon] considers it a carefully thought-out and valid assessment on his part.” Vorontsov told Haig: “I will have this in mind and transmit it to Moscow.” (Ibid.)