181. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Nixon 1

Dear Mr. President,

I have learned with satisfaction from your letter of April 25 that you also evaluate positively the conversations in Moscow with Dr. Kissinger. The exchange of opinion that took place was, undoubtedly, useful both from the viewpoint of deeper understanding of our respective positions and for the practical preparations of the forthcoming summit meeting.

As a result of those conversations and taking into account also the other negotiations underway, it can be definitely said—quite a bit has been done to ensure the success of the Moscow meeting.

However—and I want to be equally frank here too—today both you and we cannot have 100-percent assurance that everything will go just the way it is desired.

The matter, as you, Mr. President, realize, is that of Vietnam. This question is, of course, not a simple one. As I already told Dr. Kissinger, on the turn that the developments in Vietnam will take, very much will depend, even irrespective of our wishes.

You are undoubtedly aware that a delegation headed by a Secretary of our Party’s Central Committee has recently visited Hanoi.

In the talk with the DRV’s leaders the delegation also touched upon the questions, related to the political settlement in Vietnam.

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On the part of the DRV a readiness to solve the problems by negotiations was in principle confirmed. At the same time it is also clear that the U.S. military actions against the DRV only strengthen the determination of the Vietnamese to continue the struggle for their rights by every means. Therefore of decisive importance for the way, in which the situation in Vietnam would develop, will be the course of the U.S. conduct—whether they would be able to display a necessary restraint in their actions and a readiness to search at the negotiations for solutions really acceptable for both sides.

This, in our view, is the main thing now. To prevent a new aggravation of the situation around Vietnam with the ensuing consequences would be all the more important since on the whole, it seems, a genuine prospect emerges to achieve substantial results at the Moscow meeting which would have a major significance both for advancing the relations between our countries and for improving the entire international situation.

I would like in this connection to note specifically the importance of the emerging agreement on questions of strategic arms limitations.

By all appearances, a suitable basis is shaping up for concluding an appropriate agreement between the USSR and the U.S. at the May meeting.

True, we still have to receive from you a message in connection with our specific proposals transmitted for you several days back.

According to our understanding, we both have the same view that one of the tangible results of our meeting can be the adoption of a good political document regarding the basic principles of the relations between the USSR and the U.S. We hope to provide soon our additional considerations on certain wording that was proposed by the American side to the text of that document.

As for the Middle East, I would not conceal our concern over the general state of affairs with regard to this question. The ARE President Sadat has just visited us. The evaluation, that we got on the basis of the talks with him, is that due to Israel’s position the number of uncertain moments in the situation there is greater today than before, and that is fraught with serious consequences. Preservation of those uncertain moments and dangers is hardly in the interests of our countries.

Some time ago it looked as if the USSR and the US were approaching a greater understanding on the ways which could ultimately lead to the Middle East settlement. Unfortunately, there is no certainty as yet in this question. In our conviction, it would be very useful if in the days and weeks to come an intensive exchange of opinion be held through the confidential channel to find a mutually acceptable approach toward the question of the Middle East settlement. This seems to correspond also to the idea expressed in your letter, that it is desirable [Page 671] to work toward completion of what has been started on those questions which will be discussed at the meeting.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize, Mr. President, that I and my colleagues intend, so far as we are concerned, to constructively continue the preparation for the Soviet-American summit meeting, in view of its significance from the point of view both of immediate results and of long-term perspectives. It seems all the more important to us that in the period left before the meeting, nothing be permitted to happen of the kind that would undermine its chances of success.


L. Brezhnev 2
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 485, President’s Trip Files, Issues/Papers, USSR IV, (Part I)—The President. No classification marking. A notation on the letter reads: “Handed to Gen. Haig by Minister Voronstov, 4:15 p.m., 5/1/72.” In his memoirs Nixon wrote: “On May 1, the day Kissinger was to leave for Paris, I received a letter from Brezhnev that increased my fear that we had failed to impress upon the Soviet leadership my unshakable determination to stand up in Vietnam. Brezhnev bluntly asked me to refrain from further actions there because they hurt the chances of a successful summit.” See RN: Memoirs, p. 594. Kissinger also commented upon the message in his memoirs: “On May 1, Brezhnev wrote to Nixon suggesting that prospects for negotiations would improve if we exercised restraint. This was damaged merchandise, it was exactly the same argument used to obtain the bombing halt in 1968, but a bit shopworn after 147 fruitless plenary sessions. Brezhnev, trying a little linkage in reverse, suggested that such a course would also enhance the prospects for the summit. “Nixon saw in the letter a confirmation of all his suspicions that Hanoi and Moscow were in collusion. To me, however, Brezhnev’s intervention seemed no more than standard rhetoric. His letter made no threat; it spoke of the impact of bombing on the ‘atmosphere’ of the summit; it made no hint at cancellation. Since I was leaving that evening for Paris, it was idle to speculate. Our course would have to turn on Le Duc Tho’s attitude, not on what the Soviets said.” (White House Years, pp. 1168–1169)
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.