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

Dear Mr. General Secretary:

I wish to inform you promptly about the outcome of the private talks with the North Vietnamese. They were deeply disappointing, the more so since there had been reason to believe, as the result of Dr. Kissinger’s exchanges with you and Foreign Minister Gromyko, that progress would occur not only on the procedure of the talks but on their substance.

In the private meeting of May 2,2 the North Vietnamese adhered literally to their public position. They added nothing whatsoever to considerations they advanced months ago in the abortive plenary sessions. They displayed no interest in dealing with questions of ending hostilities or reducing the violence on both sides. Their sole proposal was their reiterated demand for what is in effect the overthrow of the Government of South Vietnam. They refused to discuss your suggestion to Dr. Kissinger that fighting cease as a first order of business and insisted on their right to continue the offensive. Based on your comments and those of Foreign Minister Gromyko to Dr. Kissinger, I had taken for granted that you had transmitted our proposals in this regard to Hanoi when your high-level delegation was there. So there was ample time for a considered reaction. But there was none—not even in the terms which you yourself outlined to Dr. Kissinger in Moscow. In the meantime, of course, and especially since Dr. Kissinger’s meetings with you, the DRV’s aggression has intensified, both in northern South Vietnam and in the center. Since Dr. Kissinger’s visit to Moscow and our agreement to resume talks, the DRV has started offensive actions in Kontum, Quang Tri and in the direction of Hue.

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In sum, after the protracted delaying tactics employed by Hanoi in regard to secret talks, it now turns out that our acceptance of the procedural compromise that was discussed in Moscow has simply led to a total deadlock after only one private meeting and to intensified North Vietnamese military action. Hanoi obviously hopes that the pressure of its offensive will force us to accept terms tantamount to surrender.

But this, Mr. General Secretary, will not happen, and I must now decide on the next steps in the situation that has been created. In the light of recent events, there does not seem much promise in communicating to you additional substantive considerations; there is now no basis for believing that this will have a positive effect on the situation. As Mr. Le Duc Tho made clear, Hanoi is contemptuous of communications transmitted by a third party. The fact remains that Soviet military supplies provide the means for the DRV’s actions and promised Soviet influence if it has been exercised at all has proved unavailing.

Mr. General Secretary, as I consider the decisions that have to be taken in the present context, I would welcome having on an urgent basis, your own assessment of the situation.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 2. Top Secret. The letter is unsigned. An attached covering note, May 25, reads: “Peter—Did the attached letter to Brezhnev from the President go in the attached form (as a double-spaced draft with no signature)? HAK met with Dobrynin from 9:45 to 9:57 a.m. on May 3, in the White House Map Room. [No Memcon]—Wilma.” The word “yes” in an unknown hand is written on this covering note. An attached note at the top of the letter reads: “Handed to D. by K., 5–3–72, 9:45 a.m. Map Room.” No other record of this meeting has been found. In his memoirs Kissinger noted: “Our first move was to warn the Soviet leaders that grave decisions were impending. On May 3 a Presidential letter, drafted by Sonnenfeldt, Lord, and me, was sent to Brezhnev informing him of my fruitless meeting with Le Duc Tho. It seemed to us, the letter told Brezhnev, that Hanoi was attempting to force us to accept terms tantamount to surrender. We would not permit this.” (White House Years, p. 1176)
  2. See Document 183.
  3. Kissinger called Dobrynin 2 days later to rebut Dobrynin’s charge made during the May 3 meeting that Nixon was “angry” when he sent the letter. “You ought to treat this letter as a cold deliberate one,” Kissinger told Dobrynin. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin, May 5, 4:53 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)