2. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the President’s File1


  • President Nixon’s Meeting with Congressional Leaders on October 12, 1971, 12 noon–12:54 p.m. in the Cabinet Room. (List of participants is attached.)2

The President began the meeting by noting that at that moment the announcement he would shortly be reading out to the Leaders was being simultaneously published in Washington and Moscow. The President said that after reading the announcement he would provide some background and then be open to questions. He looked forward to a good discussion in this small group. The President then read out the announcement concerning his trip to the Soviet Union in May, 1972 (Tab A).3

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Turning to the background, the President recalled his first press conference in January of 1969 when the question of a summit with the Soviets was raised.4 At that time he had said that we should not have such a meeting unless something came out of it, otherwise it would be merely cosmetic and there would be a great letdown. This also turned out to be the Soviet view. In April, 1970, the Soviets began exploring the possibility at lower levels. But the President did not think that a meeting at the highest level at that time could serve a useful purpose. There then ensued a period of many discussions at various levels. In the last few weeks the Soviets indicated that they thought the time was ripe and Gromyko brought a formal invitation when he came to Washington.

The President continued that in fact we had made sufficient progress. He cited agreements on biological warfare, the seabeds, the hot line and accidental war. But the most important one was on Berlin. That problem was not solved totally but the United States and the Soviet Union, plus the two other countries involved, were able to reach agreement on an area where our interests clashed. Now the President drew the conclusion that it was possible to go to other areas.

The President then took up the point of why the meeting was set for May rather than, for example, next month. In the first place, he said, the Soviets set the date. In addition, we were having very intensive negotiations on strategic arms. While we were aiming for agreement this year it might not come until next year. The subject was high on the agenda. In this connection, the President referred to recent stories about the huge Soviet arms build-up, particularly on the Soviet side. While SALT had made progress on the defensive side, agreement would not be reached without the offensive side because that was where the Soviets were ahead. We cannot have an agreement based on defensive equality but freezing Soviet offensive advantage. The President was confident that we would have a SALT agreement but it must not freeze us into inferiority.

The President cautioned against euphoria in connection with this Moscow trip. There continued to be great differences: in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, in Europe and most fundamentally as regards systems of government. Nevertheless the overwhelming fact was that if there ever was a superpower conflict there would be no victors, only losers. The Soviets know this as well as we do. Neither super power would let the other get an advantage sufficient to enable it to launch a preemptive strike. Therefore, we should explore areas where we can limit or even perhaps reduce arms.

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Apart from arms, there were such problems as Europe and trade. Without listing an agenda, the President said the Moscow talks would deal with all “questions of mutual interest.” This included peripheral areas like the Middle East, where we hoped for progress before the summit; Southeast Asia and its future, where we will go forward with our two-track policy and will not wait until May; and the Caribbean.

To sum up, the President said when we look at the future of the world negotiations rather than confrontations were essential. It did not matter if we had a difference with a small country like Bolivia, but in the case of the Soviet Union it could be disastrous. The President then stressed that the two trips he was planning—to Peking and Moscow—were completely separate and independent. We were in the position of pursuing the best relations with both, but not with one at the expense of the other. The President added that we had informed Peking, the European allies and Japan of the Moscow trip, but because of the Soviet passion for secrecy, which they share with other communists, we had to be extremely careful not to risk a leak.

Invited by the President to comment, Secretary Rogers said that we had given good advance notice in this case, something we had not been able to do in the case of the Chinese trip. The Secretary commented that in his view the US-Soviet climate at the moment was the best ever, at least on the surface. The President said that we were not taken in by climate alone. The substance of relations this year differed from last year like night and day. Secretary Rogers continued that in the Middle East the maintenance of a cease-fire was very important and constituted progress in itself. He felt that the President’s trip to Moscow would give us additional time in the Middle East. The Secretary concluded that at the UN, where he had seen more than 45 foreign ministers, the most important thing was the question of US-Soviet relations. Today’s news would reassure everyone at the UN further.

In response to a question by the President concerning Peking’s reaction, Dr. Kissinger said that the President had set the tone by saying that each relationship contributed to peace. We would not collude with one side against the other nor involve ourselves in the Sino-Soviet dispute which turned on ideology and the border question. Dr. Kissinger said we were meticulous in keeping each side generally informed about what we were doing with the other. The President interjected that the Soviets had been informed of Dr. Kissinger’s forthcoming trip to Peking. Dr. Kissinger concluded that we had been completely honest with both Moscow and Peking.

The President noted that there might be forces in the Soviet Union and China which had reservations about what was happening. Their radios would undoubtedly say critical things. But he had made a command decision not to play one off against the other. The President recalled [Page 7] his first NSC meeting where the decision was made against “condominium.”5 The President commented that just on practical grounds, it made no sense for us to join the stronger power against the weaker. In any case we have to remember that the Chinese have a great future. But we were following a delicate course and were on a tightrope. The President thought that the allies and many Asians welcomed what we were doing. Secretary Rogers added that the Europeans had all welcomed the President’s China move.

Senator Mansfield said he welcomed the information the President had given but he wondered about Peking’s reaction and whether an advisory notice had been enough. Dr. Kissinger said that the Moscow trip had been discussed in general terms when he was in Peking, although not in specifics. The President said Dr. Kissinger had been candid and had said that we would proceed with the Soviets. Dr. Kissinger commented that today’s announcement was helpful to the Chinese in that it undercut the Soviet argument that the Chinese were colluding with us. Senator Mansfield said he would like to see nothing that interfered with the Peking trip because the letdown would be very bad.

Representative Mahon asked whether the Peking trip would occur before the Moscow trip. The President said that it would. Actually, the Soviets had proposed July but this was too close to our political conventions. So the Soviet visit would be in the second half of May but before the first of June. The President added that the meeting would take place in Moscow because it was our turn to go there since Khrushchev had come here. The question of having the meeting here had not even been raised. No US President has been to Moscow while the Soviets have been here twice, counting Kosygin at Glassboro.6

Senator Ellender said he was proud the President was going. Ever since the President had entered office the Senator had asked him to go. The last time when he asked to see the President he had been sent to Dr. Kissinger. He now wanted to ask the President to receive him before leaving for Moscow. The President responded that he would. The Senator went on to say that he had information vital to the President and he had been instrumental in setting up the KennedyKhrushchev meeting in Vienna.7 He then recalled an incident when Khrushchev came to lunch with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had greeted Senator Ellender with hugs and kisses in full view of everyone. [Page 8] The Senator said that he had talked to Khrushchev and other Politburo members many times and he also had some wonderful movie pictures which he thought would be helpful for the President to see. Concluding, Senator Ellender said he had been in every part of Russia. He admonished the President to “keep the military out of this.”

The President said that he would have extensive consultations with Congressional Leaders, depending of course on what subject comes up and where things stood at the time of the meeting. Trade certainly would come up as would Vietnam. We will have extensive consultations with the Leaders and, of course, also with our allies. The President wanted to stress, however, that when you deal with Communist Leaders they have a phobia, almost a paranoia, about privacy. But he would want the fullest input before the meeting. The President noted that just as with the Chinese there were no advance understandings with the Soviets in connection with the Moscow trip.

Representative Boggs said that his Committee had had extensive hearings on East-West trade but had had no luck with legislation. Secretary Rogers said the President’s trip might help in this regard. The President commented that the Soviets were paranoid on the question of linkage of one subject to another though they themselves, of course, link everything. The fact was that trade and trade legislation were related to the situation in Southeast Asia, as the war winds down the possibility for trade goes up.

Senator Scott said that in the three years since he had been in the Soviet Union, there had been tremendous progress especially in the field of precision instruments. As an example, the Senator said he was wearing a $150 Russian watch which only cost him $14.40. The President pointed out that we were moving ahead on trade and had granted export licenses for the Kama River project, amounting to $400 million. Everyone could be sure that trade would be a very lively subject.

Speaker Albert said he was happy about the President’s trips and glad that the one to Peking would occur before the one to Moscow. The President said that if he had gone to Moscow before Peking, the Chinese trip would have been blown. The Soviets did not object to the sequence. Secretary Rogers said they had no chance to object.

Senator Stennis said he was very impressed with the President’s plans. He assumed that SALT would not be stopped as a result of this announcement. The President said it would not. On the contrary, the announcement may give impetus to it. The President went on to say that with the way the Soviets were moving with their build-up, with SALT where it was and the summit coming up, he had to fight for a credible defense program in order to maintain our bargaining position. He realized that there were some who objected to the size of the Defense budget but our purpose was not to have an arms race but to stop [Page 9] it. It was essential to stop the Soviets because they were moving ahead. Secretary Rogers noted that the President had said to the press that we would try to get a SALT agreement before the summit and, failing that, would talk about it at the summit. The President said that the SALT agreement at present under negotiation was only a freeze so there would be a lot more to talk about after an agreement.

Representative Boggs recalled that he had sat in the Cabinet Room when President Kennedy had reported that the Soviet missiles were being removed from Cuba, and when President Johnson had reported the first Chinese H-bomb explosion. He was conscious of how important today’s news was.

When Representative Ford began to speak in support of the President’s plans, the President commented that he expected support from Republicans but also appreciated the help of the Democrats. We all had the same goal. The important thing was not to miss the chance to exert influence with one superpower and one potential superpower. It might not work but we would certainly try. And it was very important to remember that we were not playing one off against the other. We were very meticulous in keeping each informed.

Reverting to the earlier discussion, Congressman Mahon said it was especially important to get the Defense budget for the President even if the Defense Department sometimes does stupid things. The President pointed out that the Soviets were not cutting back, therefore, we could not cut back.

Senator Stennis wondered why there was a better climate with the Soviets. The President said he would not attempt to speculate, but he felt there were good reasons of Soviet self-interest. For a long time the Soviets had to catch up in armaments but now there was a rough balance. They now have to make a command decision about whether to go on. They must know that if they did, they could get away with it only for a short time. There would be a new arms race and who would be the gainer? The President thought the Soviets were also concerned about the situation with respect to their neighbors and the Middle East. In addition, despite the progress they had made they were still behind economically. While the Soviets were now Mr. Big and undoubtedly still wanted to expand and hold on to Eastern Europe, their future would not be served either by an arms race with us or by a confrontation which could produce no victors if it becomes war.

As the photographers entered, Mr. MacGregor told the President that Senator Fulbright could not participate in the Leadership meeting because he was attending the 100th anniversary of the University of Arkansas, whose President he had been at one time.

While the pictures were being taken, the group talked about the World Series and the football season.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 315, Subject Files, Congressional, Vol. 3. No classification marking.
  2. Attached but not printed. Attending the meeting for the bipartisan Congressional leadership were Senators Hugh Scott, John Stennis, Mike Mansfield, Allen Ellender, Milton Young, and Congressmen Gerald Ford, Les Arends, Carl Albert, Hale Boggs, George Mahon, and Thomas Morgan. Accompanying the President were Rogers, Kissinger, Counsel to the President for Congressional Relations Clark MacGregor, and Sonnenfeldt.
  3. Attached but not printed; see Document 1, footnote 2.
  4. Nixon is apparently referring to his second press conference, February 6, 1969, when he was asked about future meetings with Soviet leaders; see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, p. 67.
  5. For minutes of the January 21, 1969, meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972.
  6. Soviet Premier Kosygin visited Glassboro, New Jersey, for an informal summit with President Johnson, June 23 and 25, 1967; see ibid., 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217238.
  7. Reference is to the summit meeting in Vienna between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, June 3–4, 1961; see, ibid., 1961–1963, vol. V, Documents 8285 and 8789.