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

Dear Mr. President,

I received your letter of May 32 and I wish to say frankly that to my colleagues and myself the pessimism of your conclusions from the Paris meeting of Dr. Kissinger with the representatives of the DRV seems unjustified.

In our deep conviction—and the recent trip of the Soviet delegation to Hanoi made this conviction of ours still firmer—the DRV leadership is ready, if the same readiness is displayed by the American side, to seek mutually acceptable decisions for a political settlement of the conflict. The Vietnamese want to see South Vietnam as an independent, neutral state free of any influence and interference from the outside. To come to such a status of South Vietnam they believe possible through the creation of a true coalition government consisting of representatives of the three main political forces, the Saigon regime included. This political question is one of the key issues of the whole Vietnam problem; its solution requires display of realism also on your part, it requires giving up the attempts to keep at any cost the existing power structure in South Vietnam rejected by the people.

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We do not find any desire on the part of the Vietnamese leaders to “bring disgrace” to the U.S. or to “humiliate” the President. But it is quite clear that they still have great mistrust for the actions and intentions of the American side. And to be just, the history of the Vietnam conflict—including that known from American documents them-selves—gives them ground for such mistrust. Any unbiased person who would place himself in their place, must recognize that.

Therefore it would be hard to expect that the talks resumed after a long interval will yield results immediately. Clearly, to find common language and to work out mutually acceptable solutions, some time, patience and self-restraint will be required.

The attempts to step up military pressure on the Vietnamese side, as we already told you, Mr. President, can only cause further aggravation of the situation and an increase, in return, of the military actions by the Vietnamese side. There should be no doubt about it—the Vietnamese have proved their determination and ability to withstand military pressure.

Military pressure on the DRV would not only complicate the search for a political settlement of the conflict, but it could—even irrespective of our wishes as was said in my previous letter—entail serious consequences for peace in Asia, for general peace and for the Soviet-American relations.

Another thing. In telling all this to you, Mr. President, I want that there be absolute clarity that both before and in this case, we set forth with all frankness our understanding of the situation and opinion about ways out of it. As regards settlement itself of the conflict in Vietnam, that question can and must be solved in the talks between the Vietnamese side and the U.S.

We would like to express the hope that the American side will display at this moment restraint and political courage in its approach to the present-day situation and will not miss the opportunities opening up for a political settlement of the conflict and for an end to the Vietnam war. Such an approach would, no doubt, be welcomed throughout the world and would in many ways clear the road for a serious progress in the relations between our countries.

Those are the considerations which I believed necessary to express in connection with your last letter.


L. Brezhnev 3
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 2. No classification marking. Translated by the Soviet Embassy from a Russian version, also attached but not printed. Also attached is a reworking of specific points in a redraft of the Basic Principles. Notations on both the letter and the attachment read: “Handed to Dr. Kissinger by Amb. D, 5/6/72, 5:30 p.m.” Dobrynin called Kissinger at 4:05 p.m. that day to inform him of receipt of this letter and to schedule an appointment with Kissinger. (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin, May 6, 4:05 p.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) According to the transcript of a telephone conversation at 5:05 p.m. on May 6, Nixon instructed Kissinger to “be just cold turkey”; to simply receive the message and not engage in any discussion about it or related issues with Dobrynin. (Ibid.) As noted in his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met with Dobrynin in the Map Room of the White House from 5:20 to 5:45 p.m. (Ibid., Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976) According to the transcript of a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Nixon at 5:45 p.m. that evening, Kissinger made the following report on the meeting: “Now, I got that message from Dobrynin and it’s nothing. It is a very friendly letter to you from Brezhnev.” Kissinger further described this note from Brezhnev as being “a good reply” and “a soft reply.” (Ibid., Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) In his memoirs Kissinger described the letter as “a letter distinguished by its near irrelevance to the real situation.” He also noted that “Brezhnev’s letter served only to reinforce our determination.” (White House Years, p. 1182)
  2. Document 190.
  3. This translation bears Brezhnev’s typed signature.