213. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting took place at Dobrynin’s request.

Dobrynin opened the meeting by handing me a note which protested the bombing of Soviet shipping in the harbor of Cam Pha in North Vietnam.2 I told Dobrynin that it was interesting that there had been a protest note in a private channel; could I interpret this as a desire to keep matters at low key? Dobrynin said that was not sure yet, because the decisions had been difficult due to the fact that May 9th was a national holiday, namely, V–E Day in the Soviet Union. However, he thought it was a somewhat encouraging sign as far as future relations were concerned. I said I hoped that Moscow took seriously what the President said about bilateral US-Soviet relations. The real problem was whether we were going to concentrate on a new era in [Page 796]our relationship or whether we were going to permit an issue which was in any event on the way to a solution to cloud this.

Dobrynin began asking me questions about the ceasefire. How long did the ceasefire have to last? I said we, of course, were not putting a time limit on it, but we were hoping that it would be for the longest possible time, such as two years. Dobrynin said jokingly that I always raised my sights—at one point, I had mentioned 18 months to him. I said we would like to leave this for negotiations.

Dobrynin then said that if our leaders met, it would be helpful if the President could advance some precise propositions. I said if our leaders met, he would.

Dobrynin then asked about the meeting between the President and Patolichev that had been requested several weeks ago. I told him that if Patolichev still wanted a meeting, I could probably arrange it. Dobrynin said he thought it would be very good to have such a meeting. I told Dobrynin that we generally have press pictures on such occasions. Dobrynin thought that that would be highly appropriate now.

At this point, the meeting broke up.

Attachment

Note From the Soviet Leadership

Information was just received in Moscow that today, on May 10, the Soviet motorship Grisha Akopyan, being in the North Vietnam port Kampha, was bombed and strafed by the American planes. There are killed and wounded among the crew of the motorship. A fire broke out on board of ship. Earlier, on May 9, the Soviet tanker Pevek, being in the port of Haiphong, was straffed by the American planes. There also are wounded among the crew of that ship.

It is felt necessary in Moscow to bring to the personal knowledge of the President our resolute protest against these criminal actions by American aviation which have caused death of the Soviet citizens. All this arouses lawful indignation in the Soviet people. The President must be aware of the consequences of such actions if they are left without punishment.

Moscow awaits from the President not only a prompt reply, but also a communication to the effect that the security of Soviet ships and life of the Soviet people will be guaranteed from hostile provocative actions by the US air and naval forces.

[Page 797]

We do not touch now upon the qualification of the situation and actions of the United States in Vietnam in general. We have repeatedly told this to the President. And to this question we shall yet return in L.I. Brezhnev’s reply to the last letter of the President.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 2. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation was held in the Map Room at the White House. The closing time of the meeting is from the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule. In his diary entry for May 10 Haldeman recorded: “Henry reported to us on his meeting with Dobrynin. He had told me earlier that he had to see him at 3:00. He was quite excited but it turned out that all Dobrynin had was a protest on the ship we had sunk (accidentally in Haiphong Harbor) rather than any answer from the Russians on their reaction, particularly regarding the Summit.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 458) Nixon briefly mentions the meeting in RN: Memoirs, p. 607.
  2. In his memoirs Kissinger pointed out that the significance of the Soviet note was that it made no protest against the mining of North Vietnam. Instead, Kissinger recalled: “Dobrynin asked detailed questions about our cease-fire proposal. We both spoke delicately about the discussions that would take place ‘if’ the two leaders met. Dobrynin was a good chess player. At the end of the meeting, out of the blue, he asked whether the President had as yet decided on receiving Trade Minister Patolichev. I was not a little startled by the request; it could only mean that the Soviet leaders had decided to fall in with our approach of business as usual. Trying to match the Ambassador’s studied casualness, I allowed that I probably would be able to arrange a meeting in the Oval Office. Playing a little chess myself, I mentioned that it was customary on these occasions to invite press photographers. Dobrynin thought this highly appropriate. In every crisis tension builds steadily, sometimes nearly unbearably, until some decisive turning point. The conversation with Dobrynin, if not yet the turning point, deflated the pressure. We knew that the summit was still on. Every day that passed without the cancellation made it more likely that it would take place. In that case Hanoi would be isolated; we would have won our gamble.” (White House Years, p. 1193)
  3. Document 207.