22. Note From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


Brezhnev Reply 2 to President’s December 6 Letter.3

The tone is moderate. The letter sidesteps the points concerning our basic relationship made in the President’s letter and instead continues to deny any element of US-Soviet confrontation and to suggest “parallel action”.

Although the letter denies Soviet one-sidedness it details what are in fact basically pro-Indian positions regarding a settlement in the pre-hostilities period. It ignores, naturally enough, the objective encouragement given the Indians to take military action by the Soviet-Indian treaty and Soviet arms and equipment supplies (after the US cut off such supplies to Pakistan).

The letter does not take up our point about Pakistan dismemberment and on its face suggests continued Soviet commitment to some kind of Pakistani integrity (e.g. the references to “East Pakistan”). However, the proposed Soviet solution (identical to the one advanced December 7)4 can have no other effect than the dismemberment of Pakistan under present circumstances.

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Thus there is no reference to withdrawal of forces.

Moreover, the suggestion of resumed negotiations between “The Government of Pakistan” and the “East Pakistani leaders”—even accepting the qualification that negotiations should be resumed at “the stage where they were discontinued”—at least requires further explanation under conditions when India has already recognized a separate government in East Bengal. In fact, I think this proposal is a phony—and the Soviets either know it or the news has not caught up with them. I do not see how Yahya will negotiate with anybody in East Pakistan when the place is practically occupied by India; and I do not see how the East Pakistanis will negotiate with Yahya when they see victory in their grasp.

What Next?

I see no point in another letter from us. If the President sees Matskevich,5 that is a better channel right now, anyway.
However we elect to talk to the Soviets—you with Vorontsov, President with Matskevich (maybe supplemented by yourself later), or whatever, I think these should be the points to make:
  • —there must be categorical guarantees that the Soviets will not support the dismemberment of Pakistan, de facto or de jure;
  • —there must be a cease-fire6 plus withdrawal as part of any settlement effort;
  • —there must be convincing evidence that the Soviets are working to restrain the Indians, in word and deed;
  • —we will be glad to work for the resumption of negotiations provided the real status quo ante is restored; this is the only basis for “parallel” US-Soviet action;
  • —in any case, matters will take an even more serious turn if the Indians move against the Paks in the West;
  • —we reiterate what we consider the broader implications for our relations if the dismemberment of Pakistan proceeds.
Sonnenfeldt 7
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Vorontsov handed Kissinger an unofficial translation of Brezhnev’s December 8 letter on December 9 at 8:20 p.m. (Ibid.) Brezhnev agreed with Nixon that neither side should seek unilateral advantages in crises like the one in South Asia, but also suggested that the United States and Soviet Union act to resolve the crisis and bring about peace. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971, Document 253.
  3. Document 19.
  4. On December 7 at 11 p.m., Vorontsov delivered to Kissinger a message on South Asia from the Soviet leadership dated December 6. In a December 7 note to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt suggested that the Soviet leaders’ message of December 6 was clearly written before Moscow received President Nixon’s letter of December 6 and was in response to Kissinger’s conversation with Vorontsov on December 5; see Document 17. Sonnenfeldt characterized the December 6 Soviet message as follows: “The thrust is that we have a little misunderstanding which is only natural and we are wrong to suggest that this should be made a federal case of. In line with this, the tone of the message is moderate. As regards substance, there seems to be some slight movement though not of course enough (no withdrawal).” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8) The Soviet message of December 6 is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971, Document 241.
  5. See Document 23.
  6. Haig crossed out the word “plus” and added the following handwritten revision: “after very categoric assurances there will be” at this point in the note. Haig then wrote the following comment at the end of this note: “HAKHal [Sonnenfeldt] is now drafting talking points along foregoing lines. He will soften conditions and language in recognition of our weak position and diplomatic niceties. You should let us know if you want substance changed. AH.”
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.