222. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • President’s USSR Trip: Negotiating with the Soviets

There follow a number of conclusions about negotiating with the Soviets which may be useful in connection with the President’s forthcoming trip to the USSR. These have been selected from the writings of various American officials who have dealt with the Soviets over the years and of academicians who have studied U.S.-Soviet negotiations—[Page 827] Llewellyn Thompson, Philip Moseley, General John R. Deane, Fred C. Ikle, Urie Bronfenbrenner.2

The word “compromise” is not native to the Russian language and has unfavorable connotations; in Soviet usage, it is frequently preceded by the adjective “rotten.” Soviet negotiators can be persuaded to alter their negotiating positions, but success is more likely if the results are not referred to as a “compromise.”
Agreements with the Soviet Union should be on a quid-proquo basis with the quid running concurrently with the quo. When the Soviets are paid in advance, the incentive is low for them to deliver on their part of the obligation.
Soviet positions are not immutable, nor should the non-Soviet negotiator fail to make proposals simply because the Soviets have in the past refused to consider them. Conditions—and Soviet positions—change. What was not acceptable yesterday may be today. The Austrian State Treaty is prime evidence. By the same token, the bases of our own positions should be constantly reviewed. Our proposals should not be put forward simply on the grounds that they have been put forward previously. The original rationale may no longer be valid or cogent.
Minute analyses of Soviet rhetoric are neither necessary nor fruitful. When the Soviets have a major point to make or a significant shift in their negotiating position to signal, they usually go about it in a straightforward way. When they were ready to lift the Berlin blockade, they said so.
It is not productive to be too clever in putting forward positions. We should state our case in a straightforward manner and with as much candor as possible.
Communication with Russians has proven most successful when the negotiators for the other side speak in the name of ideals and feelings, rather than invoking evidence and logic. The lofty principle should come first; then, facts can be introduced, preferably as inevitable deductive necessities, rather than as empirically independent observations. This deductive approach clashes with the pragmatic and legalistic approach common in the West.
Recognition of Soviet sensitivities and values, where this does not jeopardize American interests, can play a significant role in [Page 828]breaking down Soviet rigidity, opening up channels of communication, enabling previously dissonant information to be understood, and enhancing the possibility of arriving at mutually advantageous agreements.
At the negotiating table, it is even more important in dealing with Russians than with representatives of other countries to avoid arousing national fears and sensitivities. To do so is to risk activating a characteristic pattern of response involving constricted perspective, distortion of reality, intransigence, and emotional rather than rational reaction. Once such a pattern is mobilized, it is counterproductive to attempt to cope with it directly.
We should be prepared for Soviet attempts at psychological one-upmanship. The Soviet penchant for claiming at the outset of negotiations that they are more sinned against than sinning has sometimes succeeded in putting their negotiating partners on the defensive.
Soviet negotiators usually operate under rigid instructions and must refer back to their superiors for changes in those instructions. Even in negotiations at the highest level, it is sometimes necessary for the Soviet negotiator to ensure that a change in position is acceptable to his colleagues in the collective leadership. When new negotiating initiatives are put forward, time must be allowed for the Soviet negotiator to receive new instructions or to conduct consultations with his colleagues.
James Carson 3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/NIXON. Confidential. Drafted by Herbert Okun and Wayne Smith (EUR/SOV) on May 11, and cleared by Matlock and Deputy Assistant Secretaries for European Affairs Richard Davies and George Springsteen.
  2. Thompson was former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Moseley was a former Harvard University professor of international relations, Deane was formerly an administrator of the lend-lease program of assistance to the Soviet Union, Ikle was a Department of State consultant on arms control issues, and Bronfenbrenner was a professor of psychology at Cornell University.
  3. James L. Carson signed for Eliot above Eliot’s typed signature.