226. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Vietnam

The meeting was held at my request to give Dobrynin our answer [Tab A]2 to the proposal to resume plenary sessions.

Dobrynin suggested that we omit the paragraph (then included as the next to last paragraph) which seemed to him to imply preconditions by threatening military escalations. I told him that it should be passed as an oral note because I did not want either Hanoi or Moscow to have any misapprehensions about the serious consequences of a new offensive. Dobrynin asked whether this statement meant that we would not accept the Moscow solution, that is to say, a plenary session prior to a private session. I said that was correct; we would not accept a plenary session under those conditions. He asked whether we would accept automatically a plenary session after a private session. I said no—there was no point in any more sessions unless we knew that they were going to lead to some rapid result. We had been burned once and we were not going to do it again. Dobrynin said he just asked these questions in order not to waste time back and forth. Dobrynin said that the North Vietnamese were enormously suspicious and thought that I had behaved arrogantly the last time we met. I said, well, that meant the feeling now was clearly mutual.

Dobrynin asked whether we insisted on publishing the fact of the meeting. I said no, we were putting this into the note in order to meet the Soviet concern that there be some indication of talks prior to the [Page 844]Summit. Dobrynin asked whether it meant that we were prepared to keep the meeting secret if the other side requested it. I told him we would do so. Dobrynin said that in any event we would have means of letting the fact of the meeting get out. I said it would probably get out if I was absent from the lunch with Chancellor Kreisky.3

Bilateral Issues

Dobrynin and I then reviewed the scheduled list of announcements of signing ceremonies [Tab B].4 He was a little puzzled how Laird and Grechko could sign simultaneously. I said probably there would have to be a member of the respective embassies present at each place. He said he doubted whether Grechko, who was very rank-conscious, would sign unless we produced somebody of equivalent rank. I said I would study that question and give him an answer soon.

Dobrynin asked whether we insisted that Gromyko sign for the Soviet side on all agreements, such as health and others. I said no. He said it would help them bureaucratically if their Minister of Health could sign the Health agreement, and other Ministers the space agreement and so forth. I said that who signed for the Soviet side was entirely a matter for the Soviets to decide.

We then turned to the incidents-at-sea talks. I said that it was impossible to get our military people to agree to fixed distances and I therefore proposed a compromise. Could we agree to general formulations and then agree also to a committee to study the issue during the year and reopen it at the end of the year? Dobrynin said that this sounded like a reasonable proposal. [In the event the Soviets made exactly that proposal at 9:00 that evening.]

Conclusion

We then reminisced about the styles of various national leaders. Dobrynin said that Stalin was a really overwhelming personality who would sometimes sit for hours simply looking out of the window and thinking. He told me an incident when on the day that World War II broke out5 the Chief of the Russian General Staff called Stalin and was told that Stalin had just gone to bed. The Chief of the General Staff told the Chief of the Security Forces to get Stalin to the telephone whatever it cost. The Chief of the Security Forces said he hoped that these people knew the risks they were taking. When the Chief of the General Staff got Stalin on the phone, he said, “Comrade Stalin, the Germans [Page 845]are attacking.” Stalin said, “Are you sure this is not a provocation?” The Chief of the General Staff said, “I’m quite sure.” Stalin was silent for all of three minutes and at the end, he said, “I will meet you at the Kremlin in half an hour.”

Dobrynin said that Stalin had absolutely refused to believe that an attack was coming. I asked, what could he have done about it if he had believed it? He said he could have prevented the Soviet army being caught in the middle of shifting from one defensive line to another and changing its equipment. On the other hand, he said, once Stalin got a grip on the war, he was absolutely brutal in pursuing it. He recalled the incident of a Lieutenant General, who had commanded some forces in the Crimea who had been defeated, calling on Stalin to report. When he was introduced as Lieutenant General so and so, Stalin replied what is this Lieutenant doing in my presence—in other words, demoting him on the spot to the lowest rank in the army. On the other hand, Dobrynin said Stalin generally never raised his voice in meetings and, indeed, one could never tell whether he was agreeing or disagreeing, but he would take violent action on the sly behind people’s backs.

I told Dobrynin that the matter of Markelov was being settled and that he would be released before the end of this week. He said that this was a very positive development and the Soviet Government would know what to do on its side.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 12, Part 2. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Accordingly to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting, which was held in General Scowcroft’s office, ended at 6:15 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976)
  2. All brackets in the source text. Attached but not printed. Tab A was a note handed to Dobrynin on May 15 stating that the United States agreed in principle to reopen the plenary sessions in Paris, but before the public sessions could be resumed there must be a private meeting in Paris between Kissinger and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho on May 21, followed by a public announcement of their meeting. A text of the announcement of the meeting was attached. In addition, the text of an oral message from Kissinger to Dobrynin was attached which stated: “It goes without saying that further military escalation during this period would be incompatible with the purpose of the talks and could not but have the most serious consequences.”
  3. Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Reference is to Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union.