23. Memorandum for the President’s File1

SUBJECT

  • The President’s Meeting with Soviet Minister of Agriculture Vladimir Matskevich on Thursday, December 9, 1971 at 4:00 p.m.

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Minister Matskevich
  • Soviet Chargé Yuly Vorontsov
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

The President received Minister Matskevich in order to impress upon the Soviet leadership the seriousness of his concern over the India/Pakistan conflict and its potential implications for US-Soviet relations.2 The meeting was held to 15 minutes, and there was no press or photo coverage.

Minister Matskevich opened the conversation by conveying orally an official communication from General-Secretary Brezhnev to the President. Brezhnev looked forward to seeing the President in Moscow in May and believed the President’s visit would further the cause of peace. Brezhnev expressed the hopes of the whole Central Committee of the [Page 71] CPSU that the Moscow summit would have a beneficial impact on the future, and added a personal word that he looked forward to his meetings alone with the President.

President Nixon responded that he, too, looked forward to his meetings with the General-Secretary. These could be the most important heads-of-government meetings in this century. Minister Matskevich could assure Mr. Brezhnev that President Nixon approached the summit meeting in the same spirit as he did.

The President then told the Agriculture Minister that he wanted to discuss a current and urgent problem very frankly. “We are in correspondence with General-Secretary Brezhnev. I want you to know how strongly I personally feel about this issue. You can convey a sense of urgency, that may help lead to a settlement. Great progress has been made in US-Soviet relations. No one would have said two years ago that such progress was possible. I told your Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, when he was here that our meeting at the highest level had to be on the basis of equality. There must be total mutual respect. I respect the Soviet leaders. The United States and the Soviet Union have made progress in SALT and on Berlin; we have agreed to a spring summit. We have also discussed the possibility of a European Security Conference, and have begun discussions on the Middle East. We have an opportunity for a totally new relationship between our two countries. We won’t agree on everything, but if we can progress in all these fields we’ll be as close as our two nations were in the war. All this is possible.”

“Now, speaking quite frankly,” the President continued, “a great cloud hangs over it—the problem of the Subcontinent. Six-hundred million will win over 60 million. Pakistan will be cut in half. In the short range, this may be a gain for the Soviet Union and a setback for China. It is certain to be a tragedy for Pakistan. What is far worse is that if we continue as we are it will poison the whole new relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. What I want to suggest is that you ask whether India’s gains—which are certain—are worth jeopardizing your relations with the United States. I don’t say this in a threatening way. Let the US and the USSR find a way to work together.

“The first requirement is a ceasefire. The second requirement is that India desist from attacks in West Pakistan. If India moves forces against West Pakistan, the United States cannot stand by. The key to a settlement is in the hands of the Soviet Union. If the USSR does not restrain the Indians, the US will not be able to deal with Yahya. If the Indians continue their military operations, we must inevitably look toward a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union has a treaty with India; we have one with Pakistan. [Page 72]You must recognize the urgency of a ceasefire and political settlement of the crisis.

“Let us not let our differences on this issue obscure the great opportunities before us for improving our relations,” the President concluded.

Minister Matskevich replied that he was grateful to have the President’s frank appraisal of the situation and would convey this message to the Soviet leadership.

After a brief exchange of leave-taking formalities, the meeting ended.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 86, Memoranda for the President, Beginning December 5, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. Drafted by Kissinger. Kissinger sent the President a December 9 briefing memorandum, which stressed that the point of the upcoming meeting was to “convey to the Soviet leadership your view of the India/Pakistan conflict and its potential implications for US-Soviet relations.” A stamped note indicates Nixon read it. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8) In his diary, December 9, Haldeman noted that “Henry then made an urgent pitch that the P see the Soviet agriculture minister who was here today, because he’s a strong personal friend of Brezhnev’s and has a message from Brezhnev, and also the P can give him a message back, laying it out very sternly.” Haldeman also stated that he, Haig, and the President agreed that Kissinger was so “physically tired, that he doesn’t realize that he is at fault in the failure in India–Pakistan to date and doesn’t like that feeling. Also Haig pointed out that Henry basically is bored. He’s just tired of fighting the bureaucracy on all these things.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  2. President Nixon prepared handwritten notes apparently in anticipation of this meeting. They read: “Our relations are at a critical turning point; 1. Stans—trade, 2. Berlin, 3. SALT, 4. Mideast. Based on mutual restraint—no advantage. Now: we decide—What happens Pakistan 1. What happens to Russ[ia] & Asia—could be disastrous for World. 2. We can’t allow dismemberment by force of a friendly country. 3. Must be a ceasefire—negotiations within Pak framework—withdrawal. You [Soviet Union] gain with India. You beat China. You imperil relations with U.S.” (Ibid., President’s Personal Files, Box 70, President’s Speech File, December 9, 1971 Meeting)