279. Backchannel Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Moscow1

WH 21631/Tohak 163. Reference your telephone conversation of 4:15 p.m. Washington time.2 It may be that our difficulty here is in ascertaining exactly where the situation stands there and what precise difficulties you are confronted with. On each step along the way over the past 48 hours, we have been presented with very cryptic requirements which complicated our ability to ease the load at your end. Certain realities exist here with which you should be cognizant.

As you weigh the option of compromise, it is quite important that you consider the point of departure from which that compromise will be assessed here. For better or worse, ACDA briefed extensively on the Hill to the effect that 62/950 would be ultimate outcome of the SLBM freeze. Those figures are now imbedded in the Congressional mental computers. These figures have been the major source of the opposition which has surfaced thus far. Therefore, a compromise which worsens these figures will be more difficult to sell. Jackson and Goldwater are already attacking these figures and will have little trouble exploiting a worsened picture.

As I informed you yesterday, the Chairman, on his own, and Secretary Laird, suspecting a compromise was in the wind, put us on notice that we should avoid this step. In the case of the Chairman, he was adamant that he could not obtain JCS support for such a position. Secretary Laird was equally negative but did not make such a threat. This was the point of departure from which the questions you asked this morning were addressed.3 The subsequent compromise which would have included the H-class submarines in the freeze were merely an extension of that attitude.

The way the Chairman described the compromise is as follows. The compromise would be tantamount to giving the Soviets 84 boats and 1,020 SLBM’s, thereby shattering the argument that we have frozen the overall numbers of missiles to current levels. Any additional Y-class [Page 1113] submarines or any additional SLBM’s are merely replacements for old ICBM’s and old SLBM’s.4

My concern is not so much the strategic effect of the compromise as it is the connotation that the President while in Moscow accepted a position less satisfactory than the one which had allegedly been worked out prior to his departure. This single issue will dominate subsequent public debate. Nevertheless, I think I can assure you that bureaucratically Defense, CIA, State, ACDA and all involved would support the compromise. I am less sure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even though I am certain that with adequate briefing they would at least keep quiet and probably even support.

The real problem to me is not the strategic implications of the compromise but rather the problem of the President’s public image and credibility. This is certainly not my business. Since I sense you want my personal appraisal of the situation, it is as follows.

I believe the strategic implication of the compromise is minor and that we can live with it for we will certainly be better off with it than without it. I also believe that there will be a problem of bureaucratic discipline which is nevertheless manageable. I also believe the President will have some real difficulties with the right wing of the Republican Party. But in a pragmatic sense, they have nowhere else to go, and he can weather that storm without fatal consequences.

I believe the Congressional problem is manageable and that in the final analysis, there will be a substantial majority in favor of any SALT agreement. I would be more concerned about the Soviets who have obviously played a role of duplicity with us in recent weeks. If not, I wonder why we pushed so hard to promulgate the figures 62/950. This is something which only you have been involved in and only you can accurately judge.

On balance, were I making the decision, I would accept the compromise, with the realization that other issues involved are far more important and with my personal acceptance of the fact that we have [Page 1114] to get over a difficult period which will be rectified by the re-election of a President who, in the final analysis, will gain more from a SALT agreement that is less than satisfactory than he would from a principled rejection at this stage.

I have talked to Moorer and Rush and both are consulting intensively. I know my men and both will come along. If you feel you have gone as far as the traffic will possibly bear with your hosts, I would take the compromise, especially with the provision on modernization of G-class submarines. In doing so, I would urge you, however, to get Sonnenfeldt and Hyland to sit down now and prepare the best conceivable rationale which will be made available to us here in conjunction with the transcript of your briefing. This is the major problem. I would also consider having the President film a brief clip commenting on the agreement and taking the high-road which can be used back here to counter the negative clips that will come from the Goldwaters, the Jacksons, etc.

Recognizing the fatigue and strain that you must be experiencing, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this one final effort.

Finally, you may be sure that everyone here will concentrate all of their energies in supporting whatever course of action the President takes.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 480, President’s Trip Files, President’s Moscow, Iran, Poland, Austria Trip, May–Jun. 72, (File No. 2), The Situation Room [Part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. No record of this telephone conversation has been found.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 277.
  4. In telegram Hakto 38, May 25, Kissinger replied to Haig, asking: “1. Can you give me one rational explanation why 60 missiles of 300–700 mile range, in diesel submarines that have to surface to fire, representing less than 3 per cent of the total Soviet force, can present a realistic threat? What are we giving up that we were going to do? The Soviets in turn get a ceiling on their SLBM’s, a ban on modernization of the G-class, and lose 240 launchers. 2. If the Soviets refuse to accept the compromise, I want someone to explain how our security is enhanced when we then confront the G’s, the H’s, 240 more launchers, and a larger number of SLBM’s. Anyone able to answer these questions can criticize. The rest should for once support their President.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 480, President’s Trip Files, President’s Moscow, Iran, Poland, Austria Trip, May–Jun. 72, Hakto File) This telegram is almost identical to the one sent to Smith in Helsinki the same day; see footnote 3, Document 278.