28. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (Smith) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

32. Dear Henry:

In post-plenary December 15th, I expressed personal concern to Semenov that events in the subcontinent could have a prejudicial effect on the prospect for improvement in Soviet/American relations in which I thought SALT progress had had a part.2 I asked if he shared this concern.

He referred to the no-linkage understanding and to earlier situations during SALT when there had been international strains. He said that there were other contacts between our governments to go into matters such as this. I said that it was clearer than ever before to me that in SALT we were not working in a vacuum.

Semenov said that on a suitable occasion when we were not as busy as now he would present his views about the subcontinent situation in a personal way. He did not believe this question could influence the development of relations between our countries. Our governments had different positions on certain aspects of this problem, but he did not believe that these differences were any deeper than differences between us on some other questions which had not affected our negotiations; therefore, he personally did not share Smith’s concern. Of course, the question in itself was important and he would not be averse to holding an exchange of personal views, but not at the present moment.3

Warm regards.

Gerry Smith

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, SALT, 1971. Top Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. In backchannel message WH11135 to Vienna for Smith, December 13, Kissinger stated: “The situation in South Asia is such that it is most important that the U.S. Delegation maintain a cool and somewhat more reserved attitude towards their Soviet counterparts. This demeanor should be adopted immediately and maintained until further notice. President of course leaves up to your best judgment the manner in which this perceptible shift in U.S. attitude should be conveyed but he anticipates your complete cooperation in this endeavor until situation in South Asia clarifies.” (Ibid.)
  3. On December 15 Kissinger sent WH11186 to Vienna, informing Smith that President Nixon “was alarmed that you raised directly the issue of South Asia with Semenov.” Kissinger stated that the President’s intent was a shift in demeanor, not that Smith should raise the issue directly. Kissinger instructed Smith not to engage in further private discussions, but “rather initiate a stalling procedure in your SALT discussions without attributing the shift in any way to events in South Asia.” (Ibid.) Smith defended his action in backchannel message 34 from Vienna to Kissinger, and expressed puzzlement that his action “alarmed” the President. (Ibid.) Smith mentions this series of telegrams in Doubletalk, pp. 341–342, and notes as soon as the crisis was over in South Asia, it was back to business as usual.