286. Editorial Note
On the evening of May 26, 1972, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., General Secretary Brezhnev was President Nixon’s guest for dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The two briefly discussed a number of issues, the most important of which was China. The President asked Brezhnev what he thought of Mao, and Brezhnev replied that Mao had assumed the stature of a living god and completely removed himself from public view. Referring to himself and Nixon as Europeans, Brezhnev said that it was very difficult for Europeans to really know what was going on in the minds of the Chinese leaders. Nixon noted that China was a factor that both of their countries would have to continue to deal with because of its large population and potential. Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union was maintaining some sort of relations with China. Trade had increased recently and economic delegations were visiting each other’s countries, but overall relations were not what they should be.
The President commented that the Vietnam problem would have disappeared by the middle of next year, and that U.S.-Soviet relations would undoubtedly have improved as a result of the accords reached at this summit. He said it would be good if Brezhnev could visit the United States sometime during May or early June of next year. Brezhnev said he would very much like to visit the United States and see as much of it as possible. Nixon said that he was sure Brezhnev would have a good reception. He noted that the Great Alliance during World War II had been particularly effective because of the direct contacts maintained between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin and said he thought he and Brezhnev should also keep in touch with each other by using a private channel. Brezhnev agreed.
The President and Brezhnev both expressed great satisfaction that agreement on SALT had been reached and that the treaty and agreement would be signed at 11:00 p.m. that evening. Nixon noted that this was just a first step and said that by the time Brezhnev visited the United States next year, there might be a follow-up agreement to sign. (Memorandum of conversation; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Conversations is Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran, and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 2)
In his diary entry for May 26, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman also recorded the events of that historic evening: “Shoved the dinner along as fast as possible, and ended up getting it over by just a little after 10:30. So the P wasn’t in too bad shape in getting back for the [SALT] signing ceremony, and it was held just a few minutes after 11:00, with everybody getting a great feeling of the historic [Page 1142] nature of the occasion. The problem, however, was Ziegler caught me on the way into the signing, said we had real trouble because things had gone astray at the presigning briefing, with K and Gerry Smith, and that was the thing that had him concerned. Turns out that Smith came into the briefing, sort of took over from K and blew the answers on several of the items, creating totally the wrong impression, and had K right up the wall as a result. I got over to K during the signing ceremony, and under great strain, convinced him, sort of, that he ought to go back and do another briefing right after the signing. But we had the problem of him refusing to do it with Gerry Smith on the platform….
“After the signing, while we were waiting for Henry to go over, I spent about 45 minutes pacing up and down the halls of our quarters, trying to calm Henry down, as he was ranting, raving, and cursing Rogers and Smith. He had learned from [the President’s Assistant for International Economic Policy] Pete Flanigan that Rogers had ordered Smith and (negotiator Paul) Nitze to stay on Henry’s heels at all times, and under no circumstances allow Henry to have a press conference of any kind out of their presence. So that’s why Smith had come into the thing. The more Henry and I talked, the more it became apparent to me that the problem was more psychological than real… As we were waiting, the P called Henry and asked him to come in. Henry told me that he was so mad that he didn’t think he should see the P, and would I please go in and handle the thing, so I did, told the P what the problem was. He, of course, was quite disturbed too… The more he thought about it, the madder he got, and in the middle of that discussion, Henry walked in, reviewed the thing in more livid detail for the P, and the P told me to call Bill Rogers. Tell him that Ziegler was outraged by Smith’s conduct at the briefing, that he was an utter disaster, that you’re to shut him up, he’s to do no more briefings without the express permission of the P, or he’s fired. I said, ‘You know what good will that accomplish,’ the P said, ‘I guess you’re right, it won’t accomplish anything, so forget it.’ Then he brooded for a few minutes, picked up the phone himself asked for Rogers, said ‘I’ll call him’ and hung it up. Then he said when he calls back, you take it, and tell him what I just said… In any event, I talked to Rogers, who was quite surprised by the whole thing, but did make the point to him that only Henry was to do the briefing, and that’s the way it was to go. So that night, as far as I was concerned, ended at about 1:00 or a little after. I went back to bed. P went to bed, but said Henry is to wake him when he got back, which was, apparently, at about 2:00, and fill him in on how the briefing went. Apparently it went extremely well, so things got back on the track later on.”(The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
In his memoirs Kissinger described Smith arriving that night at the Embassy “enraged to the point of incoherence—and not without [Page 1143] reason” after suffering the indignity of having no American car pick him up (because Soviet officials had denied them entry) and having no American greet him. Kissinger wrote that “there [was] no question but that Smith deserved better,” but added: “Wounded pride and rage were so ill-concealed that he nearly turned the briefing into a shambles.” Kissinger recalled interrupting his presentation to take Smith into an ante-room to try to calm him down after Smith had grumbled that he did not know exactly what the treaty contained. He wrote that Smith followed his [Kissinger’s] explanation of the general principles of the agreement with “a brief analysis of its provisions that made up in detailed precision what it lacked in passionate advocacy.” (White House Years, page 1243) Smith recalled that after Kissinger introduced him as the one who had conducted the SALT negotiations and was in the best position to go through the details of the agreement, he set out its provisions in general terms, following which the press questions focused on the submarine limitations. He recorded that later, back at the Kremlin, Kissinger whispered, “What were you trying to do, cause a panic?” Smith wrote that he didn’t know what Kissinger was talking about since his “press conference statements did not warrant any such histrionics.” He put it down to Kissinger’s fatigue, but noted that Kissinger did not want any more help with the press from him. (Doubletalk, pages 435–438)
In his memoirs Nixon wrote: “The major achievement of Summit I was the agreement covering the limitation of strategic arms. The ABM treaty stopped what inevitably would have become a defensive arms race, with untold billions of dollars being spent on each side for more and more ABM coverage. The other major effect of the ABM treaty was to make permanent the concept of deterrence through ‘mutual terror’: by giving up missile defenses, each side was leaving its population and territory hostage to a strategic missile attack. Each side therefore had an ultimate interest in preventing a war that could only be mutually destructive.” He added: “The Interim Agreement froze the levels of strategic missiles to those then actually existing or under construction. Under this agreement, the United States gave up nothing, because we had no programs that were affected by the freeze. The Soviets, however, had a substantial missile deployment program under way… had it continued, it would have put us increasingly at a disadvantage in numbers of missiles and would almost certainly have forced us into a costly building program just to maintain the then-current ratios.” ( RN: Memoirs, pages 617–618) In his final evaluation of SALT I, Smith wrote: “In spite of our having been kept away from Moscow and the fact that our views, when solicited, had been only partially accepted, we felt that the agreements—especially the ABM Treaty—were solid accomplishments ... Could a better settlement have been reached? The only significant issue in my judgment that was considered at Moscow was [Page 1144] the definition of a heavy missile. Any definition that the United States would have agreed to would have stopped several important Soviet ICBM/MIRV programs. I now believe now that there was no chance that the Soviets would have agreed to stop those programs in order to get an interim freeze under which U.S. MIRV programs would proceed. When the President did not succeed in this aim, he had the implicit choice to end SALT (including abandoning the ABM Treaty) or to make the best of it by accepting a freeze that left the heavy military definition unresolved. I think he made the right choice. In fact, this was so clearly indicated that I doubt he even thought of any other course.” (Doubletalk, page 432) Kissinger wrote of the Moscow summit in his memoirs: “But the fundamental achievement was to sketch the outline on which coexistence between the democracies and the Soviet system must be based. SALT embodied our conviction that a wildly spiraling nuclear arms race was in no country’s interest and enhanced no one’s security; the ‘Basic Principles’ gave at least verbal expression to the necessity of responsible political conduct. The two elements reinforced each other; they symbolized our conviction that a relaxation of tensions could not be based exclusively on arms control; the ultimate test would be restrained international behavior.” (White House Years, pages 1253–1254)