29. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Moscow Visit

I thought you might be interested in reading the attached report from the NSC staff member who accompanied Secretary Stans on his recent trip to the Soviet Union.2 The report states that:

  • —For a variety of reasons the Soviets made the trip into a major event.
  • —It was obvious that the Soviets want more trade with us, particularly US technology and credits.
  • —The Soviets want the May summit to produce a number of agreements.
  • Brezhnev is plainly the top leader and still moving. Kosygin was impressive both in his manner of presentation and his command of substance.
  • —You can expect to be received with effusive official hospitality but a strictly controlled public reception.

Tab A

Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)


  • My Visit to Moscow

The Soviets were obviously intent on making Secretary Stans’ trip3 a major event. Atypically, Pravda covered it daily, as did radio and TV. Hospitality was effusive and all the talks were to the point and un-polemical, even when the Soviets raised their long-standing grievances [Page 87] about US “discrimination.” The public attention was, of course, in large part intended for the Chinese but it could not help signaling to the Soviet public that there is a warming trend in US-Soviet relations. At the same time, we know from the numerous orientation lectures which our Embassy people attend that Party propagandists are putting out the line that the US motivation, including the President’s, is colored by current domestic politics and it is therefore subject to change.

The Soviets obviously want more trade with us; they want our technology and our credits. And they are talking about projects running 20 to 30 years—like the exploitation of their natural gas deposits—implying a more or less stable political relationship. Of course, their concept of stability still involves strong elements of competition (as Kosygin indicated when he revived the notion of an economic race with us). The chief American expert in the Soviet Foreign Ministry made clear to me in a private talk4 that a major strand in the present Soviet mood is that the Soviets are historically entitled to a period of ascendancy after a quarter century in which the US was Number One. I tried to point out the dangers of their pressing excessively since we were bound to respond.

Secretary Stans effectively made the case that long-term trade relations must be rooted in stable political relations and require broad American public support, which is only now developing. He stressed, too, that American firms and their representatives require normal working facilities in the USSR; the Soviets said they understood but avoided commitments. Obviously, some of the activities to which American business representatives are accustomed are incompatible with the rigidities of Soviet life.

Secretary Stans will be reporting fully to the President,5 so I will not go into details on the Stans mission. He reserved major political decisions for the President—i.e., on MFN and EXIM credits—but held out promise of substantially increased commercial relations. I think we can anticipate that American firms will be encouraged by the Stans mission to pursue intensively contract negotiations with the Soviets in many fields. Because the only way the Soviets can finance large imports is by credits and improved access of some of their goods to the US market, we can expect mounting pressure on the President to move on MFN and EXIM credits. This will come not only from industry but from the farm States since Kosygin will take care that his proposition to Stans for annual billion dollar grain purchases on credit will become public knowledge. I think we should recognize that MFN and credits [Page 88] remain useful political tools for us in our relations with the Soviets and decisions should not be driven by domestic concerns alone.

It is clear from my talks that the Soviets want the May summit to be productive. They are formalistic and like documents that can be signed. This is also important for them vis-à-vis China. They mentioned a trade agreement, a science and technology agreement, an agreement on space cooperation and the agreement on preventing naval incidents now being negotiated. And we know of their interest in a maritime agreement, the moon treaty, an environmental agreement and medical cooperation. They also want to get their German treaty ratified and are now bargaining with Scheel about a compromise on the linkage of that treaty to the Berlin agreement. They would undoubtedly like to be on the way to a European conference by May and get the President’s firm commitment to it. I did not get a clear feeling whether they want a SALT agreement before May—their latest offensive proposal has many flaws and suggests a bargaining posture; they might hope to extract some key concession from the President.

In any event, we should probably be responsive to some degree to Soviet desires for signed documents when they accomplish something specific and concrete. Vague “umbrella” agreements play into Soviet hands by arousing the Chinese and our Allies and creating euphoria. Moreover, they usually solve none of the practical problems of implementation which always dog relations with the Soviets.

My impression from my talks is that the Soviets are groping for ways to defuse the Middle East and India/Pakistan, but they remain committed to their friend’s position in each case. Just how helpful we can expect them to be in a positive sense is difficult to say.

I can only comment superficially on the leadership from my observations. Brezhnev figures so prominently in the press that he is plainly at the top of the heap and still moving. At the Supreme Soviet, he was the only one made up for TV (powdered face and neatly dyed hair and eyebrows) and the only one who got up and took a break during Kosygin’s long speech. At one point when applause began to rise to what the Soviets call an ovation, Brezhnev stopped clapping and everyone else took the cue.

Kosygin in the meeting with Stans was, as always, impressive in his command of the subject. He used no notes and spoke systematically and authoritatively, though obviously on instructions. Interestingly, the lesser ministers seemed not to know what he would say; they took copious notes and subsequently referred to them religiously. He was also psychologically shrewd, interspersing his substantive pitch for US concessions with genial and flattering personal remarks and even a winning smile. He showed no signs of any health problem, though I found it curious that his hands trembled nervously as the [Page 89] meeting with Stans began. Later he was composed. At the Supreme Soviet, he stood up for two hours and spoke with a deep, resonant voice from beginning to end, not stopping for water or stumbling over the complex terminology and interminable statistics typical for a Five Year Plan presentation. (Incidentally, his interpreter, who worked for Khrushchev and undoubtedly will translate for Brezhnev in May, and is known to the President from 1959/60, is more idiomatic than precise. We should take care to keep a check on him.)

While I was in Moscow the Central Committee was meeting and there was the usual speculation about leadership tensions. The Germans, according to their Ambassador, are convinced that Ukrainian party boss Shelest, who was listed as the first speaker after Brezhnev’s secret foreign policy report, leads opponents to the Brezhnev line. It was noted that the recently resigned, reportedly anti-Brezhnev, prime minister of the Russian Republic (RSFSR) was not removed from the Politburo while his pro-Brezhnev successor was only elected a candidate member. The conclusion was that Brezhnev is as yet unable to manipulate top leadership fortunes at will.

In conclusion, the President on present form can expect to be received with effusive official hospitality but a strictly controlled public reception. I am sure a night in the Kremlin will be offered and a comfortable guest house after that. The streets are wide and the people will be kept well away from the VIP center lane. We have enormous limitations as far as setting up secure working quarters is concerned, but communications should be adequate. I am sure the Soviets will be helpful on our press needs. But we should get an advance team to Moscow at least two months before the summit to make the physical arrangements. On substance, we need to keep tight White House control over all on-going negotiations so that we can pace them in a way that best suits the President’s wishes.

Tab B

Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) 6


  • Private Talks in Moscow
[Page 90]

At a lunch arranged for me by our DCM, Korniyenko, the American expert in the Foreign Ministry, asked me if I could delay my departure by some hours to have a private lunch with him on Friday, November 26. I told him that I would have to check the air schedules and also asked whether it might be possible to see Aleksandrov. At dinner that evening, Dobrynin pulled me aside to urge me to have the private lunch on Friday. I asked him whether I could assume that Korniyenko was informed about the state of US-Soviet relations and various exchanges. Dobrynin said this assumption was correct except for a very small fraction which went “directly to the top.” He said that Korniyenko was charged with making preparations for May.

At the DCM’s lunch the two Soviets present were Korniyenko and the Foreign Office disarmament chief, Timerbayev. I have known both for a dozen years. The conversation dealt entirely with MBFR and ESC. On the former, the Soviets complained about the Brosio mission on the ground that (1) it made MBFR a bloc-to-bloc affair, (2) Brosio is identified with the Cold War, and (3) the mission is a scheme for delay.7 I said these objections sounded formalistic. Brosio has a very substantial brief to talk from and Soviets would find it worthwhile to talk to him. I went on to say that the European troop question affected the interests of many of our allies and we would therefore be meticulous in consulting with them and preparing jointly with them for negotiations. It was therefore hard to avoid a certain “bloc” connotation to these negotiations on our side, just as I assumed Soviet consultations with affected Warsaw Pact states would give them such a connotation on their side. Moreover, if troops were ever cut, they clearly would be from the two alliances. This argument, therefore, struck me as artificial. As regards delay, I said we had made a start to get talks underway with the proposed Brosio mission but the Soviets were stalling on a reply. I said that they should make up their mind whether and how to get moving; if they had an alternative opening formula they should say so. Korniyenko then said that they had not rejected Brosio yet and were still considering their response.

I said that they would make a mistake if they thought they could sit back and wait for the US Congress to cut troops unilaterally. If the Congress did so—which I thought unlikely—an opportunity for constructive negotiations would have been missed. Korniyenko complained that we used Soviet statements on MBFR and diplomatic conversations for domestic political purposes; I said that on this as on other issues domestic and foreign aspects were closely intertwined, as the Soviets very well knew. The main thing was to get an idea whether the [Page 91] Soviets wanted serious negotiations. We should worry less about forms since the substance was complex enough already.

On ESC, the Soviets registered their objection to the linkage to Berlin which, they said, we had engineered to block the conference. I said they were misinformed since the Belgians and Germans had written the linkage into the NATO communiqué.8 Our position was that we were neither violently opposed to nor enthusiastically in favor of a conference; we just wanted to know what it was supposed to do. Korniyenko said it should register the post-war status quo on the pattern of the Soviet-German treaty. I said this seemed superfluous since with the German treaty all the formal registering that the Soviets could want had been done; but if the Soviets felt more secure if Portugal and Iceland also underwrote the Soviet-Romanian and Soviet-Polish frontiers we would not expend our capital to prevent it. Reverting to the linkage with Berlin, I said this was a reality which the Soviets would have to live with; moreover, what sense was there to talk about European security as long as the one specific issue that could endanger it remained unresolved. I added that I was confident that there would be a satisfactory conclusion to the intra-German-Berlin talks, that the other linkage problem—Berlin/Soviet-German treaty—would be acceptably solved and that then the explorations of an ESC could go forward on a multilateral basis, as proposed by NATO. Korniyenko asked why they should accept our sequence of events. I said because that was the only way they could get a conference if there is one at all.

At our private luncheon meeting on Friday (only the two of us), I asked Korniyenko whether the Soviets intended to pursue the avenue opened in the President’s talk with Gromyko to have private, informal bilateral exchanges on the ESC. He said not until Dobrynin returns at the end of the year.

The first part of the private lunch dealt briefly with technical aspects of the President’s visit. Korniyenko said the normal practice was for an advance party to come about six weeks before the event, but no later than four weeks before. If we wanted it, the advance party could come earlier than six weeks before. (I think this would be very desirable.) I asked whether the Soviets would invite the President to stay in one of their houses. Korniyenko said this was not yet decided. De Gaulle had stayed in the Kremlin one night.

We then talked about who the President would see. Korniyenko said there might have to be one or more meetings with the top (three) leaders but these would be more of a formality. There might also have [Page 92] to be a ceremonial call on Podgorny as president. The main conversations would of course be with Brezhnev, probably alone with interpreters, but perhaps with Kosygin and someone from our side. He indicated this could all be worked out to our satisfaction.

Korniyenko asked whether the President would be mostly conceptual and philosophical in his conversations or would he touch on concrete questions. I said both: the President probably would want to lay out his general approach to our relations and world affairs, but then discuss particular problems. Korniyenko said he assumed that the Middle East and India–Pakistan would come up but he said it was hard now to predict the status of these problems. I agreed.

I said the President had already indicated he expected to talk about SALT, though the nature of the conversation would depend on where the negotiations stood. If agreement had been reached on a first phase, the conversation would presumably be about how we can best go about the follow-on negotiations; if no agreement had yet been reached, there presumably would be an effort to solve the remaining problems.

I then said that if Soviet strategic forces continued to grow at their present pace the President would begin to have increasing difficulty to hold back on new programs of our own. Korniyenko said that the Soviets had long lived under a crushing US superiority and we should get used to the reverse situation. I said the past was over with. It was quite possible to design Soviet forces which would give the USSR the same capacity to damage the US as we had vis-à-vis the USSR with a good many fewer delivery vehicles than the Soviets were now acquiring. Korniyenko said they need more SLBMs than we because they lacked forward bases and their route of approach was longer. I said they already had more SLBMs operational and under construction. In any case if we were going to operate under conditions of parity the standard ought to be capacity to do damage. A gross numerical imbalance, particularly when SS–9s, once MIRVed, would pose a greater threat to our land-based forces than our ICBMs posed to theirs, would lead to new weapons decisions on our side and then we would both be wasting our money to maintain the same ratio of forces. Korniyenko said we should not worry because we would always have 31 Poseidon boats for assured destruction. I said only a portion of these were on the line at any one time and could become vulnerable to ASW if the Soviets chose to concentrate on that. So we simply could not stand idly by. I concluded that the best thing would be to get a good offensive agreement in SALT so we could at least get numbers under control.

I asked how Korniyenko saw the Middle East. He said Rogers and Sisco were much too optimistic; there could not be an interim agreement unless the Israelis agreed to the goal of evacuating all occupied territory. I said that without getting into details it seemed to me that [Page 93] insistence on assurances concerning ultimate goals would produce no breakthrough. I then said we had an additional problem: we could not underwrite an agreement in the Middle East, as we and other great powers presumably would have to do in some form, if it legitimized a permanent Soviet military presence in Egypt. Moreover, I doubted that the Israelis would ever accept an agreement under such circumstances. Korniyenko said we had bases in the Western Mediterranean, why then did we object to Soviet military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. I said the point was that we would not guarantee a Middle Eastern settlement of whatever kind if it means that we thereby underwrote a Soviet military presence in the area. Korniyenko said we should remember the circumstances that brought the Soviet military presence to the Middle East. If these circumstances changed so might the situation regarding Soviet presence. I said that the Soviet presence was not only connected with the Arab-Israeli problem but served Soviet unilateral purposes and I hoped that the Soviet military would not carry so much weight that the political leadership would be unable to do something about it.

I then asked Korniyenko whether Brezhnev ever got independent advice on the validity of claims made on him by the Soviet military-industrial complex. Korniyenko said we could be sure that Brezhnev got all the advice he needed but that in any case there were no groups in the USSR interested in the arms race since they could gain no personal profits from it as in the US. I said there were ministries and managers that deal with armaments and as a result obtain all the best resources and privileges; this must result in vested interests. Korniyenko said these groups included those in the civilian aircraft industry—now no longer, he said, simply an offshoot of the military aircraft industry—and some other high priority civilian industries. The line was thus not a clean one. I said in any event it was to be hoped that political leaders in the USSR examined military programs with the utmost care so that in a period when the US was clearly braking the momentum of its programs the Soviets would not be leaping ahead to higher and higher levels. This could only result in a reversal of the trend in the US because the President has a strong constituency that would insist on it, quite apart from the objective requirements with which Soviet efforts would confront us.

I asked whether Korniyenko thought China would come up at the summit. He said not directly but of course it would figure indirectly. The Soviet view remained that normalization of US-Chinese relations was alright but collusion against third countries was not. I said we had made our motives clear.

I said I assumed Vietnam would come up in some way. I wanted to be sure Korniyenko understood our position. It was that we would [Page 94] prefer a political solution through negotiations and would be pleased to see a Soviet contribution toward that end. But if present DRV/VC negotiating tactics continued we would simply continue on our present unilateral course. The other side should recognize that if it sought to take military advantage of us we always had open to us the kind of course we took in Cambodia. Korniyenko said we should not believe those who argue that the USSR likes the Vietnam war because it ties down the US. The Soviets want it to end because they recognize it complicates their relations with us. I said one could make a case that the Soviets saw some advantages in the continuation of the war. Korniyenko said perhaps one could in logic, but politics did not always follow the dictates of logic. I said this did not sound unreasonable.

I wondered whether the Caribbean might arise in the May meetings. Korniyenko said he could not see why “Secretary Laird” made such a fuss about the Soviets extending the period on-station of their Yankee Class submarines when we did the same thing by means of Rota and Holy Loch. I said he should not pin this concern on Secretary Laird. The point was we were in a new period and neither side should push forward to new military positions. I assumed the understanding of last fall remained valid and there would be no reason to discuss the matter further.

Korniyenko then said that we should try to reach some formal agreements on lesser matters, like space cooperation, so that there would be concrete results in May. I said there seemed to be several matters of this sort now under negotiation—incidents at sea, the forthcoming maritime talks, space, etc.—and I saw no reason why we should not try to move ahead on them. Whether the President would wish to sign any of them personally in Moscow I could not say at this point. I asked whether the Soviets would insist on completing the second phase of the incidents-at-sea talks before they would agree to formalize the understandings reached on the first. Korniyenko said the Soviets definitely wanted to go beyond the memorandum resulting from the first phase to the other matters (i.e., air activities) that interested them.

On India–Pakistan, Korniyenko said the Soviets are doing what they can to stop the fighting and prevent major war. I said it seemed to me that no doubt for different reasons, the US, USSR and China each wanted to see the situation subside.

Korniyenko said in conclusion that an answer to the President’s letter to Brezhnev would be sent in due course but that one aspect of it, i.e., the Stans trip, had of course already been acted on.

Addendum. At the luncheon with the DCM the Soviets said that their judgment was that the question of a new UN Secretary General would become deadlocked “because the US refused to back a good [Page 95] candidate like the Chilean Herrera” and that then U Thant would agree to serve another year. I said this was not our impression.

At the private lunch I noted that the Soviets in Vienna had started unveiling their position on offensive measures. I asked whether they would provide some details on how to handle replacement and modernization. Apparently misunderstanding, Korniyenko said it had always been agreed that this would be allowed. I said what I was interested in was precisely what would be allowed under the Soviet concept, replacement and modernization of missiles or of silos. If the latter, I said, there could be some verification problems and questions about whether the freeze was being adhered to. Korniyenko did not answer directly but seemed to imply that the provisions would apply to missiles.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 294, Memoranda to the President, December 1971. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information.
  2. Tab A.
  3. Regarding Commerce Secretary Stans’ trip to Moscow, see Document 14.
  4. The account of this conversation is at Tab B, which was attached to a covering memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, November 30, but was not sent to the President.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 20.
  6. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  7. Manlio Brosio, former Secretary General of NATO, appointed by NATO to represent the organization at MBRF talks with the Soviet Union.
  8. Apparent reference to the NATO Communiqué, June 4, 1971. (Department of State Bulletin, June 28, 1971, pp. 819–821)