37. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The Pace of Our Negotiations with the Soviets: Relationship to China Trip and Moscow Summit

As you are aware, there are currently in circulation in the agencies, the press and academic community a number of theories about how the White House wants (or should want) our negotiations with the Soviets paced in relation to the China trip and the Moscow summit. Some suspect (or argue) that we should withhold major agreements with the Soviets before the China trip in order not to arouse Chinese suspicions or, conversely, in order to give the Soviets an incentive for concessions. Others argue that we should reach certain agreements with the Soviets in order to make the Chinese more forthcoming. Then there is the school that feels that all good things should be saved for the President in [Page 118] May and we should therefore stall the more substantive negotiations until then and leave it to the President to consummate them. There are others who feel that we should amass as many agreements as possible before the May summit so that the atmosphere will be good, the President can use most of his time to talk about fundamentals and the final outcome will be to provide an agenda for the next phase. Still others worry that if too many issues are left unresolved the President may be under pressure to make last-minute and possibly unwise concessions to get agreements in May and this will be bad for the country and in any case cause him more trouble on the domestic right. Curiously enough, almost everyone claims to have a White House signal on which he bases his preferred tactic.2

There is, of course, some merits in most of these ideas, even where they are mutually exclusive. But it is never easy—and certainly not in this Government—to fine-tune one’s diplomacy in this fashion. Moreover, it takes two to tango and Soviet calculations of what is optimal timing from their standpoint will frequently run diametrically opposite to ours.

I think therefore our best rule of thumb continues to be to conduct negotiations on their merit. It certainly is the best public posture and the least confusing one for providing guidance to the agencies. We discussed this briefly before Christmas when Brzezinski3 claimed that the working level at State was going on the assumption we wanted as many agreements as possible before May. Since that time I have, as we agreed, taken the line in IG and other meetings that we do not want negotiations with the Soviets either speeded up or delayed because of the May summit; that above all we want sound substantive positions and that negotiations once begun should be conducted on their merit.

Unless this gives you a problem, I would like to continue taking this line and hope you will also when the SRG considers NSSM 143 (Review of US-Soviet Negotiations).4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 717, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XVII. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for action.
  2. In a year-end review transmitted in telegram 136 from Moscow, January 6, the Embassy noted: “China has emerged as a potent competitor on the diplomatic scene with its anti-Soviet bent if anything intensified. Changes in the U.S.-Chinese relationship have made China even a more key factor in Soviet security calculations. The President’s initiative toward China, together with the further winding down of the Vietnam war, has given the U.S. greater policy freedom, and Moscow added incentive, to engage in serious negotiations on SALT and a broad range of other issues.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR)
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Director, Research Institute for International Change, Columbia University and Consultant to the Department of State.
  4. See Document 48. Haig signed the approve option for Kissinger.