39. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
The meeting lasted nearly four hours and was conducted in an atmosphere of effusive cordiality, buttressed by slugs of vodka and cans of caviar.
Dobrynin had just returned from the Soviet Union and had called me for an appointment.2
He began the conversation by telling me that he had just spent three days with Brezhnev at the Soviet version of Camp David, after having spent two days previously consulting with the Government to review the Soviet attitude towards the United States. Dobrynin described the physical layout of the Soviet equivalent of Camp David. He stressed that it did not have any houses earmarked for particular [Page 128] individuals, but that Brezhnev used it more than anyone else, especially when he was preparing major speeches. This led him into a discussion of Alexandrov, who is Brezhnev’s principal assistant. Dobrynin said it was amazing what role accident plays in careers. Alexandrov had been an official in the Embassy in Stockholm when Brezhnev, a relatively low-ranking member of the Politburo, needed a speech writer and he was assigned to him. Today, Alexandrov is the closest equivalent to me that the Soviet system has.
Dobrynin then brought the conversation around to a discussion of topics in Soviet-American relations.
I began with Vietnam. I said that as a general matter it had been difficult for us to understand Soviet behavior in the fall. We were extremely unhappy about Soviet actions prior to the India/Pakistan crisis, and we found their behavior on Vietnam also very hard to comprehend. I had talked to the Soviet Foreign Minister about Vietnam at the end of September. We had transmitted a specific proposal. We had received a reply from the Soviet Foreign Minister as well as from the Vietnamese that they were ready to talk. We accepted the Vietnamese date for the meeting and three days before, it was cancelled.3 Since then we had not heard from them. If a Communist offensive occurred, I emphasized that we would certainly take the strongest possible action, which in turn would have effects on our relationship. It was clear that the Soviet Union might think it could embarrass us in Peking by encouraging North Vietnamese attacks now, but it paid a heavy price in our goodwill. Certainly if the Vietnam issue were removed, all other areas in our relations would make quick progress.
Dobrynin replied that he wanted me to understand the following: First, the Soviet Union had recommended our plan to Hanoi early in October and had been under the impression that Hanoi would negotiate. Secondly, the Soviet Union had no interest in an offensive by Hanoi, because if the offensive took place now prior to the Peking summit it could be repeated prior to the Moscow summit. The last thing the Soviet Union wanted was a confrontation with the United States in the months before the Moscow summit. Thirdly, the Soviet Union believed that the war should come to an end now. But it was [Page 129] not prepared to bring pressure to this end. I said that, in that case the objective tendency of Soviet policy was to exacerbate the tensions and to encourage Hanoi. I pointed out that the spate of articles in the Soviet press that accompanied Haig’s visit to Peking reinforced this and were taken very ill in Washington.
Dobrynin replied that if we read those articles carefully we would see that they were not directed against the United States but against China. They were placed into the Soviet newspapers on the pages reserved for Chinese affairs, and they represented an opportunity for the Soviet Union to hit back at China with some of the charges China had made against them.
With respect to the North Vietnamese behavior, Dobrynin continued, it was the impression in Moscow that what had really aborted the negotiations in the fall was the Chinese intervention. It was Moscow’s impression that after my visit to Peking4 the Chinese raised the new U.S. proposal with the North Vietnamese and the North Vietnamese took violent exception to this. They were furious with the Chinese in any event because they believed that the Chinese had aborted their seven-point plan5 and that the campaign they had planned in support of their plan was destroyed by my visit to Peking, about which Hanoi had not been informed ahead of time and of which Hanoi was informed only 36 hours prior to the announcement.
When the Chinese raised our peace plan with them, Hanoi decided that it was essential that if peace is negotiated it appear as the result of Hanoi’s actions and not of Great Power pressure. They scheduled a visit to Peking and did not receive full assurances. It was Moscow’s impression, however, that recently they had received fuller assurances.
I told Dobrynin that, whatever the convoluted maneuvers of inter-Communist politics, the fact of the matter was that if the Soviet Union had also joined the appeal there would have been peace, so that the objective tendency of Soviet policy was to encourage a continuation of the war even if they never used words to that effect. I also stressed that if the Soviet Union were really as concerned about U.S.-Soviet rapprochement as it professed to be, it should consider that an end of the Vietnam war would remove one of the principal obstacles to it. Dobrynin said he thought this was realized in Moscow, but it was a very difficult situation.[Page 130]
We turned to the India/Pakistan crisis. I told Dobrynin that we thought that Soviet actions either by design or miscalculation had made the outbreak of the war more probable and the settlement of the conflict once it started more difficult. While I regretted what I had said on Air Force One,6 since a public statement was not called for at that point, it did accurately reflect the state of mind of the President and of the Administration, and he should have no illusions about the real blow to U.S.-Soviet relations that the India/Pakistan war had represented.
Dobrynin replied that, whether I believed it or not, the Soviet Union had exerted maximum counsels of restraint prior to the outbreak of the war. If I could see all Soviet documents, I would find that the Soviet Union had consistently opposed Indian military action. I interjected that it didn’t matter what the Soviet Union said; the decisive aspect was what the Soviet Union did. Dobrynin said that once the war started, however, the Soviet Union was convinced that it would only end with the freedom of Bangla Desh and therefore they were puzzled as to the purpose of our actions. Were we trying to embarrass them with the Indians? Were we conducting a concerted policy with the Chinese? He could assure me that in none of the deliberations in Moscow did Soviet policy in the sub-continent have an anti-U.S. character. If any other country was being considered, it was China, not the U.S. But when we went back to the Security Council, forcing a Soviet veto, it looked like a provocative action in the Soviet Union.
I said to Dobrynin our problem was the following: We had told Vorontsov and his Agriculture Minister that an attack on West Pakistan would create the gravest problems;7 we received an answer 48 hours later that an attack on West Pakistan was not being planned.8 But (a) there was no assurance in it as to whether Kashmir, where two-thirds of the Pakistan forces were, was included in West Pakistan, an ominous signal because the Indians had deliberately excluded it; and (b) there was an ambiguity about the word “planned” because the Indians might have claimed they were moving in self-defense. We therefore had to lay the legal basis for taking a strong stand on behalf of West Pakistan.[Page 131]
Dobrynin pointed out, as a sidelight, that the Soviet Minister of Agriculture was in a very difficult position when he was in the President’s office. In the Soviet system, the Minister of Agriculture is not permitted to express any opinion on foreign policy, either towards foreigners or within the Soviet system. So the poor Minister did not reply to any of the President’s comments. The result was that he was criticized in Moscow for having let the President’s exposition go unchallenged. He didn’t think the Minister would ever request another appointment at the White House.
As to the substance of the matter, Dobrynin said that whether I believed it or not, the Soviet reply was drafted in response to our note. We had said we were concerned with an attack on West Pakistan, so the Soviet Union replied that an attack on West Pakistan was not contemplated; they were not aware of the fine points of the distinction between West Pakistan and Kashmir. Also the Soviet Union was in the dilemma that to agree to a ceasefire before Dacca had fallen would have mortgaged their relationships with India, and therefore he freely admitted that the Soviet Union was trying to delay until Dacca had fallen. But there was never any question in Moscow that it would then use maximum pressure to get the war ended and he could assure me that that pressure had been used.
He also wanted to say that until I made my comment on Air Force One about possibly cancelling the summit, the Soviet leadership had not realized completely how much we thought Soviet-U.S. relations were involved. I told him that I had not actually intended to make a formal statement to that effect, and explained some of the circumstances. At the same time, it accurately reflected our thinking and our concern. Dobrynin said he wanted to assure me that the Soviet Union was in a way trapped by events, and that it did not want a crisis in South Asia.
Dobrynin then asked if we would work with the Chinese now to make Bangla Desh a base for operations against West Bengal. I said we were in much less frequent contact with the Chinese than with the Soviet Union, and that in any event this was not our policy. Dobrynin said we had to understand that on the subject of China people in Moscow were extremely emotional. My visit to China and the President’s acceptance of the invitation had had a tremendous impact among the Soviet leadership. They made special studies and concluded that there wasn’t really a great deal that we could do of a concrete nature with the Chinese. At the same time, anytime we made a move that looked pro-Chinese, the anti-U.S. people in the Politburo got the upper hand again. So during the Indian crisis the only explanation believed in Moscow was that we were pursuing a concerted policy with the Chinese. I responded that the Soviets had an unusual ability to [Page 132] bring about a concerted policy between us and the Chinese. As Dobrynin well knew, the Moscow summit would have preceded the Peking summit if the Soviet Government had been more generous in its responses last summer. We had had no intention when I left for Peking to agree to an earlier summit, but then when we received the Soviet reply the President decided to go all-out in that direction. The danger now was that the more intransigent the Soviet Union was, the more we would respond by compensating moves towards Communist China; it was therefore important that we get our relationships on a sensible basis.
Dobrynin said that this was exactly his intention.9
The Moscow Summit
Dobrynin then added that he was instructed by his Government to express its views on U.S.-Soviet relations. He produced a letter from Brezhnev in which he said there were three principal questions: (1) Did the United States want a summit; (2) were we prepared to make major progress at the summit; and (3) were we prepared to discuss a precise agenda and agree ahead of the summit about its probable outcome? He was also authorized to discuss with me all the technical questions.
I answered Dobrynin as follows: (1) We remain interested in the summit and look forward to it; (2) the reason we look forward to the summit is because we expect it to have constructive results, and we are therefore prepared, with respect to question three, to engage in detailed discussions of the agenda as well as the substance.
Dobrynin asked how long we expected to stay in the Soviet Union. I said we were prepared to stay as long as we did in the People’s Republic, that is, seven days. He said, “Let’s say five—seven days.” He asked how many places we wanted to visit. I said tentatively maybe three. He said, “Let’s say Moscow, Leningrad and the third place to be mutually agreed upon.” He asked what form of final statement we wanted: a communiqué, a joint draft statement, or what. I told him we would have specific proposals in a couple of weeks.
We then turned to substantive issues.
The first subject was SALT. Dobrynin asked whether we were prepared to accept their proposal on ABM. I said that as far as we could [Page 133] see it would wind up as a practical matter as three-to-one in their favor. Dobrynin said no, this was a question of justice. I said, “Well, how would you feel if we asked for an increase in the number of missiles on the offensive side, since you seem to be arguing that we should stay where we are offensively but reduce our advantage defensively?” Dobrynin said that he thought they would look at it favorably if we wanted to increase the number of offensive weapons.
He then turned to the limitations on submarines, asking what exactly we had in mind with this new program. If the program were adopted, would this be in addition to the 41 boats I had indicated that we would be prepared to accept as an overall ceiling? I said no, my understanding was that if we accepted the 41 boats as an overall ceiling we would have to retire an old boat for every new boat that we put into the inventory. Dobrynin then said his impression was that we were no longer talking about boats but about the total number of missiles on submarines. He asked why we had made that change. I said that it was to accommodate Soviet concerns that more missiles could be put on submarines and that we might count old Soviet submarines as part of the 41. Dobrynin said that he thought that they would probably prefer a limitation on boats.
He added that as far as he could see there were three possibilities intellectually: (1) no limitation on submarines; (2) a limitation on the total number of submarines; and (3) a limitation on the total number of missiles, with freedom to mix between land-based and sea-based. I noted that intellectually there was a fourth possibility, namely separate ceilings for sea-based and land-based missiles. He said he thought the fourth possibility was a subdivision of the third. He also said that he thought that if the Soviet Union would agree to include SLBM’s the total-ceiling approach would probably be the best; at any rate he wanted me to know that he was prepared to discuss the subject. Dobrynin then wanted to know what impact the SALT agreement might have on the rate of our SLBM program. I said under those conditions we might consider moving it at a more measured pace. He asked why, as long as we had a new SLBM program, did we need a SALT agreement on it at all? He could see why we couldn’t agree to exclude SLBM’s before, because Congress might have objected to our not having an SLBM program while the Soviet Union continued. Under present circumstances, it might be best to exclude them altogether and keep the seas unconstrained. I said that at the moment this would be unacceptable to us. Dobrynin asked whether it would still remain unacceptable in early May if we still hadn’t broken the deadlock. I said I had no idea but at this moment it was unacceptable.
Dobrynin noted that the Soviet leadership was very eager to sign a SALT agreement at the summit. He said he thought that we should [Page 134] be eager also, because otherwise there would be too many disappointed hopes in both countries. I said we would do our best.10
We then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin said Moscow understood that I had not committed us to enter negotiations. Could I give them some answer on the subject now? I said we had felt that we could not proceed on this subject without talking with the Israelis at least in general terms, because their intelligence was so good and the danger of leakage in the Middle East was too great to proceed according to the Soviet suggestion. The President had therefore had a conversation with Golda Meir, and so had I.11 On the basis of these conversations the President had concluded that talks could proceed.
Dobrynin asked whether I thought there was a possibility of concluding an interim agreement at the summit. I said I thought there was a good possibility if both sides were reasonable, and that we had obtained some concrete Israeli proposals along that line. It was essential, however, that they take no military action before, since we could not act under duress. Dobrynin said he agreed, and that they were using their influence in this direction.
We then turned to the overall settlement. I said that we needed longer discussion on the subject but I could say in a preliminary way that the Israelis were prepared to let us proceed with discussions, on the understanding that the plan would not be identical with the Rogers plan.12 In what way should it differ, Dobrynin asked. I said there would probably have to be some Israeli presence beyond the dividing lines, though not in the form of sovereign presence. It would be a test of our ingenuity whether we could come up with some appropriate formula. Dobrynin said it would be very tough but he would ask for instructions in Moscow. I added that it was important to have a maximum ceasefire after an interim agreement. Dobrynin said it was understood [Page 135] in Moscow that we could not raise the issue of a final settlement with the Israelis until well into 1973.13
We agreed that we would have a meeting devoted to the Middle East soon.
We next turned to the issue of bilateral relations. Dobrynin said that their trade delegation was extremely eager, and he had the impression that our Commerce Department was putting them under even greater pressure. In fact, the Soviet trade people were so eager that they had been trying to get him back to the U.S. earlier than he planned so that they could make a preliminary agreement. He wanted us to know that the Kremlin was eager for these negotiations to proceed, but the final agreement should be signed in Moscow at the summit. Did I see any major obstacles? I replied that we were conducting a review now but we were approaching it in a positive manner. I pointed out, however, that it was really hard to conceive how the U.S. could even consider major credits to a country whose military equipment was shooting at Americans.14[Page 136]
European Security Conference
We then discussed the European Security Conference. Dobrynin asked whom on our side he should be in touch with; I had told Gromyko that I was in charge but Rogers had told him the opposite. I told him I would have to check with the President, but in any event issues of principle should be checked with me. He said that they were now prepared not to force the pace of the European Security Conference, but they hoped that some direction could be indicated at the summit.
Dobrynin also said that they were prepared to sign agreements on outer space and cooperation on health at the summit, and that we should get preliminary talks underway.
Finally, Dobrynin handed me a letter from Brezhnev for the President [Tab B],15 pointing out that I had only spoken of an improvement in relations while Brezhnev had, in his concluding paragraph, talked of a substantial improvement in relations. I said we would accept that formulation.
Dobrynin said if we were going to work out all these issues before the summit it was essential that we meet regularly, at least once a week, and he hoped that we would not wait until after the Peking trip. I told him I would be prepared to meet with him on a weekly basis, starting immediately.
The meeting then concluded.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt. 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. This meeting was held over dinner at the Soviet Embassy. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. On January 28 Kissinger sent this memorandum and the attached letter to Nixon. A January 21 memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger contained a briefing for this meeting. (Ibid.) On January 31 Haig sent Eliot a sanitized version of this memorandum of conversation that did not mention the Middle East, South Asia, summit preparations, trade, and Vietnam. (Ibid.) Kissinger recounts this meeting in White House Years, pp. 1126–1127.↩
- In a January 4 telephone conversation, Kissinger told Vorontsov that on important issues, especially regarding the upcoming Presidential trip to China, he was “not holding up because of other visits and we don’t care if it’s known” but was awaiting Dobrynin’s return from consultations in Moscow. Vorontsov replied that Dobrynin was aware and “will have something for you” upon his return. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) In a January 20 telephone conversation, Kissinger chided Dobrynin upon his return: “When you leave town you are up to mischief.” They arranged the next evening’s dinner during the conversation. (Ibid.) In a January 21 telephone conversation at 10:30 a.m., Nixon instructed Kissinger: “Your line with him will be conciliatory on the big things but we cannot have the defensive. We will respond—at a level they don’t expect. Let them think we will hit Haiphong.” (Ibid.) In a January 22 telephone conversation, Kissinger told Nixon the conversation “went very well” and that the Soviets were aware of the consequences of their support for any precipitous North Vietnamese action. (Ibid.) In a conversation with Nixon, January 17, Kissinger noted that Gromyko had sent an oral message stating that Dobrynin’s delay in returning to Washington was “in order to facilitate negotiations.” Kissinger then stated: “Well, I think we’re on a good course with them. They wouldn’t have bothered with that if they didn’t want to talk.” Kissinger also noted that Vorontsov “was practically drooling over me” when the message was delivered. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, January 17, 1972, 11:30 a.m.–1:23 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 648–4)↩
- On October 11, 1971, the U.S. Government proposed an eight-point peace plan. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1972, pp. 229–230. On November 17, 3 days prior to scheduled meeting with U.S. officials, the North Vietnamese notified U.S. representatives that Le Duc Tho was “ill” and would not be able to attend the meeting. The North Vietnamese did not agree to the rescheduling of an alternate date. See Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1040.↩
- Documentation on Kissinger’s secret trip to China in July 1971 is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972.↩
- The text of the PRG seven-point peace plan of July 1, 1971 is in American Foreign Relations, 1971: A Documentary Record, pp. 295–298.↩
- Reference is to off-the-record remarks made to reporters traveling on the Presidential airplane Air Force One on December 15, 1971. Kissinger told reporters that Nixon intended for the Soviet Union to restrain India during the war with Pakistan, and if it did not do so the President would reassess the relationship with the Soviet Union, including the summit. (The New York Times, December 15, 1971)↩
- See Document 23.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 22.↩
- The issue of Soviet involvement in South Asia was discussed during the Senior Review Group meeting of January 19. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H—113, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1972)↩
- Kissinger transmitted Dobrynin’s comments on offensive weapons to the head of the SALT delegation in backchannel message 28110 to Smith, January 28. (Ibid., Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972, SALT) Smith replied with his personal assessment of Dobrynin’s “intellectual possibilities” in backchannel message Vienna 144 to Kissinger, January 31. (Ibid., Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt. 2])↩
- See footnote 2, Document 16. Atherton met with Vorontsov on January 7 to discuss the Middle East. (Memorandum of conversation, January 7; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL US–USSR)↩
- The Rogers plan was a peace proposal put forth by the Secretary of State in a December 9, 1969, speech that included most notably a call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Egyptian territories in return for peace between Egypt and Israel. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, pp. 7–11.↩
- In a January 21 memorandum to Kissinger discussing key points for a Middle East peace settlement, Haig noted: “The interim phase would be dragged out at least until the Summit, to insure a ceasefire through the Summit.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 2 [Pt. 2])↩
- During January Stans continued to meet with a Soviet trade delegation. According to a transcript of a January 10 telephone conversation with Kissinger, Stans reported that “the head of the delegation says they have authority to negotiate with us for 5 years of feed grains—$5 billion.” He also noted that the Soviets were interested in discussing Lend-Lease debt repayment and an Export-Import Bank loan. Kissinger offered the following advice to Stans: “No doubt we want to move in both those directions and question whether we will use them to screw us or they will use us. Helpful signs. They are not looking for major crisis. Don’t get Agriculture in yet. Keep it between you and me.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) On January 14 Stans reported on his meeting with the Soviet delegation 2 days earlier. He noted that the Soviets had notified him of their readiness to begin discussions on both agricultural issues and on the lend-lease debt renegotiations. Kissinger stated his preference for holding off on the commencement of such talks until around February 10, which would afford him the opportunity to discuss these issues with Dobrynin. Kissinger added: “It’s practically settled. We want it underway before Peking. I want to settle these other things. It will be done. You did exactly what we wanted.” (Ibid.) On February 11 Nixon and Kissinger discussed the issue further in a telephone conversation. (Ibid.) In NSDM 151, February 14, the President directed that the Department of State take the lead in developing recommendations for renewed lend-lease discussions with the Soviets and that the Department of Agriculture devise policy recommendations on grain sales to the Soviet Union. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H—230, NSDM Files, NSDM 151)↩
- Brackets in the source text.↩
- No classification marking. The letter is marked “unofficial translation” and a notation indicates the President saw it.↩
- Document 6.↩
- For text of the agreement and its annexes and attachments, see Department of State Bulletin, September 27, 1971, pp. 318–325.↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩