4. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

Dobrynin greeted me in his oiliest fashion. He called in his cook to explain the menu to me, and to say that this is the menu he had only for very special guests. Indeed it had one course more than usual.

Preliminary Matters

Dobrynin began by producing a message from Brezhnev to the President, which is attached at Tab 1.2

Secondly, he said that our warnings about the danger of an India-Pakistan war had been taken very seriously in Moscow. Moscow had made immediate representations in both India and Pakistan, and had been informed by India that Pakistan had moved 10 divisions to the Kashmir frontier. I said that our information was different; our information was that Yahya Khan had agreed to a withdrawal of his forces from the frontier provided India would do the same, and had suggested talks among the chiefs of staff. Dobrynin asked whether this applied to West Pakistan also. I told him that it did and that we would appreciate the Soviet Union’s good offices in this respect. Dobrynin said he would do his best.

Dobrynin then said he had a number of other messages. One concerned a forthcoming visit by Kosygin to Cuba. Dobrynin pointed out that it was next to impossible for Kosygin to visit Canada and refuse to visit Cuba. The visit would be of very short duration and would be in very low profile.3

Finally, Dobrynin said that Brezhnev had been very grateful for the manner in which I had so far handled the Middle East discussions. They appreciated the information I gave them about the overtures to [Page 13] the Egyptians. They wanted to assure me that the matter would be kept in the strictest confidentiality, even in the conversations with the Egyptians in Moscow during Sadat’s visit. (The overture he was referring to was my informing him of the proposal made by Rogers for both sides to send secret emissaries to New York.)

In response, first of all, I repeated that our information was that the Pakistanis were prepared to withdraw from the border.

Secondly, with respect to the visit to Cuba by Kosygin, I had to point out that Cuba was a subject of special sensitivity to the United States and of particular sensitivity to the President. Therefore, a demonstrative visit would not be taken well. This would be particularly true of a visit by Brezhnev, as was being reported in the newspapers. (Dobrynin interrupted to say that Brezhnev had had an invitation for a long time to visit Cuba but had so far avoided it.) I then told Dobrynin that the visit by a Soviet naval flotilla to Cuba the week after the summit announcement was not particularly helpful. The visit was not against our understandings as such, but it nevertheless could not be considered a particularly friendly act. Dobrynin said that the Soviet government suffered very much from the separation in its top ministries. He was sure that the Foreign Ministry knew nothing about this visit. He was practically certain that it had been approved several months before, since the plans of operations of the Navy are usually approved at 4-month intervals. Nevertheless, he said, he would take the point and see whether there could be some restraint on provocative actions.

I said finally, with respect to the October 12 summit announcement, that the Soviets’ prior notification of France and Japan, two of our allies with whom our relations were most precarious, did not sit particularly well. Dobrynin in reply avoided the explanation transmitted to me from Gromyko. He said that he had no explanation for the Japanese case but in the case of France it must have been because of Brezhnev’s imminent visit. However, he said, I should note the offer in Gromyko’s communication that henceforth in cases of notification we would agree ahead of time who would be notified when, and they would keep these agreements. (Gromyko’s communication is at Tab 2.)4

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The Middle East

We finally turned to the Middle East.5 There was a long discussion of procedural and bureaucratic problems and a long recital by Dobrynin again of the absolute futility of dealing with Sisco. I explained to Dobrynin that before I could commit myself to engaging in these negotiations I had to know where they were going, and I also had to know whether they were diplomatically manageable. I told Dobrynin I was not sure that I could guarantee results in the present circumstances, and therefore he should understand that we should have about a month of discussions. He said he wanted to go on leave and it would be highly desirable if I could let him know by November 20th or 22nd. I said I would do my best.

Dobrynin said I had to understand the Soviet position. The Soviets had rejected urgings by the Egyptians to give them offensive weapons. The Egyptians had even offered them special facilities in Egypt in return for offensive weapons. The temptation to do so was very great. On the other hand, it also had the danger of confrontation with the United States and was inconsistent with the general approach now pursued by Brezhnev. Therefore the matter was not trivial. If we decided that we were not ready, this would not mean that the summit would fail, but it did mean that both sides would continue to pour commitments into the Middle East, and the future was unpredictable.

Dobrynin said that on the tactical level the way he visualized matters was as follows: If I told him that there was a chance to proceed, then the Soviet Union would approach the Egyptians early in January to tell them that they would try to negotiate secretly with us. He said they would take about a month for this. If Egypt agreed, we would point for an interim agreement to be concluded about the time of the summit and then a final agreement to be consummated within six months of the President’s inauguration, or around July 1973. This was the time frame that Gromyko had envisaged based on his conversation with me.

Dobrynin said he could not understand Israel’s objections. This was the most generous offer the Soviet Union would ever make. They were offering withdrawing their forces, limiting arms shipments into the Middle East, and guaranteeing the settlement. What more could Israel possibly want? I said that, well, a lot would depend on their withdrawing [Page 15] their forces. Dobrynin said he was authorized to tell me that they were willing to reduce their forces in Egypt to the level of the U.S. forces in Iran, that is to say, not in organized military units. Even that, he said, was the maximum figure; they might well agree to a lower figure, and they were willing to implement this starting with the time the interim agreement was signed.

I said I proposed that we reverse the usual procedure—that instead of talking about an interim agreement first, we would try to talk the next time about the nature of the final settlement and work back from that. I said that I had the impression that if it was possible to leave some Israeli troops in Sharm el Shaikh, with perhaps some land connection of an extra-territorial nature which did not affect Egyptian sovereignty necessarily, the problem could be settled very easily. Dobrynin said they would agree to any foreign troops in Sharm el Shaikh—American, Soviet, French, or any combination of forces that seemed reasonable. But Israeli presence was out of the question and could never be sold to the Egyptians.

Dobrynin repeated that he did not understand the hesitation to accept such a settlement. As for the interim settlement, he said it didn’t make any difference whether the withdrawal was 25 or 35 miles and we shouldn’t even discuss the depth of the withdrawal until we were clear about the final settlement. Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union was prepared to have an embargo on arms into the Middle East or at least to limit severely additional shipments into the Middle East. As for guarantees, Dobrynin said they would agree to almost anything we proposed, and it was really up to me to make the suggestion. In short, except for the frontier, which he believed had to be the international frontier, he said that the Soviet Union would be extremely flexible in the settlement.

I said that the settlement might be easier to sell to Israel if it was decoupled from a Syrian and Jordanian settlement, that is to say, if the Israelis did not believe this was the first step in that direction. Dobrynin said that this was no problem for them as far as Jordan was concerned. They had no major interest in a Jordanian settlement. (He avoided the Syrian point.) He again stressed the importance to our relationships of making some positive progress on the Middle East.6

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We talked briefly about the mechanics of the President’s visit, e.g., what time of the day he should arrive. Dobrynin said that they preferred their foreign guests to arrive around four in the afternoon, but it was still quite premature.

I showed him the letter that the President proposed to sent to Brezhnev.7 He said it would be very important if he could get it soon, since the Politburo was meeting in the early part of the following week.

The conversation then ended.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy. This memorandum of conversation is attached to an undated and unsigned memorandum to the President summarizing the discussion.
  2. Tab 1, a “non substantive message” from Brezhnev to Nixon, October 16, expressing satisfaction about the summit and suggesting that “there will indeed be plenty to talk about” is attached but not printed.
  3. Kosygin visited Canada October 17–26 and Cuba October 26–30.
  4. In an attached copy of a telegram from Gromyko to Kissinger, communicated to Kissinger by Dobrynin by telephone on October 12, the Soviet Foreign Minister admitted that the Soviet Chargé d’Affaires in Tokyo “committed a blunder” in informing his counterpart 1 or 2 days before the announcement of the summit, but stated that since the fact was not made public, no serious damage was done. Gromyko suggested that the United States had made this kind of mistake in the past and the United States was well aware that “the confidentiality of our negotiations is strictly adhered to by the Soviet Government.”
  5. At the President’s instruction, Kissinger, during a meeting with Gromyko in Washington on September 30, suggested that he and Dobrynin use their private channel to begin “exploratory conversations… to test the feasibility of a bilateral understanding on a Middle East settlement.” The memorandum of the Kissinger September 30 conversation with Gromyko as well as that of Nixon with Gromyko on September 29 are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  6. On October 16 at 10:20 a.m. Kissinger briefed the President over the telephone about this discussion with Dobrynin on the Middle East. “They [the Soviets] say they will make a commitment that will not organize units and they will have a commitment on either an arms embargo or…. [limitation of arms?] into Egypt and this interim settlement should be stretched out and that will keep the Egyptians quiet until the end of the year.” RN: “Do you think the Israelis will squirm?” Kissinger responded, “That is a decision we will have to make in December—we will have to be tough on both sides. RN: We can’t give the Israelis the moon.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) At 10:55 a.m. Kissinger telephoned Dobrynin to inform him that Nixon “approves our proceeding in that way” (as described above). (Ibid.)
  7. See Document 6.
  8. On October 16 Haig sent Kissinger a memorandum stating that Dobrynin called (Kissinger had left for Beijing) to inform him that at their meeting of October 15 he did not have a response for Kissinger on Vietnam. Dobrynin received a response from Moscow after the meeting. Haig summarized Dobrynin’s remarks: “D. stated that the ideas which were brought to his Foreign Minister’s attention by you were conveyed to the leadership of North Vietnam. In principle, the North Vietnamese side is prepared to continue contacts with the American side to try to find agreement on the quickest way of ending the war. The North Vietnamese side prefers to use the mechanism which already exists in Paris, especially the confidential talks with you.” The memorandum was also sent as backchannel message WH10882 to Lord for Kissinger (en route to Beijing), October 16. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8)