41. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting lasted 2½ hours and took place in an extremely warm atmosphere.

Dobrynin began the conversation by talking about the Washington Press Club speech that I had given two days before. He said he thought it was extremely funny, and that he had forwarded my joke about Gromyko to Moscow.

Vietnam

We then turned to Vietnam. Dobrynin said that at first he had thought our action (the President’s address of January 25)2 precipitate, but if we were really convinced that there would be an offensive, he could see the sense in it. He wanted to assure me again that the Soviet Union had no interest in seeing the war continue; on the contrary, the Soviet Union had every incentive to see the war end, because methods that could be used prior to the Peking Summit might also be applied prior to the Moscow Summit.

I said there was another reason why the Soviet Union had an interest in seeing the war end. Many of the things we were talking about presupposed a President who had authority enough to implement them after his election, and it could not be in the Soviet interest to undermine Presidential authority. Finally, there would be the major problem that if an offensive took place we were determined to make a sharp response. We would simply not hold still for an American humiliation. Dobrynin said that this point had been made abundantly clear.

Dobrynin then asked whether I had any ideas for ending the war. Was the offer of a military arrangement still open? I said it was, as long [Page 142]as it involved elements of a ceasefire. Dobrynin asked whether the ceasefire was an absolute requirement. I said a standstill of military operations was a requirement. The formality in which it was expressed could be perhaps the subject of negotiation. Dobrynin said that this was an interesting point. I stressed that I was thinking out loud and that it represented no commitment.

Summit

We then turned to the Summit. Dobrynin said that Moscow was eager to find out the form of the communiqué we had in mind. Did we want one joint statement?3 Or could we have a communiqué with a statement of principles attached? I said that in all honesty I couldn’t really tell the difference. Dobrynin said that Moscow did not want to press us, but it would be helpful in their own thinking if they could learn our preferences. Brezhnev leaned towards a communiqué that expressed our formal agreements and a statement of principles, but for them to begin working on it there would have to be a governmental decision, and Brezhnev did not want to submit it to the government if it were going to be turned down. I told him that I would check and would let him know at the next meeting.

SALT

The next subject of conversation was SALT. We again went over much of the same ground as we had at the previous meeting—that is to say, the nature of defensive limitations and the nature of offensive limitations, and Dobrynin made again essentially the same points about the intellectual possibilities that existed with respect to offensive limitations.

Dobrynin asked whether there was any chance of our accepting the Soviet proposal on defensive limitations. I said that I saw no possibility of that in their present form. I raised the issue of hard-site defense. I said there were some people in our country who thought that if we could have a hard-site defense of one site, it would be better than a Safeguard defense of both sites, and in that case there might be a possibility of our looking at the proposal more seriously. Dobrynin did not quite understand what was meant by hard-site and I then explained it to him, which took some time. Dobrynin promised that he would check informally in Moscow, but that it would take two weeks to get an answer.

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We both agreed that we would come to an agreement in principle before the negotiators met again at the end of March, and that we would gear the conversations to an agreement at the Summit.

Middle East

We next spoke about the Middle East. Dobrynin said that he was horrified by what he read in the newspapers about Sisco’s activities. His experience with Sisco had been that he had a compulsive tendency to talk and that one never really knew where one was going. There was also the danger that Sisco would complicate their problems with the Egyptians because the Soviets could not put forward a position that was softer than the one Sisco might put forward. Wasn’t there some possibility that I could simply order Sisco to stop? I said, well, there was some advantage in having public attention focus on something other than a deadlock. Dobrynin said, in that case, how much could they explain to the Egyptians?

I said that was their problem; we were going to keep the Israelis informed about the main lines of our conversations, but we could be sure that the Israelis would not leak. I think we could deliver some sort of interim agreement by the time of the Summit. On the other hand, matters would get very sticky when we reached the overall settlement. My concern was that Sadat would start explaining to his people the reason for not pressing harder. Dobrynin said that Sadat was going to come to Moscow, and they would have a very difficult time explaining their position to him. Would I leave it in Gromyko’s hands how much he would be told? I said, yes, as long as it was understood that a significant leak would blow up the whole conversation.

Dobrynin urged again that we exercise the greatest restraint in the Sisco conversations, and he wondered whether it mightn’t be better to get Jarring started again, rather than the Sisco talks, because at least Jarring could be controlled by both sides and he was guaranteed to produce a stalemate. I said I doubted it.

Trade

We then turned to trade issues. Dobrynin again indicated the Soviet interest in having a massive increase in trade, and he urged that we do not link it too formally. He said Stans was very heavy-handed, and every time he was stuck he would blame the White House for failure to get authority to proceed. He, Dobrynin, understood very well that this was a form of Stans’ bringing pressure on the White House, but his colleagues thought it was a form of linkage and it got the backs up of the suspicious people in the Politburo. I said, “You understand that we consider trade related to political progress and, conversely, that if your political behavior is unacceptable, something will happen to trade. But we see no need to make that point in every negotiation, and [Page 144]I will make sure that it does not come to you in this way anymore. In any event, the synchronization between the White House and Commerce will greatly improve after Peterson moves in. You will hear much more similar views.”

Dobrynin suggested that we meet weekly while we were preparing for the Summit, and we made another lunch date for the following Friday (February 4).4

Dobrynin then urged again that we be very careful about too ostentatious an embrace of the Chinese because reactions in the Soviet Union on that subject were very volatile. I said that our relations vis-à-vis the Chinese were being distorted by the Vietnamese war, and that if that were ended, everything would fall in its proper perspective.

We parted cordially.

  1. 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. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. Kissinger summarized the meeting in a February 8 memorandum to the President, to which he attached this memorandum of conversation. A notation on the summary memorandum indicates the President saw it. (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2]) The lunch ran from 1:10 to 3:30 p.m. (Library of Congress, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 40.
  3. In a January 27 briefing memorandum to Kissinger prepared for this meeting, Sonnenfeldt suggested various forms for the joint statement to follow the Moscow summit meetings. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt 2])
  4. See Document 45.