45. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary of State
  • Ambassador Dobrynin

The Secretary called in Ambassador Dobrynin February 4 for their first formal conversation since his return from vacation.2 They had a cordial talk for an hour and a quarter. The focus was the President’s forthcoming trip to the Soviet Union and what might be done by way of preparation between now and May. The Secretary said that on our side we saw 1972 as a year of opportunity for bettering U.S.-Soviet relations; Dobrynin said he had spent three days discussing the visit with Brezhnev and Kosygin and they looked forward to constructive talks that would lead to positive, concrete results.

To begin the conversation the Secretary ran down the list of possible items of discussion given in Brezhnev’s letter to the President of January 17. The rest of the conversation was in this context and covered the following main points:

Berlin. The Secretary asked when the Soviets intended to sign the final protocol on Berlin and Dobrynin replied that this depended upon FRG ratification of the Soviet-FRG treaty. The Secretary asked whether the Soviets had thought about signing the protocol in connection with the President’s trip to Moscow, perhaps in Berlin en route to or from Moscow. Dobrynin said he did not believe his government had thought about this possibility—which was complicated of course by the involvement of the other countries—but he would inquire.

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CSCE . Dobrynin said that his government is eager to discuss convening a European Conference with us. The Secretary indicated that we may have something to say at a later date, but made no commitment to discuss the subject.

MBFR . The Secretary asked why the Soviets objected to our term “balanced” force reductions. Dobrynin asked for a definition of the word, and when the Secretary remarked that “balanced” meant essentially that reductions should not result in a net advantage to either side, Dobrynin said that this was close to the position taken by the recent Warsaw Pact statement.

The Secretary asked particularly about the Brosio mission.3 Dobrynin said several times that there had been no decision, either to receive or not to receive Brosio. When the Secretary pressed him about when he expected an answer, he said, “I do not expect an answer.”

During this discussion Dobrynin referred to the “bloc-to-bloc” implications of the Brosio mission. The Secretary pointed out that the nature of MBFR was such that the subject was inevitably of primary concern to the members of the two alliances. Dobrynin conceded that the major involvement in negotiations would be by the two alliances, but said that non-members—he named the Scandinavians, Spain and Yugoslavia—had a clear interest and we must avoid any impression of trying to decide the fate of others. In an allusion to France, Dobrynin also noted that not all NATO members agreed on the “bloc-to-bloc” approach.

Middle East. This subject came up in regard to the list given in Brezhnev’s letter,4 and Dobrynin asked about our current efforts to get close-proximity talks going between Israel and Egypt. The Secretary described in general terms how we thought the talks would operate, and in response to Dobrynin’s question, said that our current proposal envisaged the same role for the U.S. that we could have played earlier. We did not have concrete proposals to offer, but thought the parties themselves should come forward with proposals. If we saw possibilities of bridging the gap we might offer suggestions to facilitate agreement.

The Secretary told Dobrynin that a great deal depended on what the Soviets did with regard to Sadat and reminded Dobrynin of our long-standing interest in a limitation on arms supplies to the area. The Secretary also noted that Sadat seemed to have a need now to get talks [Page 151] started. Dobrynin denied any special insight into Sadat’s views, maintaining that Sadat told the Soviets just about what he said publicly. He added that he was not authorized either to encourage or discourage the current U.S. effort, and he said the Soviets had not tried to block earlier U.S. efforts to move towards a peaceful settlement.

Dobrynin also asked about the Israeli attitude towards a renewal of the Jarring mission, reporting that Jarring himself was discouraged by the Israeli attitude. The Secretary said that we would favor a renewal of the Jarring mission but that the parties kept raising preconditions. He thought Egypt had been relatively forthcoming and hoped Israel would make a further effort.

Finally, Dobrynin asked about a possible resumption of the four-power talks in New York, and the Secretary said we doubted they would be helpful at this point.

U.S.-Soviet Trade. Dobrynin said that the Soviet leaders had been well pleased by the visits of Secretary Stans and Assistant Secretary Gibson5 but wondered if since then there had been a change in our policy. He asked if we were backing away from what had earlier appeared to be a businesslike approach to settling outstanding economic issues. The Secretary told him that our policy had not changed and there was no deliberate pulling back from earlier positions. The Secretary explained that our talks on trade matters up to now had been purely exploratory, and we had to consider many questions carefully before proceeding. He added that the overall state of U.S.-Soviet relations was a factor in determining how much movement in the trade area would be acceptable to public opinion and Congress.

When Dobrynin pressed for a commitment that what the Soviet negotiator Manzhulo was told in the recent talks at the Department of Commerce represented the official U.S. position, the Secretary stated that what was said stands but we want to make it clear that we consider these talks exploratory.

Bilateral Matters. In a general review of issues we hope can be settled before May, the Secretary said we hoped to have a new Exchanges Agreement and to reach agreement on maritime and related issues.6 He also cited an agreement on construction conditions for new Embassies and the completion of facilities for the Consulates General in Leningrad and San Francisco as matters which we would like to [Page 152] conclude before May. Dobrynin mentioned the case pending in Federal Court in Alaska against the two Soviet fishing vessels charged with violation of the contiguous zone and expressed the hope that the case could be settled expeditiously and not delayed several months because of a crowded court calendar.

The Secretary and Dobrynin agreed that between now and May they would meet periodically to review progress in the various areas of bilateral matters, looking toward a culmination, where possible, during the President’s trip to Moscow. The Secretary informed Dobrynin that Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand would be in charge of coordinating for the State Department the various discussions and negotiations now in train, and they should be in touch on a regular basis.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Secret; Nodis. Transmitted to the President under cover of an attached February 7 memorandum from Rogers. The Department transmitted summaries of the conversation in telegrams 21094 and 21101 to Moscow, both February 5. (Ibid.)
  2. On January 31 Dobrynin told Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Richard Davies that “he had spent a longer time than originally planned in Moscow in order to have extended discussions with ‘our very top people’ about the President’s trip to the U.S.S.R. in May. He had stayed at a dacha near Moscow and these talks had taken place in “a quiet, unhurried atmosphere,’ so that the Ambassador could impart to the Soviet leadership all his thoughts on both the substance of our relations and on administrative arrangements for the President’s trip and so that he could absorb the thinking of the leadership on both these aspects of this important subject. As a result, he said, he was fully aware of Moscow’s views and was prepared to discuss them now. He concluded that if the Secretary were interested in exchanging views, he was prepared to do so.” (Memorandum of conversation, January 31; ibid.)
  3. Exploratory talks on MBFR with the Soviet Union with Manlio Brosio, former Secretary-General of NATO, as the head of a delegation to Moscow, had been proposed at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting on October 6, 1971, but had yet to be accepted by the Soviet Government. See Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, January 1–8, 1972, pp. 25015–25016.
  4. Dated September 7; Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  5. See Document 14.
  6. In NSDM 146, January 3, Nixon directed that the Under Secretaries Committee prepare instructions for maritime talks and include the stipulations that “named U.S. ports open for calls by Soviet vessels should be open on the basis of 96-hours advance notification” and that “the U.S. objective at the talks should be the development of ad-referendum understandings based on discussion of the issues contained in the proposed U.S. agenda.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files) Box H–229, NSDM Files, NSDM 146) In NSDM 150, February 1, Nixon “decided that the United States should continue to seek a U.S.-Soviet understanding on measures to avoid incidents at sea.” (Ibid., Box H–230, NSDM Files, NSDM 150) In a February 14 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt expressed concern that a Soviet protest over homeporting plans in Greece “had an implied warning of Soviet responses in Cuba.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2]) In addition, NSSM 144, January 14, directed that Soviet naval deployments in the Caribbean be evaluated. (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files) Box H—189, NSSM Files, NSSM 144) This study was completed and submitted to Under Secretary Johnson in the form of a March 13 memorandum from Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs Ronald Spiers. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6–2 USSR)