46. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

Possible Brezhnev Visit to U.S.

Dobrynin, who was in a very affable mood, began the conversation by giving me his account of Yevtushenko’s report of his meeting [Page 153]with the President.2 Yevtushenko had reported to him that the President wished to see an avant-garde theater, to have a meeting arranged with intellectuals and writers, and to have disarmament on the agenda of the Summit conference. The President had also said he would extend an invitation to Brezhnev to visit the United States. I told Dobrynin that he had to remember that Yevtushenko talked 90 per cent of the time. Everything he just told me referred to statements by Yevtushenko to which the President had listened but on which he had expressed no opinion.

Dobrynin said it would be a little difficult in Moscow to treat the matter of Brezhnev’s invitation in this way. He knew for a fact that Brezhnev was rather interested in coming to the United States. I told Dobrynin that if our talks went this year as I expected them to go, an invitation would seem to me to flow normally from a successful Summit, and might be extended for anytime next Spring or early Summer. Dobrynin said he would report this to Moscow.

Moscow Summit

Dobrynin asked me how we felt about the final statement following the summit—whether it should be one statement, or whether it could be split into two parts, a communiqué and a statement of principles. I told him we would be prepared to look at a statement of principles. He said that this was of interest to them also.

German Treaties

Dobrynin then mentioned the Soviets’ impression of what Barzel had been told in the United States.3 It was that the United States was technically neutral with respect to ratification of the treaties, but in fact leaned towards it. This was sufficient help and was within the spirit of our arrangement. I did not contradict the point, but simply said that we wanted a relaxation of tensions and that we were pursuing a positive course.

Trade

Dobrynin then asked what progress could be expected on trade and other matters. I said that this depended—that we were studying the trade issues in a positive way and were getting ready to proceed [Page 154]with sending a delegation to Moscow in the second half of March. Dobrynin wondered whether this could be announced before our China visit. I said I would look into the matter. Dobrynin asked whether we were delaying because of the China trip. I said, no, because the Chinese would be just as angry after as before, and because we didn’t believe in paying such a price.

RogersDobrynin Talks

Dobrynin then gave me a rundown of his conversations with Rogers.4 Rogers had avoided SALT by saying he understood that this had already been discussed between Dobrynin and me, but Rogers had pressed very hard on Soviet help in the proximity talks. Dobrynin asked me whether I thought we could manage our talks in this circumstance. I said we would certainly try to.

Middle East

The conversation then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin summed up his understanding, which was that we would try to have an interim settlement by the Summit which would be public, and a private understanding of a final settlement, which would be implemented in 1973. As for the interim settlement, Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union had never been very interested in it but would go along with it. Everything depended on the final settlement.

I replied, with respect to the interim settlement, that I would have some concrete proposals to make at the next meeting. However, it was important to keep in mind that the Israeli interest in an interim settlement would grow in proportion as the length of peace it would buy. If an interim settlement was just a short stage toward a final settlement, the Israelis would rather await a final settlement on the banks of the Suez Canal than at some distance back of it. Dobrynin asked me what I had in mind. I said my understanding was that there were Israeli elections in October 1973, and that Israel would therefore prefer to wait and move to the final settlement after the fall of 1973. Dobrynin said their expectation was that we would move towards a final settlement in the first six months of 1973. I said that we should leave this open for the time being.

Dobrynin then asked me whether I had any ideas on a final settlement. I said that it was clear to me that there were two requirements: (1) Israel was not prepared to accept the Rogers plan; and (2) Israel wanted some presence beyond its frontiers, however the issue of sovereignty was decided. Dobrynin asked me which Rogers plan I was [Page 155]talking about—the one of 1969 or the one before the UN last October? The one of 1969, I said, because the one at the UN simply stated some general principles. Dobrynin said that the key issue was the territorial issue, and on that one it was very difficult for Egypt to be flexible or for the Soviets to press the Egyptians. I said that we could not settle it now, but maybe we should put our ingenuity to finding some formula which would define the presence beyond the frontiers other than by sovereignty.

Dobrynin said that they were reluctant to make proposals but they would very carefully examine any proposals that we could make in that connection. Dobrynin reaffirmed their commitment to withdraw their forces and to accept limitations on arms aid under conditions of a settlement. He also promised me that he would give me an account of the Sadat meeting. We agreed to meet on the following Tuesday.5

Vietnam and Brezhnev Letter

As the meeting was breaking up, Dobrynin suddenly produced a letter from Brezhnev [Tab B]6 in answer to the letter communicating the President’s speech [Tab C].7 Dobrynin said he wished to point out that the letter was deliberately phrased in a very conciliatory fashion.

For example, none of the arguments made against the President’s peace plan were embraced by the Soviet Union; they were all ascribed to the Vietnamese. He said he wanted to reaffirm officially that the Soviet Union was willing to help us end the war, but the Vietnamese were telling them a number of things that seemed very difficult: (1) the Vietnamese claimed that we were determined to maintain a residual force there indefinitely; (2) the Vietnamese were very concerned that if they made an agreement with us this year, we would break it after the President’s re-election; and (3) the Vietnamese simply did not understand our political proposal.

I replied that with respect to the first point, it would be easy to reassure the Vietnamese. With respect to the second point, they should ask themselves what the President might do it he was not constrained by an agreement, since it was not unnatural for him to take decisive and violent steps. Dobrynin said he liked the phraseology “not unnatural.” With respect to the third point, I said it underlined the crucial importance of the restoration of private negotiations. I was prepared to resume them either in Paris or in Moscow. I did not think it was possible any longer to go to Paris privately, so I would go openly next time [Page 156]and simply not reveal the content of the negotiations. I also reiterated my offer to come to Moscow secretly. Dobrynin said he would communicate all this to Moscow and let me have their reaction.

I then asked Dobrynin whether there was any particular point in replying to Brezhnev’s letter, since the exchange was becoming so general that it might depreciate the utility of the Brezhnev/President channel. Dobrynin said no. Dobrynin said it would be best if we drafted a very brief letter just confirming the continuation of the channel, what issues would be discussed in it, and that we would reserve the Brezhnev/Presidential channel for the most crucial issues and to stay periodically in touch.

The meeting then broke up.

Tab B

Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Nixon 8

Dear Mr. President,

I received your letter of January 25. I also went through the text of your speech of the same date, in which the U.S. proposals on Vietnam, earlier transmitted to the DRV Government in a confidential manner, were made public.

You are undoubtedly aware of the reaction of the Vietnamese side to those proposals. The Vietnamese side notes that the proposals leave unsolved, as before, the question of complete withdrawal without conditions of U.S. troops from Vietnam, since this question is tied together with a number of terms of political and military nature. It is also emphasized that the U.S. proposals avoid the question of establishing in South Vietnam a broad government of national accord which would organize free and democratic elections. The idea of holding elections which would in fact be prepared by the hands of the present Saigon administration and be held in the conditions when U.S. troops still remained in South Vietnam, is viewed by the Vietnamese, as you know, as incompatible with the genuinely expressed free will of the people.

I will tell you frankly, Mr. President: such reaction of the Vietnamese to the U.S. proposals is quite understandable to us. It is not [Page 157]difficult to understand also the attitude of the Vietnamese side to the very fact of the disclosure by the U.S. side of the contents of the confidential negotiations between the representatives of the White House and Hanoi. At your request we made known to the DRV Government the readiness you expressed to restore confidential contacts with it. However, in view of the violation by the United States of the previous understanding concerning the confidential nature of those contacts, the question cannot but arise with the Vietnamese—and not with them alone—as to the real intentions of the other side, the more so that simultaneously threats are repeated to undertake new military actions.

As for the Soviet Union, we continue to believe that the conflict in Vietnam can and must be solved by a peaceful way on the basis of respect for the lawful rights of its people. We are ready, as before, to facilitate overcoming the difficulties that arise on this way, to the extent in which necessary realism will be displayed by the American side.

Sincerely,

L. Brezhnev 9
  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 forwarded the President a summary of the meeting in an undated memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Nixon, with Kissinger, Haldeman, and Ziegler, met with Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Soviet poet, from 2:25 to 4:10 p.m. on February 3. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A tape recording of this meeting is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Yevtushenko, February 3, 1972, Oval Office, Conversation No. 665–7.
  3. West German opposition leader Barzel visited Washington in late January; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 338.
  4. See Document 45.
  5. February 15.
  6. All brackets in the source text.
  7. Document 40.
  8. No classification marking. A handwritten notation on the letter reads: “Handed to HAK by D on 7 Feb 72.” A notation on the letter indicates the President saw it.
  9. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.