51. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

The atmosphere at the lunch was friendly but still somewhat more reserved than at previous meetings. Dobrynin wanted to turn to the Middle East right away, but I opened the conversation by telling him that it was best if we took care of other pending business first.

I therefore handed Dobrynin a letter from the President [attached at Tab A] in reply to Brezhnev’s letter of January 17th.2 The President’s letter allocated responsibilities for the preparation of the Summit. Dobrynin said it would be very useful.

We then went through a series of secondary issues.3 With respect to space cooperation, I told Dobrynin that I recommended that we bring matters to a point where joint docking could be agreed to in Moscow. With respect to environmental studies, I told him that we were prepared to have preliminary talks leading to an agreement in Moscow [Page 178] on environmental matters similar to what had been signed on health between Richardson and Dobrynin.


On trade, I told Dobrynin that we were ready to go ahead now on the settlement of lend-lease, that we were prepared also to make an agreement on grain sales, but that other matters such as MFN and Export-Import Bank guarantees would have to wait for the Summit. We were prepared, however, to look at these in a constructive manner.

Dobrynin asked how we would handle the trade issue concretely. I suggested that we send Butz to Moscow to negotiate the grain deals but that he could have some other experts with him. Dobrynin said the difficulty with this procedure was that grain imports were handled by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and that therefore there would be no opposite number for Butz. I asked Dobrynin what exactly he wanted the Commerce Department, specifically Peterson, to discuss. He said what they most wanted in Moscow was to continue the discussions with Scott, looking toward a comprehensive trade agreement. I said it seemed to me that none of these matters was yet ready for signature. Dobrynin said that in that case the best way perhaps to proceed would be to send Butz accompanied by some expert from the Commerce Department. This would then lead to a visit by the Soviet Foreign Trade Minister to the United States, followed by a visit of Peterson to the Soviet Union. I said we had no trouble with the principle; our major concern was the timing, to make sure that these visits were more than just symbolic and had something concrete to talk about.

Middle East

We then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin asked whether I was prepared to make a specific proposal. I said that with respect to the interim settlement, I understood that the Israelis would be prepared to go back, but no further than the western edge of the passes; that they insisted on freedom of navigation; that some uniformed personnel could cross the Canal, though not members of the armed forces, but personnel that had responsibilities for security of the population; and that the ceasefire should be for two years.

Dobrynin asked what I meant by military personnel. I said, well, it would be something better than the doormen in the hotels in Cairo, and that, seriously, this was a test of our ingenuity to figure out. Dobrynin then asked about the overall settlement. I said that as I understood the Israelis, they wanted some rectification of the borders and also some presence beyond whatever borders would be agreed to that would not necessarily be attached to sovereignty and that did not in every respect have to be military. Dobrynin said a change of the border was absolutely out of the question; it would lead to a breakdown [Page 179] in negotiations. The question of presence was more discussable, he said, but he waited for me to make some concrete proposals. Dobrynin remarked that he was in a way disappointed that I always seemed to tell him what the Israelis might accept. He was much more interested to know what the United States would accept. This was one of the reasons why the Soviet Union had approached us.

In any event, Dobrynin continued, he felt our relations were now in a curious state. On the one hand, his talks with me were going very well. On the other hand, there had been a whole series of events that created some doubts in the Soviet Union. For example, the World Report—while the chapter on the Soviet Union was very constructive—contained many references in the Middle East, Defense, and South Asia chapters that were totally unjustified. Nothing that the Soviet Union had done in South Asia was in any sense directed against the United States; Dobrynin could assure me of that on the basis of his conversations. He also found our SLBM program extremely disturbing. This was coupled with what Dobrynin considered our tough behavior on the issues of the two trawlers and the arrest of the spy; this could easily give suspicious people in Moscow the impression that we were heading into a new hard period.

I denied this, stressing that the Soviet press was certainly not very friendly towards us.

Dobrynin said that the fact of the matter was that there were many in the Soviet Politburo who were very suspicious of the policies of détente with the United States, and that had to be kept in mind. He also was bound to say that he found me the most difficult American with whom he had negotiated in his ten years of association. I said that what counted was the results, not the ease or difficulty with which they were achieved, and I had the impression that we had made reasonable progress on a number of issues. Dobrynin agreed.


We then turned to SALT.4 Dobrynin said that the new American SLBM program made an agreement very difficult. It would not be easy in the Soviet Union, he said, to explain why a freeze would not [Page 180] simply be a device for stopping an ongoing Soviet program while giving the United States an opportunity to tool up for a new submarine program. The military people had been on the defensive before, but now he could foresee that they would be very much on the offensive, and this was a factor that could not be neglected. He would have a very difficult time convincing Moscow that an SLBM deal was in the cards, partly because he thought that our program was neatly timed to start right after the expiration date of any projected freeze.

As for ABMs, Dobrynin said he wondered whether we would settle for the Soviet proposal plus giving us two sites, of which one did not have to be Washington. I said I thought we should handle the SLBM and the ABM question together and that our position was not at this time subject to modification.5

I told Dobrynin I would look into his complaints on the trawlers, and the meeting adjourned. [This matter was soon afterwards resolved through telephone conversations with Attorney General Mitchell, records of which are at Tab B.]6

[Page 181]

Tab A

Letter From President Nixon to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 7

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I have read with interest your letter of January 17, 1972, and welcome the fact that both of us approach the development of relations between our countries and our forthcoming meeting in May in the same constructive spirit. I, of course, share your hope that this year will mark substantial improvements in our relations which in turn will strengthen international cooperation and peace generally.

I am closely following the discussions in the existing confidential channel through which the ground is being prepared for our discussions in May.8 I am likewise keeping in close touch with other specific negotiations in progress between representatives of our governments and believe that there is reason to be confident that significant new agreements in several fields of cooperation will soon be reached.

As preparatory discussions between our two governments intensify in the remaining weeks preceding our meeting, I believe that it might be helpful to outline for you my views on the topics which should be reserved for discussion within the existing confidential channel and those which would be better left to normal negotiations between the representatives of our governments. In my view, the topics best suited for the existing confidential channel would include: discussion of the future developments in the Middle East, the situation in [Page 182] Southeast Asia, and those broad policy questions dealing with arms control, especially the outcome of the crucial talks on the limitation of strategic arms and perhaps some preliminary exchanges on Mutual Force Reduction. With respect to the talks on strategic arms and within the existing confidential channel, we must now concentrate on those points where our positions still diverge so that the period after the resumption of talks in Helsinki can be used to put the final touches to the agreement. As in the case of the talks that culminated in the announcement of May 20, 1971, I am hopeful that this channel will lead us to success.

The existing confidential channel also appears to be best for discussions on the overall objectives of the May meeting and especially discussions as to the final outcome of the meeting, to include consideration of a final statement or joint communiqué.

Finally, I have previously set forth my views concerning the European question. It is my hope that the Berlin agreement which is now complete in its essential parts will soon be brought into force. This is precisely the kind of concrete step to which you refer in your letter. I continue to believe that in Europe, as elsewhere, a true détente can best be achieved by precise and concrete understanding. That is why I suggested in my last letter that informal and private exchanges to clarify the concrete objectives of a possible multilateral conference would be helpful. Preliminary discussions on this topic would also be best confined to the existing confidential channel. I will, of course, be prepared to discuss these matters during our meetings in Moscow in the expectation that such a discussion would make subsequent discussions in regular channels and eventual negotiations between all the interested governments fruitful.

With respect to other discussions between our two governments, I visualize that normal channels should be used to advance our respective positions on a full range of bilateral issues, including trade, cultural exchanges, environment, health and space cooperation. Also included in regular channels would be the continuation of discussions on Incidents at Sea. In this forum, discussions dealing with preparations for our meeting in May should be confined to such topics as a formal agenda and the administrative modalities of the visit itself.

I am confident that by confining our discussions within the respective frameworks outlined above, maximum progress can be achieved on the full range of issues we will wish to discuss during our forthcoming meeting.

Mr. Secretary, I believe that on the basis of our written communications and of the other exchanges that have taken place, my visit to your country will be an important milestone in the improvement of relations [Page 183] between our countries. Certainly, that will be the objective toward which American representatives will be working with those of the Soviet Union in the coming weeks of preparation.


Richard Nixon 9
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt. 1]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Soviet Embassy. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Kissinger sent a summary of this meeting to the President on March 6. (Ibid.) According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the luncheon meeting was from 1:10 to 3:32 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976) Sonnenfeldt summarized the state of bilateral affairs for Kissinger’s meeting with Dobrynin in a February 14 memorandum. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2])
  2. All brackets in the source text. See Tab B, Document 39.
  3. Other secondary issues involved Greece and Cyprus. During this luncheon, Dobrynin gave Kissinger a note from the Soviet Government which noted “serious consequences both militarily and politically” if the U.S. 6th Fleet established a base in the territory of Greece. That same day Sokolov delivered a note to Haig from the Soviet Government protesting the interference of Greece in the internal affairs of Cyprus and pledged that it would become an issue for discussion at the Moscow summit. On February 17 Haig handed Sokolov a note which in part read: “The President wishes to assure the Soviet leaders that the United States opposes any actions that would aggravate the situation in Cyprus or in that general region of the world. The efforts of the United States are designed to bring about a restoration of calm and a normalization of this situation. To this end, it has endeavored to use its influence to urge restraint on all the parties concerned, and it will continue to do so. President Nixon welcomes this opportunity to make his views known to the Soviet leaders, particularly since he feels certain that Soviet efforts are likewise directed at calming the situation.” The full text of these notes is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2].
  4. In a February 10 memorandum, Sonnenfeldt supplied Kissinger with a list of issues to discuss with Dobrynin on SALT, including the topics of SLBMs, ABMs, “duration and linkage,” and an ICBM “freeze.” (Ibid., Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt. 2]) Smith also covered these issues in his SALT delegation report of February 16 which reviewed the “Vienna round” of November 15, 1971—February 4, 1972. (Ibid., Box 199, Agency Files, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Vol. IV, 1 January 1972) In addition, Kissinger and Smith discussed the SALT negotiations during a telephone conversation the evening of February 15. (Library of Congress, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  5. A story on the compromise on ABMs based on sources reportedly within ACDA appeared in The New York Times on February 18. Kissinger and Nixon were upset by the leak and directed Smith to institute measures to prevent such occurrences in the future. See Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, diary entries for February 18 and 19. Haldeman’s diary entries and a February 19 handwritten message from Nixon to Smith is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Haldeman Files, Box 45, Notes, Jan.—March 1972, Part I.
  6. Attachment B consisted of a series of three transcripts of telephone conversations on two Soviet fishing trawlers that had been seized by the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaskan waters. In a February 15 conversation with Kissinger, Mitchell agreed to look into the matter. He reported back the next morning that the trawlers could be released if the Soviet Government paid a $250,000 fine. Kissinger telephoned Dobrynin at 2:30 p.m. on February 16 and informed him of the argument, especially noting: “I understand they talked about $300,000 but we interceded.” Dobrynin responded that his government likely would agree to the settlement of the issue “because I am rather looking at the political side. It’s a huge sum of money, though.” (Library of Congress, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) In a February 21 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt reported that, in a “somewhat hastened” departure, the Soviet trawlers left Alaska on February 18. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 991, Haig Chronological Files, February 18–29, 1972)
  7. No classification marking. A handwritten notation reads: “Delivered by HAK to D, 1:15 p.m., 2/15/72.” Sonnenfeldt drafted the letter on February 2. (Ibid., Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 9 [Pt. 2]) According to a February 14 covering note to Kissinger, Haig had reworked the draft letter into its final form. (Ibid.)
  8. That morning Nixon and Kissinger discussed arrangements for the summit trip prior to Kissinger’s meeting with Dobrynin. Kissinger told Nixon: “you’ve made more progress with the Soviet Union than any other President. The Western alliance is in better shape. It’s not in good shape. It’s certainly in better shape.” Kissinger also suggested that Nixon include stops in Belgium on the way over for a NATO meeting, at Kiev as a secondary stop while in the Soviet Union, and in Tehran following the summit. However, the President felt that Rogers should go to Brussels. “I think we should do the Shah anyway. It’s a nice flip on the Russian trip,” Nixon said, adding that the reason that could be given would be that “he has a long-standing commitment to the Shah and this is the opportunity to do it on the way back.” The dates for the visit were set for the week following May 22. (Ibid., White House Tapes, February 15, 1972, 9:12 a.m.–12:47 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 672–2)
  9. Printed from a copy that indicates Nixon signed the original.