54. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

The luncheon meeting took place at my initiative because I had told Dobrynin prior to our departure for China that I would brief him as soon as we came back.


Dobrynin was extremely jovial but clearly under instructions not to ask any questions or show any excessive interest. He violated these instructions consistently, in the form of pretending that while he knew his government was not particularly interested, it would help if I volunteered certain information. I gave him a brief rundown of the communiqué, which followed pretty carefully the President’s remarks on arrival at Andrews Air Force Base on the evening of February 28. [Attached at Tab B.]2

Dobrynin asked a number of very specific questions. He said first of all that he did not see enough of a quid pro quo in the communiqué.3 What exactly did the Chinese get out of it? I replied that I supposed they wanted to normalize relations with us, as they had constantly stated. Dobrynin said there had to be something more to it, and he wondered whether any agreement had been made at the expense of the Soviet Union. I said that since he had consistently refused to tell me what he considered to be at the expense of the Soviet Union, I found it difficult to answer. But I could not imagine that anything we discussed could be at the expense of the Soviet Union. We stuck by our position in the President’s Foreign Policy Report,4 which is to say that we would not intervene either in the ideological or in the border [Page 188] dispute between China and the Soviet Union which we understood were the only outstanding issues.

Dobrynin asked whether I felt that the People’s Republic felt threatened by the Soviet Union. I said I was a very poor judge of which country felt threatened, but the People’s Republic did not express such a fear to us. Dobrynin said it is absolutely ridiculous; he knew for a fact that the Soviet Union had no intention of attacking the People’s Republic. Dobrynin asked whether we got into the question of the Sino-Soviet border dispute. I said we did not, first because we had no competence to understand it, secondly because we were going to be meticulous about not getting involved even to the extent of getting briefed on it. Dobrynin said well at least you could get the information that would be helpful to you. I said our desire was to stay out of the border dispute.

Dobrynin inquired whether I foresaw any long-term credits to the People’s Republic. I said that any move in the economic field would be made with the Soviet Union first, though it was our general policy to keep them both at roughly the same level. Dobrynin asked what I thought the Chinese attitude would be if the Soviet Union and we made a number of major agreements. I said the People’s Republic had no particular sensitivity with respect to that. Dobrynin concluded by saying it would be helpful if the President replied to the letter that was received while he was in China,5 because that would put matters in clear perspective in Moscow.

The Middle East

We then turned to preparations for the Summit. Dobrynin said things had gone more slowly than he had anticipated. Taking the Middle East first, he said they had offered us a clear horse-trade: Soviet presence for, in effect, the 1967 borders. I said they had never said Soviet presence for the 1967 borders, but Soviet presence for a final settlement. I asked Dobrynin whether the Soviet Union could not make some proposition on border rectifications and the presence of some Israeli bases beyond the 1967 line. Dobrynin said that I had to understand that this was a very difficult problem for them. First, if we were talking about minor rectifications, they could be considered. If we were talking about some Israeli presence beyond the border, that could also be considered. But it was impossible to ask the Soviet Union to originate these proposals; it was much better to put them in the position of reacting to our proposal. I said that was fair enough, and I would see whether I could come up with anything within two weeks.

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We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin said that our new submarine program had shaken a lot of people in the Soviet Union, including himself. He did not mind telling me that he had always been in favor of including the submarines, but now it had to look in Moscow as if we were trying to stop the Soviet program while we were tooling up for ours. Was there some compromise possible, or should we put SALT on the back burner? Couldn’t we leave the submarines for Brezhnev and the President to settle in Moscow? I said that that would make it impossible, because SALT involved so many technical issues that I saw no way these two could settle the issue there. He wondered if we could work out all other issues before. I said that at this moment it was next to impossible for me to predict what position we would take, but it would be very hard for us to change our position. It was one of the few issues in which my recommendation would not be decisive, since the military felt very strongly that submarines had to be included.

Dobrynin said that we had to come to some general understanding, and he outlined three possibilities. One, that we would make an agreement including submarines. Two, that we would make an agreement excluding submarines. Three, that we would make an agreement which excluded submarines but which put submarines as the top item on the agenda of the next agreement or perhaps even made them the subject of a separate agreement, like the one on ABM, in the new phase. I told him I would report this to the President and give him a reaction at the next meeting.

Dobrynin then stressed the need for making more rapid progress and affirmed the extreme interest of the Soviet Union in having a constructive summit. I showed him some of the harsh criticism of the President in the Soviet press. He said, well, newspaper commentators in the Soviet Union do not have the same status as a Presidential report.

We set another meeting for the following Thursday,6 and parted.

  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; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. This memorandum was attached to a covering memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, March 8, that summarized the discussion. A notation on the covering memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Attached but not printed; for text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 381–384.
  3. Reference is to the Shanghai Communiqué of February 27, for text, see Department of State Bulletin, March 20, 1972, pp. 435–438.
  4. See Document 47.
  5. Document 53.
  6. March 9.