56. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Ambassador Dobrynin

The meeting started on an especially jovial note because it was Dobrynin’s 30th wedding anniversary, and I had sent him and his wife a bottle of champagne to celebrate it. Dobrynin insisted that we drink it jointly. Dobrynin reminisced about how he had met his wife when they were both students at an institute in Moscow that had been moved to Alma-Ata during the German invasion. He said, “You see, we were watching the Chinese even then.” He said that they had been separated for a year during the war while his wife continued her studies [Page 192] at Alma-Ata, but had been together ever since. Dobrynin added that what we did not understand was that the Russians were a deeply sentimental people, and that if you did things with them on the basis of friendship, it was always better than doing it from a position of strength. We then went to lunch.

Before I could start my list of subjects, Dobrynin handed me the oral note about bilateral negotiations, attached at Tab A. We reviewed them subject by subject, to insure that we understood exactly what their proposition was in each case.

Trade and Other Technical Bilateral Issues

Discussing trade, Dobrynin said that it would be useful if we could agree on a subject. I told him that I would check with the President and let him know the next day into what channel he should put what answer. I assured him that Butz would go to Moscow, that there was a chance, however, of getting a trade delegation to go, and that we would be prepared to start negotiations on all the remaining subjects along the lines of our previous discussions. This took some time, because there were a number of problems with the meaning of the Soviet note, none of which, however, had any substantive import.2

We then turned to other bilateral issues. Dobrynin handed me a note about a Mr. Jay (Tab B)3 who allegedly was engaged in espionage activities in the Soviet Union but had been permitted to leave the country without Soviet interference. He said no answer was expected.

Middle East

With respect to the Middle East, I told Dobrynin that I would have for him within a week some tentative ideas of how to proceed. He said this would be very useful.

[Page 193]


With respect to SALT , Dobrynin raised again the issue of submarines. He said it was going to be an increasingly tough issue, particularly if we were asking for equivalence. I replied that he must have misunderstood me, because there were a number of modifications: first, as Smith had already hinted to Semyonov, we were probably prepared to shift the cut-off date, which would add a number of submarines to the total; secondly, we had already proposed that they could convert some of their G-and H-class submarines, which would add six more. I then said that, thinking out loud, there was even a possibility of converting a few of their oldest missiles into submarines. He asked me to give him some idea of what total number would be permitted on this basis. I said that the total number I did not know, but I would let him know as soon as possible.


Dobrynin then turned to the issue of the communiqué. He wondered whether the principles that had been agreed to between the Soviet Union and France could serve as a model. I said that I would have to study them again carefully. He asked whether we could submit a draft communiqué to them. I told him that we would also be interested in seeing their draft. Dobrynin replied that if he submitted a draft communiqué it would become a decision by their government and, in that case, any modifications would also require a decision by their government. He thought the better method would be to work from our draft.

I then raised the issue of the conduct of the Moscow meetings. We wanted to separate the meetings between Brezhnev and the President from those of the larger group. Dobrynin said that there was no problem about this in principle. At Glassboro,4 for example, Kosygin and Johnson were alone except for an interpreter, while Rusk was occupied with Gromyko. On the other hand, to make this a formal proposal right now would put the Soviet leaders in the difficult position of having to make a formal reply, and this quite frankly would raise some tension within the leadership group. He could assure me that Brezhnev and the President would spend many hours alone together, or with just me and Alexandrov. As for Rogers, he would be kept amply busy by Gromyko and by other members of the Politburo who would be available.

[Page 194]


Dobrynin asked me whether I had any news about the Vietnam situation. I said I did not.


Dobrynin then said he had a question to raise on the highest authority. Moscow had been told by Chinese sources that on my October visit I had given them a complete rundown of the “dislocation” of Soviet forces on the Chinese border, as well as of the location of Soviet missile installations. The gravest view would have to be taken of such a matter in Moscow if this were true. I replied that I had had no discussions of a military nature during my October visit, but that in any event we would not get involved in military things. I might have said on one or two occasions that I thought their fears of Soviet strength were exaggerated. Dobrynin wanted to know whether I then gave the correct figures. I said, no, it was always done in a general context.

I followed this up in a telephone call (Tab C)5 by explaining the context as one in which the Chinese were afraid of a simultaneous attack by all their neighbors.

Dobrynin remarked that the Soviet leaders were determined to make the Summit meeting a success, and the meeting closed on this note.6

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Tab A

Note From the Soviet Leadership to President Nixon 7

We consider as settled the procedure of conducting preparatory work for the meeting, having in mind that exchange of opinion on questions regarding Europe, Middle East, Southeast Asia, limitation of strategic arms and coming to an agreement on the meeting’s final documents as well as on other issues of principle will be confined to the confidential channel. Practical matters of bilateral relations will be discussed and worked upon through regular diplomatic channels as well as between appropriate ministries and agencies of both countries.
As for the practical issues of bilateral Soviet-American relations, we agree that in the remaining period preceding the meeting concrete agreements should be prepared on the maximum range of those questions.

Trade and Economic Matters

We confirm that we agree to receive an American trade delegation in Moscow this March for further concrete discussions of trade and economic matters.8 We request at the same time that the American side informs us in advance of the questions, the U.S. delegation would wish to discuss in Moscow, as well as of the level and the composition of the delegation.
We confirm that the USSR Ministry for Foreign Trade agrees to receive in Moscow in March—April the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for negotiating and concluding a long-term agreement on deliveries of feed grain on credit terms as well as of soy beans.9

We inform that our attitude is positive in principle to the idea of the USSR Foreign Trade Minister visiting the U.S. before the May meeting and of a subsequent visit to the USSR by a new U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

As regards taking a final decision on this matter it would be advisable, in our view, to come to it somewhat later, with due account of progress in trade negotiations in Moscow.

We confirm that we agree to hold negotiations on lend-lease in March–April in Washington.10
We confirm that we are prepared to receive an American delegation for continuing talks on settling the questions of shipping between the USSR and the U.S.11

Questions of Cooperation in Science and Technology

We positively regard the idea of creating a joint Soviet-American committee on cooperation in science and technology. Our appropriate agencies will be prepared to conduct concrete discussions in March—April on its composition and functions as well as to work out an appropriate agreement on this matter, which would be signed at the meeting in May. At the same time they will be also prepared to discuss questions concerning protection of environment, including the question of establishing cooperation in this field, within the framework of a general agreement on cooperation in science and technology (which we consider preferable) or by concluding a separate agreement.12
We confirm that the Soviet side is prepared to continue discussions, in the period remaining before May, of cooperation between the USSR and the U.S. in exploration of outer space, including docking of space ships, having in mind the possibility of formalizing at the summit meeting the agreement reached on this score.
As for cooperation in the area of health we proceed from the understanding that as a follow up of the recent exchange of views between the Ministers of Health of the USSR and the U.S., the Soviet-American committee on these questions, which will start its work at the end of March, could prepare an appropriate concrete agreement, that may be signed in May.13
As for the continuation of the negotiations on preventing incidents at sea we expect that the American side makes a suggestion with regard to a specific date of their resumption.
  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 during lunch at the Soviet Embassy. This memorandum of conversation was attached to a March 20 summary memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, under which he transmitted the texts of both the March 9 and March 10 memoranda of conversation. A notation on the covering memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. In a March 10 memorandum to Kissinger entitled “Responses to Dobrynin re bilateral Negotiations,” Sonnenfeldt wrote: “I see no reason why you should let yourself get hustled into a trade delegation until we know precisely what we want to accomplish. It is clear what the Soviets want—they want to pin us down on Ex-Im facilities, on our going for MFN legislation and on negotiating a ‘trade agreement.’ But we are not ready for this.” (Ibid.) The Export-Import Bank financing and the extension of MFN are detailed in a March 13 memorandum from Flanigan to Kissinger. (Ibid., Box 718, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Vol. XX, March 1972) Flanigan also summarized the economic issues in an undated memorandum entitled “Scenario for U.S.U.S.S.R. Economic Relations.” (Ibid., Box 992, Haig Chronological Files, March 7–15, 1972) Rogers assessed U.S.–Soviet economic relations is in a memorandum to Nixon entitled “Next Steps with Respect to U.S.–Soviet Trading Relationships. (March 10; ibid., Box 718, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Vol. XXI)
  3. In this undated note, attached as Tab B but not printed, the Soviet Government accused private U.S. citizen Edward Jay of attempting to persuade Soviet citizens to defect to the West. “However, the Soviet side, guided by the interests of improving relations between our countries and, specifically, having in mind President Nixon’s forthcoming visit to the U.S.S.R., deemed it possible not to institute criminal proceedings against Jay and let him freely return to the U.S.,” the note asserted.
  4. Reference is to the summit meeting of June 23–25, 1967, between President Lyndon Johnson and Kosygin; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Soviet Union, Documents 217238.
  5. Tab C was not found.
  6. In a March 8 memorandum to Kissinger entitled “Your Next Meeting with Dobrynin,” Sonnenfeldt advised Kissinger to point out to Dobrynin that while “formal preparations” for the summit, such as scheduling and activities planning, were “lagging,” the “substantive preparations,” such as agreements on bilateral issues, were moving forward and “could well be completed in time for May.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2]) In a conversation with Nixon that evening, Kissinger noted that Dobrynin called McCloskey earlier that day regarding trip arrangements. Kissinger, wanting nothing prematurely leaked, directed McCloskey not to return Dobrynin’s call until after Kissinger had talked to him. In agreement, Nixon noted: “It’s the President’s trip, not the Secretary of State’s trip.” Kissinger replied: “Otherwise, they’ll have you in the position that they’ve done it all.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, March 9, 1972, 6:09–6:20 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 681–7)
  7. No classification marking. A handwritten notation on the attachment reads: “Handed to HAK by D on 9 Mar 72.”
  8. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Trade delegation—Peterson.”
  9. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Friday.”
  10. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “State.”
  11. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “State.”
  12. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Separate possible.”
  13. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “Check Richardson—Point to agreement.”