6. Letter From President Nixon to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I appreciated receiving your letter of September 7.2 I have reflected carefully on it as well as the very full and, I believe, constructive talks we have had with Foreign Minister Gromyko.3 I want to stress again what I already told Mr. Gromyko: my belief that our two countries have a special responsibility for peace and progress. This attitude underlies our policies on specific issues. We are prepared to subordinate tactical advantages to global concerns and we understand from Mr. Gromyko that this is your attitude also.

Now that the meeting in Moscow has been announced, both sides have a concrete goal on which to concentrate. I have asked Dr. Kissinger to begin to work with Ambassador Dobrynin in this special channel on the agenda of the forthcoming conference. Our attitude will be to reach the widest area of understanding before you and I meet so that the Moscow Summit can indeed mark a new departure in U.S.-Soviet relations. With this in mind, let me touch upon some of the issues which are of mutual concern.

I note with gratification that since I wrote to you on August 54 the Four Powers completed the first important stage of an agreement on Berlin.5 This was a major concrete accomplishment on the road to a stable peace and demonstrated the effectiveness of cooperative efforts by our two countries. At the present stage, the Berlin negotiations are in the hands of others but it is clear that our two Governments have a direct interest in seeing the agreement as a whole completed so that it can take full effect. This will then set the stage for additional progress in removing the elements of crisis and confrontation between East and West in Europe so that relations will become increasingly constructive and cooperative in character.

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I am, of course, fully aware of your interest in a conference on European questions. As I explained to Mr. Gromyko, I believe that such a conference could be of benefit if it can produce meaningful accomplishments. The necessary explorations and preparations, with the participation of other interested countries, could, I believe, fruitfully begin as soon as the Berlin agreement is complete. Meanwhile, I believe it could be advantageous for Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin to have some informal and very private talks to clarify the concrete objectives of a conference. I think that experience has shown that some mutual understanding of what a negotiating effort is intended to produce can be of considerable help for the prospects of that effort.

As you know, Mr. Secretary, the U.S. Government, together with governments allied with it in NATO, has for some time conducted the most serious and intensive preparations for possible negotiations to reduce military forces in Europe. While for objective reasons, such as the facts of geography, this is a very complex subject, I believe that the coming year could yield some significant progress in this area as well.

In my conversation with Mr. Gromyko, I outlined in some detail my view of the present status of our negotiations on the limitation of strategic armaments. We, and, I am sure, you too, are now preparing for the next round of the formal negotiations in Vienna. If, as in the past, there is opportunity for additional progress through private exchanges here in Washington I am, of course, prepared to undertake them. Much detailed work has been done on an ABM agreement and I think we should now also intensify the parallel work on measures limiting offensive weapons. I believe it is important to view this first major strategic arms agreement for which we are both striving as one whole, even if we are dealing with it in separate parts. Because it will be the first agreement—the foundation upon which further agreements and, indeed, our overall relations in the years ahead will be built—it is important that it command wide support and confidence. Realistically, it is probably not feasible in this first stage to eliminate certain disparities in the numbers, types and dispositions of the strategic forces which our two countries have come to maintain. What we should strive to do, in proceeding on the basis of the principle of equality, is to reach agreements which as a whole prevent the further growth of our respective arsenals and safeguard our relative security positions. We should, in other words, work for a “freeze” in both the major areas under negotiation. I am convinced that if we can make the political decisions required to give concrete definition to such a “freeze,” the agreements themselves can be completed quite rapidly.

Mr. Secretary, I have carefully reviewed the points you made on the Middle East in your letter and also the remarks of Mr. Gromyko on this subject. The unsolved crisis in this region remains the most acute threat to the general peace and therefore a most urgent task for [Page 20] our two Governments to address. I found some of the ideas presented by Mr. Gromyko very constructive. Without repeating in detail my own views, which Mr. Gromyko will have reported to you on the basis of his talks here, let me state my conviction that progress is unlikely to be made on the basis of the total or “ideal” proposals advanced by or in behalf of the parties to the conflict. The lasting settlement of which I spoke in my letter of August 5 will, I believe, come about only if a start is made on a more limited or “interim” basis. In addition, it will be essential for outside powers, especially great ones such as ours, to display restraint in all their activities with respect to the region. At the present stage it would be desirable for Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Dobrynin to review the situation as it now exists and to explore informally the ways in which our two Governments can best contribute to progress toward a settlement.

Together with the Middle East, Vietnam remains a factor complicating relations between us. I do not wish to repeat the points I made in my last letter. I would simply say that the United States is and has long been ready for genuine negotiations. That is our preferred way of concluding the Vietnam conflict. But if that road remains foreclosed, we will continue to solve this conflict in our own way.

Mr. Gromyko, in his talks with me, referred to our trade relations. As our relations generally have improved over the past year or more, the opportunities for better commercial relations have grown also. I have made a number of decisions, of which you are aware, to give impetus to this trend. While in the present world situation certain limits remain, further progress can be made in the mutual interest. I am prepared to send the Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Maurice Stans, to Moscow in November for a thorough exploration of the possibilities. To ensure the success of such a mission it would be helpful to have from you a precise indication of your interests.

Finally, I should like to repeat again that our relations with other countries will not be conducted in any sense to threaten Soviet interests. As I pointed out to Mr. Gromyko, pressure by one side can only generate pressures from the other and thereby run counter to the objectives we have set for ourselves in the development of our mutual relationship.

Mr. Secretary, we have, I believe, a large and significant agenda before us. I look forward to the opportunity of reviewing all the matters that are of common concern to us at the time of my visit to Moscow in May next year. I agree with you that the prospects are good for moving ahead in our relations and for dealing constructively with the major problems that still cast a shadow on the road to a stable peace. When that happens, all of mankind will benefit.


Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. An undated and unattributed draft of this letter has handwritten revisions by Kissinger. The major substantive change made by Kissinger was to insert paragraph two of the letter. (Ibid.) On October 16 Haig sent an unsigned copy of this letter to Dobrynin. (Ibid.) A note at the top of the page reads: “Orig hand carried to Amb. Dobrynin, 10/19/71.”
  2. The letter is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–76, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  3. Printed ibid.
  4. Printed ibid.
  5. The Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin, signed September 3, 1971.