62. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President (at beginning)
  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

The Summit

The President joined us at the beginning of the meeting. The President made two points: he said he was going to Moscow in order to do serious business. There were some places to go for drinks and toasts, and there were other places to do business. Moscow was the place where he wanted to do business.2

Secondly, the President wanted to make sure Dobrynin understood the arrangements for preparing the visit. Kissinger was in complete charge of the summit. We would parcel out specific assignments to specific individuals in the bureaucracy, but this would be done at Kissinger’s initiative and Dobrynin should take his guidance from me. He hoped that Dobrynin would cooperate in this effort. Dobrynin said [Page 210] that he understood that the big issues such as South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and SALT would be handled in the meetings with me and that others might go to the bureaucracy. The President said that was correct, but he should take the general instructions from me.

Dobrynin then said, “Our friend Henry is very modest. Is he or is he not coming to Moscow?” The President replied that a visit was impossible before the summit. One, I had gone to Peking because there was no Chinese Dobrynin in Washington, and two, it would break too much china in our bureaucracy. However, he would be glad to have me go to Moscow after the summit. Dobrynin said this could be settled either at the summit or shortly after.

At this point, the President left. Dobrynin and I continued the conversation.

I told Dobrynin that I had a complaint about the March 16 joint announcement3 of the date of the President’s visit. I showed him the text which I thought we had agreed upon and the text TASS published (attached at Tab A).4 I said I simply did not understand Soviet procedures. Here I had checked every word with him, giving him four different drafts, and finally when the announcement was published it turned out to be exactly what the Soviets had proposed to begin with. It corresponded in no way to the text we had been discussing. This was all the more remarkable because there were no disagreements as to substance. Was it really worth undermining confidence in this manner? Dobrynin replied that if there was any fault, it was entirely his. He had thought that the Soviet text was generally acceptable and that we had asked for an alternative formulation only to improve the English. He had checked our text for its consistency with the Russian, not to produce an identical text. I said I hoped that we would once agree on a joint text; we have made four unsuccessful attempts. That would, of course, affect our estimate of how we could cooperate on the communiqué. We could not possibly afford two different versions. Dobrynin agreed.


We then turned to substantive matters. Dobrynin said that the trade situation seemed to be in hand. After his conversation with Peterson,5 he had come to the view that it might be better for Patolichev to come over here in April. He did not see much sense in having second–level people conduct negotiations that were better conducted at a higher level. I told him this was, of course, agreeable to us.

[Page 211]

The Middle East

He then asked, “What about the major items? Let’s talk about the Middle East. You told me you would have some proposition to make.” I said that the first question that I wanted to raise was: could they give me some expression of how they propose to inform the Egyptians if some agreement were reached between the President and Brezhnev? It seemed to me extremely dangerous to inform the Egyptians at all since they were bound to be penetrated by the Israelis. For us it was a matter of the gravest importance. Dobrynin grew somewhat restless. He said delivering the Egyptians was their problem and they could not be accountable on that. I said that was not the issue; the issue was whether the process of notification would create substantive difficulties that would affect our situation and the possibility of carrying through with any understanding that might be reached. For example, I said,6 the interim agreement we were discussing was worse than what Bergus had offered them in the bilateral discussions. If they were going to be asked by the Soviets to accept a worse interim agreement, there had to be some argument that would make this plausible. Dobrynin again said that I seem to be producing one red herring after another to avoid facing concrete issues. I said this was not the case, and I insisted that they produce some expression from Moscow of how they would deal with the implementation of any agreement.

Turning to the substance of the settlement, Dobrynin asked whether I had formulated any ideas. I told him that it seemed to me that the irreducible Israeli position was for the airfield just east of Eilat, control over Sharm el Sheikh, and a land connection with Sharm el Sheikh. This perhaps could be wrapped up in some riparian arrangement of the states along the Gulf of Aqaba, which perhaps might provide a fig leaf for Israeli presence in Sharm el Sheikh. (Attached at Tab B is a memorandum explaining this.)7

Dobrynin asked my view of demilitarization. I said in my view demilitarization would have to take place at least to the western edge of the passes. Dobrynin said that in effect I was giving him the Israeli position. I said that if he talked to the Israeli Ambassador, he would not get that idea; this would be next to impossible to sell to the Israelis. [Page 212] What I was trying to do was to get a position which the Israelis might accept with some considerable pressure but short of actions that would lead them to conclude that they were better off going to war. Dobrynin said that in effect we were returning to the old position in which all the sacrifices had to be made in Egypt. I said that the pity was that Dobrynin could never seem to understand that these were negotiating arguments that we had already heard in New York and Washington. If he was talking to me, he should face the substance of the problem, and the substance was that we were prepared to use our good offices with the Israelis but only within a framework that we thought would not drive them to acts of total desperation.

Dobrynin asked why the demilitarized zone had to be entirely on the Egyptian side. I said it was because equivalent demilitarized zones would drive the Israelis back to Jerusalem. Dobrynin asked whether we would consider proportional demilitarized zones. I said it seemed to me extremely improbable, but if he wanted to make a proposal this was of course open to him.

Dobrynin indicated that he did not think we were making much progress. He said the difficulty was that we did not take the Soviet proposals sufficiently seriously. The Soviet Union had offered to withdraw all its forces from Egypt, except a number roughly equivalent to what we had in Iran, not to establish bases elsewhere, and to accept limitations on its arms shipments. This responded exactly to what we had said publicly in July 1969 we wanted. Now we were haggling about a few miles of territory.

I responded that Dobrynin always had the great ability to present his position in the form of enormous concessions, without ever looking at what we were doing on our side. For example, the Soviet proposal was a way for the Soviets of extricating themselves from a difficult situation. Their client could not win a war with the Israelis. Therefore, a continuation of the situation would lead to one of two situations: either a conviction on the part of the Arabs that their alliance with the Soviet Union was not adequate to produce a settlement, or a war by the Egyptians which would face the Soviet Union with a decision of military support and a risk out of proportion to anything that could be achieved.

Dobrynin answered that this was partially true, but there was a third possibility that the Soviet Union had to consider. The Soviet Union was now at a watershed; its next move would be a considerable increase of its military presence in Egypt and other Arab states. He could assure me they were deluged with offers, for example, to provide air protection to other Arab countries. The Soviet Union had requests for a massive influx of arms which then could be given with the argument that the Soviet Union would stay there until the local people were in a position to defeat the Israelis militarily. [Note: This seems confirmed by [Page 213] Israeli intelligence.]8 Also the Soviet Union was well aware of the fact that its proposal really opened up the field for us to compete with them much more effectively in the Arab world than is now the case. In short, it was a major policy act by the Soviet Union, and if we did not pick it up, the consequences might be quite serious. However, he would transmit my suggestions to Moscow and he would give me their reaction.


We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin asked how serious we were about SLBMs. I repeated once more that we were extremely serious, and that indeed I doubted that an agreement was possible that did not include SLBMs. Dobrynin said he would transmit this to Moscow. He asked me for our ABM position. I hinted at movement in the direction of two–for–two, but put it in form of thinking out loud with no definite prospect of a final decision.9


At the end of the meeting I handed him a draft of an agreed statement of principles and outline of the joint communiqué (attached at Tab C).10 Dobrynin expressed great appreciation and indicated that it was a step forward to have something to work on. We then discussed the dates for further meetings, and settled on March 30.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Kissinger sent a March 28 summary memorandum of this meeting to Nixon. (Ibid.) Kissinger’s Record of Schedule gives the time of the meeting from 1:10 to 3:10 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976)
  2. In his memoirs Kissinger noted that “on March 17 Nixon dropped in on one of my meetings with Dobrynin and told him that I was to supervise all major summit preparations. Technical negotiations on economic relations or scientific or cultural exchanges were turned over to the Cabinet departments, with the State Department playing the lead role, but the key policy issues were to be handled in the channel.” (White House Years, p. 1128)
  3. See Document 59.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Peterson reported on his March 16 discussion with Dobrynin in a March 17 memorandum to Kissinger and Flanigan. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10) In a March 13 memorandum to Kissinger entitled “Soviet Economic Negotiating Strategy—Some Preliminary Thoughts,” Peterson offered the following caution: “If major asymmetry is likely, and I have detailed projections through the end of this decade to validate it, we could find ourselves in a kind of ‘reverse–linkage’ situation. The Russians, knowing our vulnerability, could then threaten us with non–payment and perhaps turn our generosity into both their short–term economic and longer–term political advantage.” (Ibid., Box 992, Haig Chronological Files, March 7–15, 1972)
  6. Donald Bergus, principal officer, U.S. Interests Section, Cairo.
  7. Not attached.
  8. Brackets in the source text.
  9. Following extensive discussion at the Verification Panel meeting of March 8, Kissinger noted that on the ABM issue: “There are two basic decisions: 1) whether to grant the Soviets any ICBM defense, and 2) whether we should make any modification in our proposal. If the President decides these two issues, we can make a technical decision on the other aspects.” As to “the question of inclusion of SLBMs,” Kissinger continued, “There are two issues: 1) whether or not they must be included; we are all agreed that we want them included if we can get them, but the question is how essential is it that they be included; and 2) what modifications could we make in our proposal that would make their inclusion more probable?” Kissinger later added: “I have a horror of the President’s getting into technical details in Moscow.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–107, Verification Panel Minutes, Originals) At the NSC meeting on March 17, Nixon noted: “We don’t have to have an agreement because we are going to Moscow. We do it in the context of the national interest—they are moving in the arms race and we are not. We are beginning on both sides to halt the escalation in a race that neither side can be allowed to win. We can’t let them go to massive superiority—but its more difficult for us to match them.” (Memorandum for the record, March 17; ibid., Box H–110, NSC Minutes, Originals)
  10. Tab C was attached but is not printed. In a March 16 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt described the draft joint communiqué: “You will note that this draft finesses who the President will meet and in what circumstances; it also leaves open what bilateral negotiations will be completed; it keeps the economic part vague; it merely lists a section on SALT without any text.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Sonnenfeldt Papers [2 of 2]) In discussing SALT issues during a telephone discussion with Dobrynin, March 18, Kissinger stated: “We can do them like we did some other things. Also we want to leave something open to be settled at the summit. You and I can agree but we should leave something to be settled at Helsinki.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Dobrynin, March 18, 10:40 a.m.; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)