7. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

7916. Personal for the Secretary.

We seem to be enjoying something like an “era of good feeling” and I favor making the most of it. The cordial reception tendered our Incidents at Sea delegation at the professional level is a case in point.2 Granted that we had an outstanding group, they have been treated with openness and warm cordiality. The same applied to the eight American governors, also a superior delegation, who were accorded generous hospitality and courtesy. The Foreign Office has gone out of its way to point to the more favorable press we have been getting.
The claws of the Russian bear (aptly symbolic of the political hierarchy) occasionally emerge. Speaking to our Navy men, Gorshkov, the top Soviet Admiral, realistically described US-Soviet “friendship” as a future rather than a present blessing and it seemed to me that geniality was a slightly painful gesture for some of the governors’ hosts, such as Kosygin and the new Premier of the Russian Republic (who is understood to be a Politburo aspirant). Nevertheless, the order has obviously gone out to create an appearance of improved relations.
There have been previous thaws. The one after Stalin’s death lasted until the Beria crisis3 restored the freeze. There was also a period of optimism and favorable press in 1959. This time, however, there is no exaggerated euphoria, since many Russians recall that improved relations and summits are vulnerable to incidents in the US and here, and to uncontrollable international crises.
The turn-around came not immediately but some weeks after the President’s July 15 announcement of his China trip and picked up momentum with Gromyko’s visit to the US and the news of the President’s intended visit to the USSR.4 It should not be forgotten of course that while the atmosphere of US-Soviet relations is improving, the Soviets have not ceased pursuing their own interests, at the expense of US interests, in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Soviet policy toward other countries and regions will continue to have a dynamic of its own and will not necessarily be affected by improved atmosphere in US-Soviet relations.
Whatever may be the combination of Soviet motives—European détente, re-insurance against China and a desire for accommodation with the US for material and economic gain—it has produced one of those rare and perhaps transient occasions when a Soviet disposition to deal with the US can be probed for substance. One immediate benefit may be that Brezhnev’s enthusiasm for a summit meeting should make him a short-term crisis manager who insofar as he is able will try to head off unnecessary troubles. By the same token, we should make use of the interval to try to clear up some of the inequities imposed upon US locally by the Soviets.
It is still too far from the vent to draw up detailed plans for the Soviet summit. It is bound to be influenced by the results of the President’s China trip and perhaps by the eventual shaping-up of a conference on European security. It is of course the tradition in the Soviet Union for such visits to be accompanied by public statements and speeches. This would give us a unique opportunity to present our own views in the Soviet press, not merely to counter destructive and obstructive Soviet views but also to offer constructive views of our own. The Soviets presumably will offer up sets of general principles reflecting invidiously on US policies, and may also publicly or privately advance proposals based on the so-called Brezhnev peace program, consisting of some dozen propositions presented at the 24th Party Congress.5 We would expect economic concessions to be among Moscow’s priority objectives.
A debate along such lines will be inevitable but we will be in the better position if we can come forward with one or two practical and well-staffed out ideas involving joint engagement and dialogue on [Page 23] issues of mutual concern and world interest. Experience teaches that reason, firmness and restraint influence the Soviets and often lead to eventual acquiescence. Brezhnev’s moves toward some measure of détente are in themselves a reaction to the President’s initiatives.
In any case, in the intervening months we should be busy paving the way for the summit by pressing with negotiations of special interest to us. The exchanges programs should of course go forward. Each thaw offers us a chance to try to circumvent or undermine the dead hand of party dogmatism by expanding every feasible type of contact and peaceful involvement.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Confidential; Exdis.
  2. Reference is to the U.S.-Soviet talks on reducing incidents at sea. The talks took place in Moscow October 12–22. Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner headed the U.S. delegation and Admiral of the Fleet V.A. Kasatonov was the Chief of the Soviet delegation. On October 23 Haig sent the President an interim report of the first round of the negotiations ending in Moscow on October 22. The delegations developed agreed statements on international rules of the road, obligations of ships involved in surveillance operations, use of proper signals, avoidance of harassment and simulated attacks, measures to avoid hindering ship maneuvers—especially carriers—instructions to aircraft pilots on approaching ships and in avoiding specific simulated attacks. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 716, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XVI)
  3. General Secretary Joseph Stalin died March 5, 1953. In June 1953 Minister of Internal Affairs and former Stalin supporter Lavrenti Beria was accused of trying to seize power in the post-Stalinist power struggle and was subsequently shot. He was publicly condemned in December 1953.
  4. The text of President Nixon’s July 15 announcement of his visit to China is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 819–820. Documentation regarding Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko’s visit to the United States is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  5. At the 24th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 30, Brezhnev unveiled his “peace program,” including proposals for European security.