8. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

Vietnam & China

Dobrynin was again unusually affable. He said that he regretted the misrepresentations in the press according to which Brezhnev had attacked Chinese-U.S. collusion with respect to Vietnam. He said it was absolutely untrue; on the contrary, the precise text of what Brezhnev said would indicate that he made a general statement for North Vietnamese consumption that the war had to be settled between Hanoi and Washington.

He then asked me about my visit to China. I said we were received with extreme cordiality. There was a deliberate attempt to expose us [Page 24] gradually to the public, first to the cadres and then to the public. I told him about the incident at the Peking opera,2 and then gave him a lot of totally meaningless details of the sessions and technical arrangements. He asked, “Why did this have to be handled by Chou En-lai?” I pointed out that the Chinese government was extremely centralized. As to substance, I said that we just engaged in a general review of the world situation. He asked whether the Soviet Union was mentioned.3 Only in contexts that lumped us together, I said, such as the stationing of troops on foreign territory. In these discussions I had the impression that the Chinese were more concerned about Soviet troops in Mongolia than about American troops in Japan, but I couldn’t be sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave the opposite impression in Moscow. Dobrynin laughed grimly and said, “They are not talking to us in Moscow or in Peking.”

Dobrynin then asked me about the outcome of the President’s visit: what did I think would happen in Peking?4 I said that, as he knew, I wouldn’t pretend to him that I did not have some general idea of the outcome. However, there was this problem: if I could write the idea strategy for the outcome, I would concentrate our relations with the Chinese on bilateral issues, while I would concentrate the communiqué with the Soviets on global issues. The reason was that our interests with the Soviets were in a global settlement, of building a new peaceful structure, while in all honesty we could not pretend that with the Chinese much was possible except on a purely regional basis. On the other hand, if the war in Vietnam were still going on at the time of our Peking visit, no doubt Peking would insist on saying something about it. We in turn [Page 25] could not address Vietnam as the only foreign policy issue, and therefore we would insist on wrapping it up into some more global considerations. This is what I had meant some weeks before when I said that Vietnam was a distorting influence on world affairs, and this is why I believed it was crucial to settle the war. I said that the attitude towards the communiqué reflected our attitude towards the summit; as he well knew we opted for Peking first only after being turned down by Moscow. Dobrynin grimly said that he knew this was so—with the air of a man who did not wish to be reminded of his mistakes.

Dobrynin said that I might not believe it, but during the previous Administration the Soviets actively supported the Vietnamese war, and in the early part of this Administration they took a “hands off” policy, considering that it was our mess. But now they have concluded that it was time to end the war, and they had expressed this on the occasion of Podgorny’s visit to Hanoi last month. Dobrynin said that he hoped that the war would be settled certainly by the Moscow summit.5 I said that from our point of view it would be best if it were settled by the Peking summit, because it would enable us then to deal with the issues there on a much more regional basis.6

Dobrynin asked whether I was aware of the fact that Peking had given reassurances to Hanoi. Hanoi had told Podgorny7 that Peking had told them that they considered that the settlement of the war had to be between Hanoi and Washington—that they would not play a role in settling it. I said that this looked to me like a rather tame reassurance. Dobrynin said, “We are not going any further than that ourselves.” I said, “If our recent initiative will succeed, then I think foreign policy will return to normal relations.”

[Page 26]

Middle East

We then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin said he didn’t understand what Sisco was up to. Why were we so eager to get a negotiation started that was bound to fail? I said that there was some hope that progress could be made on the interim settlement. Dobrynin said that he hoped that I had no such illusion under the present ground rules. I avoided an answer. Dobrynin then said, “We are at the point where some important decisions have to be made. The politburo has in effect accepted both the President’s and your statements of July 1970 and they have told you that they will accept almost any settlement in terms of guarantees and other requirements in return for a solution.8 You owe them some sort of reply. If the reply is negative, we will just conclude that nothing is possible for a while and wait for another opportunity. But we think a good solution is now attainable.

I asked Dobrynin how he visualized translating our agreements into a settlement. He said that he thought that after the summit we should talk to Israel and they would talk to Egypt. I said my understanding was that we would not begin implementing the agreement on our side until after the elections; I had made this point clear to Gromyko that we could come to an understanding which of course on our side would have to be very binding, but that the actual implementation would be left until 1973. Dobrynin said that their understanding was we would tell the Israelis immediately but not implement it. I replied that if we tell them, then we might as well implement it; the price will be the same—though this is a detail. Dobrynin again urged me to give him some specific proposals on guarantees. He said that they would accept almost anything that was half-way reasonable. He was sure that Egypt was not eager for the Soviet Union to negotiate on its behalf, but still he thought the one good result of the Sisco initiative would be that it would bring home to the Egyptians the futility of the present effort.

We agreed to meet next Thursday9 for a review of the situation.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. 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. Lord and Rodman submitted this memorandum of conversation as well as a memorandum from Kissinger to the President summarizing the discussion to Kissinger on November 1. Both memoranda were sent to the President on November 9. (Ibid.) The President also saw the summary memorandum; significant portions of the summary memorandum are noted in footnotes below.
  2. Kissinger is referring to his visit to the Great Hall of the People with Acting Chinese Foreign Minister Marshall Yeh Chiang to view a revolutionary opera on the evening of October 22 during his preparatory trip to Beijing October 20–26. The U.S. and Chinese parties arrived 2 hours late to find the hall filled with 500 middle-level Chinese officials. Kissinger stated in White House Years, that “the point was surely driven home: these Americans were distinctly personae gratae.” (p. 779)
  3. In an undated memorandum for the President, prepared in November 1971, Kissinger reported on his discussions with Chou En-lai and other Chinese leaders. Although U.S. relations with the Soviet Union were discussed, Kissinger reported that the Chinese seemed more interested in other issues. For the memorandum from Kissinger to the President, November 1971, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 165. A complete set of Kissinger’s memoranda during the trip, including his discussion with Chou En-lai on October 22 from 4:14 to 8:28 p.m., in which the Soviet Union was one of the topics discussed, is in the electronic volume, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–13, Documents on China, 1969–1972.
  4. According to the November 9 summary memorandum to the President: “Dobrynin had a number of questions about Chou En-lai’s role, about the Chinese view of the Soviet Union, and what we expected from the Peking summit.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8)
  5. In discussing the meeting with the President in an October 30 (1:55 p.m.) telephone conversation, Kissinger noted that Dobrynin said “in the first two years we [the Soviets] have kept our hands off but now it’s time to settle.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  6. Kissinger described the connection between the war in Vietnam and the communiqué after the Beijing meeting in his summary memorandum to the President as follows: “I explained to Dobrynin that it was in the Soviet interest to have the war settled by the time of the Peking summit. With the war over, the Peking communiqué would probably be confined to bilateral or regional issues. But if the war were still going on, the Chinese would want to mention it. Since we would not want it to be the only non-bilateral issue mentioned, this would produce a communiqué that gave US-Chinese relations a more global cast.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8)
  7. Apparently during Chairman of the Presidium Podgorny’s trip to North Vietnam October 3–8.
  8. Apparent reference to President Nixon’s remarks to television journalists about the Middle East, July 1, 1970 (Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 557–559), and to a background press briefing given by Kissinger at San Clemente California, June 26. (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 579–580) In both instances the two men suggested that the removal of the Soviet military presence in Egypt should be a part of negotiations for a settlement in the Middle East.
  9. November 4; see Document 10.