116. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Reports on Meetings with Brezhnev

Atmosphere and Mood

Brezhnev’s hospitality was effusive, if unpredictable. The meetings with him were frequently delayed and his invitations to go boating and hunting came at literally the last minute. He took pleasure in showing off his apartment, where all our regular sessions took place. [Page 454] On at least two occasions he was apparently infuriated by our position on the Middle East and the nuclear agreement, but preferred to postpone our meetings until he had calmed himself, rather than launching into a tirade directly at me as he had done last year.2 Brezhnev’s grasp of substance this time seemed less impressive than previously; he was uninterested in details, except on the nuclear agreement, and his attention span was short. He also seemed pre-occupied, frequently getting up to make phone calls or leaving the meetings for short intervals. At the same time, he took some 25 hours of his time during the four days to spend with us. The entire time was spent at his country place, where no westerners have ever been invited. Indeed, some of the Russians had never seen it. It has several large houses and a big indoor swimming pool. A lake for boating and a huge hunting preserve are adjacent.

Even though it becomes stifling after a day or two, Brezhnev undoubtedly intended his reception to be one extreme cordiality and, as such, a symbol of his respect for you and of his obvious conviction that his relationship with you enhances his own authority and prestige. This is one reason Brezhnev is looking forward to his visit and his meetings with you with considerable eagerness. He sees a trip to the United States and its political results as perhaps the crowning achievement of his political career. He has the greatest personal respect for you and considers you a man he can deal with forthrightly.

At the same time, he is apprehensive. He is nervous about possible incidents, particularly since he plans to bring his family. He is quite upset with what he believes is domestic opposition in the U.S. to improved Soviet-American relations. Though partly tactical, his obsession with Senator Jackson was a recurrent theme in our conversations. Probably, he does fear that a ground swell of Anti-Sovietism on the Jewish question might poison the atmosphere of the visit.

The Nuclear Agreement

The agreement on the prevention of nuclear war is obviously the key to the visit in Brezhnev’s eyes. He has probably staked his position on the outcome of this project. It was the one thing that occupied his undivided attention. In the drafting sessions he almost outsmarted himself in an effort to insure that it was essentially completed before I departed.

You will recall that your initial strategy was to dangle the prospect of this agreement as a sort of regulator on Soviet conduct this past year. [Page 455] And this has been effective. At the same time, given the agreement’s sensitive nature and its psychological overtones, it is difficult for this agreement to stand alone. It was envisaged that we might have to use it as a device to offset a tougher stand on Indochina if events led in that direction. Since the Soviets seem to be acting with restraint as far as the North Vietnamese are concerned, we have in the last three months turned to the substance of the nuclear agreement with effective results.

As regards the substance of the agreement, you will recall that originally the Soviets proposed in effect a straightforward bilateral non-aggression treaty, including a ban on use of nuclear weapons between the US and the USSR. When we countered with a broad declaration without commitments, the Soviets offered a text with overtones of US-Soviet condominium and with a free hand for themselves vis-à-vis China.

In the meetings with Brezhnev the issues centered around the first two articles which contain the key provisions on nuclear use and the use of force. The first provision of Article I is a general statement of objectives only: to remove the danger of nuclear war and of the use of nuclear weapons. This was our basic approach, and the Soviets reluctantly accepted it. It involves no commitment not to use nuclear weapons. The second half of this article, however, makes attainment of the objective dependent on additional obligations, taken from the Basic Principles of May 29, 1972, that both sides would avoid exacerbating their relations, avoid military confrontations and exclude the outbreak of nuclear war between themselves and between either party and third countries.

There were three major disputes.

—First, the Soviets wanted to limit the non-use clause to the US and USSR, thus giving themselves a free hand to use nuclear weapons against third parties (China or NATO) while binding the US not to use nuclear weapons against the USSR. The second aspect was the exact operational language in describing the obligations. We preferred to say that both sides would “act in such a manner as” to exclude the outbreak of nuclear war, while the Soviets preferred to say do their utmost or do everything in their power. This phraseology plus their interpretation of the freedom against third countries was obviously out of the question.

At the first negotiating session Brezhnev wanted to drop out obligations to third countries or build them up to the point that US and USSR would seem to be settling all international conflicts. This was left unresolved, but when we resumed on Sunday evening,3 I read your instructions4 and Brezhnev yielded to our version.

[Page 456]

Thus on the critical aspect of this agreement we have succeeded in moving from a strictly bilateral non-aggression formula to a broad restraint on Soviet policy, which fully protects third countries. This is spelled out in more explicit terms in Article II, which is linked to the first Article, in that any use of force or threat of use would violate the agreement and make the nuclear aspects inoperative.

Thus, there is no way that the Soviets can use force or provoke a confrontation without throwing over this agreement.

—Article IV also produced a major debate. This calls for consultations between the US and USSR, if our relations or if relations between either country and third states risk a nuclear conflict. Originally this article also included a consultation provision that would have applied should relations between other states risk a nuclear war, for example, between India and China. We felt this was another attempt at a US-Soviet condominium, and a possible basis for Soviet intervention in such third country conflicts. Thus we pressed hard to limit the commitment to consult only in those instances where there would be a risk of war between the US and USSR arising out of a third country conflict or crisis or between one of the parties and a third country.

Again your instructions turned Brezhnev around, though he thoroughly understood that in doing so he abandoned any claim to use consultation as the basis for intervention in a crisis that did not threaten the US or the USSR.

—Finally, in the last article we had a bitter dispute over the last clause which states that the agreement does not affect or impair the obligation undertaken by the US towards its allies or other countries, “in treaties, agreements and other appropriate instruments.” The Soviets wanted to limit this statement to treaties and agreements, thus excluding any unilateral obligation the US might undertake, for example, a moral commitment to Israel or the Monroe Doctrine. After adamantly rejecting the addition of “appropriate instruments,” Brezhnev finally yielded on this point as well.

All of these concessions, which he accepted after I read your instructions, led him to blow up. Dobrynin claimed Brezhnev was infuriated, but nevertheless he has accepted our essential demands.

We have now succeeded in building up clear provisions against Soviet use of nuclear weapons against third countries. I believe we have also succeeded in creating a web of conditions in the first three articles in which the Soviets cannot turn on NATO or China, without violating this agreement. In addition, the agreement is so drawn that none of our NATO commitments, including the use of nuclear weapons in case of overwhelming attack, is impaired. Of course, none of this would ultimately deter the Soviets but the increasingly complex relationship [Page 457] we are developing—in this agreement and in economics, in SALT, etc. will have to be a critical calculation in Brezhnev’s decision-making.

In sum, your instructions to stand firm on the substance of this agreement enabled us to nail down broader inhibitions on Soviet policy. China will remain the unknown, and it is clear from his conversation that Brezhnev is obsessed with his China problem. Whether he decides to use force is the major question, but this current nuclear project with him could divert him from that course.


Brezhnev’s eagerness for the nuclear project was of some value as a lever in pressing him to deal more concretely with SALT. Shortly before my departure for Moscow, the Soviets gave us some very general, but disadvantageous Basic Principles of a permanent SALT agreement.5 Article IV of their draft was a sweeping proposal to include all of our aircraft stationed abroad, and Article X was a strict prohibition against transferring any offensive weapons or technical assistance to third countries (e.g., the UK). Otherwise, the draft was non-substantive, and failed to deal with numerical levels or MIRVs.

Our counter draft introduced more substance.6 We proposed that ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers would be subject to equitable limits and that other nuclear delivery systems would be handled by a joint pledge not to circumvent the agreement. We dropped out the question of non-transfer entirely, and added a specific reference to limiting multiple reentry vehicles.

The Soviets returned another draft7 that accepted much of our paper, and considerably softened their original position on our overseas bases and aircraft and softened the non-transfer clause though the latter is still unacceptable. I pressed Brezhnev to deal with specific substance particularly on MIRVs. I argued that after more than 3 years of negotiation any principles would have to be more than platitudes. I outlined three approaches stemming from Verification Panel studies:8 (1) to deal with both numerical levels of major intercontinental systems and with MIRVs by freezing the status quo, in which the Soviets could not test or deploy MIRVs on land-based ICBMs and we would stop at our current deployment of around 350 Minuteman III; (2) we could deal with MIRVs separately along the same lines; (3) we could ban the [Page 458] USSR from putting MIRVs on their very heavy ICBMs (the SS–9 type), and in turn we might ban ballistic missiles from our bombers.

Brezhnev, in effect, ruled out MIRV limits for now, though he claimed he had not had time to study our proposals. He argued that we could easily violate a MIRV freeze, by continuing our deployments and the USSR could not monitor our compliance. He also claimed a MIRV freeze on land-based ICBMs would be unequal. He described a new MIRV system with 4–8 independently-guided reentry vehicles, each with its own computer. This sounds plausible but we have not picked this up in any Soviet tests.


I took a strong position with Brezhnev on Vietnam. He seemed to understand the gravity of the situation, and claims that the Soviets are exercising and urging restraint.

I think that he recognizes that we may be forced to take some strong steps; with the summit in view, he will probably use whatever influence he wields in Hanoi to dampen down the situation.


We discussed this only in a very private meeting,9 but Brezhnev went quite far in denouncing the Chinese and warning us of their perfidy. His remarks also had some ominous overtones, suggesting that he has been turning over in his mind the possibilities of a confrontation or even an attack. He claimed China was the only threat to the USSR and in effect, probed the possibility of taking joint action against Chinese nuclear facilities, or at least having the US remain passive while the Soviets did so. Indeed, Dobrynin asked me for the first time whether we had any agreement with China; I told him we did not, but that we had clear national interests. Our discussions could leave no illusion in Brezhnev’s mind that we would simply give him a free hand.

China thus remains a major variable in Soviet policy; it could lead to a major crisis in the next 12–18 months. But it is also a point of critical leverage for us.

It may be that sometime late in the summer we would want to arrange with the Chinese for a visit by Chou En-lai to the UN in the fall and a meeting with you in Washington. In any event, we must look at our contingency planning for the event of Soviet military action against China.

[Page 459]


There was not much to discuss on Europe, since most of the issues are tactical, and Brezhnev left them to Gromyko. Their main interest is that the European Security Conference start in late June. On MBFR they offered to begin some discreet bilateral talks during the summer. They seemed unprepared to discuss the substance of MBFR and frankly, I think they are quite unsure of how to proceed.


Brezhnev’s economic position is our second point of leverage. He outlined an economic relationship involving a long term grain agreement and credits for purchasing consumer goods and equipment of about $2 billion. He wants to consummate this at the summit, at least in general terms. There are some technical problems in granting credits of this size, but it is clear that if we are interested, a much broader economic arrangement with the USSR, one that would tie the USSR to the US as much as any factor, is possible. This explains Brezhnev’s fears about the fate of MFN in the Congress, and explains why he was willing to make some concession on Jewish emigration.

Other Bilateral Questions

The Soviets and we have been reviewing areas of bilateral cooperation beyond those agreed at the Moscow summit. We have had a detailed NSSM study done10 and the agencies are now under instruction to move rapidly with the Soviets in such fields as cultural exchange, transportation, agricultural research, oceanography and, possibly peaceful uses of atomic energy.11 Brezhnev agreed to issue similar instructions to the Soviet side.

The Outlook

On the basis of Brezhnev’s mood and the contents of the talks, it is likely that you will hold the high cards at the summit. Judged against the background of recent changes in the Soviet leadership, and the strong public commitment Brezhnev has made to a conciliatory relationship with you, he must succeed in Washington. Your China policy and Soviet economic difficulties are your strong points.

At the same time, the probable results can mark a further advance in our relations. By the time he departs the US on June 26, he should be deeply committed to a more positive relationship with the US. He will, of course, try to exploit it, especially against the Chinese and also in Europe. But your trip to Europe this fall, and the careful efforts we have [Page 460] made to keep the British, Germans and French informed on the key Soviet-American issues should enable you to offset whatever tactical moves Brezhnev makes in the wake of the summit.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 17, May–June 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information.
  2. A reference to the meeting between Kissinger and Brezhnev on April 24 when they discussed Vietnam. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 163.
  3. See Documents 105 and 110.
  4. See Document 108 and footnote 2 thereto.
  5. The Soviet draft of the Basic Principles of the SALT agreement was transmitted in backchannel message WH 30981 from Johnson in Geneva to Kissinger, May 2, 2349Z. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Messages, 1973, SALT, Geneva)
  6. The U.S. counter draft is in the second section of backchannel message WH 30981.
  7. See footnote 7, Document 109.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 110.
  9. No record of this conversation was found. See Document 115.
  10. For NSSM 176 and its response, see Documents 83 and 93.
  11. See Document 103.