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131. Memorandum by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) for the President’s File1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting with Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee, CPSU, on Saturday, June 23, 1973 at 12:22 p.m.

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee, CPSU
  • Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter

[The principal topics of this meeting were China and Indochina.]

General Secretary Brezhnev: [Showing the President a copy of the Soviet-proposed non-aggression treaty with China.] I am doing this as a rebuff to the slander of the Chinese. They claim we are amassing an army to threaten them. If the Chinese do not accept it, we will publish the text of this with appropriate commentary.

I will tell you of my study of Chinese history. The Chinese have implemented agreements with others only rarely. Even when they implement them, they interpret them in ways that deprive them of meaning. I would like to quote one example of the peculiar nature of the Chinese. Often the Chinese hide things from the rest of the world. They managed to hide the death of an Emperor for a whole year. There was a Russian cartographer, Semomas by name, who wrote a treatise on the Chinese. He said they are treacherous and spiteful, capable of destroying a whole people.

They are not honorable. We at one time had good relations with China. We did a lot to aid the Chinese. It was vast. We built up their metallurgical industry and their building industry. What we received in return is well known. Once they asked us to build a metallurgical plant in Mao’s home town. As we did at that time, we provided experts to implement the request. And it so happened that the right man for this job was my brother. He was requested to go to China. He was summoned to Moscow from Dniepropetrovsk. So my brother asked me to [Page 535]help him to stay home because he didn’t want to leave his daughter. I urged him to go, in the name of higher authority. So he went and built their metallurgical plant. Mao you know is a strange man; he is afraid to speak to his people. My brother was one of thousands of experts in China. Suddenly they started a big-power chauvinist campaign against us. Mao has a treacherous character.

I speak frankly because you are my friend.

You know, during the war we gave aid to the Vietnamese side knowing they could not impose their will on you. After the 23rd Party Congress, I spoke to Le Duan and Pham Van Dong. I told these people: Dear friends, to fight is your business. But you must soon negotiate with the U.S. In all our talks with the Vietnamese we urged negotiations, although I knew the Vietnamese were very dependent on the Chinese. I would like to express my satisfaction at the outcome of the negotiations. But the credit goes also to you and other countries. Let us not forget the sort of policy the Chinese were trying to teach other countries, especially to Vietnam. You may remember how strongly I spoke to you in Moscow, and I ask you to forgive what I said. Due to my influence, you started peace talks again. You will remember how we handled the negotiations in Paris. But we know also that the Chinese are an exceptionally sly and perfidious people.

We will wait with publishing the document, partly because we don’t want to distract from this visit.

The feelings of distrust and disrespect I feel for the current Chinese leadership were reinforced by the Cultural Revolution and their reaction to U.S.-Soviet détente. What sort of leaders are they who so oppress their people while making propaganda all around the world? In our modern time, gigantic trials were held in public squares and thousands watched public beheadings. What ideas roam in the heads of such leaders? These are people who can craftily conceal their real aims. I am not proposing anything, but any student of China feels the same way. Kuznetsov and Chuikov feel the same way.2 We have doctors who worked with Mao and wrote a special report on his health. All agree on the Chinese danger.

I tell you this because, while we each have a right to our individual view on China, we must understand each other. We have normal state relations with China, but the reality is different. Soon you will have state relations with China. This is your business. I would like to ask you if after some time we could exchange views about Chinese reaction to [Page 536]our rapprochement and to the treaty on the prevention of nuclear war. This comparing of notes, this exchange of views, can only do us good.

The President: Dr. Kissinger will talk to Dobrynin.

Brezhnev: I will write you my views directly. Do I understand that your reply is positive?

The President: We should always be in touch through the private channel on any subject and any nation, especially an important nation like China which can affect our relations. This must be in total confidence.

Brezhnev: We accept no other way.

The President: We shall continue our present policy of communication with China. But you can be sure that the United States will never do anything with China or Japan against the interests of the Soviet Union or inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement we signed yesterday.3

Brezhnev: This is important. Thank you. Of course, very good relations will continue between our countries. I am sure, however, of one thing; China will never stop the development of its nuclear arsenal no matter what you say. We should continue to exchange on this subject, especially when you come to the USSR. We cannot limit our arms while they build up.

The President: How long until China becomes a major nuclear country?

Brezhnev: In answer to your question, we must take into account various analyses. I believe that in the course of the next 15 years they will not reach a stage we will have then; but in ten years they will have weapons equal to what we have now. We have tactical weapons sufficient to deal with them now. But we must bring home to them that this cannot go on. We will adhere strictly to our agreements. But the Chinese will act in their fashion. In 1963, during our Party Congress, I remember how Mao said: “Let 400 million Chinese die, 300 million will be left.” Such is the psychology of this man. Afterwards, the people of the world became afraid, and a new phase started of the arms race. Then when Mao saw that his idea was not gaining support, he made a somersault, asking us to sign the principles of coexistence with him. Now Chinese people are saying they will never use nuclear weapons. I don’t believe them. They won’t sign any agreements. These people are ruthless.

The things I have been saying are my personal thought.

The President: The subject is of critical importance for the future of our children and grandchildren. I will be in personal touch with you. I [Page 537]will ask Dr. Kissinger to analyze it and be in confidential touch with you through Dobrynin.

Looking at that part of the world, the subject that concerns me is the continued military action of the DRV in Cambodia in violation of the Paris Agreement. If that continues, the reaction of many people in this country will be that Soviet arms made it possible. The U.S. and the Soviet Union must show restraint also towards allies, in relation to our agreement. This would involve a contentious situation.

Brezhnev: I agree one hundred percent. Let me tell you something in strictest confidence. When the Paris Agreements were signed we had an exchange of letters.4 You accused us of supplying tanks and arms to the North Vietnamese. After the Paris Agreements we in fact suspended sending arms. The Vietnamese wanted to send Giap5 to Moscow. The visit was postponed. There is nothing dangerous in these agreements. On 9 July Pham Van Dong and Le Duan will come to Moscow. I don’t know what they will propose, but it will certainly involve a return visit. I have no intention of going. I see no necessity of sending new equipment. We have no agreement with Cambodia and Laos regarding supplies. Do not worry about our supplies. There may be rifles but nothing of considerable significance. We will speak in strong terms to them. We will urge them to adhere to the Paris Agreements. We will talk to you afterwards. Many of these stories of arms shipments come from the Chinese. These reports say they are Soviet; we think they are Chinese. We are one hundred percent for a speedy termination of the war in Cambodia and Laos. We have no presence in Cambodia and Laos. Gromyko and Dr. Kissinger should give additional thought to this question. I would like to think the matter over. I intend to speak to the North Vietnamese on July 9th to urge that the war tendency not be strengthened.

One additional thought on China. Of course I do not have the right to interfere in the affairs of your country. I appreciate that you can make agreements with any state. My idea is that if in the course of this year the U.S. and China will conclude a military arrangement, people’s trust will go down. Next year or so is impossible.

The President: We will keep in touch on that subject, and our efforts will always be used to promote the purposes of the agreement of yesterday.

Brezhnev: The peoples of the world will lose trust in us if an agreement of a military nature is concluded with China. I would like you to understand me.

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Dr. Kissinger: We have never had military discussions with China.

Brezhnev: Of course I believe you. But we are worried about the future, or it will undermine our relationship. In 1972 we did not raise the issue. But I am worried about the future. There is no need to undermine the agreement we have concluded. We do not intend to attack China but it will be different if China has a military agreement with the United States. That would confuse the issue.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 75, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Brezhnev Visit Memcons, June 18–25, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Printed from an uninitialed copy. Brackets are in the original. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting ended at 12:26 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) In his memoirs, Kissinger noted that this meeting was unscheduled and “descended upon us without warning.” (Years of Upheaval, p. 264)
  2. Presumably Vasily Vasilyevich Kuznetsov and Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov. Kuznetsov was Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister. Chuikov became Marshal of the Soviet Union in March 1955 and served as Chief of Civil Defense from 1961 to 1972.
  3. A reference to the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War.
  4. See Document 74.
  5. Vo Nguyen Giap was a Deputy Premier and the Minister of National Defense of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.