134. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, USSR Ambassador
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The mood of the meeting was slightly different from the pre-Summit atmosphere. There was some slightly less respect, slightly less deference. It was personally extremely cordial but there was a barely perceptible note of superciliousness.

Brezhnev Visit

I began the meeting by asking Dobrynin what his reaction was to the Brezhnev visit. He said all the Soviets had been extremely pleased by the Brezhnev visit. Everything had gone as exactly as planned. The only disappointment was the aftermath. Where in the Soviet Union all organs of public opinion hailed the new departure in Soviet-American relations, in the United States the Summit had disappeared without a trace. Indeed the leading papers were now making snide comments about the visit, and even about the person of Brezhnev.2 From that point of view, the Soviet leaders were disappointed with the result of the visit. As for the meetings with the President, they had been very satisfactory, but he was afraid that Soviet-American relations had not received the impetus that they would otherwise have had.

I told Dobrynin that this was due to a complex domestic situation but the long-term effect would still be essentially what had been expected. He glumly agreed that this might be so. Turning to Watergate, he then said that he had never seen such a mess. There was no other country which would permit itself this luxury of tearing itself to pieces [Page 545] so publicly. For a long time he had thought that it would not do any lasting damage, but he had now revised his opinion. He thought the Democrats were certain to win in 1976, and this was bound to affect Soviet calculations. I said it did not seem such a fore-ordained conclusion to me. But Dobrynin said he saw now no possibility that this could be avoided. He also said that among the Republicans it seemed to him at this moment to be a race between Rockefeller, Agnew, and Reagan, with Connally’s chances dependent entirely on a deadlock between the other three. I said that I did not know of a single case of a deadlocked convention since World War II. Dobrynin agreed but said that this was a very unusual year.


We then went in to lunch. I showed him the document on the nuclear treaty that the Chinese had sent us [Tab A].3 Dobrynin asked whether this wasn’t unusually primitive for the Chinese. Did Chou En-lai really believe that the United States and the Soviet Union were aiming for hegemony? I said I didn’t know what Chou En-lai believed but I did think they were genuinely worried about Soviet intentions. He asked what my impression was of Chinese leaders. I said that they struck me as very subtle. He said he too saw Chou En-lai as a clever fellow but paranoid about the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin then asked about my forthcoming trip to China.4 Did I plan to make a major agreement? I said no such plan was now envisaged. He asked, were we going to sign the same agreement with the Chinese that we had signed with the Soviet Union? If so, it would be taken as an unnecessary affront. I told him there was no such intention. He asked whether the Chinese had made any specific proposal for an agreement. I said the Chinese procedure was usually to wait for us to make a proposal, but I did not exclude that they might make one, in which case we would have to consider. But we would certainly keep in mind Soviet sensibilities. Dobrynin said that of course we were playing off the Chinese against the Soviet Union and doing it very skillfully, but he had always admired my abilities to keep it within limits. I said that he knew that in Moscow I had always been very circumspect about the Chinese, and he could be sure that in Peking I would be equally circumspect about the Soviet Union. We were trying to develop our relations with both countries without playing them off against each other.

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We then turned to Cambodia. Dobrynin said that as far as he understood, we wanted an outcome in which we did not have to abandon the Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh, because of the principle that we did not give up our allies. On the other hand, he did not see what negotiating leverage we had with the bombing cutoff imposed on us by the Congress. I said that we would do what we could. Dobrynin said that this would require extraordinary diplomatic skill, and the only possibility was that I pull another rabbit out of the hat. Otherwise he would say we had no chance at all. He said, “Particularly what are you going to do if China and Hanoi are going to agree with each other on a possible government constituted without the Lon Nol group? What can you do about it? I don’t think your economic card is strong enough.” I said there should be no illusion that we would forget who had put us into this uncomfortable position. Dobrynin replied, “In that case you should go after Senator Fulbright, not after us.”

He asked again whether we thought it was possible to have a transitional government without participation of the Phnom Penh group. I told him that in that case we would not make an agreement and we would let nature take its course. He seemed to be worried that we might make a deal with Sihanouk and the Chinese. I told him that we were particularly interested in Sihanouk and we were pursuing our own policy, but that we would do what was necessary to have an honorable ending.

In the Cambodian discussion particularly, Dobrynin’s view was close to being supercilious.


On SALT, Dobrynin said that he would not object to an overture by Johnson about resumption, and he thought that the Soviets might be prepared to resume in early August since Semenov had already been on leave. He waited on a suggestion on whether we should get bilateral talks started. I gave him a note [Tab B]5 requesting verifiable evidence that the new construction we had detected at Soviet ICBM launch sites was not for additional launchers.


On MBFR, Dobrynin said that Brezhnev thought he had made a suggestion to the President in the helicopter going to El Toro Air Base6—the suggestion being that we should begin with modest cuts [Page 547] and then stop for a couple of years. He wondered what our reaction to this was. I said that we had not understood that it was such a specific proposal but I would give him my reaction next week. Dobrynin said that he didn’t ask for a formal agreement, just some understanding that we would work in parallel towards that objective.


We then talked about the problem of exfiltration from Berlin and I read him the attached memorandum [Tab C].7 Dobrynin took notes and said he appreciated the discussion.

Middle East

At the end of the meeting Dobrynin said that Gromyko did not particularly like what I had sent to Camp David8 because he thought that I had previously accepted the May 1972 [1973] document. This represented a retrogression. But they would let us know about their discussions with Ismail in Moscow.

MFN: Soviet Jews

Dobrynin handed me a note [Tab D] giving an initial accounting of the status of some 700 Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate, who were on a list I gave him at Zavidovo.9

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Material, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 18, June 8–July 10, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy over lunch. All brackets except those that indicate a correction are in the original. A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Sent under a covering memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon on July 16. (Ibid.)
  2. Joseph Kraft, for example, wrote an article entitled “Watergate and the Summit” characterizing Brezhnev as being “hungry for agreement” during his visit. (The Washington Post, Times Herald, June 24, 1973, p. C7)
  3. Attached but not printed at Tab A is the Chinese understanding of the U.S.-Soviet Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War.
  4. Kissinger’s sixth trip to China took place November 10–14.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. No record of this conversation was found. When traveling to San Clemente, Nixon would typically land at the El Toro Air Base and would take a helicopter from there to the Western White House.
  7. Scowcroft’s July 9 memorandum on the subject is attached but not printed.
  8. See footnote 3, Document 132.
  9. Tab D is attached but not printed. Kissinger gave Dobrynin and Gromyko a list of 700 Jews during their meeting in Zavidovo on May 6. See Document 107.