58. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Senators Fulbright, Javits, Symington, Scott, Mansfield, Aiken, Sparkman, Spong, Percy, Muskie, and Cooper
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Tom Korologos, White House Staff
  • David Abshire, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations
  • Peter Rodman, NSC Staff

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

Senator Fulbright: Are the Russians helping us at all [on Vietnam]?

Dr. Kissinger: Both the Russians and Chinese are Communists. This sets limits on what they can do. I don’t believe they can actually cut off aid. There is strong evidence that the Russians are urging them seriously to accept our proposals—our previous proposals, which don’t even go as far as our current ones. As far as the Chinese are concerned, we have received a sensitive report of a very fundamental criticism by the Chinese of the whole Vietnamese strategy. And there is collateral evidence: The North Vietnamese Ambassador delivered to Chou En-lai a three-page document listing all their grievances and their demands for support. The Chinese newspaper then had a two-line item in reply that “this was the nature of U.S. imperialism and that the Vietnamese people would win their just struggle.” This is not exactly overwhelming support. There is another sort of example. I was in Moscow when Le Duc Tho was there. I saw Brezhnev for 25 hours; Le Duc Tho saw the Number 14 member of the Politburo for an hour and a half. Soviet statements used to talk about support for the “ultimate victory of their sister socialist state.” This time the Soviets only talked about their support for the “defense of their sister socialist state.”

Whether this is enough? I know you have heard this from two, maybe three Administrations. All I can say is how it looks to us. The Vietnam war has indeed an unusual ability to break people’s hearts.

[Omitted here is discussion of Europe and SALT.]

Senator Percy: There are a lot of questions I would like to ask you about: Japan, and your trade talks with Gromyko, but particularly the Soviet Jewry question.

[Page 207]

Dr. Kissinger: I have often noticed that analysts and intelligence people always assume that the other government is rational and they therefore ascribe horrible reasons for things that may possibly be just a horrible foul-up. Now I don’t exclude that the head tax was put on by some junior administrative official trying to score some political points, without any overall view or any view of the consequences. I have reason to believe this.2 At the same time you have to remember that the Soviet Union does not routinely allow emigration in the first place.

We are of course opposed to it. The question is the most effective way of dealing with it. We have to oppose formal steps, but I can see utility of the Senate registering its concern in a non-obligatory way. But at some point the public pressure has to stop. Once this concern is registered, the best act of statesmanship would be to give them some months to dig out, that is, if they want to dig out. If there is a confrontation they cannot possibly yield to what they see as interference in their domestic affairs.

Now on these negotiations themselves, the trade talks. We want to make deals that are in the interest of the United States. We don’t consider the trade agreements as doing the Soviets a favor. The deals give more elements of the Soviet bureaucracy more of a stake in good relations with us. They make them more dependent on commercial relations with the outside world. Now I don’t say that this will avoid a major war, but maybe in marginal cases it will have an impact. The irony is we were denounced for linkage, we were criticized for being too tough with them, and now we are told that we are giving the store away. There is a big difference between saying that the general political atmosphere has to be conducive to trade relations—that is, saying that unless they behave responsibly in general in keeping the peace, we cannot see a place for trade relations—and on the other hand pressing them for concessions in a very specific domestic legislative area. This would only prove what the hardliners have always said would happen if they opened themselves to trade relations with the United States—namely blackmail. In an area not unrelated to this question, take the Middle East. Read what Sadat said. You know that the Russians showed restraint there; that is why he kicked them out.

[Page 208]

Now our policy is this: We will make no agreement that cannot stand on its own feet. We will make it dependent to some extent on their overall restraint in the conduct of foreign policy. But we don’t want to try to blackmail them on specific items, especially ones that they consider within their domestic jurisdiction. On the trade agreement, it will be done within the next few weeks. It will include the following: a settlement of the lend-lease debt in terms larger than some thought, although this will be discussed; almost our maximum program in terms of trade centers, international arbitration, particular rules on convertibility (they are even coming over on copyright, though this will be a separate matter); and some protection against dumping.

So I think of the Trade Agreement as one which can establish a whole new order of U.S.-Soviet political relations. When they are engaged in joint projects with us, in many intangible and some tangible ways they will have to consider the risks they will run in a crisis. It is unfortunate that it had to come in the context of this reprehensible head tax. Were it not for this, all you gentlemen would see it clearly as representing a major change in the political relationship with the Soviet Union. We have negotiated this a long time and we feel that we cannot fail to go through with it.

Senator Symington: Is there anything in this multi-billion dollar natural gas deal in Siberia?3

Dr. Kissinger: This is one of the things they want in there.

Senator Fulbright: They want, or we want?

Dr. Kissinger: They. But this will be mostly done by private capital.

[At this point a bell rang and the group decided to go onto the floor for a vote and then come back. On the way out Senator Symington said, “What I get from you Henry is the idea that for this we got them to press Hanoi.” Dr. Kissinger replied, “that is part of it, but nevertheless the terms of these agreements have to be commercially acceptable.” At 6:00 p.m. the group returned.]4

Senator Muskie: It might be of interest if you could tell us the extent to which the President has discussed with the Soviet leaders the question of Soviet Jewry. I discussed it with the Soviets once and I know their reaction.

Dr. Kissinger: Their reaction used to be explosive, even when there was no specific grievance involved. A total refusal to discuss it. In this case I took it up when I was there, at several levels; I did it again this week, Secretary Rogers did it. They are more defensive this time. The [Page 209] problem is, they cannot be seen to yield to outside pressure, but they are more prepared to discuss it than on any previous occasion.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT and European security.]

Dr. Kissinger: The biggest problem in arms control is to insure that nuclear war becomes, remains, an absurdity.

Senator Fulbright: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: We hope to get into the position where even the most mediocre leader will realize instantly that the decision to launch nuclear war means national suicide.

Senator Fulbright: I think nuclear war is irrelevant now. All this together makes it now irrelevant. Do you think the Soviets have this understanding?

Dr. Kissinger: At the level of Brezhnev they have this understanding. But toward the end of the SALT negotiations in Moscow, we negotiated with a man named Smirnov, a Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of all their defense programs and who is a fanatic.

Senator Fulbright: Like Foster.5

Dr. Kissinger: I won’t compare them! When I talked with him, I gave an attenuated version of what I have just told you now about our purpose in the negotiations being to make all these weapons unusable. This prompted a tremendous outburst. It was very shocking to him to say such things about the weapons he was in charge of! I even had Gromyko on my side, and we finally calmed him down.

You know at the beginning of SALT I the Soviet Foreign Ministry officials engaged in the negotiations didn’t even know the numbers of the Soviet missiles. All of this information was restricted to the military people. On any military question the judgment of the professional military is conclusive, and Foreign Ministry people are not entitled to comment. So what worries me about the Soviet Union is not that their leaders have some master plan for superiority—which I don’t believe—but that their bureaucracy will just keep on busily working away and these programs will continue. Now in this period when one thinks of the decision that is required, this is the problem. What might happen if they do achieve some nuclear advantage is that they will show greater boldness in local crises.

Senator Scott: There are some activists here who think there is a great advantage in destroying everything, so the world can start over again purified.

Dr. Kissinger: That is beyond rationality. In my view the top Soviet leaders are tough and brutal but they are not mad men.

[Page 210]

Senator Cooper: Khrushchev once said to Kennedy, just before Kennedy became President, that the U.S. really wants to make war. Now do the Soviets still talk like that?

Dr. Kissinger: No. We can even compare the three times that Gromyko has talked with the President. The first year all it consisted of was formal statements on both sides and little else.6 Last year there was a little more conversation.7 This year it was a much more relaxed conversation.8 They talked back and forth about issues the way people really talk. Even since my April trip9—then Gromyko was reading from a setpiece Foreign Ministry paper; now we have a much looser conversation. There is more of a sense that we two are the only two nations who could blow up the world, and there is a realization that they and we have managed a number of things together successfully—the Berlin Agreement, the Trade Agreement, SALT and the new SALT. So I think the pattern of thinking of Soviet leaders is changing. They are less boisterous certainly than Khrushchev.

Senator Sparkman: Will you be starting negotiations soon on the mutual reduction of forces and the European Security Conference?

Dr. Kissinger: The tentative plan is to have a preparatory meeting on the Security Conference at the end of November and have a preparatory meeting on MBFR at the end of January, and then the substantive meeting on the European Security Conference would be in June and the substantive meeting on MBFR would begin around September.

Senator Sparkman: Are the prospects good?

Dr. Kissinger: The European Conference is not a very difficult thing. MBFR on the other hand is a bitch of a problem. In SALT you realize you had two nations and only a few categories of weapons systems, and yet those were tremendously complicated negotiations. In MBFR, you are dealing with 13 nations and a whole range of weapons categories. But I am quite optimistic on that one too.

Senator Fulbright: In trade you mentioned the $10 billion gas deal.

Dr. Kissinger: Actually there are many different fields. How we slice it up is not yet clear.

[The meeting thereupon came to an end.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK Memcons. Confidential. The meeting took place at the Senate Office Building.
  2. On October 4, Kissinger told Rabin in a telephone conversation with regard to the Soviet exit tax: “I had a talk with Gromyko and with Dobrynin. Now but this is only for the Prime Minister [Meir]. I talked to them about it. They both said it was a stupid mistake by a Ministry that they didn’t know anything about and if they had known about it, it wouldn’t have happened. Then Gromyko asked me, but unfortunately, it was in the hearing of someone else, what I would recommend as a personal advice how they could get out of the situation. And I said well, one advice would be to see what they can do about the implementation. And he said well, maybe we’ll publish some administrative rules.” (Ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations (Telcons), Box 14, Chronological File) Information about Kissinger’s conversation with Gromyko appeared on the front page of the Washington Evening Star.
  3. See Document 69.
  4. Brackets in the original.
  5. John S. Foster, Jr., Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Department of Defense, 1965–1969.
  6. Apparent reference to Nixon’s conversations with Gromyko on October 22, 1970. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971, Documents 23 and 24.
  7. See ibid., Documents 337 and 338.
  8. See Document 56.
  9. Kissinger made a secret trip to Moscow in April 1972. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Documents 159, 160, and 163.