72. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger1


  • Your Meeting With Dobrynin, January 3, 19732

I do not know to what extent you may have covered various bilateral or international issues with Dobrynin before his departure for Moscow. In any case, the excerpt from my memorandum for the last meeting is still valid if you wish to use it (Tab A).3 In addition, there are some other bilateral issues which I am discussing in detail in another memorandum being sent you separately for decision that you may also wish to look over before the meeting (Tab B).4


In the past two weeks the Soviets have employed some fairly strident rhetoric in denouncing the bombing; they have also “demanded” signing of the peace agreement (Kosygin), promised all-out aid until the “just cause triumphs” (Suslov) and linked the future of Soviet American relations to peace in Vietnam (Brezhnev). They have also leaked news stories suggesting that Brezhnev’s visit is being postponed because of Vietnam (more on this below).

In general, the Soviets have offset their rhetoric with expositions on their foreign policy at the year’s end that suggest no important shift in their general line. This may be the cause of certain signs of strain in their relations with Hanoi. Most odd, was the failure of Truong Chinh5 to be received by Brezhnev, Kosygin or Podgorny, particularly since [Page 254] Brezhnev received all of the leaders of the governing communist party delegations who visited Moscow for the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Brezhnev Visit

The Soviets were rather quick to follow Brezhnev’s speech6 with private and publicized hints that the visit was off until next fall, implying that there was a connection to Vietnam. The source of these “signals” was Victor Louis’ remarks to Ambassador Beam and then in Louis’ article for the London Daily News. Earlier in December, the Washington press was citing Dobrynin as the source of speculation about postponement.

While I do not know what you and Dobrynin may have discussed on this aspect, you may want to warn him about taking this issue into the press. If the visit is to be postponed because of the decreasing likelihood of substantial accomplishments, there should be a coordinated line (perhaps by setting an actual date and announcing it).

Even if there has been no parallel development in your channel, these hints may be intended to probe our willingness to consider postponement without Dobrynin having to make an overture. If this is the case, there are sound arguments for postponing until the fall, as long as it is clear that this represents no change in the state of relations. (Whatever happens, postponement or not, will be read in the Vietnam context.)

Reply to the President

The President’s letter7 ended with an invitation for Brezhnev’s views, and Dobrynin may be bringing a reply. Judging from what Brezhnev has said in public, the reply will probably be moderate in tone, but without any major new ideas. Probably there will have to be in this more formal version of the special channel something on Vietnam, if only for Brezhnev’s record.


While the Soviet delegation took a rather propagandistic position in Geneva, Brezhnev’s speech on December 22 [21] seemed to offer more on SALT than his delegation. He listed (1) turning the Interim Agreement into a permanent one; (2) passing from limitations to gradual reductions; (3) establishing some kind of limit to qualitative development.

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As you know, what the Soviets seem to have in mind is some add-ons to the Interim Agreement, but raising at this authoritative level both reductions and qualitative limitations may be an offer to work out some package arrangements (as May 20).8 His willingness to raise these issues publicly after we had skirted qualitative limits in Geneva but had proposed reductions, may foreshadow a more interesting line in the private channel. He may respond to our suggestion that we needed a framework for reconciling our different approaches. You have an earlier memo on the Soviet MIRV approach; copy at Tab C.9

If Dobrynin raises SALT, you might ask what Brezhnev had in mind in mentioning reductions and qualitative limits. You might note that their delegation seemed to want to discuss MIRV’s, but we cannot be sure whether this represents Soviet interest or the prodding of our own people. You could urge him to spell out their ideas as soon as possible before the negotiations resume. (You may want to alert him to changes in our delegation and in ACDA.)


The Soviets in Helsinki seem disappointed that our delegation has not established closer working contacts. In particular they were concerned that we might retreat from the “understanding” to begin the formal Conference in June; see earlier memo at Tab D.10 Now that the real issues of setting an agenda will come before the Conference on January 15, the Soviets will be testing our repeated willingness to talk to them bilaterally.

We cannot go very far in this direction without raising alarm among the Allies. However, since we are tougher than our allies on some issues, such as promoting freer movement and resisting permanent machinery, in giving in to Allied consensus, we can appear to be more cooperative with the Soviet position.

You may wish to impress on Dobrynin that we need to go into the agenda in more detail than Moscow wants, if we are to open the Conference in June. If the Soviets have some major problems in Helsinki, they should probably raise them with you first of all because our delegation will be instructed to cooperate closely with our Allies and cannot play a role as mediator with the Soviet side.

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The Soviets have still not answered our invitation to talk in January in Geneva.11 Apparently, they are having major problems with the Romanians, who object to being excluded. The Romanians, however, do not want to invoke their Warsaw Pact membership as grounds for participation. Therefore, the Romanians are pushing the line that CSCE should take up military security issues (which we and the Soviets oppose) and that participation in MBFR should not be restrictive.

In light of all the problems we have encountered in trying to keep our Allies from raising substantive issues in the initial talks, you may want to warn Dobrynin that the Soviets should be prepared for more of a substantive exploration than we originally envisaged.

You might want to reassure him that we do not intend to press for any agreements in this phase, or start a major debate, but that our Allies will almost certainly go over what NATO has already said in public, i.e., “balanced” reductions, undiminished security, a phased approach, and the importance of constraint on movement. The Soviets should be prepared to accept an agenda that includes principles and constraints as well as verification, area, size and type of reductions, as separate issues without prejudice to the order or potential substance.

Bilateral issues are in the earlier memorandum at Tab A. Of considerable importance, Ed David is resigning—reported in the January 2 Star. This means a new US Chairman will be required for the US–USSR Science and Technology Joint Commission.

Nuclear Non-Use

The President’s letter raised this and offered to continue developing an agreement. You should be aware that Brezhnev in his speech called attention to the UN resolution on this matter,12 and offered to conclude an agreement with any nuclear power. You might wish to make the point that such a project is more plausible after another SALT agreement, than now, especially if the Soviets are willing to consider a permanent replacement for the Interim Agreement, rather than only a series of add-ons.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Map Room, Aug. 1972–May 31, 1973, [1 of 3]. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action. At the top of the memorandum, Kissinger wrote and underscored: “(1) Hillenbrand—Bonn—Falin” and “(2) Helsinki—U.S. Force MBFR relationship.” Above the first paragraph of the memorandum, he wrote, “Preliminary substance.”
  2. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, he met with Dobrynin for lunch at the Soviet Embassy from 1:20 to 3:50 p.m. on January 3. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1967–76) No record of Kissinger’s conversation with Dobrynin has been found.
  3. Attached but not printed is an excerpt of Document 70.
  4. Attached but not printed is Sonnenfeldt’s January 2 memorandum regarding possible agenda items for a Brezhnev summit.
  5. Truong Chinh, Politburo member and Chairman of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
  6. Brezhnev’s December 21 speech, which linked ending the war in Vietnam and U.S.-Soviet relations, was summarized in “Excerpts from the Kremlin Address of Soviet Leader,” The New York Times, December 22, 1972, p. 10.
  7. Document 71.
  8. The SALT negotiators reached agreement on the Interim Agreement on May 20.
  9. Attached but not printed.
  10. Attached but not printed is Sonnenfeldt’s December 21, 1972, memorandum. For a summary, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 121.
  11. See footnote 7, Document 70.
  12. See Document 52. UN General Assembly 2936 (XXVII) was adopted November 29, 1972. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1972, pp. 9–12.