81. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

Following the meeting with the President,2 I met with Dobrynin for luncheon in the Map Room.

Dobrynin opened the conversation by asking me about my China trip. I said that it dealt almost exclusively with bilateral matters and had been fully covered in the communiqué.3 I said obviously the People’s Republic wanted to stress its improving relationship with the United States and since we had no objections to that, we played along with it. On the other hand, such improved relations would never be directed against any other country.

He asked me whether the border issue had been discussed at all. I said no, and I frankly don’t understand it well enough to have a sensible discussion. He asked whether I believed that the Chinese leaders really thought they were under a threat by the Soviet Union. I said I could only judge their public comments and there seemed to be some concern. He asked why military men were included in the discussions. I said that to the best of my knowledge military men had not been included. He said that Yeh Chien-ying4 had been listed in the Chinese press. I said that he attended only a banquet and none of the formal talks. I said that we would conduct our relationship with both of the Communist countries strictly on the basis of reciprocity and in no case would we cooperate with one against the other.

We then turned to U.S.-Soviet relations. Dobrynin stressed again the enormous importance that Brezhnev attached to the nuclear treaty. He said it was, to be sure, primarily psychological, but it would give Brezhnev a great opportunity then to turn matters around completely in his own country. I said the trouble for us was the binding obligation [Page 275] not to use nuclear weapons, which was bound to create a confusing situation in the United States and among many of our allies. On the other hand, we were prepared to have an understanding on the special obligations of the two nuclear superpowers to preserve the nuclear peace, and we were drafting something along that line which I would submit to him the following week.5 He said again that this was a very key issue. I replied that I recognized this, but that we had to defend this to many audiences and we could not justify it simply on the ground that it would help Soviet psychology.

We then turned to the Middle East. Dobrynin asked me how the talks with Ismail 6 had gone. I gave him a brief summary of the Ismail discussions primarily along procedural lines, that is to say, stressing the heads of agreement to be followed by an interim agreement to be followed by detailed negotiation. I stressed the view that in my personal view there was no possibility of a settlement along the lines of the paper that Gromyko had given me during my visit last April.7 I said that represented the formal Arab position and under those circumstances there would never be a reason for me to get involved. Dobrynin said, what else did you expect Gromyko to do? Why should he get ahead of the Egyptians? I told him that as long as I was negotiating with the Egyptians I saw no point in our discussions going beyond the statement of general principles, which could lead to an interim agreement. He did not balk at that proposition.

I then raised the issue of Vietnam. I said that the question of their military supplies was of course of great importance to us. We had noticed an enormous amount of infiltration, and I wanted to make two things clear. One, while we could understand military supplies during wartime, the continuation of the current level could not be considered a friendly act and could only have mischievous consequences. Secondly, if there were a massive attack there would be the most serious consequences. There should be no doubt about that.

Dobrynin said that he could assure me that there had been no speedup in military deliveries. I said this was in no sense the point. There didn’t have to be a speedup. Because under ceasefire conditions and no air attacks on the supply pipeline the North Vietnamese were in a position to build large stockpiles leading to another offensive. It [Page 276] would have obvious implications for the Summit if it coincided again with the Summit, but it would have the profoundest consequences for Soviet-American relations if it followed the Summit.

Dobrynin asked whether we were making the same démarche to the People’s Republic. I said he could count on Most Favored Nation treatment with respect to the People’s Republic and that we would make the same approach to both countries. Dobrynin said that Chinese behavior had been very curious. They had not let several hundred tanks go through and some supply trains disappeared completely; he supposed that some of the build-up was the result of matériel that the Chinese had been holding on their side of the border. I told Dobrynin that whatever the reason, this was a matter that should require the most careful attention. Dobrynin said he thought it would be very appropriate for me to raise this with Brezhnev at the end of April.

We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin raised the issue. Dobrynin said that in his opinion it wasn’t easy to make progress on SALT unless there was the nuclear treaty. The Soviet military were taking the position that it was too soon to have a follow-on agreement when the first one was less than a year old. Moreover, we had to understand that in the Soviet system, unless Brezhnev personally gave an order, SALT would move very slowly. For example, he could tell me in confidence that the Soviet Ministry of Defense had deliberately put its most unimaginative and unenterprising general on the SALT Delegation consistently. When Semenov asked the general to request instructions from the Ministry of Defense, his standard answer was that the Minister of Defense, if he wanted to give instructions, would issue them, and that he did not have the right to request them. When the Foreign Ministry called the Defense Ministry the experience was summed up by an exchange he, Dobrynin, had had with Grechko in which Grechko said, “If you want my personal opinion I’ll give it to you. If you want my official opinion the standard answer is no.”

For all these reasons, Dobrynin then said, it was essential to do two things. One, unless we made a concrete proposal which went to Brezhnev and which Brezhnev could then push on his bureaucracy, there was no chance of any real progress. Secondly, we had to give Brezhnev some excuse to do it. I told him we could live without a SALT Agreement this year but when we had a concrete proposal we would be prepared to advance it.

We then reviewed a number of the second-level issues, without anything of notable significance, except that Dobrynin asked us to make a specific proposal on chemical warfare if we wanted an agreement in that area.

We agreed to meet the following week in order to continue the discussions, especially on the nuclear treaty.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 495, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 15. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The conversation took place in the Map Room. The memorandum is attached at Tab B to a memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, undated, summarizing his conversations with Dobrynin on March 6 and 8.
  2. See Document 80.
  3. For the text of the communiqué following Kissinger’s trip to China, February 15–19, see Department of State Bulletin, March 19, 1973, p. 313.
  4. Marshall Ye Jianying (Yeh Chien-ying), member of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and Politburo.
  5. See Document 85.
  6. Egyptian Presidential Adviser for National Security Affairs Ismail visited the United States from February 23 to 27 for talks on the Middle East. For records of his conversations, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Documents 26 and 28.
  7. Brezhnev gave Kissinger the paper on April 22, 1972, and Kissinger and Gromyko discussed it the next day. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Documents 141 and 150.