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33. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Kosygin’s Mission to Peking

Very little is known of the origins or purposes of Kosygin’s visit to Peking. Judging from the characterization of the talks by both sides— “frank” (Chinese) and “useful” (Soviets)—there was no significant movement toward an accommodation.

The fact that the talks were held against a background of sharply- rising border tensions does suggest, however, that each side had an interest in attempting to check what seemed to be a gathering momentum toward large and more serious clashes.

The initiative apparently came from the Soviets perhaps using the Romanians or North Vietnamese as intermediaries. The Soviets may have seen an advantage in appearing to take the lead in trying to reach an understanding, whether the Chinese agreed to the meeting or not. Should hostilities ensue, the Soviets would thus be in a position to present themselves as the aggrieved party. At the same time, the actual Soviet motive may have been to put on the record for Chinese benefit their refusal to tolerate a protracted border conflict. This is the line they took in recent letters to other Communist parties. It may not necessarily reflect a Soviet decision to escalate, but rather an effort to pressure and deter the Chinese.

The Chinese motive is a question, since so far they have been quite consistent in rejecting third party intervention or direct Soviet appeals. The Chinese willingness to receive Kosygin could reflect the more flexible Chinese diplomacy which seems to have been developing in recent months. However, the Chinese would not wish to appear to be resistant to Kosygin’s visit, especially since third parties in the Communist world were apparently involved, and would want to appear at least as “reasonable” as the Soviets. In their public treatment they took pains to minimize its significance by stating that Kosygin was merely “on his way home” and that Chou En-lai met him at Peking airport.

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US Interests

Until we learn more of the content of the Peking discussion, it is uncertain how our own interests might be affected;

  • —there is nothing thus far, however, that suggests a new Sino-Soviet diplomatic offensive on Vietnam;
  • —there is nothing to suggest a narrowing of Sino-Soviet differences on fundamental problems;
  • —it is at least possible, that the failure of a personal encounter may actually worsen relations;
  • —sudden moves of this sort do point, however, to the caution which the US should exercise in basing its own actions solely on expected developments in the Sino-Soviet dispute; much of this relationship is still shrouded from us.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidental Materials, NSC Files, Box 710, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. V. Secret. According to a handwritten notation, the memorandum was returned from the President on October 6. Sonnenfeldt forwarded an attached report to Kissinger on September 12. Kissinger then requested that a memorandum be prepared for Nixon. Attached but not printed is a 3-page “CIA Analysis of the KosyginChou Meeting” that served as the basis for this memorandum.