102. Telegram From the Embassy in Finland to the Department of State1
Helsinki, March 10, 1971, 1604Z.
247. Subj: Discussion With President Kekkonen. Policy.
- I called on Finnish President Urho Kekkonen this afternoon to discuss his recent two-day trip to the Soviet Union, where he had spent two full days hunting with Podgorny, Brezhnev, and Kosygin. I found the President relaxed, and the discussion, which lasted 45 minutes was conducted in a frank and amicable manner. The only other person present was a Finnish interpreter.
- I told the President that I was calling on him to discuss in a general way his recent visit to Moscow. I said I did not intend to question him on specific issues, but rather wished to know his general impression of current Soviet thinking on major East-West issues. I pointed out that he had had a unique opportunity to gauge the attitude of the top leadership, having been in close contact for two days with the Soviet “troika.”
- Observing that the most important questions in the world today hinge on US-Soviet relations, I asked the President, in view of his 15 years as Chief of State and his intimate association during these years with the Soviet leaders, whether he might have any suggestions for easing tensions between the two powers. I said I recognized that he would not presume to give unsolicited advice to the leaders of either super power, but in view of the tremendous importance of this question to all nations in the world, including the neutrals, his thoughts would be helpful. I concluded with the specific question: “What would you do if you were in President Nixonʼs position today, faced with the great burden of seeking peace?”
- Kekkonen replied that his advice would be for President Nixon to send a message to President Podgorny offering to visit the Soviet Union to meet with him and the other Soviet leaders to discuss problems of mutual interest. Such a proposed meeting, he added, should take place after the forthcoming Soviet Party Congress. Continuing, the President said that the Soviet leaders seem to “lack trust” in President Nixon; when I asked him why, he said he did not know. However, he said in his view, trust is something that could be built. Kekkonen said that from his association with them, he had found the Soviet leaders [Page 252]to be “reasonable men” and a “summit meeting” would certainly not worsen the situation and might very well improve it. The Soviet leaders, he added, know the necessity for some kind of accommodation with the US and seem fully aware of the consequences if there is not.
- Kosygin and Brezhnev. I asked the President his evaluation of the current Soviet leaders. He replied that he found Kosygin in a much better “physical condition and mental outlook” than on his last visit to the USSR (July 1970). Kosygin seemed much more vivacious than on the previous occasion. Kekkonen said he personally believes that Kosygin has a much better comprehension of world problems than the other Soviet leaders. On the other hand, he admitted that Brezhnev clearly seems to be the dominant figure among the Soviet leaders. He said it “is difficult to say why,” but he has some characteristics that differentiate him from the other two men. Perhaps, the President suggested, his strength is due to his secure party base. Kekkonen did not discuss Podgorny.
- Vietnam. What, I asked, are the problems most preoccupying the Soviet leaders with regard to the West? The President replied that the two chief concerns are Vietnam and the Mid-East. On Vietnam, the Soviets charged that President Nixon had “expanded” the war in Indochina by the entrance into Laos;2 I challenged this, noting that the North Vietnamese had years ago “expanded” the war to Laos.
- The Mid-East. Concerning the Mid-East, Kekkonen said the Soviets believed that the US and USSR have a mutual interest in seeing that problem settled peacefully. He said the Soviets expressed concern lest some “hothead” Egyptian army officers get out of Sadatʼs control and ignite a conflict in the area.
- Soviet Jews. The President said the Soviet leaders showed considerable sensitivity over the criticism directed at them for Soviet handling of Jews in the USSR. He said they went to considerable lengths to explain that there no “pogroms” against Jews in the USSR, and seemed quite upset at agitation in the US against their handling of the Jews.
- Expansionism. I pointed out that one of our concerns was the growing Soviet expansionism throughout the world, as reflected by moving of the Soviet fleet into every major sea. Kekkonen laughed at this comment, and said that he had once discussed this question with General DeGaulle, when the latter was still President. DeGaulle, he continued, had observed that he was not worried by Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean; “great powers,” DeGaulle commented, “by [Page 253]their nature must make their presence felt everywhere.” Kekkonen added that while the Soviets had become more expansionist in recent years, the US too had demonstrated “expansionist” tendencies in the past.
- SALT and CES. Regarding SALT, the President did not enlarge on his public comments that the Soviets are somewhat optimistic about a successful outcome of the talks. Concerning CES, I complimented him on the low-key, cautious approach recently assumed by the GOF on this question, and he observed that there was only limited discussion of this question in Moscow.
- Finnish-Soviet Trade. The President said that there was a long discussion of Finnish-Soviet trade in Moscow, but the basic problem, Kekkonen observed, is the limited number of items the Finns can find to buy from the USSR. This problem, he added, has been facing the GOF for some 20 years, and will probably be around long after he (Kekkonen) leaves office. The President added that there were no major bilateral problems that had to be discussed during his visit.
- Berlin. Although the President did not refer to the German question, he said the Soviets did mention Berlin, noting that they had made a proposal to the Western powers on Berlin but had not yet received a response.
- Comment: Inasmuch as Kekkonen is probably on closer terms with the top Soviet leadership than any other non-Communist leader, his comments are worthy of careful study. He is a shrewd judge of character, and probably knows the Soviet leaders as well as any outsider can. Particularly interesting is his suggestion that President Nixon visit the Soviet Union; it obviously reflects the Presidentʼs personal belief in “summit” diplomacy as a way of dealing with Soviet leaders.