166. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Polish-American Relations


  • U.S. Side:
    • President Nixon
    • Secretary Rogers
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Asst. to the President
    • Ambassador Stoessel
    • Martin J. Hillenbrand, Asst. Secty., EUR
    • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Senior Member, NSC Staff
    • Ronald L. Ziegler, Press Secty. to President
  • Polish Side:
    • Edward Gierek, 1st. Secty, Polish United Workersʼ Party
    • Piotr Jaroszewicz, Chairman Council of Ministers
    • Mieczyslaw Jagielski, Vice Chairman, Council of State
    • Jan Kaczmarek, Minister of Science, Higher Education and Technology
    • Stefan Olszowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Franciszek Szlachcic, Member, Politburo and Secretariat, Polish United Workersʼ Party
    • Witold Trampczynski, Ambassador to the U.S.
    • Tadeusz Olechowski, Minister of Foreign Trade
    • Henryk Kisiel
    • Romuald Spasowski, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Wlodzimierz Janiurek, Under Secretary of State
    • Jan Szydlak, Secretary, Polish Workersʼ Party

Gierek expressed the hope that the visit to Poland of President Nixon would serve to strengthen the traditional friendship of the Polish and American peoples. The program of the Polish Government is based on a realistic assessment of possibilities. Poland was devastated by the war and had to undergo a long process of recovery. Now it was among the ten leading industrial powers in the world. The Polish people had great talents and energy, and the Government wanted to avoid any ambiguities about its ambitions and prospects. For the immediate future, it would have to concentrate its efforts on agriculture and production of foodstuffs, market industries, municipal transport systems, housing, education and health. The Governmentʼs ability to achieve its [Page 397] objectives would be of decisive importance for socialism and democratic civil liberties in the country.

Expanding peace in the world would also favor the achievement of Polish goals. Gierek said he was one of those Poles who during World War II had fought in the Belgian Resistance Movement. The Polish divisions in Western Europe had fought under the command of General EISENHOWER.2 He hoped that the list of great Americans linked with Polish history could be broadened and the tradition of friendship expanded. He was fully aware of the difficulties to be overcome. He noted that the Presidentʼs route to Warsaw had led through Moscow where there was a socialist power with which Poland had a defensive alliance and which had helped Poland economically. He was glad the Presidentʼs trip to Moscow had been so fruitful, and he could only congratulate him and Brezhnev. The route to Warsaw had also led through Tehran, Gierek continued. This was a place which also symbolized definite facts, such as the three-power meeting in Tehran during the war which had directed the shape of Polish frontiers and territory. Now, 27 years after the war, these frontiers have been recognized by the Federal Republic of Germany.3 The ratification of the German treaty and the signing of the final Quadripartite Berlin Protocol4 proved the soundness of Polish policy in its quest for peace which was convergent with that of the other socialist states. After the Presidentʼs meeting with the Soviet leaders, the security expectations for Europe were coming closer to realization. With respect to other “hot beds,” such as the Middle East, the Polish Government desired that the Arabs and Israelis live in peace. A separate problem is Viet-Nam, which he had discussed previously with the President.5 Poland believes in peace and is aware of the dangers of nuclear war which would leave no victors. Therefore the Poles hope for détente and lasting peace in the world.

The President said he could agree with most of what Gierek had said and with all of his goals. One of the benefits of summit meetings, such as he had had in Moscow, Warsaw and Peking, is not only that some agreements are reached but also that a personal “man-to-man relationship” can be developed so that, in the future, when we receive communications we think of them in terms of the specific men involved. This was important to him personally. It did not mean that all [Page 398] problems had vanished. While some understanding had been reached on this trip, it was more important that foundations had been built for cooperation in the future.

The President added that he wanted to say frankly that we know there are differences on the question of Viet-Nam. He hoped that this would in due time pass, preferably by the route of negotiations. As Gierek had recited what had happened to Poland, how it had been attacked from all sides and how it had suffered terribly from the war, the President had appreciated, as a realistic man, the position of Poland in a sensitive part of Europe. The Polish leaders had alliances which they expected to keep, and we would keep our alliances. As we develop a new relationship, Polish leaders can be our friends without being anyone elseʼs enemy. Poland has strong neighbors on both sides; it is essential that it maintain good relations with them. We understand this. We seek cooperation with Poland without any effort to embarrass its leaders. In speeches, communiqués and toasts we will talk about the real friendship of our people and how they are for peace. No one knows better than the leaders of Poland that there will never be a perfect world. In the Middle East the hatreds go back hundreds of years, and the most we can hope for there is a cease fire which will protect the integrity of both sides. We know that great powers and small powers will sometimes be rivals. The important new fact is that in the nuclear age such differences cannot be allowed to develop into armed confrontation. Some think that, if only the Soviet Union and the U.S., or the Peopleʼs Republic of China and the U.S., or the USSR and the Peopleʼs Republic of China could reach understanding, then there would be no problems. This is not true. While Gierek said that Poland was a medium-sized nation, there are many small and medium-sized countries. If they become involved in conflict, such conflagrations might spread and lead to a confrontation of the super-powers. We welcome an era of cooperation and welcome the opportunity to work with Poland towards a new relationship which will help security in Europe.

The President concluded by saying that he hoped this meeting will contribute towards these objectives. He could declare to our Polish friends that we believe in the importance of having good relations with all nations, large and small. We will make no arrangements at the expense of the small nations. We were a small nation at the time of Kosciusko and we heed the interest of small nations today.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL POLUS. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Hillenbrand. The meeting took place in the office of the Council of Ministers. Another record of this discussion, drafted by Sonnenfeldt, includes only the Presidentʼs remarks. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 699, Country Files, Europe, Poland, Vol. II 1972)
  2. During the 1943–1945 military campaign in Italy.
  3. See Document 140.
  4. For texts of these agreements, December 7, 1970, and September 3, 1971, respectively, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 1125–1127 and 1135–1144.
  5. An apparent reference to the conversation between Nixon and Gierek on the evening of May 31, for which no record has been found. The only other person present was a Polish interpreter. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Presidentʼs Daily Diary)