1. Editorial Note

During President Richard M. Nixon’s first press conference on January 27, 1969, he was asked about the possibility of starting strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) with the Soviet Union. The President replied that he preferred “to steer a course between those two extremes” of waiting until there was “progress on political settlements” and moving forward without such progress. He declared that “what I want to do is see to it that we have strategic arms talks in a way and at a time that will promote, if possible, progress on outstanding political problems at the same time—for example, on the problem of the Mideast and on other outstanding problems in which the United States and the Soviet Union, acting together can serve the peace.” The full text of the press conference is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pages 15–23.

Despite his unwillingness to rush into SALT, on January 31 the President not only submitted Gerard Smith’s name to the United States Senate for confirmation as Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency but also designated him as the future chief negotiator for SALT. Smith was confirmed on February 7.

On February 4 the President reiterated his concerns about “linkage” and strategic arms control in identical letters to Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird:

“I am convinced that the great issues are fundamentally interrelated. I do not mean by this to establish artificial linkages between specific elements of one or another issue or between tactical steps that we may elect to take. But I do believe that crisis or confrontation in one place and real cooperation in another cannot long be sustained simultaneously.”

The President’s letter concludes: “Without attempting to lay down inflexible prescriptions about how various matters at issue between ourselves and the USSR should be connected, I would like to illustrate what I have in mind in one case of immediate and widespread interest—the proposed talks on strategic weapons. I believe our decision on when and how to proceed does not depend exclusively on our review of the purely military and technical issues, although these are of [Page 2] key importance. This decision should also be taken in the light of the prevailing political context and, in particular, in light of progress toward stabilizing the explosive Middle East situation, and in light of the Paris talks. I believe I should retain the freedom to ensure, to the extent that we have control over it, that the timing of talks with the Soviet Union on strategic weapons is optimal.”

For the full text of Nixon’s letter to Rogers, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 10. For the full text of the letter to Laird, see ibid., volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 10.