118. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Status Report on SALT

The SALT talks will probably now close by December 18, and be resumed after the Soviet Party Congress now announced for March 30. As the talks draw to a close Ambassador Smith has sent you a report, giving his view and interpretation of the highlights (Tab A).2

  • —The Soviets have proposed a separate agreement on ABM,3 limited to the defense of Moscow and Washington. It is not fully clear whether negotiation on their proposal would proceed in parallel with negotiation of offensive weapons, or whether a separate agreement would be reached first on ABM. The latter seems to be the Soviet approach.
  • —The Soviets have stressed the importance they attach to their proposal and to our not rejecting it out of hand.
  • —The Soviets have also made a new “proposal” to deal with our forward based air and missile systems.4 They call for a partial withdrawal of these systems, dismantling of their bases, and, in addition, a unilateral US reduction of ICBMs, or submarine launched missiles, or heavy bombers. The Ambassador, who turned this down immediately believes this proposal was made only to make the negotiations on offensive weapons look so unattractive that the separate ABM agreement, by comparison, would look good.

On the basis of his instructions he has tried to elicit as much as possible of the general Soviet position, and he reports the following:

  • —The Soviets have not raised the issue of joint action to deter or to retaliate against the so-called “provocative” attack from third countries.
  • —They prefer agreement on ABMs to defend the National Command Authority (Moscow and Washington) to a complete ban, though they are careful not to rule this out.
  • —The Soviets have agreed to our definition of heavy bombers (though there remain differences on counting those in mothballs) and have agreed to include their diesel powered submarines in the total numbers of submarine launched missiles.
  • —The Soviet position on national means of verification and the operation of a joint commission to police an agreement is close to our proposal.
  • —The Soviets have refused to disclose the numbers they attach to any of their proposals, nor have they been willing to accept our concept of sub-ceilings for missiles and a special ceiling for the large SS–9 type missile.

The Ambassador concludes that it is premature to make any recommendation before considering the significance of the Helsinki stage.

This report accentuates the positive aspects of the Helsinki negotiations; but we should not overlook the negative signs. For example, the Soviets made no attempt to deal seriously with our extensive proposals of August 4.5 Moreover, they presented a truncated counterproposal and then suddenly shifted to the entirely new concept of ABM only agreements and immediately started applying pressure for favorable consideration—though it was clearly agreed at the outset of the negotiations that the objective was to limit both offensive and defensive systems.

The Soviets expounded their general approach to a limitation which in effect amounts to a rejection, as “superfluous,” of most if not all the collateral constraints and limits that we deemed necessary for verification. The so-called proposal on a partial withdrawal of our forward based aircraft systems, the dismantling of their bases, and the unilateral reduction of our strategic system as a compensation for not agreeing to total withdrawal is so patently absurd as to raise doubts of their seriousness in SALT.

In short, one can argue as Ambassador Smith does, that we have made some progress, and on some points this is quite true. One must also recognize, however, that the points which divide us are more critical to final success than the areas of general and rather ill-defined agreement. Above all, it is not clear whether the Soviet price for any SALT agreement is some concession to their demands against our forward deployments, or acceptance of their separate ABM agreement.

The Verification Panel has been meeting this week to consider these very issues,6 and I will be submitting as soon as possible a report on these deliberations and recommendations on how to handle the issues in the brief remainder of the Helsinki session.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 879, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIII, October–December 1970. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Urgent; Sent for urgent information. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 115.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 116.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 104.
  6. See Document 117.