132. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin

Dobrynin asked whether our proposal2 foresaw only a numerical limitation or also a limitation on modernization. I said as I had presented it, I foresaw a limitation only on numbers. Dobrynin then asked whether we included land-based systems only or sea-based ones as well. I said we were prepared to do either. Dobrynin then asked me whether I had any particular length of time in mind if an agreement on ABM should include a commitment to negotiate offensive limitations. I replied we had no particular time limit in mind, but something like 18 months to two years would be reasonable for negotiating offensive limits.

Dobrynin then made the following statement. He said he had been authorized by the Politburo to convey to the President that the Soviet Union wanted a SALT agreement and the earlier the practical result, the better. The Soviet leaders agreed to a formal agreement on ABM. They preferred an agreement that was limited to capital cities, but they were willing to consider an agreement that included some missile sites on our side and the capital city on theirs. They wanted an agreement [Page 402] that was confined to numbers and did not preclude modernization. They were prepared to include in this agreement a commitment to undertake serious negotiations to bring about offensive limitations, and they were open to proposals as to the length of time. They were prepared to discuss sea-based systems, but they preferred not to do so at this point. The Soviet leaders were also prepared to accept a freeze on land-based construction as part of a tacit understanding, and they wondered how that might be expressed. I asked whether the Soviet leaders might be prepared to agree to a zero ABM level. Dobrynin said he doubted this. Dobrynin said that the Soviet leaders would prefer an agreement confined to capital cities—(1) because it seemed more symmetrical, and (2) because if we were limited to three missile fields and they to the capital cities, the Soviet public would think we got the better of the deal, and there had to be something else involved.

I laughed and said that anyone who knew him and me would automatically assume that he had gotten the better of the deal. As to the intention to proceed with offensive limitations negotiations, I asked Dobrynin whether they were dealing conditionally—that is to say, would in his view the ABM agreement lapse if the negotiations did not succeed. He said no, it should be expressed not as a condition but as an expression of intention. I asked Dobrynin whether the freeze would lapse after 18 months or whatever limit was specified. Dobrynin said no; the freeze on offensive deployments could continue until an agreement on offensive limitations was signed. Dobrynin then asked me whether I had any ideas on how we could formalize the freeze. I said there would have to be something in writing lest it lead to a series of misunderstandings. Dobrynin suggested also that we come to an understanding prior to March 15 or the resumption of the SALT talks, so that the negotiators could be instructed to work out the detailed agreement.

I proposed the following procedure. Either the President would make a public speech to which the Soviet Union would reply or the President would write a letter to Kosygin to which the Soviet leader would reply, and the exchange could then become a statement of principles. Dobrynin said he liked the idea of the letter, and he suggested that we proceed at the next meeting by my giving him a draft of the letter which he could then transmit to Moscow and which we would then agree to settle on by the end of the month.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 79, Country Files, Europe, USSR, SALT, May 20, 1971 Announcement—State Dept. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation took place at the Soviet Embassy. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger left the White House at 8:10 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976 Record of Schedule) The NSC staff extracted this discussion of SALT from a memorandum of conversation of the entire meeting, which covered a range of topics. The memorandum of conversation was sent to Nixon under a covering memorandum on February 16. The memorandum of conversation and the covering memorandum are ibid., NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4, and are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 110.
  2. Kissinger met with Dobrynin on February 2 and 4 to discuss several issues. On February 8 Kissinger sent the President a memorandum summarizing the meetings. According to the memorandum, on February 2 the following comments were made about SALT: “Instructions had not yet been sent by Moscow on the offensive weapons aspect of a SALT agreement. (I explained that our talks could not be very fruitful if they covered an ABM agreement alone.)” On February 4, according to Kissinger’s summary memorandum, the following comments were made: “On SALT , they agreed to talk about both offensive and defensive limitations with the former being part of a tacit freeze and the latter being part of a formal agreement.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4)