140. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Dobrynin set up the meeting urgently and it was held early in the morning because he was leaving for New York. Dobrynin began the conversation by handing me a draft letter from the Soviet Government (Tab A) in reply to the letter on SALT I had handed him on February 17 (Tab B).2 Dobrynin asked me what I thought of it.

I replied that, of course, I would have to discuss it with the President, but my first reaction was that this was merely a restatement of the maximum Soviet position. We could not agree to an ABM-only agreement. We could also not agree to discuss a “freeze” only after an agreement had been made. It would seem to me that the only way we could make progress is by agreeing in principle on a “freeze”—then negotiating the agreement and then going back to the details of the “freeze.”

Dobrynin said that the best way to proceed would be for me to draft the version of what sort of a letter would be acceptable to us. I replied that I had trouble enough drafting documents for the U.S. Government; I could not draft them for the Soviet Government as well. Dobrynin then suggested that I perhaps redraft our original document in a more general way, keeping in mind that perhaps the Soviet Government did not want to commit itself now to any specific dates for implementing the “freeze.” I told him I would have to discuss it with the President.3

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

[Page 427]

Tab A

Draft Letter From the Soviet Government to President Nixon 4

“The Soviet Government has carefully considered the course of the exchange of opinion between the USSR and the United States delegations at the negotiations on strategic armament limitations. Proceeding from the situation shaping up now at those negotiations, the Soviet Government believes it expedient to concentrate in the current year on solving the questions related to the limitation of ABM systems in order to conduct, after conclusion of a separate agreement on ABM limitation, active talks aimed at limiting strategic offensive weapons. The Soviet Government proceeds in this from the mutual understanding to the effect that the ABM limitation will not only put an end to the competition in the field of strategic defensive weapons, but will constitute an important factor also in restraining the race in strategic offensive armaments.

In order to facilitate more favorable conditions for finding ways to reach an agreement on strategic offensive weapons limitation the Soviet side is prepared in principle to discuss subsequently the question of ‘freezing’ strategic offensive weapons raised by the American side. Concrete details will be discussed after a separate ABM agreement is concluded. We proceed from the assumption that a ‘freezing’ of strategic offensive weapons should not concern possible modernization and replacement of such weapons.

Guided by this, the Soviet Government will give instructions to its delegation at the negotiations with the United States delegation on strategic armaments limitations to conduct talks in Vienna, aimed at drawing up the text of an ABM agreement proceeding from the view that deployment of the ABM systems by the USSR and the United States must be limited to the systems needed for the defense of the capitals—Moscow and Washington.

In such an agreement the obligation of the sides to continue active negotiations on the limitations of strategic offensive weapons will be fixed.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 5. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Map Room at the White House. The full text of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 135.
  2. Printed as an attachment to Document 134.
  3. Between 8:51 and 9:01 a.m. Kissinger briefed Nixon on his meeting. Kissinger summarized the letter and the following discussion took place: Kissinger: “They, of course, are driving their usual hard bargain. They say, ‘Let’s negotiate in detail the defensive first, and then we will discuss the freezing.’ I told him that I didn’t know your thinking.” Nixon: “Um-hmm.” Kissinger: “But that that was too vague. I think what we have to ask them is this, Mr. President, that they agree to the principle of the freezing of deployments, then we will authorize Smith to discuss ABM with them. And then, before the whole thing gets wrapped up, we will agree to the specifics of the freezing. I don’t think with this new Soviet missile buildup we can afford to sign an ABM-only agreement—” Nixon: “No.” Kissinger: “—that isn’t very specific.” Nixon agreed and encouraged Kissinger to reply to the Soviets, saying: “Just get it. Don’t hang around long. We’ve got to get something done before Smith gets out there—” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, March 12, 1971, 8:51–9:01 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 467–11) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  4. No classification marking. A notation on the letter indicates that Dobrynin handed the letter to Kissinger at approximately 8 a.m