142. Letter From President Nixon to Secretary of State Rogers 1

Dear Bill:

There have been several disturbing indications that important past supporters of Safeguard in the Senate are hesitant to expose themselves this year by continuing their support if a SALT agreement could result in the tearing down of the sites already approved or being asked for. Such Senators as Jackson and Stennis have made comments to this effect.

For this reason, I want to stress the importance I attach to our new third ABM option, which was included in Gerry Smith’s instructions for the current Vienna phase of SALT.2 It is essential that Gerry and his senior colleagues make to the Soviet representatives an early presentation of our Safeguard/Moscow proposal which conveys a sense of [Page 432] complete seriousness and conviction. I regard this proposal as having at least equal status with our two earlier ABM approaches.

In addition to strengthening our hand in the debate on the Defense Budget by bringing our SALT position in line with our budget requests, I consider our proposal important because of our uncertainty about the significance of the recent intelligence on Soviet ICBM construction.

I recognize that judgments have been expressed that our proposal may not be negotiable. But I am impressed by the apparent eagerness of the Soviets to stop our Safeguard from progressing to the point where they fear it might be developed into a heavier area defense. If this is really their fear, it should be in their interest to get an assurance from us that Safeguard will be stopped well short of the point from which it might be developed as an area defense. For this reason, I believe our new third alternative may well be of interest to them.

I have written a brief note to Gerry on this subject and would appreciate your sending it to him urgently and in a way that makes clear the great importance I attach to it.3


  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 880, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIV, January 1–April 1971. Top Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. Document 138.
  3. Attached but not printed is the March 18 note to Smith on the importance of the ABM option. On March 23 Smith sent backchannel message 794 to Nixon through Kissinger. Smith explained he was implementing the President’s instructions and reported Semenov’s reaction: “The new US ABM proposal including the number of complexes suggested—four ABM sites for the United States and only one for the Soviet Union—was in his view aimed at attaining unilateral military advantages. He could state that such a proposal was not acceptable to the Soviet Union.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1971, SALT)