15. Editorial Note

On June 11, 1969, Secretary of State Rogers and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin met in the afternoon prior to the Ambassador’s departure for Moscow. Although no memorandum of conversation has been found, according to Rogers’s evening report to President Nixon, the following exchange took place about the modalities of initial strategic arms limitation talks:

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SALT—I told Dobrynin that we would be prepared to begin the strategic arms limitation talks July 30 or 31, and that we are flexible on the site of such talks. While Dobrynin and I had on past occasions discussed Geneva as a possible site, it was our view that perhaps this was not the most desirable place because of other activities going on there, and we might consider other alternatives, possibly Vienna or Helsinki. It might be that the most suitable way to proceed would be for a U.S. team to visit Moscow, or a USSR team to come to Washington, for a couple of weeks of preliminary talks in order to gain a clearer idea as to how the talks might proceed and how long they might last before fixing on a permanent location. I emphasized to Dobrynin that the proposed date was for his government’s information only at this time, and I would hope there would be no preliminary leaks since we had our own consultation processes to complete before any public announcement. It was my thought that if his government should respond favorably to our proposal, we could then agree on a simultaneous announcement. Dobrynin said that he understood the problem, would report to his government immediately after his arrival on both the proposed date as well as our ideas on how the talks might begin, and get word to us probably through Ambassador Beam in Moscow.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 8, President’s Daily Briefings, President’s Daily Brief, June 2–16, 1969)

On June 20 Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Smith provided Rogers a paper on the advantages and disadvantages of alternative sites for SALT. In his covering memorandum, Smith explained that he had “been searching for some site that would tend to diminish the ‘circus’ aspects of SALT.” He concluded that the best alternatives, in order of preference, were Washington and Moscow, Vienna, Geneva, and Helsinki. (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files: FRC 383–97–0010, Director’s Files, Smith/Farley Chronological File, Smith/Rogers Correspondence, February 1969–May 1971)

In his memoirs, Smith explained the final decision on the location:

“The Soviets naturally pounced on the idea of Helsinki, almost at Leningrad’s back door. As time passed and no date for the negotiation was set, I made a nuisance of myself with Rogers and the White House stressing that Helsinki had been my last choice. It was unfit for winter negotiation. I even enlisted security people to point out the danger to the delegation from the many Soviet agents known to be operating in Finland. … Rogers felt that we had offered the Soviets a choice. They had accepted one and that amounted to a contract. I didn’t at all like losing this first trick in the SALT game. Once located in Helsinki, it would be hard to switch.[…] I did manage to obtain guidance from the White House that the United States would not accept Helsinki as the site for subsequent phases of the negotiation. Later we had to compromise.” (Smith, Doubletalk, page 78)