160. Editorial Note

On May 20, 1971, President Nixon and Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers Kosygin issued a joint statement about their desire to come to an agreement on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Their statement, read on nationwide television and radio by Nixon and aired simultaneously on Moscow radio, stated:

“The Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union, after reviewing the course of their talks on the limitation of strategic armaments, have agreed to concentrate this year on working out an agreement for the limitation of the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems (ABMs). They have also agreed that, together with concluding an agreement to limit ABMs, they will agree on certain measures with respect to the limitation of offensive strategic weapons.

“The two sides are taking this course in the conviction that it will create more favorable conditions for further negotiations to limit all strategic arms. These negotiations will be actively pursued.”

The text of the statement and Nixon’s additional remarks are printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, page 648.

Nixon and Kosygin exchanged letters similar in content to their public statement. The letters are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 1.

The Congressional reaction to the May 20 announcement was generally positive, although Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J.W. Fulbright (D–AR) initially said he did not completely understand its significance and would reserve judgment. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. (R–OH) noted: “What it means is that the Russians are willing to talk about defensive weapons, the ABM, as well as offensive strategic weapons. This, I think, does indicate that we have a much better chance of making some meaningful progress.” Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield (D–MT) stated: “I think that now there is some light at the end of the tunnel, to use a time-worn phrase, in these negotiations which have been going on for so long in both Helsinki and Vienna.” (Congressional Quarterly Almanac, May 28, 1971, page 1155)

President Nixon was concerned about press reaction to his announcement and potential leaks. In a May 21 memorandum to Secretary of State Rogers, Secretary of Defense Laird, and Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Smith, the President called for an end to leaks about SALT and warned: “I expect that prompt disciplinary action will be instituted against any person found to be responsible for stimulating the kind of press speculation on our negotiation position that appeared in the press for May 21, 1971.” (National [Page 504] Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 881, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XV, May 1–July 1971)

Press comment on the announcement was muted and President’s Special Assistant Bob Houdek sent a memorandum to President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger on May 21 that reads in part: “Haldeman, Colson and Company are concerned that the President is not getting enough credit for yesterday’s SALT announcement, and have asked that you meet with or make phone calls to several newsmen who did not attend your briefings yesterday. The names specifically suggested were William S. White, James J. Kilpatrick and Hugh Sidey.” (Ibid.)