164. Editorial Note

On June 4, 1971, between 4:47 and 5:59 p.m., President Nixon briefly discussed with President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger and Assistant to the President Haldeman, the relationship of SALT to the Vietnam war and an opening with China:

Kissinger: “By the end of the summer, we will know whether we have broken Vietnam.”

Nixon: “Or, or SALT.”

Kissinger: “Or SALT.”

Nixon: “Or China.”

Kissinger: “Or China.”

Nixon: “Once we know we’re going to do that, we’ll know which is which.”

Kissinger: “Well, it’d be nice if we could make them all work together.”

Nixon: “As well as a summit.”

Kissinger: “But China, we’ve got, and that we can—”

Nixon: “Yeah, if we can get one more, I mean—”

Kissinger: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “—then we could get two out of three. That’s pretty good.”

The discussion moved to unrelated subjects then returned to SALT.

Kissinger: “In terms of achievements—this sounds self-serving—but, who has had a 3-year period like this? If you had said on January 20th that you would get 400,000 troops out of Vietnam in 2 years, open the way to—of a visit to Peking, a visit to Moscow, a SALT agreement, you’d have all of that done at the end of your third year—”

Nixon: “That’d be incredible, wouldn’t it?”

Kissinger: “—they would have said, ‘That’s insanity!’” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 512–27) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.

[Page 511]

On June 8 Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin for a 3-hour dinner during which they discussed a variety of foreign policy issues, including China, Vietnam, and SALT. In a memorandum prepared on June 8 and forwarded to Nixon on June 15, Kissinger described the discussion about SALT as follows:

“We then turned to SALT. I said that I hoped that the Soviet negotiators would come to Helsinki in a positive spirit—that this had become a test case, and it would be very important for us to proceed properly.

Dobrynin said that in a way he regretted that SALT had become the test case of our relationship. ‘In a way,’ he said, ‘you’ve even imposed it on us.’ The reason he regretted it was because, whether I believed it or not, he was in favor of closer Soviet-American relations and so, on the whole, was the whole Foreign Office. On the other hand, this was an issue which was essentially out of their control because the military played a very important role. Moreover, he said, in the Soviet system they did not have the cushion that was provided by our staff system. When any issue arose, therefore, it was taken directly to Brezhnev by the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry. The Foreign Ministry was precluded from making any comments on military issues. They could only defend their proposals on the grounds that it would help relations with the United States. The military were precluded from making any political judgments, but on the other hand, their military judgments were pretty definitive. This separation was being strictly maintained. For example, when Dobrynin was in Moscow for the Party Congress, he wanted military briefings. This required special Politburo clearance which was reluctantly granted, partly on the basis of his new membership in the Central Committee.

“Therefore, Dobrynin could not in good conscience predict just how things were going to go in Helsinki. He was strongly advocating, and he knew Gromyko was also, that progress be made. But he also knew that this was not a matter entirely up to them. He thought that the issue of missile defense as against NCA would present some conceptual difficulty since their military frankly didn’t understand why we were so interested in that. He also said that he did not think the idea of Semenov coming over here in the interval would work because Semenov would be too busy preparing for Helsinki.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [Part 2]) The full text of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 252.