177. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

108. Dear Henry:

In July 13th post plenary,2 pursuant to White House instructions,3 I said to Semenov that I understood some Soviet officials felt the US had not been serious in proposing an ABM ban, but had put it forward for propaganda. I was authorized to say that the ban is a serious proposal. I was instructed to sound out Semenov as to whether the Soviet Government was interested in pursuing it. I had not formally tabled a ban because I was familiar with the official Soviet position.

Semenov asked whether his understanding was correct that the US would be prepared to set forth its views on this alternative in detail if the Soviet side showed interest in the matter. He also asked whether his understanding was correct that elaboration of US views could take place in a less formal manner than in plenary.

I said that, on the substance, I would limit myself at the present time to what I had already said. As far as procedure was concerned, if the two sides were to pursue this question, I would be willing to do [Page 561]so either in private conversation with Semenov or in a meeting more restricted than a plenary. For the moment, however, my instructions were merely to sound out Semenov and to learn whether the Soviet side would be interested.

Semenov said “frankly” he had brought instructions for this eventuality, to the following effect—he was to listen carefully to US considerations with respect to this question to determine their substance and real significance. He did not have to ask for additional reactions from Moscow before responding to my question. It was for this reason that he had asked what procedure I had in mind for setting forth the US views which I evidently planned to express.

Semenov said that the two sides were now coming close to the substance of the question of limiting ABMs. It would be wise to consider what the two sides had to say without prejudice. The Soviet side would be interested to hear US views in this connection. Semenov would report my approach to his capital and he could tell me now that he would wish to hear US views in as much detail as possible. I said I would also report this conversation to Washington and would later be in a better position to determine how to proceed.

I have not yet reported this in normal channels, but propose to do so by July 15th unless you advise to the contrary.

I propose to prepare a talking paper outlining the case for a ban, which I will forward before using.

Many thanks for your help in getting our position squared away for today’s session, which went well.

Warm regards.

Gerry Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1971, SALT. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Passed to San Clemente where Kissinger was staying on his return from Beijing. He returned to Washington on July 18 with President Nixon.
  2. In telegram USDEL SALT 809, July 14, Smith reported his post-plenary conversation with Semenov. (Ibid., Box 881, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XV, May 1–July 1971)
  3. See Documents 171 and 173.