185. Editorial Note

On July 28, 1971, Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jacob Beam met for almost 2 hours with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko for a general review of bilateral relations. According to Beam’s reporting telegram 5367 from Moscow, July 28, the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) were briefly discussed: “Gromyko noted talks were in progress in Helsinki but it was still difficult to forecast results. Soviet desire to find common language with us on central points, if not all points, is not lessening.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 716, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XV)

On August 3, in a memorandum to President Nixon, President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger informed him of Beam’s conversation with Gromyko. Kissinger emphasized that “ Gromyko made a special point of saying he had just talked with Brezhnev , who had asked him to appraise the course of US policy toward the USSR. Gromyko claimed that he had answered by saying that much was presently unclear in US policy, but that fairly soon certain questions (Berlin? SALT?) would be answered and this would clarify our overall policy. Gromyko made a point of saying that his conversation with Brezhnev should be brought to your attention.” Kissinger noted that Beam [Page 577] “sees this as a possible opportunity, if not an invitation, to a high level dialogue, should you be interested.” (Ibid.)

Taking the Soviet cue, Nixon wrote General Secretary Brezhnev on August 5 about the state of affairs between the two superpowers in a letter that Kissinger handed to Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Nixon made the following reference to SALT:

“The agreement announced on May 20 represented a commitment at the highest levels of the political leadership of both our countries to achieve a successful outcome in the negotiations for limitation of strategic armaments. My representatives in Helsinki are under instructions to complete an early equitable agreement on ABMs as well as a parallel agreement on certain measures with regard to the limitation of strategic offensive weapons. We will then have a basis for a more complete limitation of offensive weapons. The final result will strengthen security, permit valuable resources and talents to be used for constructive purposes and, together with progress in the resolution of other differences, contribute to a stable and peaceful world.” (Ibid., Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 1)

According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met with Dobrynin on August 10 from 5:34 to 5:52 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) Although no other record of the conversation has been found, at that time Dobrynin handed him a note for President Nixon, which explained that “the Soviet leadership on its part also reaffirms the earlier principal agreement (understanding) with President Nixon concerning his visit to Moscow for discussion of questions of mutual interest with the aim of finding their mutually acceptable solutions.” No direct references were made to SALT. (Ibid.)

On September 7 Brezhnev replied to Nixon’s August 5 letter. Although most of Brezhnev’s letter focused on Indochina and the Middle East, he commented on SALT as follows:

“I share your appraisal of the business-like nature of the strategic arms limitation talks under way between our Governments. Important in itself here is the very fact that both you and ourselves have come to the conclusion that agreement in that field is possible if both sides display caution in those matters which concern the interests of their security, and do not strive to achieve unilateral advantages. There exists now a common understanding on what the talks must concentrate first of all, and that may become the proper foundation for attaining practical decisions. We continue to believe it desirable to agree on a limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems, but only on the basis of the principle of complete equivalence. The first concrete results achieved at [Page 578] those negotiations—completion of the agreement on measure of reducing the danger of outbreak of nuclear war between the USSR and the U.S.—represent, without doubt, a positive factor in Soviet-American relations.” (Ibid., Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 7 [Part 1])

On September 17 Kissinger forwarded the letter to Nixon under a covering memorandum that noted, “Brezhnev fails to mention the offensive side of the May 20 understanding to which you had referred in your letter.” In the margin, Nixon wrote, “K—brace Dobrynin on this.” (Ibid., Box 497, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 1)

Nixon’s August 5 letter, the Soviet note, and Brezhnev’s September 7 letter are printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Documents 309, 314, and 324, respectively.