201. Editorial Note
President Nixon was scheduled to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on September 29, 1971, at the White House. Before their meeting, Nixon and President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger discussed talking points. In a conversation that began at noon and lasted a little over an hour, Nixon and Kissinger had a brief exchange about the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT):
Kissinger: “Early in the discussion, Mr. President, you should raise SALT—”
Kissinger: “—and, on SALT, the issue, briefly, is this: We had told them that—in the private discussions—we had told them: three of our ABM sites for their Moscow system, plus an offensive freeze. They now say it’s got to be one-for-one on the defensive side, too. But that means their Moscow system covers 40 percent of the population, while one ABM site for us covers only 2 percent of the population, up in North Dakota. You shouldn’t go into all this detail, but—”
Nixon: “All right.”
Kissinger: “—what you might say, though, is, ‘We have to move it forward at the next session.’ Our proposal, in effect, is that both sides stay where they are in both categories. We have two ABM sites defensively, but they have more missiles offensively. And, therefore, the freeze is equiv—that if we freeze now, and on both of them, that is fair. They can’t ask us to cut down on our ABM sites, but keep an edge in offensive missiles.”
Nixon: “So, in effect, we just reiterate we want a freeze?”
Kissinger: “We reiterate that the—that when they speak of equivalence, they can’t say there’s going to be the same number of things on the defensive side, but they can stay ahead in the offensive side. So, what—you could say the essence of our proposal is that both sides stay where they are in both categories—defensive and offensive.”
Nixon: “Hm-hmm. What if he says, ‘What about MIRV?’”
Kissinger: “He won’t say that.”
Nixon: “That changes—”
Kissinger: “I’ll guarantee you he won’t—”
Nixon: “That changes the number, too. Well, go ahead.”
Kissinger: “That’s right. I mean that’s—that’s our hole card.”
Nixon: “That’s right.”
Kissinger: “But we need that [unclear]—”
Nixon: “You know, you stop to think here. Suppose we’d given in to Percy and, frankly, broken the rest and said, ‘Why don’t we have a [Page 614] ban on MIRV?’ You know, we—we will have—we would have—if a Kennedy, or a Muskie, or a Humphrey had been sitting in this chair, the United States today would have Gromyko looking right down our throat.”
Kissinger: “This, Mr. President—”
Nixon: “It’s close as it is.”
Kissinger: “This is where these—when these conservatives say, ‘Well, what difference did it make who was here?’ Good God, we would have no ABM, we would have no MIRV.”
Nixon: “That’s right.”
Kissinger: “In net, we would have no B–1, we would have no ULMS.”
Nixon: “Henry, the conservatives, I frankly think they’re—then—let ‘em squall.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 580–13) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
Nixon met with Gromyko in the Oval Office at 3 p.m. Secretary of State Rogers and Kissinger also attended. According to a memorandum for the President’s file prepared by Kissinger on September 29, SALT was discussed at length:
“Naturally, there were other outstanding problems between us. A matter coming to mind immediately was the SALT negotiation, where we had taken a significant step which, however, did not represent the major resolution we were looking for. The President said that we believed that our joint announcement of May 20 had been received everywhere as a hopeful sign that the leadership of our two countries had resolved to reach agreement on a freeze of both offensive and defensive weapons. We recognized that this was a most important matter for both of us since the negotiations dealt with basic questions of our respective security. Without going into detail, the President wanted to say that it was our position on the defensive side that we had presented what we believed to be a fair proposition. Without going into intricacies, as we saw things, on the offensive side the Soviet Union would have an advantage of about 500 land-based missiles. Thus it could be seen that what we were proposing on the defensive side was a reasonable proposal. It would not be reasonable for the United States to agree that we freeze an offensive advantage for the Soviet Union while achieving equality only on the defensive side. This would be severely criticized by our public and in Congress. He did not expect the Foreign Minister to respond at this time, but he wanted to say that this was the very heart of the problem and he hoped that it could be explored. We still felt that progress at SALT was most important. The Soviet [Page 615] Union had continued to build up offensive armaments and we were not objecting to that, recognizing that we would do the same in a similar situation. On the other hand, if we could not work out an agreement, as Ambassador Dobrynin could confirm, there were many people in this country, many in the President’s own party, who would advocate resuming a build-up of offensive armaments on our side. Thus it was in our interests and in the interests of the Soviet Union to seek an agreement that would not give a decisive advantage to either of us. Both of us should consider reaching an agreement that would provide sufficiency for each. These were the general comments he wanted to make in regard to this question.
“Mr. Gromyko wanted to emphasize great importance that the Soviet Union attached to the negotiations on limitation of both offensive and defensive armaments. In this connection, he also wanted to note that the strategic arms limitation talks had provided the impetus for those agreements which were going to be signed tomorrow as a byproduct of SALT. Without SALT these agreements would not have been possible except at a much later date perhaps. On the real subject matter of the negotiations he wanted to emphasize the seriousness of the position and intentions of the Soviet side. Mr. Gromyko wanted to draw the President’s attention to the last proposal on ABM’s which had been tabled by the Soviet Government. He did not know whether it had been studied in great detail by the U.S. Government and by the President himself, but it seemed to him that it should provide a basis for agreement. The Soviet proposal was not bad as proposals go. It provided for the defense of national capitals and one ICBM location for each side, with the proviso that the United States would choose its ICBM location to be defended and the Soviet Union would defend a commensurate number of ICBM silos in the Soviet Union. As for offensive strategic armaments, not only did the Soviet Union not oppose their limitation; the President had been right when he had said that we should proceed to consider certain steps towards their limitation, and at the next phase of SALT it will be necessary to enter upon concrete discussion of this problem. The Soviet Union wanted both sides to continue negotiations and the Soviet side was no less resolved now and would remain resolved to bring about their success to the extent possible. In this connection, Mr. Gromyko had noted the statement of Mr. Schumann, Foreign Minister of France, at the General Assembly yesterday. As he understood this statement, it meant that France would support the objectives pursued by our two countries in regard to limitation of strategic offensive and defensive armaments. It had sounded to him as if France would join in at least as to the substance of the tasks and objectives pursued at the negotiations.[Page 616]
“Unless the President had something further on bilateral arrangements, Mr. Gromyko said he would like to say a few words regarding problems in Europe.
“On the subject of SALT, the President wanted to add that what Mr. Gromyko had said demonstrated the reason why we must look at the whole package. If we were to separate out defensive armaments only, that would be fine if that were all we were talking about. However, if we found inequality on the offensive side, this would make the whole agreement difficult. The President emphasized that we needed to come up with a solution that could not be viewed as freezing inequality on one side and equality on the other.
“Mr. Gromyko said he could only repeat that the Soviet Union was not making such a distinction. At the next phase of SALT we would be able to discuss both sides more completely in the interests of finding a solution in this field.
“The President said that the interest of both our countries in reaching agreement on strategic armaments was demonstrated by the fact that the United States had frozen the number of its offensive weapons some time ago, yet hardly a day went by that we did not receive reports of an increasing buildup in the Soviet Union. He did not mean to raise objections in this regard since the Soviet actions were based upon evaluations of its own security, but it was necessary to realize that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States would let either side get an advantage. Thus the time now was ripe for reaching an appropriate agreement.
“Secretary Rogers explained that one difficulty we had with the latest Soviet proposal was the fact that it provided for an additional build-up of armaments on each side. Since our objective was limitation, such a proposal would not be viewed as limitation in fact.
“Ambassador Dobrynin pointed out that the last Soviet proposal was designed to provide a compromise acceptable to both sides. The Soviet Union was basically in favor of limiting ABM defenses to protection of national capitals, but since the United States had considered it important to defend ICBM’s, the latest proposal had been designed to find a solution acceptable to both sides.
“The President said we could not decide this issue here, but we believe that we have presented a position as forthcoming as we could be and, in view of the high stakes involved, we would continue negotiations.
“Mr. Gromyko said that evidently both sides would have to take stock and analyze the results of the negotiations to date, and also map out their respective positions for the next phase of the negotiations. He repeated that it was his government’s belief that at the next phase of SALT it would be necessary thoroughly to discuss the second aspect [Page 617] of limitation as well, in order to try and find mutually acceptable common language.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 7 [Part 1]) The full text of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 337.