213. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger


We then discussed SALT. Dobrynin asked me what possibilities I saw. I said it was important that we concluded an agreement. Was it his understanding that it would be finished by the time of the Summit? Dobrynin said it was the firm intention of the Soviet leadership to conclude the agreement in such a manner that it could be signed at the Summit.

Dobrynin asked about my view with respect to defensive weapons; specifically, whether I could imagine a compromise. What was our reasoning for rejecting the Soviet proposal of September 7th?2 I replied that the practical consequence of it might be that it would give them three sites as against one for us. They would defend two missile fields plus Moscow while we would have to destroy our defense at one missile field but would get the right to defend Washington, for which we could not get any money. Dobrynin said he believed this but no one in Moscow would believe that the American Government could not get money for the defense of its capital, and therefore this was considered a weak argument in Moscow.

I pointed out that the Moscow system already defended 400 missiles. He said, “Yes, but it is only one point, while the American system has two points and thus provided an air raid basis for area defense.” Dobrynin asked whether I thought we would accept a two-for-two trade—one missile field in the Soviet Union, even if it had fewer missiles, for NCA. I said it was premature, but I did not think so. He said “let them talk another few weeks, and we will reconsider it in January.”

[Page 648]

We then turned to offensive limitations. He said that the record of the discussions prior to May 20th was unclear, but he had to say that it concentrated, in his mind, mostly on ICBMs. I said that the situation seemed to me to be as follows: Legally, the exchange of letters3 certainly left us free to include SLBM’s, and there had even been some discussion of it in our conversations. At the same time, I had to grant him the fact that we were more concerned at that time with ICBM’s, and the thrust of our conversations dealt with them. I was not concerned with the legal argument, but with the substantive one. It would be difficult to explain to the American people why ICBM’s should be constrained but a race at sea should continue. I had to tell him frankly that there were many in our government who were not particularly eager to constrain SLBM’s because it gave us an opportunity to relaunch a new weapons program at sea. Therefore, if the Soviets rejected our SLBM proposal, our Joint Chiefs of Staff would in my judgment not be a bit unhappy. On the other hand, it seemed to me it would be best if we did limit it. Dobrynin asked why, if we insisted on maintaining superiority at sea, would we be willing to settle for 41 modern submarines for each side? I said I was not sure, but this was not an unreasonable proposition, though I recommended that they surface it through his channel first so that I could make a final check.

Dobrynin said that when he came back from Moscow, he would have an answer, but he hoped we had until March.

Dobrynin then asked how all of this would be affected if China started developing a large nuclear arsenal. Did we think that China could have 50 nuclear submarines while we were constrained to 41? I said that, of course, if we agreed on SALT, we would start an evolution of a common approach to the whole issues of strategic arms that would have to take into account an evolving threat by other nuclear countries. We could not use SALT agreements to give other countries an opportunity to outstrip us.

Dobrynin then suggested very strongly that the chief Soviet reason for an ABM buildup was Communist China. I said, on the other hand, we are told by Smith all the time that you really want a zero ABM. Dobrynin said, “I wish Smith would stop playing games. We are only dealing with him on this basis so that we do not have to bear the onus of rejecting a zero ABM, but please do not propose it to us.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 485, President’s Trip Files, USSR, Issues Papers Vol. IV, SALT, Confidential Channels. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the Soviet Embassy. The NSC staff prepared this extract from a larger memorandum of conversation of the entire meeting, which covered a range of topics. The full memorandum of conversation is ibid., Box 492, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 8. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 13.
  2. See Document 185.
  3. See Document 160.