248. 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

275. Dear Henry:

On March 30th Kishilov told Garthoff that the transcript of President Nixon’s March 24th press conference2 had raised questions in their minds as to the US position and the President’s remarks left obscure whether the President wished the SLBM question to be left for a decision at the summit. When Garthoff said that that was an incorrect interpretation, Kishilov said that he could understand Garthoff’s explanation, but “there were others who might continue to interpret the President’s own views on the relationships of SALT to the summit in a somewhat different way.”

I think this Soviet interpretation is not farfetched, but I do not believe it is one which the President would like to leave in the Soviet mind.

I have assured Semenov that our purpose at Helsinki is to do our best to finalize agreements here. But it would be helpful if I could tell him that I have checked with the President and that the Soviet interpretation of his remarks on 24 March is not correct. It would also be helpful if the President found an occasion to say to the press that although one cannot foresee the outcome of the Helsinki phase, he does not rule out the possibility that SALT agreements may be reached in Helsinki before the upcoming summit.

Warm regards.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusive; Eyes Only.
  2. During his news conference, Nixon commented on SALT and the summit: “The Moscow trip […] will be primarily devoted to a number of substantive issues of very great importance. One of them may be SALT, if SALT is not completed before Moscow. It does not appear now likely that they can complete SALT before Moscow, because I find that while we are agreed in principle on the limitation of offensive and defensive weapons, that we are still very far apart on some fundamental issues—well, for example, whether or not SLBM’s should be included.” For the full text of Nixon’s news conference, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 488–498.
  3. On March 31 Sonnenfeldt drafted a response that reads: “There can be absolutely no question that ‘Soviet interpretation’ is wrong. We wish SLBM question settled as part of effort to finalize agreement at Helsinki. Please ensure that there is no misunderstanding on this score.” A handwritten note by Haig on Sonnenfeldt’s transmittal memorandum to Kissinger reads: “Hal, HAK said don’t answer.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT)