254. 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

294. Perhaps some personal views after two weeks in Helsinki would be useful.

The Soviet SL “neutral/negative” attitude continues to be puzzling. I question the view held by several experts here that Soviets will agree to formal SL freeze. At best, I guess, we may get a foreshadowing of their willingness to consider summit declarations re SL restraint/constraint. I have, and will forward to you if you wish, some personal ideas re possible form of such declarations.

The factor which will tend to block ABM settlement seems to me to be our calling for an option to “defend”ICBM’s in two fields while Soviets would “defend” ICBM’s in one field (containing even fewer ICBM’s than in one U.S. field).

Soviets can calculate as well as we that Malmstrom per se does nothing for U.S. strategically. They likely estimate that we have in mind laying the groundwork for a widespread system (perhaps HSD). Our pressure for a special withdrawal clause may tend to confirm such calculation.

The signal I get from the latest Soviet ABM proposal is that this U.S. ICBM field defense option is very hard if not impossible for them to take.

If U.S. could see its way clear to opting for Grand Forks plus Washington, I believe jam would be broken. With about 75 interceptors (approximate number presently advanced in construction at Grand Forks) or enlargement of ICBM defense area to allow “coverage” of number of Soviet silos comparable to number covered at Grand Forks, overall “equalization” would result.

I would recall that estimates re NCA’s acceptability in Congress have recently changed. Radar problems seem soluble.

You might consider authorizing a Smith tentative probe in this general direction, the results of which could help any White House decision.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusive Eyes Only. Copies were sent to Haig and Sonnenfeldt.