261. 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

328. Dear Henry:

Semenov returned today at three. We met at six with Garthoff and Kishilov. Semenov reported that he had met several times at the highest level to consider SALT questions.

He then read the following: “The question of SLBM launchers in connection with a possible agreement on certain measures with respect to strategic offensive weapons was presently under serious study in Moscow.”2 I noted the positive nature of this statement for SALT prospects.

He said his instructions were to try to finalize both agreements here for summit signing.

Semenov then probed about the authoritativeness of the Kishilov/Garthoff conversation of April 16th, USDEL SALT 1265.3 I stressed the informal and unofficial aspect of this exchange and asked Semenov if this approach was of interest to his side. He said categorically that it was. I told him that I, personally, thought it had a good deal of sense, but I still had to persuade my authorities and it would help if I had [Page 773] the specifics of his post-Moscow visit position. I hinted that I might return to Washington soon, and that it would be helpful promptly to have his new position.

Pleading need to study his voluminous Moscow record, we suggested deferral of substantive discussion between us until tomorrow at 4:39 p.m.

My three main impressions from this meeting are:

The USSR wants to complete the two agreements at Helsinki for summit signature.
The USSR will [agree?] on a general ABM approach involving one NCA and one ICBM defense site for each side, with ICBM deployment area expanded to 150 kilometers, and 75 or 100 launcher level per site.
Something is possible in SLBM freeze area.4

Warm regards.

Gerry Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusive; Eyes Only.
  2. Smith was unaware of Kissinger’s secret trip to Moscow, where talks began with Brezhnev and Gromyko on April 21.
  3. In USDEL SALT 1265 from Helsinki, April 17, Smith reported to the Department on the April 16 conversation. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 882, SALT, SALT talks (Helenski) [sic], Vol. 17, January–April 1972)
  4. In message Sitto 21 to Kissinger in Moscow, April 21, Haig commented on Smith’s backchannel message: “Secretary Rogers called President and passed to him substance of message from Smith which is attached. The President immediately concluded that your hosts may be hoping to trade flexibility in SALT for U.S. concessions on South Vietnam. The President is very concerned that we hold first and foremost to tough position on South Vietnam—that we not giving up bombing of North for illusory promises of negotiations with Hanoi or any other promise that is not firmly guaranteed.” The full text of Haig’s message is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 136.