264. Editorial Note

On April 23, 1972, President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig sent a private message to President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger, who was in Moscow for secret talks with the Soviet leadership. Haig expressed President Nixon’s thoughts about Kissinger’s trip:

“President also seems to be concerned about the bureaucratics of announcing your trip especially if the announcement does not emphasize that trip was based on situation in Vietnam. He also questioned your report that you have prevailed upon Gromyko to prevent Semenov from presenting SALT proposal to Smith when facts are that Semenov did tell Smith of new Soviet position. Smith, of course, told Rogers, who informed the President. I told the President that Semenov was very hazy with Smith about possibility of SLBM agreement but that in the discussion with you in Moscow the Soviets indicated firmly that they would accept an SLBM agreement.” (Sitto 39 from Haig to Kissinger; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK Trip Files, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip, Apr 1972, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2])

Kissinger replied to Haig on the same day: “All I can say is that if this is President’s attitude, he had no business approving the Moscow trip.” Kissinger continued, “with respect to SALT, the Washington view is nothing short of absurd. Semenov told Smith that he might have a new ABM proposal and hinted at its nature. He also said that Moscow was ‘reviewing’ the SLBM position. We obtained a precise proposal on both. The SLBM proposal moreover is exactly the scheme we advanced in the special channel. In any event Semenov is now under instructions to make no further move until President acts. But if the President likes to run down his own accomplishments that is his business.” (Ibid.)

At 1945Z on April 23 Nixon sent Kissinger a message that he dictated personally. A passage related to SALT reads:

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“However, no matter how good a deal we get out of the summit on SALT and on the other issues, we must realize that now the Soviet summit, far more than the Chinese summit, due to the fact that your trip directly dealt with Vietnam, will be judged as a success or failure depending upon whether we get some progress on Vietnam.”

The message continues: “As Al [Haig] may have already messaged you, any SALT announcement by me now presents a serious problem. Rogers called me Saturday [April 22] and told me that Semenov had given Smith exactly the same offer that you set forth in your message of April 22.

“I realize that we can point out that there is a shade of difference since you now have apparently an agreement with the Soviet to include SLBMs whereas we could say that Smith only had an agreement to discuss the inclusion of SLBMs. On the other hand, I fear that we have the problem in making any Presidential announcement that Smith and his colleagues will simply say that I was trying to point to your trip and my upcoming visit as having been responsible for accomplishing a breakthrough in SALT which Smith had already accomplished at lower levels. Perhaps we can find a way to handle this problem but I think in view of the call I received from Rogers we will find it pretty difficult.” (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, April 1972, Kissinger Trip to Moscow)

For the full text of all three messages, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Documents 155, 156, and 157.