274. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith)1

WH21293. Dobrynin has just handed following texts2 which he says Semyonov will table in Helsinki Monday.3 He said he was doing so as a courtesy to the President and in conformity with the spirit of the confidential channels between Brezhnev and the President in which SALT matters have been under discussion. I said all my comments were preliminary and official reaction would come from you.

1. Begin text

Article III

“The sides undertake for the period of this interim agreement to limit, by levels mutually agreed for each of the sides, the total number of ballistic missile launchers on modern submarines.”

End text

I made no comment.

2. Begin text

Definition of ICBM

“By ICBM land-based launchers, mentioned in Article I of this agreement, are understood launchers of ICBM with the range exceeding the shortest distance between the north-western border of the continental part of the USSR territory.”

End text.

I made no comment.

[Page 807]

3. Begin text

“It is not expedient to set geographic limits to the location of areas of ABM deployment for covering ICBM silo launchers both in the Soviet Union and in the United States.”

End text

I told him that this would be completely unacceptable. He left the impression that our objection would be manageable.

4. Begin text


Draft Exchange Letter

“The Soviet Government has thoroughly considered the question of establishing for the USSR and the USA agreed levels of the number of modern submarines and ballistic missile launchers thereon in connection with the conclusion of an interim agreement on freezing strategic offensive weapons.

“The Soviet Union agrees that the USA should have, for the period of the interim freeze agreement, 41 modern submarines with the total number of ballistic missile launchers thereon of 656. Over the same period the Soviet Union will have total number of ballistic missile launchers on modern submarines not exceeding 950. The said number of launchers in the Soviet Union will be deployed on modern submarines operational and under construction as of the date of signing the interim agreement, as well as on submarines that will be built additionally. Additional launchers on submarines—in excess of the 48 modern submarines operational and under construction—will be put in commission in the Soviet Union in lieu of older-type ICBM launchers built before 1964.

“It is also implied that in modernizing older submarines with ballistic missiles or in replacing them by new submarines the sides will not increase the above said total number of ballistic missile launchers on modern submarines.

“This letter constitutes an integral part of the interim agreement.”

End text.

I reminded Dobrynin that to reach their totals the Soviets must dismantle G and H class submarines. Dobrynin said Moscow understood that we had mentioned this as our position.

Please note that Soviets in the above text assert that they have forty-eight repeat forty-eight modern submarines operational and under construction.

5. Begin text


Statement of the Soviet Side

“Taking into account that at present, besides the US, modern submarines with ballistic missiles are also owned by the US NATO allies, [Page 808] the Soviet Union agrees that for the period of the interim freeze agreement the US and their NATO allies could have up to 50 such submarines with the total number of ballistic missile launchers thereon of up to 800 (including 41 submarines with 656 ballistic missile launchers thereon at the disposal of the United States).

“If however over the period of the above agreement the US NATO allies increase the number of modern submarines to the excess of those operational or under construction as of the date of signing the agreement, the Soviet Union would have the right to the corresponding increase in the number of its own submarines.

“In the opinion of the Soviet side, the solution of the question of modern ballistic missile submarines provided for in the interim agreement, only partially compensates for the disbalance in the location of the USSR and the US missile carrying nuclear submarines. Therefore the Soviet side proceeds from the premise that the whole of this problem and primarily the issue of dismantling the US missile submarine bases outside territory of the US, should be appropriately resolved in the course of subsequent negotiations.”

I expressed no opinion to Dobrynin on this unilateral Soviet statement except to say that the last sentence can not repeat not be drafted in any way that implies that the “premise” referred to is one that we accept. Dobrynin indicated that this was a manageable point.

6. Begin text

“In the area of the ICBM silo launchers deployment each side may have two large (phased-lattice) radars, comparable in potential with similar ABM radars of the other side, and also not more than 18 ABM radars.

“(We are ready at the same time to make a joint statement by the delegations concerning large (phased-lattice) radars which are not ABM radars. Our delegation will submit draft of technical text to that effect.)”

End text.

I made no comment. However, the President has indicated to me that you can be instructed through normal channels to accept the eighteen plus two proposition which you had already been working on earlier this week. However, you should take the firm position that this deal is totally dependent on agreement concerning geographical location east of the Urals.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The instruction “Deliver on receipt” is included.
  2. On May 14 at 10:30 a.m. Kissinger and Dobrynin met. The memorandum of their conversation and the text of the Soviet note are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 224. At 11:40 a.m. Kissinger informed Nixon of the meeting with Dobrynin. According to a transcript of the telephone conversation, Kissinger stated: “It’s highly complex, but nothing you want to bother with. It’s how many radars should be at an ICBM defense site.” Nixon replied, “As you and I both know, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. Just so we can defend it.” The transcript is ibid., Document 225.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 272.