35. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Ambassador Dobrynin opened the conversation by handing the President a brief announcement suggesting November 17th as the opening of the SALT talks, and suggesting Helsinki as the place. The President asked why Helsinki—he preferred Vienna. Ambassador Dobrynin replied that it did not make a great deal of difference to the Soviet Union, but since Helsinki had been proposed as one of the places by the Secretary of State in June, they decided to go along with that. The President said the Secretary of State had been under instructions to point out the difficulties of Helsinki. Ambassador Dobrynin replied that all the Secretary of State had said to Gromyko was, “to hell with ‘Sinki,” which is not a diplomatic suggestion. If the United States preferred some other place, this should not be too difficult.

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Dr. Kissinger asked the Ambassador what they meant by preliminary discussion. He replied that this meant only the first phase of the discussions, and had no particular significance. But Ambassador Dobrynin suggested that one possible way of handling it would be by beginning in Helsinki and then moving on to Vienna. Dr. Kissinger pointed out to the Ambassador that we had to consult some Allies, but that there seemed to be no insuperable difficulties.

The President then said it would be dangerous if the talks were only a series of platitudes. Ambassador Dobrynin replied that there would be specific suggestions, depending on the range of our proposals, and they would probably be put in the form of several options.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969 [Part 1]. Top Secret; Sensitive;Nodis. The conversation took place in the Oval Office. On October 17 at 4:40 p.m. Dobrynin called Kissinger to arrange a meeting to deliver a message to Nixon from the Soviet leadership regarding SALT and U.S.-Soviet relations. According to a transcript of their conversation, “K[issinger] asked if Dobrynin had requested this [meeting] through the State Department. D[obrynin] said no, he has spoken only to K.K said then he would keep it that way.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 360, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) The full text of this conversation and the attached message from the Soviet leadership are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 93.