69. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting Between SALT Delegation and the President

ATTENDEES

  • The President
  • Lt. General Royal B. Allison
  • Mr. Paul Nitze
  • Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson
  • Mr. Philip Farley
  • Ambassador J. Graham Parsons
  • Ambassador Gerard Smith
  • Brig. General A.M. Haig

The President introduced the meeting by informing the group that he had selected the broader option with the back-up to include Option [Page 253]D2 rather than the more restricted option to provide a more flexible far-reaching initial U.S. position. He stated that it may be necessary to fall back to the more restricted options as the negotiations get underway.

Ambassador Smith then discussed the tactics to be used in Vienna and suggested that he would like to use the first two weeks or so to cover in detail all of the facets of the comprehensive option and to inform the Soviets that we had other ideas if this option was not acceptable. Ambassador Smith emphasized that he believed that our NATO allies might have some difficulties with Option D because it might appear to them that the Soviet MR/IRBM threat to them would not be affected by mutual US/Soviet force reductions. He therefore contemplated the need to go back to the NATO allies for further consultation before formally tabling Option D.3

The President commented that Option D may actually be the best solution and asked Ambassador Thompson if he agreed. Ambassador Thompson stated that he thought that the Soviets would have difficulties with Option D because it would be necessary under this option for them to abandon costly systems which they have just completed.

Mr. Nitze stated that he understood that Willy Brandt had registered some concern about the status of the Soviet IR/MRBM’s in the forthcoming SALT negotiations. The President stated that it would be very important that we maintain absolute security with respect to our positions so that the fears of the NATO allies would not be unnecessarily raised due to press speculation before detailed consultations have been completed.

Ambassador Thompson stated that Option C appeared to him to be the most promising from the Soviet perspective although they will most likely react strongly against the inspection requirements.

Ambassador Smith then raised the question of Congressional briefings and urged that the President start these briefings on Thursday or Friday, pointing out that the President had approved a comprehensive negotiating position which includes willingness to accept bans on [Page 254] MIRV and ABM’s with appropriate safeguards. The President stated that he did not want Congressional consultation to start that soon and preferred that we wait until Monday, April 20. He added that it might be of value to call the Congressional Leadership to the White House and do the briefing here on Monday.4

The President asked Ambassador Thompson how he thought the Soviets would react in Vienna. The Ambassador replied that they will be extremely cautious because of the current turbulence in their leadership. Ambassador Smith said they may take the lead from our Congressional resolution by tabling a proposed freeze on offensive and defensive weapons. The President emphasized that he wished the negotiators to stick hard on the intricacies of our negotiating position and not to move away from them too quickly before they had been thoroughly discussed and understood.

The President asked Ambassador Thompson to comment on the Soviet fixation for secrecy in its society. Ambassador Thompson stated that they have moved slowly away from their extreme position in the early ‘50s but that there are signs that they are at least temporarily returning to a Stalinist type regime, although in the long run we can expect the Soviets to loosen up somewhat. Mr. Nitze added that Soviet secrecy was not so much a matter of distrust of other regimes as a deliberate policy of the Soviet elite which was used to control the government and permeate the regime within Russia. Ambassador Thompson added that it is always of value to bring Soviet leaders to the United States so that they could observe the advantages of an open society. The President asked whether or not McCauley’s argument, which maintains that now that the Soviets are roughly equal to us in strategic strength they will lose that inward looking and overly secretive demeanor, has any validity. Both Thompson and Nitze discounted the McCauley argument on the grounds that Soviet secrecy is really party policy. The President replied that his reading of Russian history confirms that things have not changed very much over the years and that a recent book he was reading by Tolstoy confirmed that he had censorship problems of his own.

General Allison stated that he understood that the Soviets might ask him to visit Moscow, noting that General Twining was the last military man to have visited the Soviet Union. The President stated that he should accept such an invitation since it would help to break down Soviet suspicions. The President added that we should consider inviting [Page 255]some Soviet leaders here for the same purpose, perhaps for the VE–Day celebration. As the group broke up, the President emphasized the importance of their mission and his requirement to maintain the strictest security and to avoid the kind of press speculation which would raise Soviet suspicions as to our motives.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1024, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCon—Meeting of SALT Delegation with President, April 11, 1970. Secret. Initialed by Kissinger. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 68.
  3. On April 13 Kissinger informed Smith that Nixon had considered his suggestion and decided upon the following: “Your discussion in Brussels on April 14 [to NAC] should include a presentation of Option D sufficiently detailed to enable the Allies to study it and to lay the groundwork for more detailed consultations with them prior to your tabling the Option in Vienna. In this connection, it is important that Option D should be given no less weight than Option C and that it be made clear that the effects of Option D would be as much in the interests of the Allies as in our own.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT Talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970)
  4. According to the President’s Daily Diary, President Nixon held no meeting with the Congressional leadership on April 20, or in the immediate days before or after. (Ibid., White House Central Files)