76. Letter From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

This is my third Vienna report.2

The Soviet post-Cambodia May 6 SALT reaction3 strikes us as the minimum one could expect, and I think it evidences continued [Page 264] serious Soviet interest in reaching some kind of SALT arrangement. There must have been a temptation in the Kremlin at least to suspend the talks until the Cambodian exercise was passed.
The Soviet harsh criticism today of the substance of the US approaches is, I think, a reflection of their gripe over Southeast Asia, but more particularly a standard Soviet negotiation ploy for this stage of the talks rather than an indication of the ultimate Soviet attitude toward the two US approaches.
There may be some truth in Semenov’s statement today that they are still uncertain about US intentions.4 That goes for us, too, in respect to their intentions.
Next week we plan to present views on the accident/unauthorized launch/provocative attack question5 and then go back to amplifying our two approaches.
Before the end of May, I think we should have some sense of what, if anything, we can with confidence report to you about Soviet reactions to our approaches and what the general dimensions of an advantageous arrangement might be.


Gerard Smith 6

P.S. Thank you very much for your birthday greeting which was most heartening.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970. Secret; Nodis. Kissinger sent the letter to Nixon on May 19 under a covering memorandum that summarized the report and concluded that “in short, we seem to have ended the first, formal phase and are now entering into a period of some behind-the-scenes probing and maneuvering.” A notation on the covering memorandum indicates that Nixon saw it on May 21.
  2. Smith also sent personal reports to Nixon on April 20 and April 29. In a May 4 backchannel message, Kissinger informed Smith that Nixon had appreciated his observations of the first session reported in the April 20 letter. Kissinger forwarded the April 29 letter to Nixon on May 6 under a covering memorandum that bears a notation indicating that the President saw it on May 19. (Ibid.)
  3. On May 4 at 8:20 p.m. Kissinger and Nixon spoke over the telephone about the relationship between the Cambodia incursion and SALT. According to a transcript of their conversation, Kissinger stated the following: “I just got back a little while ago from the Soviet Embassy and I think we have their attention. They were falling all over me. That fellow Arbatov, who is close to Brezhnev said, ‘What did you think of the Kosygin statement [at his May 4 press conference]?’I said we expected criticism. He said, ‘We wouldn’t break off SALT talks, [but] if you keep bombing, we may have to.’ I said we need some serious discussions. […] I said you are a great country and what we do in Cambodia has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t affect our relationship unless you want it to.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  4. Smith reported Semenov’s statement in telegram USDEL SALT 53, May 6. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970)
  5. Smith summarized Semenov’s statements concerning this question in telegram USDEL SALT 43, April 30: “Semenov stressed the need for agreement on ‘organizational and technical measures,’taken jointly and individually, to guard against accidental and unauthorized launch, courses of action in the event of such a launch, and measures for diminishing the chances of the outbreak of war through provocative attack by a third party. The only concrete example cited by Semenov was a geographic limitation patrols of SSBNs.” (Ibid.)
  6. Printed from a copy that bears Smith’s typed signature.