77. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The New Phase of SALT

In the past two weeks there has been some interesting movement in the Soviet SALT position, which suggests that a phase of bargaining is beginning.

  • —On May 4, Semyonov made a tough speech rejecting our two proposals as the basis for negotiations;
  • —This was followed by a private conversation between Garthoff and a Soviet official, who suggested it was time for both sides to move away from their package proposals and look for areas of agreement; the NCA ABM level was cited as an example;
  • —At the first private session between Smith and Semyonov, the latter took a similar line; he rejected our proposals and suggested that we return to the work program, i.e., to proceed by categories, offensive, defensive, etc.; agreement on “all” problems would not be necessary;
  • —At the formal session on May 19, Semyonov claimed agreement to proceed in this fashion, and began to discuss the composition of offensive weapons (with the same old Soviet definition, however);
  • —At a second private discussion between Garthoff and his Soviet counterparts, the latter began to sketch a “narrow” agreement that backed away from the Soviet formal positions.

The Soviet Bargain

The first step in this tentative Soviet scheme would be some “understanding” on the question of our forward based aircraft. Such an understanding would indicate no augmentation by our side of present deployments; the “understanding” need not be specific, but should be reached before tackling specific limitations on ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers.

  • —In other words, we would make the first concession, accepting the principle behind the Soviet proposal that our forward based aircraft are indeed part of the strategic balance and thus subject to some kind of limitations;
  • —Implicit but apparent from the remainder of the Soviet disquisition, is that in return for an understanding on a freeze, we would also drop our effort to control Soviet MRBM/IRBMs, and cruise missile submarines;
  • —The Soviets should be aware that one logical counter on our part would be an understanding not to augment these forces.
As for the main package, there are two variants:
  • —First, there could be an agreement limited only to ABMs; the Soviets recalled that we had broached this when we first proposed SALT some years ago; they cited you as telling Dobrynin that a “limited agreement” is possible;
  • —Second might be an ABM agreement plus some agreement on controlling the “central offensive systems” (our phrase picked up by the Soviets to mean ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers);
  • —Under this approach we would look at areas of agreement and would narrow differences and seek what the Soviets called a “balance of differences.”
The Soviets underlined the importance of an agreement at Vienna. If there were no agreement at Vienna, there was not much use in going back to Helsinki. Even if the agreements could not be final or formal, an agreed basis for a subsequent treaty could be drafted and signed by Kosygin and President Nixon.
In addition, the Soviets indicated that their proposals for controlling accidental attacks had no particular priority and should not divert attention from the effort outlined above.
Finally, on MIRVs, after a long haggle over on-site inspection, and the claim that the Soviets had no MIRVs, the Soviet side said that in a limited agreement they did not believe MIRV could be included.

All of this is not especially surprising. As everyone expected, the Soviets did not intend to stick to their formal package, but will not negotiate on the basis of ours. Apparently, they are more interested in the approach of Option C than Option D. Moreover, it is tactically expedient for the Soviets to untie our package and pick what they want to talk about.

However, this general move toward a possible “narrow” agreement, is going to raise important policy questions about our future course. We can expect to receive shortly a plea from the delegation to be granted some bargaining power and flexibility.

The Soviet bargain is, of course, not a firm offer and there are serious pitfalls. For example, the Soviets are simply walking around the SAM upgrade issues, flatly rejecting any on-site inspections, and, as of now sticking to the idea of three way mix for missiles, submarines, and bombers. As some expected, however, they are not very seriously worried about MIRVs and probably want to develop their own; hence the lack of interest in a flight test ban or a moratorium.

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As indicated above, the Soviets seem to be moving toward our Option B. And they are implying urgency, with the warning that if we do not agree now, all may be lost. This will have a powerful appeal to some in Washington and our delegation (Viz. your talk with Harold Brown).2

All of this suggests that it would be well worth convening the Verification Panel and reviewing the status of the talks and possible future courses. While we may not necessarily have to change our position, there is going to be growing pressure to begin what will amount to private negotiations on a step by step approach as Semyonov has proposed.

Finally, any suggestion of an “understanding” on our aircraft in Europe raises the most serious problems of relations with our Allies. While they have been well briefed on the formal Soviet proposals to remove these aircraft, they are unaware of these recent private suggestions about an “understanding.”

In sum, we are at the first important crossroads in Vienna, and it is time to review our next steps.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. IX, May 10–June 12, 1970. Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum, and a stamped notation indicates he saw it on May 23.
  2. See Document 78.