81. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Henry A. Kissinger

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]


We then turned to SALT. Dobrynin said that he wanted to find out whether our understanding of April2 was still adequate, i.e., whether we were still prepared to have a limited agreement, and if so, how we should handle business in Vienna. Should we tell our negotiators in Vienna that they had gone far enough or that we wanted them to [Page 284] explore a little further; or did we want to charge them with making specific agreements?

I told him that it seemed to me that the negotiators in Vienna could go on for another three weeks, during which time he and I might discuss the specific principles of a settlement and agree on a general outline. We could then decide whether to have that taken up at Vienna or whether we should have it discussed in some other forum. Dobrynin said this was agreeable to him and that their delegation would be instructed accordingly.

He then asked me what I understood by a limited agreement. I said that to us a limited agreement meant a ceiling on offensive weapons and a limitation on defensive weapons to what we call national command authority levels. Dobrynin said this was not a very limited agreement because it encompassed the whole range of strategic forces.

I asked him whether the Soviets had another definition. He said that to the Soviets limited agreement meant that the Soviets probably would prefer a limitation on ABM deployment with some general agreement about protection against provocative attacks, which he explained meant third country attacks. I told him that this was almost certainly unacceptable to us. It would be more useful to explore some package that involved ceilings on all strategic forces.

Dobrynin then said that this raised a number of issues. Our package had been weighted against the Soviet Union. For example, we had established a ceiling of 1,710 missiles and a separate ceiling of the existing forces of bombers, giving us 500 and giving them 250. This established an inequality which was unfortunate, of course. There were some Soviet scientists who said both sides already possessed overkill and therefore it didn’t make any difference. He did not want to argue that point, but he did wish to point out that the symbolic effect of the Soviet Union accepting inferiority in any category would be very bad and very hard to sell.

Another aspect of the bomber package was that the Soviet Union had no equivalent for our aircraft carriers and, therefore, there should be some limitation on their deployment. I pointed out that aircraft carriers did not play a significant role in our strategy against the Soviet Union, but that any limitation on their deployment would affect their utility against other countries. Dobrynin said that if we were concerned about aircraft carriers we had to agree to the principle of some form of compensation for the Soviets, either in the form of giving them additional units of missiles or in some other way. He also pointed out that we were counting their tanker planes as bombers while we did not count ours.

I told him that the way to advance this problem would be for him to give me some idea of what they meant by compensation. If it was a symbolic compensation, we might consider it. If it was a major one, it [Page 285] would be difficult. I also pointed out to him that NCA levels involved limitations on radars and not just on missiles. He asked me to explain this, and I gave him a brief explanation of the differential lead time between missiles and radars. Dobrynin replied that radars useful for missile tracking were clearly distinguishable from others. He thought this was a proposition that could be entertained as long as it did not involve the destruction of existing radars and only limitations on building new ones. We summed up the results of this part of the discussion as follows:

The Vienna Conference would go on for another three weeks exploring the packages.
In the meantime, Dobrynin and I would work on the general principles.
He would give me some idea of what the Soviet Union understood by compensation.
I would explore whether there were other limitations available on the bombers. (I was thinking of the fact that budgetary reasons might force us to reduce our bomber force and that we might throw that into the equation.)

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 1 [Part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The conversation took place on the Presidential yacht Sequoia. Kissinger forwarded the memorandum to Nixon on June 15 under cover of a memorandum, upon which Nixon underlined and wrote “very significant! China. Phase II” next to Kissinger’s statement: “The Soviet definition [of a limited agreement] consists of limiting ABMs to defense against third country attacks.” The entire memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 168.
  2. See Documents 64 and 66.