15. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Anatoli Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to arms control.]

We then turned to SALT.2 Dobrynin raised the issue. Dobrynin said that in his opinion it wasn’t easy to make progress on SALT unless there was the nuclear treaty.3 The Soviet military were taking the position that it was too soon to have a follow-on agreement when the first one was less than a year old. Moreover, we had to understand that in the Soviet system, unless Brezhnev personally gave an order, SALT would move very slowly. For example, he could tell me in confidence that the Soviet Ministry of Defense had deliberately put its most unimaginative and unenterprising general on the SALT Delegation consistently. When Semenov asked the general to request instructions from the Ministry of Defense, his standard answer was that the Minister of Defense, if he wanted to give instructions, would issue them, and that he did not have the right to request them. When the Foreign Ministry called the Defense Ministry the experience was summed up by an exchange he, Dobrynin, had had with Grechko in which Grechko said, “If you want my personal opinion I’ll give it to you. If you want my official opinion the standard answer is no.”

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For all these reasons, Dobrynin then said, it was essential to do two things. One, unless we made a concrete proposal which went to Brezhnev and which Brezhnev could then push on his bureaucracy, there was no chance of any real progress. Secondly, we had to give Brezhnev some excuse to do it. I told him we could live without a SALT Agreement this year but when we had a concrete proposal we would be prepared to advance it.

We then reviewed a number of the second-level issues, without anything of notable significance, except that Dobrynin asked us to make a specific proposal on chemical warfare if we wanted an agreement in that area.

We agreed to meet the following week in order to continue the discussions, especially on the nuclear treaty.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 495, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 15. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Map Room of the White House. The memorandum of conversation was attached to an undated memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon summarizing his conversations with Dobrynin on March 6 and 8.
  2. Dobrynin met with Nixon and Kissinger prior to this meeting, from 12:46 p.m. to 1:15 in the Oval Office. According to a transcript of the conversation, only a brief mention of SALT was made. Nixon stated, “I am determined that we should have a SALT agreement. I think this morning one of our people said it would take three to five years. So, I expect you and Henry to work something out so it takes three to five months.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 872–11)
  3. In a February 21 letter to Nixon, Brezhnev stated that prior to his meeting with the President tentatively set for June, both sides needed to finish “a Treaty between our countries relating to the non-use of nuclear weapons against each other.” Brezhnev later stated that transforming the “Interim agreement on certain measures with respect to the limitation of strategic offensive arms into a permanent one with a certain broadening of its content will be by itself an important step.” He then suggested that the permanent agreement would put limitations on both quantitative and qualitative improvement of strategic arms. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 495, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 15) The letter is printed as Document 78 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974.