116. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • US Reply to Soviet Note on MBFR/CSCE

Agreement has been reached within the Alliance on the attached text of the US note of reply to the Soviet note of September 12 on MBFR/CSCE and on attached oral points to be made by the US in handing over the note.2 The Secretary plans to call in Ambassador Dobrynin this week to convey the US note of reply and to make the agreed oral points. Also attached is a paper outlining the main issues involved in reaching agreement among the Allies on the US note of reply, particularly the question of participation by flank countries in MBFR talks and our proposed approach to dealing with this issue when the US note of reply is handed to the Soviets and thereafter.

Theordore L. Eliot, Jr.

Attachment 13

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and has the honor to provide the following response to the note of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics handed to Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant [Page 359] to the President for National Security Affairs, during the latter’s visit to Moscow last month:

The United States agrees in principle with the program of events suggested by the Soviet Union.4
It is envisaged that the5 multilateral consultations to prepare a conference on security and cooperation in Europe will start on November 22.
The date for convening the conference itself should be decided by all the participants, when they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made during the multilateral consultations to justify convening a conference. On this basis, June 1973 would appear to be a reasonable date for the conference.
Exploratory talks on mutual and balanced force reductions in Central Europe will begin on January 31, 1973. In addition to matters of procedure and organization, the participants will raise matters of substance relevant to setting an agenda.6
The date for opening negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions in Central Europe would be decided by participants in the exploratory talks when they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made, but would be no later than September–October 1973.7
Upon confirmation by the Soviet Union that the foregoing is consistent with its understanding of the problem, the United States would agree to take part in the preparatory talks on a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe on November 22, and would so inform the Finnish Government.8

[Page 360]

Attachment 49

Main Issues

The Soviet Note. During Dr. Kissinger’s visit to Moscow last month, the Soviets handed to him on September 12 an outline of the sequence envisaged for MBFR and CSCE initial talks and subsequent discussions (Tab C). In sum, the Soviet note envisages

1972 November 22 Multilateral preparatory talks for CSCE at Helsinki.
1973 Late January Preliminary consultations on questions of procedure and organization relating to the problem of reducing armed forces and armaments first of all in Central Europe.
Late June The CSCE conference will begin its work in Helsinki.
September or October A conference on the problems of reducing armed forces and armaments in Europe will start.

The note marked the first Soviet acceptance of firm dates for MBFR talks, though it (a) clearly seeks to limit the extent of discussion at the first MBFR session to matters of organization and procedure and (b) proposes a firm date for the CSCE meeting at Ministerial level to begin.

The Participation Issue. The general Allied reaction to the Soviet note was favorable, and they are prepared to agree with the scenario outlined, as currently reflected in the US draft reply. The flank states—Turkey particularly—insisted, however, that they be represented at the talks. The Turks proposed that there be rotating participants from each flank, with advisers from the other flank states present. This conflicted with the US preference that the talks be limited to states with forces and territories involved. A US attempt to achieve consensus against flank participation failed, but the Turks accepted a US proposal entailing two rotating flank representatives present at the talks who would

  • —be designated, like other participants, as “representatives”;
  • —not sign possible agreements emerging from MBFR talks;
  • —not participate directly in formal decisions reached in those talks;
  • —have the right to speak on issues of direct concern upon the invitation of one or more participants;
  • —have the right to circulate papers; and
  • —have the right to have present advisers of the same nationality.

Handling the Flank Participation Issue with the Soviets. While the Turks would have preferred to have the US address the flank participation issue in its reply to the Soviet note, they agreed with a strong majority, led by the US, that the issue be deferred until the Soviets reply to the US note and each of the Western participants issues similar formal notes of invitation to participate in MBFR talks to each of the prospective Eastern participants (USSR, GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary). These notes indicate the special arrangements governing the flank representatives, and would be delivered in about two weeks, following Allied agreement on the wording. We favor informing the Soviets about Western participation in this manner in order to

  • —avoid raising a possibly contentious issue with the Soviets that could delay a Soviet reply to the US response;
  • —have the Western participants signal their participation preference on a joint basis, which would (a) enhance its weight and (b) deflect from the US flank recriminations in the event the Soviets objected to expanding Western participation beyond those states with forces in the FRG, Benelux, GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the area outlined to the Soviets by Mr. Kissinger as the US preference.

In deference to Allied wishes, we have agreed that we should state orally in delivering the US reply that Allied views would be communicated later. The Turks, nonetheless, reserved the right to press bilaterally with the Soviets their preference for having advisers of other flank countries present at the talks behind the rotating flank participants.

Particularly in light of recent stories, the Soviets may choose to make an issue of the participation question, going so far as to make confirmation of the US reply contingent on a satisfactory clarification on Western participation. However, if they should do so, they would risk forfeiting US and Allied agreement to the November 22 date for initial CSCE talks.

In the event that, after CSCE talks begin in November, the Soviets seize upon the flank participation issue as a reason to defer the January 1973 MBFR talks, we could make clear to the Soviets that our agreement to their note was based on the understanding that an overall program was envisaged, and that their refusal to proceed with MBFR talks in January could call into question the June date they proposed for the CSCE meeting at Ministerial level. In practice, the Allies will be in a position to slow the pace of multilateral preparatory talks if the Soviets prove intransigent.

In light of the tangled and sensitive history of this issue, we believe that, in presenting the US reply and in dealing with the participation issue, the US should not go beyond the statement that, following Mr. [Page 362] Kissinger’s discussions in Moscow, we and our Allies have consulted at length on the matter of their participation in MBFR talks, and that the resulting Allied consensus of Allied views on this subject will be communicated later. If pressed, we believe that the US should indicate only that we are not prepared to go further in dealing with this question at this time.

Other Aspects of the US Reply and Oral Points. The following are other salient aspects of the US reply agreed by the Allies:

  • —We purposely omit reference to Helsinki as the site for CSCE itself, since the venue should be agreed by all participants during preparatory talks at Helsinki.
  • —The Soviets proposed that the initial MBFR talks address only procedures and organization; by contrast, a majority of Allies feel strongly that it must embrace substantive questions. An Allied consensus, however, has emerged that the subsequent negotiations require some exchange of views on substantive issues relevant to setting an agenda during the initial talks. However, we believe that the Soviets will resist strongly any detailed substantive discussion, and Allied positions for the initial talks will have to be tailored carefully with this in mind.
  • —We use the date January 31, 1973 for initial MBFR talks, since it is the latest date in January, and thus allows us maximum time after the Inauguration to complete preparations.
  • —We use the phrase, “mutual and balanced force reductions,” rather than the Soviet phrase, “the problem of reducing armed forces and armaments,” because of MBFR’s history since 1968 as the Allied description of their objective.
  • —The Soviet note indicated that MBFR talks would be conducted in a place other than Helsinki. The US reply does not suggest a venue, since the Allies have not yet reached agreement, though Geneva remains a majority preference. There is also general Allied agreement that the talks should not take place in Helsinki.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 247, Agency Files, MBFR and CSCE, 1972. Secret. On October 26, Sonnenfeldt forwarded Eliot’s memorandum to Kissinger. In the covering memorandum, Sonnenfeldt wrote: “Having at long last solved the flank participation issue, we plan to answer the Soviet note given to you in Moscow.” Sonnenfeldt predicted: “Delivery of our note and its content will undoubtedly leak. Since virtually the entire scenario will then have appeared in the press, a joint Soviet-American announcement strikes me as an anti-climax.” Sonnenfeldt recommended that Kissinger concur in the Department of State scenario and “approve a unilateral U.S. announcement” that it was “accepting the Finnish invitation for November 22” and was planning “to attend the first MBFR talks in January.” Kissinger initialed his approval of both recommendations.
  2. Attachement 2, the text of the Soviet note, is attached but not printed. See footnote 3, Document 113. Attachment 3, oral points to be made, is not printed.
  3. No classification marking.
  4. On September 27, the Department of State sent a draft reply to the Soviet note for consultation with the NATO allies in telegram 176210 to USNATO. In the U.S. draft reply, paragraph 1 reads: “The United States agrees in principle with the sequence of events suggested by the Soviet Union.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 1 EUR)
  5. Paragraph 2 of the U.S. draft reply does not include the phrase “it is envisaged that the.”
  6. Paragraph 4 of the U.S. draft reply reads: “Preparatory talks on the problem of reducing armed forces and armaments in Central Europe will begin on January 31, 1973, in Geneva. In addition to matters of procedure and organization, the participants will be free to raise matters of substance relevant to setting an agenda. It is understood that the question of participation in the initial talks, as well as the subsequent negotiations on this problem, will be settled through diplomatic channels between now and January.”
  7. Paragraph 5 of the U.S. draft reply reads: “The date for opening negotiations on the problem of reducing armed forces and armaments in Central Europe would be decided by participants in the preparatory talks when they are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made, but would be no later than September–October 1973.”
  8. The U.S. draft reply includes a seventh paragraph: “The U.S. has consulted with those of its allies concerned with these issues and understands that they concur in this sequence of events.”
  9. Secret.