15. Editorial Note

President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin for dinner on the evening of December 22, 1969. In preparation for the meeting, Kissinger forwarded a memorandum to President Richard Nixon for his approval regarding the points that he proposed to make to Dobrynin that evening. With regard to Europe and a European security conference, Kissinger wrote:

  • “The Soviets are continuing their pressure for a European security conference; they assert that the West Europeans are showing interest in the proposal but that we are spearheading the effort to prevent the conference. I will say that:
  • “—we have no interest in a conference at this time since we know of no concrete European issue that could be resolved through a mass conference; if the Europeans want to have a conference, we will not stand in their way but we will reserve the decision as to whether we have any interest in attending;
  • “—what we are interested in are substantive negotiations on the concrete issues among the parties directly concerned;
  • “—we will watch with interest how the various negotiations on which the Germans are now embarking with the Eastern countries are going to progress, and we will watch whether the USSR is interested in improving the Berlin situation so that it is not a source of constant crisis;
  • “—if some new forms of cultural, technical and economic cooperation can be worked out between East and West in Europe we have no objection; but the past has shown that such arrangements are highly vulnerable to political tensions; so we hope no one will have the illusion that they are doing something about security as long as crucial political problems are unresolved.”

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    Nixon initialed and approved Kissinger’s proposed talking points. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1969, Pt. 1)

    At their meeting that evening, Dobrynin brought up a European security conference. Kissinger wrote in his summary for the President that Dobrynin charged that the United States “managed to convey the idea that we are making everything conditional on something else. For example, we were asking them to show their good intentions in Berlin before we agreed to a European security conference.” Kissinger continued:

  • “I told Dobrynin that we remained interested in good relations with the Soviet Union. We were the two great powers, and we had to avoid conflict; we should speak while we were still in a position to make definitive decisions. At the same time, as the President had repeatedly pointed out, we wanted to have concrete, detailed negotiations. Until he told me just what he [Dobrynin] was aiming at, it was very hard for me to comment on his points, since I did not know what he understood by progress. For example, we had heard a great deal about the European Security Conference, but I did not know just exactly what the Soviet Union hoped to achieve there. Dobrynin said, ‘Well, why don’t you ask us. We would be glad to tell you at any level.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe we should ask you, but why don’t you tell me now.’ Dobrynin said, ‘We want existing frontiers recognized.’ I said, ‘No one is challenging the existing frontiers.’ Dobrynin said that he had the impression we were challenging the status quo in Germany. I told him we were not challenging the status quo in Germany, but there was a big difference between challenging it and giving juridical recognition to East Germany.”

    Later in the conversation, Dobrynin returned to the issue of a European security conference. “One result of the distrust between Washington and Moscow, Dobrynin said, was that a number of other countries could attempt to maneuver between us. For example, the British were always going to the Soviet Union and telling them that the United States was preventing a European Security Conference, but the Soviet Union knew the British game. The British thought they had to keep the Soviet Union and the United States apart so that they could maneuver—that if the United States and the Soviet Union were together, Britain was nothing.” Kissinger responded that he “did not know to which statements” Dobrynin was referring, but that the British and the United States “were in rather close accord.” (Ibid.) For the full text of the December 24 memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 110.