71. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • President Nixon’s Meeting with USSR Foreign Minister Gromyko on September 29, 1971 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. in the Oval Office of the White House (List of participants is attached)2

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

European Security Conference

On the subject of the situation in Europe, Mr. Gromyko said that he could speak a great deal and at great length. Above all he wanted to emphasize the utmost importance his government attached to the situation in Europe. The Soviet Union wanted conditions there to improve rather than deteriorate and wanted tensions reduced rather than increased. He believed that the agreement on Berlin signed recently created better conditions for such improvement.3 He stressed the need to convene an all-European conference on security. He recalled that last year when he and the President had exchanged views on this subject, the President’s attitude had not been negative; however, he also recalled that the President and some other people had taken the point of view that progress on the West Berlin problem was what was needed as a first step. In this connection he had taken note of Secretary Rogers’ remarks the other day that more favorable conditions had now appeared for convening an all-European security conference.4 He hoped that the Government of the United States would now take a more definite stand in favor of this conference, and just as he had done last year, he would like to emphasize again that in calling for such an all-European conference the Soviet Union was not looking for any unilateral advantage. His government believes that a conference of that type [Page 198] would be useful for all European countries as well as for the United States and Canada as prospective participants in this conference. He was saying this because the President, also, had repeatedly said that he advocated a relaxation of tensions throughout the world in general and in Europe in particular. He would like to hear the President’s views on this score.

The President said that the Foreign Minister had been correct in indicating that now that we had made progress on the Berlin problem, we could look more favorably upon consideration of other European questions on which we might make some progress. He believed that once the Berlin situation had been completely resolved, and he understood that there were still some actions that needed to be taken for that purpose, then exploration of a conference could proceed. He felt that on this subject it would be very important for the two major powers to have preliminary discussions before conferring with our respective friends in NATO and in the Warsaw Pact. By this he did not mean that we would not consult with our friends, but for the two powers to participate in a conference without knowing how we would come out of it would not be realistic. He believed that after the Berlin matter had been settled completely we should on a very confidential basis discuss between us what such a conference would mean and what we expected to come out of it. Of course, neither one of us should act without consulting and agreeing with our friends, but if we were simply to proceed to hold a big conference, it might turn out to be something like a United Nations gathering.

Secretary Rogers said that Mr. Gromyko had the other day suggested convening a preliminary meeting for the purpose of planning a conference on European security. The Secretary had replied that such a preliminary meeting was likely itself to take on the character of a conference. If we were to do any preliminary preparatory work, it would have to be done on a private basis between our two countries. As the President had said, we needed to have some idea of the possible outcome of such a conference.

Mr. Gromyko inquired whether he had understood correctly that what the President had in mind were bilateral consultations on a bloc basis between NATO and the Warsaw Pact powers. The Soviet Union was ready to enter upon consultations of some aspects of this conference, its preparation and its possible outcome. He asked whether upon his return to Moscow he could report to his government that the U.S. Government was, in principle, in favor of convening a European conference. If so, the Soviet Union would be ready to proceed to discuss the questions of procedures, agenda, place and time, and this could be done without any further delay. He had in mind that preliminary consultations would be held for these purposes in the immediate future and that the conference would be convened next year. He asked [Page 199] whether he could report this as being the President’s view when he returned to Moscow or whether the President would care to clarify the U.S. position further.

The President said that he would prefer for the Foreign Minister to report the following: The United States would be willing to discuss the setting up of a European security conference provided that our discussions would indicate that such a conference would serve a useful purpose which we would proceed to implement. When he had spoken of bilateral consultations, he was not referring to anything formal—he had had in mind some private conversations between our two countries that would answer some questions in our mind and some in the mind of the Soviet side. He believed Mr. Gromyko could report to Moscow that now that we had moved on Berlin, we should begin some preliminary discussions of this matter with the purpose of holding a conference that both sides would agree would serve a useful purpose. He was certain that neither side wanted to hold a conference just for the sake of the conference itself.

Secretary Rogers remarked that the discussions between the two Germanies were not as yet complete. The President noted that he had intended to qualify his remarks by saying “When the Berlin thing was wrapped up.” Secretary Rogers expressed the hope that the German negotiations would proceed without difficulty.

Mr. Gromyko said that, in principle, he believed that the fewer conditions were set for convening the conference, the better. It was his feeling that if everything was lumped into one knot, this would complicate matters and lead us astray. Was he correct in understanding that the President had said that the United States would be ready to proceed to preliminary consultations without publicity and in the near future?

The President believed that in terms of preliminary private talks that was something we could do. However, he believed it important that in no circumstances any indication be given of a fait accompli. He did not want to create the impression that today, at this meeting, we had decided that such a conference would be convened. We should rather confine ourselves to saying that discussions could take place that would lead to a conference. As Secretary Rogers had said, getting the rest of the German question out of the way was most important before anything surfaced. It was this surfacing problem that was predominant. Mr. Gromyko inquired again whether the U.S. would be ready for a private exchange of views in the near future. The President said that would not concern him. After all, we had already had some private exchanges on this subject. He would emphasize that we were not trying to pressure the Soviet Union in regard to the German treaty. We did have a problem while the German talks were in [Page 200] progress, but if preliminary talks were kept strictly private, this might be possible.5

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 7, Pt. 1. Secret; Nodis. The full text of this memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  2. Attached but not printed. The participants included Nixon, Rogers, Kissinger, and William Krimer (interpreter) from the U.S. side and Gromyko, Dobrynin, and Sukhodrev (interpreter) from the Soviet side.
  3. See Document 68.
  4. Telegram 2877 from USUN, September 25, contains a record of Rogers’s conversation with Gromyko on September 24. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR)
  5. On the evening of September 30, Gromyko followed up on his discussion with Nixon on European security in a conversation with Kissinger at the Soviet Embassy. A memorandum of their conversation reads in part: “Gromyko then turned to European security and said the Soviet Union was prepared for preliminary exchanges. He was a little puzzled by the fact that the President had told him the day before, when they were alone, that I would handle the discussions, while Rogers had told him at lunch that he would handle the preliminary discussions. I said that the best way to conduct it would be to have technical matters handled between Dobrynin and Rogers and major substantive issues between Dobrynin and me. But it was essential for these divisions to be carried through without an attempt at playing them off. Gromyko said, ‘Exactly our view.’” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 492, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 7, Pt. 1) The full text of the memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.