86. Editorial Note

At the beginning of 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into an exchange of opinions regarding topics of discussion at the planned summit meeting in Moscow between President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev, scheduled for May 1972. Among the topics discussed by the two sides were a Europe security conference and mutual and balanced force reductions. In a letter dated January 17, Brezhnev wrote Nixon: “We consider it important, proceeding from the favorable situation, to undertake further concrete steps that would consolidate the détente and safeguard security in Europe, and we count on a constructive approach to those questions on the part of the U.S. A confidential exchange of views, suggested by you, regarding the Conference on European security and cooperation would, I believe, be useful indeed.”

Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin presented Brezhnev’s letter to Kissinger during a private meeting at the Soviet Embassy on the evening of January 21. According to President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger’s memorandum of the conversation: “We then discussed the European security conference. Dobrynin asked whom on our side he should be in touch with; I had told Gromyko that I was in charge, but Rogers had told him the opposite. I told him I would have to check with the President, but in any event issues of principle should be checked with me. He said that they are now prepared not to force the pace of the European Security Conference, but they hoped that some direction could be indicated at the summit.” For the full text of both the memorandum of conversation and Brezhnev’s letter, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 39.

After Secretary of State Rogers informed Nixon on February 1 that he was planning to meet with Dobrynin, Nixon sent him guidelines for the meeting in a memorandum dated February 3: “On European security, as you know, my views are to move as slowly and cautiously as feasible. In fact, since meeting with Gromyko, I have told Luns, Heath, Brandt and Pompidou in discussing this subject that there can be no conference this year and that while we do not reject the idea, we cannot agree to it even in principle until we have had an opportunity to evaluate with our allies and later with the Soviet what the substance of such a conference would be. In other words, discussion of the European Security Conference—but without commitment—should be our line at this point.” For the full text of Nixon’s memorandum, see ibid., Document 44.

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When Rogers met with Dobrynin on February 4, both a European security conference and MBFR were topics of discussion. A memorandum of their conversation reads in part:

  • CSCE. Dobrynin said that his government is eager to discuss convening a European Conference with us. The Secretary indicated that we may have something to say at a later date, but made no commitment to discuss the subject.
  • MBFR. The Secretary asked why the Soviets objected to our term ‘balanced’ force reductions. Dobrynin asked for a definition of the word, and when the Secretary remarked that ‘balanced’ meant essentially that reductions should not result in a net advantage to either side, Dobrynin said that this was close to the position taken by the recent Warsaw Pact statement.
  • “The Secretary asked particularly about the Brosio mission. Dobrynin said several times that there had been no decision, either to receive or not to receive Brosio. When the Secretary pressed him about when he expected an answer, he said, ‘I do not expect an answer.’
  • “During this discussion Dobrynin referred to the ‘bloc-to-bloc’ implications of the Brosio mission. The Secretary pointed out that the nature of MBFR was such that the subject was inevitably of primary concern to the members of the two alliances. Dobrynin conceded that the major involvement in negotiations would be by the two alliances, but said that non-members—he named the Scandinavians, Spain and Yugoslavia—had a clear interest and we must avoid any impression of trying to decide the fate of others. In an allusion to France, Dobrynin also noted that not all NATO members agreed on the ‘bloc-to-bloc’ approach.” For the full text of the memorandum of conversation, see ibid., Document 45.

On February 15, Nixon replied to Brezhnev’s letter of January 17. He wrote the Soviet leader:

  • “As preparatory discussions between our two governments intensify in the remaining weeks preceding our meeting, I believe that it might be helpful to outline for you my views on the topics which should be reserved for discussion within the existing confidential channel and those which would be better left to normal negotiations between the representatives of our governments. In my view, the topics best suited for the existing confidential channel would include: discussion of the future developments in the Middle East, the situation in Southeast Asia, and those broad policy questions dealing with arms control, especially the outcome of the crucial talks on the limitation of strategic arms and perhaps some preliminary exchanges on Mutual Force Reduction.”

    Nixon’s letter continued:

    • “Finally, I have previously set forth my views concerning the European question. It is my hope that the Berlin agreement which is now [Page 258] complete in its essential parts will soon be brought into force. This is precisely the kind of concrete step to which you refer in your letter. I continue to believe that in Europe, as elsewhere, a true détente can best be achieved by precise and concrete understanding. That is why I suggested in my last letter that informal and private exchanges to clarify the concrete objectives of a possible multilateral conference would be helpful. Preliminary discussions on this topic would also be best confined to the existing confidential channel. I will, of course, be prepared to discuss these matters during our meetings in Moscow in the expectation that such a discussion would make subsequent discussions in regular channels and eventual negotiations between all the interested governments fruitful.” For the full text of the letter, see ibid., Document 51.