159. Note From the Soviet Leadership to President Nixon1

From the conversation of the USSR Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko with President Richard M. Nixon2 came the impression that there is a sufficient degree of accord between our sides as to the necessity to remove tension in and around West Berlin. This in effect is the central point from which the negotiations should proceed, a recognition that complications which occur there, are not in the interests of either the Soviet Union or the United States, and that, consequently, our countries—both of them together and each one separately in fulfillment of their competence—must see to it that appropriate measures are taken which would exclude such complications for the future.

Taking into view the position of the Western powers the Soviet Union has expressed readiness to have a possible agreement on West Berlin which now would include a minimum of questions, primarily of practical nature, and not involve some points of principle on which it is difficult to reach understanding in the present circumstances. Such practical solutions are possible on the basis of inter-Allied agreements related to that city. As it could be concluded from the A. GromykoR. Nixon conversation, our Governments’ viewpoints on this score are close, too.

The above said gave reason to believe that the four Ambassadors would take up the whole range of subjects that are within their competence and would consider them in their essence. Both the questions in which the Soviet side is primarily interested, as well as those to which particular significance is attached by the Western powers, must have been subject to the discussion.

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It should be said that the meetings of the four Ambassadors did not actually proceed in this direction. The position of the U.S. representatives—and this was especially noticeable at the last stage of the meetings—was not marked by the spirit of cooperation in favor of which the President of the United States and the USSR Foreign Minister spoke earlier. There is reason to speak even to the effect that the position of the United States and its allies continued to be affected by the inertia of the earlier, incorrect views of the intentions of the Soviet Union and of its approach toward the negotiations, which, it seemed, must have dissipated after the high-level conversations between the representatives of the sides.

Having in mind the importance which the West Berlin question has assumed in our relations, it would be desirable to know the point of view of the White House. In particular, we cannot leave unnoticed the fact that the discussion at the high level, which led to a useful clarification of the sides’ positions and to their drawing nearer has not subsequently found expression in the specific measures and negotiations conducted by the Governments. Evidently, such a state of affairs should be avoided considering the role and importance of the USSR and the United States in international relations.

The negotiations on West Berlin are to resume in mid-January. It will be very important what they will start with and how they will be arranged. A definite bearing will also have the atmosphere in which the talks proceed, prevention of the type of occurrences which evoke and cannot but evoke a retaliatory reaction and aggravate the political climate in that area in general.

The Soviet side can definitely state that its representatives are impowered with due authority to conduct the negotiations and to put their positive results into formal shape. We expect that the same authority will be given to the U.S. representatives as well as to the other participants in the negotiations. If for the success of the matter a more regular format of the negotiations is required, that possibility should also be weighed. On our side we are prepared to support that.

It seems that the questions of principle are already sufficiently clarified. They have been talked over at the high level, and the Ambassadors should not, apparently, repeat the work which has already been accomplished earlier. The time now is ripe for formulating possible decisions, to work out the texts which are to constitute an accord on West Berlin. Since the negotiations are carried on within the framework of the existing inter-Allied agreements, and no new legal basis is sought, then there should be no attempts made to circumvent these agreements or to acquire beyond these agreements some rights that are not given by them to one or another country.

We are for discussing all questions which the four Ambassadors have the authority to discuss. We are for the representatives of the FRG, [Page 476] West Berlin Senate and the GDR holding, in their turn, necessary discussions with the view of solving those practical questions that they must solve between themselves.

Accord on West Berlin is contemplated as a kind of package. This is not a unique case in international practice. Solution of this kind provides a definite assurance that the agreement will be observed in all parts, and that this or that side, meeting the other one halfway, will not subsequently find itself passed around and that her interests will be kept.

In discussing the West Berlin set of problems such method is especially appropriate considering the subtleties and complexities existing there.

The Soviet side would like to draw the attention of the White House to the aboveset considerations and to express the hope that it will find proper understanding. The Western powers have endeavoured to present the West Berlin question before the public as a test of good will of the Soviet Union. In the same measure this question is a test of good will of the Western powers themselves, first of all of the United States.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger 1971, Vol. 4 [part 2]. No classification marking. David Young of the NSC staff sent the note at 12:37 p.m. to Kissinger in San Clemente. (Ibid., Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XII) In a covering message, Young reported: “I went to the [Soviet] Embassy and picked the note up at 10:50 a.m. When Vorontsov handed the note to me, he said the Ambassador would appreciate your calling him after you had read the note so he could expand on it orally over the phone and that this would probably be helpful for you to have before you discussed the matter with the President.” For further background, see Document 160. Hyland prepared a memorandum analyzing the note for Kissinger; Kissinger later incorporated Hyland’s analysis in a memorandum to the President (Document 166). In his memoirs, Kissinger recalled his response to the Soviet note: “I recommended to Nixon that we return a positive reply which would insist on Soviet guarantees of access and a clearly defined legal status for West Berlin. And I proposed linking the Berlin negotiations to progress in SALT;SALT in turn we would make depend on Soviet willingness to freeze its offensive buildup. Nixon approved.” (White House Years, p. 802)
  2. See Document 129.