160. Editorial Note

On January 6 and 7, 1971, Assistant to the President Kissinger in San Clemente and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in Washington discussed by telephone the Soviet note on Berlin (Document 159). In the conversation at 11:45 a.m. (EST) on January 6, Dobrynin provided some background on the Soviet initiative.

“D: I asked Vorontsov to call Mr. Young and give him a special message to you. This is really in terms of our confidential channel. I thought it would be all right because the message is in an envelope so that only the two of us would know what it was. It is from the top to top.

“K: Can an answer wait until I see you on Monday [January 11]? I have not read the message so I cannot tell you what I think.

“D: It is a continuation of the talk between the President and Gromyko. In line of the discussions which took place at the White House. The consultation of the President and Gromyko at one point.

“K: We are in the process of reviewing that whole issue anyway so I will be glad to get this message. I am almost certain … I cannot give you an answer now because I have not seen the message.

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“D: Continuation of what they discussed at the White House. That was a continuation of what we discussed before.

“K: I was just wondering when Vorontsov called if this was something you were planning to deliver someplace else later in the day.

“D: No. Not at all. This is in our channel. It is not going anyplace else. That is why I wanted to call and tell you what these arrangements are. I did not think it would hurt to have Vorontsov call Young.

“K: Now I understand. This is only a technical problem. “D: I will see you on Monday.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

At 3:35 that afternoon, Kissinger and Dobrynin continued their long-distance discussion of using the confidential channel for negotiations on Berlin and other important matters.

“K: I have just talked about that document with the President and I will be prepared to discuss it with you on Monday but I wanted to be sure I knew what the precise question is to which you want an answer. The question is not clear. You said there is one question in particular to which you want an answer and I was calling to make sure I knew what it was.

“D: About the first page, to speed up the whole process. Secondly, from our side and from your side point of view—you remember Gromyko’s discussion with the President.

“K: That you are prepared to go forward on this basis.

“D: How it was handled there—

“K: I understand, I understand. We are looking at this with a very constructive attitude.

“D: Constructive position. We are quite prepared to—I have instructions which I did not want to put in writing in that message—if President OK’s we could have some talks between you and I. I have instruction to tell the President … details of the major issues—we are prepared to go but both of us should talk—

“K: For your information I think I will be prepared to talk with you. Perhaps on Monday we will not be able to deal with all of it but get the basis for which our discussions will take place.

“D: This one and maybe can discuss most useful things to do to speed up.

“K: At least I could explain to you how I think it can be done.

“D: It probably can be taken care of in 2 or 3 meetings and then see the President—

“K: 2 or 3 meetings to narrow the thing.

“D: Not how to solve but direction where we go.

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“K: What we think our needs are and what you can do about them and then we will treat your needs in the same way.

“D: Two things—speeding up two major points which was discussed with the President.

“K: I thought that is what you were saying but I wanted to check.” (Ibid.)

At 3:05 p.m. on January 7, Dobrynin called Kissinger to explain that he could not meet on January 11 as planned: “I have just received a telegram from Moscow and they have asked me rather urgently to come to Moscow for consultations—tomorrow or the day after.” Kissinger, however, deflected the suggestion that he respond to the Soviet note in writing: “I am a little reluctant to put it in writing because it depends on a number of explanations. But I wanted to make a very concrete proposal on how to proceed on the subject you made yesterday and another concrete proposal in another area. If our relationships are going to be a part of your conversation this will be not at all unuseful. But if I put it in writing it will have to be very carefully drafted because you will study every word of it.” After considerable discussion of scheduling problems, Dobrynin indicated that he would seek a delay in his departure to permit a meeting in Washington on the morning of January 9. Kissinger declared that “this could be one of the more important conversations we have had.” (Ibid.) One hour later, Kissinger gave Dobrynin another reason to stay in Washington: “I wanted to mention one thing on a semi-personal basis. I think it would be very hard to be understood by the President if you were pulled out in light of the communication of yesterday without waiting for an answer.” Dobrynin replied: “I understand and will check with Moscow.” (Ibid.)

On January 9 Kissinger and Dobrynin met in Washington for a discussion of several issues, including the Berlin negotiations. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House from 10:30 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. (Ibid., Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) According to the memorandum of conversation, however, the meeting took place in the Soviet Embassy at Dobrynin’s invitation (without specifying a time or duration), and Dobrynin, who had been unexpectedly recalled to Moscow, was delaying his departure for 24 hours in order to receive a response from Kissinger to the recent Soviet note on Berlin. The memorandum records the conversation on Berlin:

“I told Dobrynin that I had an answer from the President to the Soviet note on Berlin—specifically, whether the President still stood by his conversation with Gromyko. I said a lot depended, of course, on how one interpreted the President’s conversation with Gromyko. In the sense that the President said that he would be well disposed towards [Page 479] the negotiations if they did not cut the umbilical cord between West Berlin and the Federal Republic, there was no problem. With respect to the Soviet proposal that the process be accelerated and that we review again the Soviet propositions, I said the following: I had reviewed the Soviet propositions and wanted to distinguish the formal and the substantive part. If the Soviet Union could give some content to the transit procedures and if the Soviet Union could find a way by which it could make itself responsible, together with the four allies, for access, we would, in turn, attempt to work out some approach which took cognizance of the concerns of the East German regime. I would be prepared, at the request of the President, to discuss this with him in substance, and if we could see an agreement was possible, we could then feed it into regular channels.

Dobrynin said that this was very important because Rush was clearly an obstacle to negotiations since he either didn’t understand them or was too intransigent. I told him this was not an attempt to bypass Rush, but to see whether we could use our channel to speed up the procedure. I was prepared to have conversations with high German officials to find out exactly what they were prepared to settle for and then to include this in our discussions. Dobrynin said he would check this in Moscow and let me have an answer by the end of the week.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger 1971, Vol. 4 [Part 2])

Kissinger forwarded the memorandum of conversation to the President on January 25. (Memorandum from Kissinger to the President, January 25; ibid.) The memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII. For their memoir accounts of this crucial meeting, see Kissinger, White House Years, pages 802–803; and Dobrynin, In Confidence, pages 210–211.