171. Editorial Note

On February 2, 1971, Assistant to the President Kissinger met Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in the Map Room at the White House from 3:04 to 3:53 p.m. to discuss procedures for handling the Berlin negotiations outside normal channels. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) According to the memorandum of conversation, the meeting was held at Dobrynin’s request “on what he called rather urgent business”; Kissinger expected to face questions on the “American invasion of Laos.” Dobrynin, however, first expressed concern on the “extremely alarming” situation in the Middle East then moved on to Berlin. The memorandum records the following discussion:

Dobrynin then said that his superiors in the Politburo were very receptive to the approach on Berlin that I had outlined. I told him of my conversation with Bahr and I said I would have to have a conversation with Rush before I could get the procedure firmly established. However, I proposed the following approach: Bahr would tell me what the German Government might be willing to consider; I would discuss this with Rush. If they both agreed, I would discuss it with Dobrynin; if the three of us agreed, we would introduce it first in the Four Power Western group and subsequently in the Four Power talks on Berlin. Dobrynin said he would transmit this procedure to Moscow. Dobrynin asked me when I might have an answer from Bahr and Rush and I said that I thought that I would be ready to discuss it in the following week.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4 [Part 2])

In a February 3 memorandum to Kissinger, Deputy Assistant to the President Haig reported that he had arranged a channel to West German State Secretary Bahr by establishing “a special link from Navy to a single Navy officer in Frankfurt, who has no responsibility to our embassy or any other intelligence or departmental interests.” According to Haig, Captain Holschuh USN, the Naval Intelligence Officer in Germany, “is totally reliable and has been alerted to receive traffic from Bahr. The only delay will be the travel time from Frankfurt to Bahr and pickup of the message, the encoding and decoding time at this end. At this end, the traffic will be handled exclusively by a Navy cryptologist who will inform us that the traffic is here and ready for pickup. Dispatch from you will be handled in reverse fashion.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 60, Country Files, Europe, Egon Bahr, Berlin File [3 of 3]) David Halperin of the National Security Council staff called Bahr at 3:20 that afternoon to explain how the “Bahr channel” would work. (Memorandum from Halperin to Kissinger, February 3; ibid.)

At 7 p.m. Kissinger met Rush to discuss the handling of backchannel negotiations on Berlin. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, [Page 510] Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Although no substantive record has been found, both men later published accounts of the meeting. In an oral interview, Rush recalled: “I was called back to Washington, and John Mitchell, a friend of mine, arranged for me to have dinner with him and Henry Kissinger at Mitchell’s Watergate apartment. They raised the question whether I could somehow conduct secret negotiations with Abrasimov to try to work out an agreement. I was all in favor of this because we were making no progress in the Four Power talks.” (Thompson, ed., The Nixon Presidency, page 338) As Kissinger described the meeting in his memoirs:

“Arrangements with Ken Rush were settled at our meeting on the evening of February 3 in John Mitchell’s apartment. Rush agreed that probably no other plan would work in a practical time frame. If the stalemate proved too protracted, Brandt might seek to break out on his own, blaming us for Germany’s unfulfilled national aspiration and perhaps charting a new and far more independent course. Rush questioned whether we could handle a Berlin crisis and its accompanying German domestic uproar while the war in Vietnam was going on.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 807, 809–810)

Kissinger then reviewed the arrangements for secret diplomacy on Berlin in separate meetings with Rush and Dobrynin on February 4. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Later that afternoon, Rush received a memorandum from Kissinger on the “special channel for communications with the White House.” The memorandum outlined a procedure identical to the Bahr channel: “Captain Holschuh, upon receipt of telephonic notification from Ambassador Rush personally will be prepared to make arrangements for the pickup of the texts of any secure communications for direct delivery to the White House. He will also serve as point of contact for the delivery of messages from the White House to Ambassador Rush.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1 [2 of 2]) Although Kissinger had asked to see Dobrynin “in order to tell him of my conversation with Rush,” the main purpose of the meeting was “to show some interest in continued Soviet-American dialogue during the Laotian episode.” According to the memorandum of conversation, “Dobrynin said he had already received a reply to our last conversation from the Kremlin. The Kremlin told him to express to me [Kissinger] the pleasure of Moscow at the seriousness with which we approached the subject [Berlin], that they considered it a very positive contribution to the Summit we were planning.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 490, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 4 [Part 2])