231. Editorial Note

On May 3, 1971, while Assistant to the President Kissinger was on vacation in Palm Springs, California, Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin sent the following note on the Berlin negotiations to the White House: “The Soviet side is ready to conduct in Bonn confidential meetings of the USSR, US and FRG representatives for exchanging opinion on the West Berlin question in parallel with the continuation of the official negotiations of the Four Power Ambassadors.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [Part 2]) In a telephone conversation that evening, Deputy Assistant to the President Haig called Dobrynin to discuss the note. “I just wanted to make sure,” Haig explained, “that this is in the context of the approach outlined to you last week,” referring to the meetings between Kissinger and Dobrynin on April 26 and 27. Although reluctant to review the note with Haig on the telephone, Dobrynin said: “We are prepared to follow the lines discussed with Dr. Kissinger and understood from the President.” Dobrynin also indicated that he would address the issue when Kissinger returned to Washington on May 8: “By that time we will have more clear picture, this is a major message.” (Ibid., Box 998, Haig Chronological File, Haig Telcons—1971 [2 of 2])

As soon as his conversation with Dobrynin was over, Haig reported by telephone to Kissinger in Palm Springs: “It took a little bit to get our friend (Dobrynin) but I just talked to him and he said, I guess so. This is in response to what Dr. Kissinger mentioned to me but then [Page 693] he went on to say this is not any big deal. Just thought it would be to explore this channel, this way no preconditions and we shouldn’t read anything into it.”

When Kissinger asked “what the hell does he mean,” Haig replied: “It was my distinct impression that this is along the lines of what you mentioned to him.” After an exchange on arrangements for the proposed secret trip to Beijing, Kissinger and Haig continued their discussion of the Soviet note on Berlin.

K: What worries me is Dobrynin.

“H: Yeah. Well, I think you could call him.

K: I won’t call him. What did he say, we shouldn’t read too much into it.

“H: To the proposal that they have given us. It would be useful to explore.

K: Explore the forum, or in the context of your proposition?

“H: In the context of your proposition.

K: The forum was established a long time ago.

“H: This is in response to what you told him. This is the way my government has responded to the proposal made by Dr. Kissinger last week.

K: Yeah. Have you got a backchannel to the Ambassador? I am just worried that a God-awful mess will occur if everybody doesn’t read from the same sheet.

“H: I couldn’t agree more.

K: Basically, we are not sure what the goddamn thing means. Best thing to do is send it to Rush with explanation of how it came about.

“H: Right. He linked it directly? to your proposal but that funny business about, I guess so threw me off the track. Maybe my question threw him off.

K: What was the question?

“H: Is this proposal in the context outlined by you to him last week.

K: That’s correct, that’s exactly right.

“H: And his first answer was I guess so and then he went on and talked very quickly and saying this not by [would not be?] a substantive set of conditions and his government thought this would be a useful way to explore this.” (Ibid.)

On Kissinger’s behalf, Haig sent a special channel message to Ambassador Rush in Bonn on May 3. After quoting the text of the Soviet note, Haig provided the following background:

“As I communicated to you last week I had explained to Dobrynin the general approach agreed to by you, Bahr and me. In order to illustrate what we meant by a juridically neutral draft I gave him the [Page 694] introductory sentences from the sections on Federal Presence and Access contained in the draft handed to me by Bahr at Woodstock on April 25.

“From Dobrynin’s reply today confirmed by telephone later we can assume that this general approach is acceptable to the other side.

“In these circumstances, I wonder if we should now give them any additional drafts until we have obtained the agreement of the British and French on this approach at the working level meeting on May 17 and 18.

“I leave to you and Bahr the judgment on whether we should provide them with any additional material at this time. Please let me know what you plan to do.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1)

At the same time, Haig sent an identical message by special channel to German State Secretary Bahr. (Ibid., Box 60, Egon Bahr, Berlin File [2 of 3]) For a German translation of an excerpt from the message, see Bahr, Zu meiner Zeit, pages 361–362.