356. Editorial Note

On April 20, 1972, Assistant to the President Kissinger arrived in Moscow for a series of secret meetings with Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to discuss the upcoming summit. Although Vietnam and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks dominated the discussion, Kissinger and Brezhnev also reviewed the political situation in Germany. During a meeting on April 22, Brezhnev expressed concern on the prospects for Chancellor Brandt and ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties:

Brezhnev: I would like to ask you to tell President Nixon that we value highly the President’s position on this matter, the support he is giving to ratification of the treaties and the agreement on Berlin. I would like you to bear in mind this is not [just] a compliment to the President, this is the truth. At the same time, I don’t want to be too reticent or shy in speaking my mind on other aspects. I want to express the wish that at this decisive stage for Chancellor Brandt and the FRG the President should say a still more weighty word in favor of ratification. This would have a considerable significance and would be much appreciated in the Soviet Union and throughout the world. I would like to ask you Dr. Kissinger to draw President Nixon’s attention to this.

Kissinger: You can be sure I will.

Brezhnev: President Nixon does have an unlimited capacity in this respect. It would be a very important step toward very successful negotiations.

Kissinger: In what respect ‘unlimited’?

Brezhnev: If I were elected President, I would show you. It would be good if I were elected President, but I don’t seek the nomination!

Kissinger: With respect to influencing the Germans?

Brezhnev: The President has unlimited capacity with respect to ratification. We do highly appreciate his position. The point I make is that we would appreciate any further efforts he could make in favor of it. Intuition is sometimes a good guide, and I have the impression President Nixon will respond favorably.

[Page 1006]

Kissinger: As you know, there are elections tomorrow in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. If these go badly, that is, if the Free Democrats get wiped out or get reduced substantially, or if the Social Democrats don’t do well, then I don’t think anything we do can make any difference. I think the Brandt Government will fall. I give you my best judgment.

Brezhnev: Would that be to our advantage for the Brandt Government to fall?

Kissinger: No, we don’t want this, but I state it as an objective fact.

Brezhnev: The U.S. President still has 24 hours to act. I know you sometimes put out surprise press conferences. Well, the President knows better how to do it.

Kissinger: No, we cannot influence a State election in Germany. It is too difficult. I don’t think it will happen, but I wanted to say it would be difficult.

Brezhnev: You are a difficult man to come to terms with. We came to agreement immediately before, and we have already notified Semenov immediately.

Kissinger: But can you influence elections for us?

Brezhnev: Isn’t all this understanding we have reached in favor of that? On SALT, ABM, European issues, long-term credits, the whole radical improvement in the atmosphere of U.S.-Soviet relations?

“[The Russians conferred among themselves briefly, at which Dr. Kissinger remarked: “Every time I say something, there is a brawl on the Russian side.”]

Brezhnev: Because, after all, the President is a politician, not a merchant. Politics covers all questions. The important thing is for us to reach agreement.

Kissinger: Realistically, what I would like to do is claim credit when the elections go well tomorrow and then ask you for concessions.

Brezhnev: What concessions?

Kissinger: I’ll think of one.

Brezhnev: I’ll be prepared to give you credit if it goes well, but if things go badly, I’ll say it was your fault.

Kissinger: You must have read in the Ambassador’s cables that I am vain.

Brezhnev: I have never read that.

Dobrynin: I have told them you are modest.

Kissinger: I will have revolution on my hands. Realistically, it is too late to do anything. If the elections go as expected without radical change in Bonn, we will see what can be done.

Brezhnev: What is your general forecast?

[Page 1007]

Kissinger: My forecast is that tomorrow’s election will not affect the parliamentary situation in Bonn. Perhaps some minor parliamentary changes, but it will not affect the situation. Confidentially, we have attempted to be helpful. We invited Bahr to Washington and let it be known, and we have not received anyone from the Opposition. This is a fairly clear signal in Germany. We have not seen Barzel since the ratification debate started. He wanted to come in April and we did not receive him.

Brezhnev: I know you received Bahr.

Kissinger: And when Barzel came in January, your Ambassador in Bonn can confirm we did not encourage him.

“I want to be honest with you. I had arranged with Bahr to send a memo that perhaps he could use confidentially in early April. But this became impossible because of the Vietnam situation. Our domestic situation became more complicated. We will review what can be done between now and May 4.

Brezhnev: This is a very important component of the general package of problems we will be having discussions on and hoping to resolve. We feel that on all the issues, agreements should be reached that will be worthy of our two countries.

Kissinger: Mr. General Secretary, we have invested so much in the Berlin Agreement that we are in favor of ratification of these agreements. In light of these discussions, we will see what additional steps we can take to assist ratification.”

After an exchange on the need to discuss European security at the summit, Brezhnev asked Kissinger about membership for East and West Germany in the United Nations.

Brezhnev: [O]n the subject of the admission of the 2 German states to the U.N., you know when we signed the treaty with the FRG, there was a clause in the statement on efforts of the sides to secure the admission of the 2 Germanies. Since at the Summit we will be discussing important issues, it would not be understood by the public in the USSR or the GDR or also in the U.S. if nothing was said on that subject.

Kissinger: The Foreign Minister knows the sequence. It is possible that the treaties won’t be ratified by the Summit. They may pass on May 4 and then be rejected by the Bundesrat, then go back to parliament for a full majority in June.

“If this is the sequence, then a successful Summit would be a guarantee of ratification. It would be impossible that a German Parliament could reject them after a successful U.S. and Soviet meeting. Secondly as regards the GDR, I don’t want to raise the wrong expectations as regards what we can say at the meeting. I don’t think we can go much beyond the Berlin Agreement. With respect to admission of the 2 [Page 1008] Germanies to the U.N., we frankly have not yet taken a position. My informal view is that we will back whatever Chancellor Brandt wants to do. If he proposes it, we will be prepared to support these steps.

Brezhnev: Brandt did register in a document his readiness to support entry.

Kissinger: We will check with Brandt before the Summit. We will not be an obstacle. If he is willing, we have no American interest to oppose it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 72, Country Files, Europe, USSR, HAK Moscow Trip–April 1972, Memcons)

Kissinger later sent the following undated message to Bahr on the subject: “Brezhnev has approached us with a request to support UN membership for the GDR and the FRG. We have told him that we will be guided by the FRG’s approach on this matter. I would greatly appreciate your suggestions on how we should handle this in Moscow.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 424, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, Europe, 1972)

Before the final meeting with Brezhnev on April 24, Sonnenfeldt briefed Kissinger on the growing political crisis in Bonn. The previous day, the Christian Democratic Union won the state election in Baden-Württemberg, and Wilhelm Helms, a member of the Free Democratic parliamentary party group, announced his defection from the governing coalition. While the opposition thus maintained its majority in the Bundesrat, the government was now in danger of losing its majority in the Bundestag. The loss of one more vote there would mean defeat not only for Brandt but also, in all likelihood, for ratification of the Eastern treaties. In a note to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt wrote that the electoral results “will look ominous to Soviets.” He then offered the following advice on the Soviet request for U.S. intervention: “B[rezhnev] may believe we could have done something. Let him believe it. You held out hope, indeed virtually promised to do something before May if Brandt survives.” “If US-Soviet relations deteriorate (because of V[iet]N[am]),” Sonnenfeldt concluded, “[Barzel] may well defeat German treaties and—before that—topple Brandt.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 230, Geopolitical File, 1964–78, Soviet Union, Trips, 1972, April, Notes)

Although he saw “no great sensations” regarding the outcome in Baden-Württemberg, Brezhnev reiterated his plea to Kissinger for U.S. intervention during their meeting on April 24. “Now is a decisive moment,” he declared, “when our two countries should take the necessary steps to further ratification of the treaties and sign a protocol on West Berlin.” After a discussion on summit preparations, Kissinger assessed the recent German developments.

“Dr. Kissinger: I have not seen our official analyses yet, but my personal analysis is that there has been a slight weakening of the Brandt [Page 1009] Government but not a significant weakening of the Brandt Government. In my judgment—again I am only speaking personally—it means that the treaties will be rejected by the upper house and will therefore have to come back to Parliament to pass by an absolute majority in June. It is my judgment that they will still pass. We will use our influence where we can.

Brezhnev: America can certainly speak in a loud voice when it wants to.

“Dr. Kissinger: As I told the General Secretary, when I return I will discuss with the President what we can do. Having worked so long on the Berlin agreement, we want to see it achieved. It is one of the useful results of the exchanges between the President and the General Secretary.

Brezhnev: I trust you will convey the general tenor and our tone to the President on our policy toward Europe, which contains nothing bad for Europe or for the U.S.

“Dr. Kissinger: You can be sure. We will see what we can do, possibly a letter to the Chancellor, or something else.

Brezhnev: This requires looking at things thru realistic eyes, and perhaps everything will fall into place. I’m not in any way suggesting any concrete steps, because I am sure the President knows better. To help your own ally. I already told Chancellor Brandt in the Crimea that we had nothing whatsoever against the allied relationship between the FRG and the U.S. I am sure Chancellor Brandt told the President this but I wanted to reassure you.

“Dr. Kissinger: We will approach it in a constructive spirit. I will communicate thru the special channel. I will see your Ambassador Friday, but I can tell you now we will approach it in a constructive spirit, and with a desire to get the Treaties ratified.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Box 72, Europe, USSR, HAK Moscow Trip—April 1972, Memcons)

Later that day, Kissinger adopted a different line in a memorandum to Nixon on his trip to Moscow. “Brezhnev and his colleagues displayed obvious uneasiness over the outcome of the German treaties,” he reported, “and made repeated pitches for our direct intervention. The results of Sunday’s election and the FDP defection have heightened their concern, and the situation gives us leverage. I made no commitment to bail them out and indeed pointed out that we had been prepared to assist them through Bahr but had not done so because of the North Vietnamese offensive. We will see to it that we give them no help on this matter so long as they don’t help on Vietnam.” (Ibid.) As Kissinger later explained: “the Soviets’ eagerness to complete these treaties would be one of our assets if Vietnam should reach crisis proportions in the weeks ahead. From our point of view, having the Eastern treaties in abeyance was exactly the ideal posture.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 1150)