322. Conversation Between President Nixon, the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin), and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

[Omitted here are brief introductory remarks.]

Dobrynin: We’re talking about convening of a five nuclear power conference dealing with nuclear disarmament. We are proposing to begin to schedule [unclear] diplomatic channel, about…[unclear]. We would like to discuss nuclear disarmament as well as partial measures [unclear]. We are open-minded, but if you [unclear]. We accept [unclear]. We feel…we won’t object if there is not a majority of all participate…you, China [unclear]. We shall deal with the question of [unclear]…. We think that this proposal [unclear]France. [unclear]

Nixon: Is this statement a proposal for a conference on limitation or disarmament?

Dobrynin: Disarmament, yes. It is a conference of five powers on nuclear disarmament.

Nixon: Disarmament, partial or otherwise.

Dobrynin: Yes.

Nixon: What…would the…preparatory [sic] that would be required?

Dobrynin: Well it is [unclear]the agenda.

Nixon: At the ambassador level?

Dobrynin: Agenda [unclear]foreign ministry to organize, establish and prepare the note. [unclear.]and Ambassadorial level. One way would be to establish a [unclear] and they will discuss. Or the diplomatic chancelleries can discuss.

Nixon: It seems to me that the key is the leadership at the top. What I mean is…I’m not referring here to the tops of governments. That, too, is important. But, I really think that the…two major nuclear powers…the Soviet Union and the United States,…they would have to provide the leadership…role. The, uh,…other nuclear powers…they are still so far behind that they would…would look to both the Soviet Union and the United States for a leadership role.

Dobrynin: [unclear].

Nixon: Well I [unclear.] Let me suggest this: I think a proposal like this is something we all here, of course, would consider very seriously. Anything your government suggests would get serious consideration. Second…I feel the way our two governments can make the most progress is to have, frankly, the kind of talks you and Henry have been having on various subjects. Basically a [unclear] where we’re not really trying to hide it, but where you can talk freely knowing that either side can accept or reject at anytime.

Dobrynin: You mean [unclear].

Nixon: Exactly. In my opinion … in my opinion…and I haven’t talked to Kissinger about this…but in my opinion with all the other things you’re talking about which are very important…Berlin and SALT…some other subjects that might come up…I trust [unclear]. If we use these various channels [unclear]. The way that it’s done is through a relationship that is, first, completely confidential and not scattered throughout the bureaucracy where everybody is leaking to the press and all that sort of thing. And then, from there, we iron out our disagreements. Dot the I’s and cross the T’s. And then the two of you get together at the highest levels and agree. Obviously [unclear].

Dobrynin: [unclear].

Nixon: Well you’re in a different position than the average ambassador.

Dobrynin: I don’t think so.

Nixon: Well I think so. It is quite obvious that Kissinger and you, of course, have a special relationship. My feeling is that apart from the…basically, let’s face it…cosmetics of a five-power meeting, the session should go forward, should be presented, and we…of course…will have a decision. But apart from that, I would like to suggest…and I would like both Henry and you to give me your views on it…that possibly in your other discussions you might discuss this problem to see whether or not the two…the two powers…can play a role to, eh—

Dobrynin: To play a role as the two powers?

Nixon: Yes, let me put it this way: If the Soviet Union goes one way and we go another way on an subject of this magnitude…a conference…who do we agree with? How does that sound to you Henry?

Kissinger: I think that’s a very good decision.

Nixon: In other words, this is apart from other things that have happened. In the meantime, too, I would hope that we not…the only other thing I would suggest…is that [unclear]. If we talk about disarmament…if we have, for instance…if we have as much problems on…limitation of arms is difficult, but when you talk about disarmament, that is, of course…that is more difficult. And…so, uh, we’re talking about a set of two and having five…that’s even more difficult. But…so this means…and I’m glad you emphasized a very orderly procedure…uh. I would not think, for example, that it would be helpful that’s why I asked you two. It wouldn’t be helpful to, say, have the foreign ministers all meet—

Dobrynin: No—

Nixon: All grandstanding…until you’ve worked out a working level agreement.

Dobrynin: But, specifically, on what levels would we respond? [unclear]

Kissinger: I would have to study this text sufficiently, but right now—

Dobrynin: [unclear] It’s a matter open for discussion…on what levels.

Nixon: Now that’s the way it will have to proceed. We’ll have to send this to the [unclear] and that you and the Ambassador, at the appropriate time…along with the other things your discussing… perhaps…chat about this. Except that…let’s also keep the…let’s keep our discussions going on these other matters right now.

Dobrynin: Now how do we fit this in when we have Berlin?

Nixon: Well you have Berlin, SALT. Those two, it seems to me, those are the ones that are on fire, and we ought to…give each equal importance.

Kissinger: We will make a formal reply to this, Mr. President. [unclear]

Nixon: And I think this matter…what I’m suggesting is that after we’ve had a chance to read it, so that you’ve had a chance to consider it, we’ll get together and talk and then go from there.

Dobrynin: [unclear]

Nixon: My feeling is this: We are in a testing period. You know, some people tend to, tend to read speeches…like the one made last week by the Secretary to Congress and the same with the Russian [unclear, but it sounds as though he says “national assembly“] and say, “Well this is hard-line and this is soft-line”…and none of those things mean anything.

Dobrynin: [unclear]

Nixon: My view is what really counts is what we’re doing, but we should all be careful about what we say. But it seems to me, Mr. Ambassador, is that we’re at that point, if we play a constructive role, that we can make a breakthrough on Berlin and on SALT. If we do that, then the whole post-World War II relationship changes. If we don’t do that then it’s going to be the same. I think that’s what this really gets down to. If we can move in those two areas, then we open up the way…we open up the way to other areas of discussion. I’m not suggesting that if we don’t move in these other areas we will not discuss these other things, but what I am suggesting is that we have moved so far in these that we ought to do…in both Berlin and SALT…those are the ones I prefer very much. Now I think, frankly, if you follow our press and the world press, they’re watching both very closely.

Dobrynin: Yes they do.

Nixon: Because they know we are talking. Before our initial announcement on SALT, they said nothing is happening; and something happened. And with Berlin, if you noticed, some of the press last week said nothing’s happening…no progress. They don’t know what’s happening. The point is that…we now have an opportunity, it seems to me, on the basis where each serves their own interest…we serve ours and you serve yours. [One short sentence unclear.] Like SALT, you’ve got to make a deal that protects your interest and we’ve got to make one that protects ours. But it can be done. And the same with Berlin. And the same with other…such subjects further down the line like MBFR, like that. That…what I think…I think we have established here a method of discussion that, to me, is quite satisfactory. I’d like to have it pursued…and, in fact, we will pursue it. And the main point is…that you’ve got to remember, too…we must…want to make progress. And while we don’t want to hurry anything…you don’t, we don’t…we now are at a point…the…where we really should…be able to make some agreement of some sort. I mean, we’re at that point…with as many subjects as are before us…where we should culminate something. And if you culminate one of some importance, that is going to have a massive effect on world opinion. Now the Seabeds [sic] was good, but everybody knows that that was just a start.

Dobrynin: Well, what do you think we should concentrate on now?

Nixon: For the future?

[Omitted here is brief discussion of the Middle East.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 521–5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording published here specifically for this volume.
  2. Nixon and Dobrynin engaged in a detailed discussion of the Soviet proposal for a five-power conference on nuclear disarmament. Specifically, the conversation focused on the scope of the conference, the level of preparation involved, and the level of participants required for success.