2. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Vest) to Secretary of State Haig1


  • Whether to Receive Ambassador Dobrynin for Delivery of a Message from Gromyko

SUMMARY: Ambassador Dobrynin has requested a short protocol appointment for Thursday, January 22 to deliver a congratulatory message from Gromyko. We recommend that you receive him, but for 5 or 10 minutes only. We also recommend that he be told to use the C Street Entrance, rather than your private elevator.


Ambassador Dobrynin has requested an appointment for January 22 to deliver an “urgent” message from Gromyko. We have queried Soviet Minister-Counselor Bessmertnykh, who tells us that the message is basically a congratulatory one and that Dobrynin only needs 5 or [Page 4] 10 minutes. He also tells us that Dobrynin mentioned his desire to call on you when he saw you at one of the Inaugural events. Dobrynin would not wish to give the message to anyone else, and Bessmertnykh pressed for Thursday on grounds that it was customary, and important, that you receive the message from your “most important counterpart” without delay.

Dobrynin is obviously anxious to be among the first ambassadors to call on you, both for prestige reasons and to take soundings on your attitude toward dealing with the Soviets. One option would be to refuse to receive him until sometime next week, in order to reflect our attitude toward the despicable way in which Soviet propaganda has handled the hostage release question. One disadvantage of that, however, is that the longer you wait to receive Dobrynin the more difficult it will be to limit the first meeting to a courtesy call and the greater the danger of having him try to open up a substantive dialogue. You will no doubt wish to have a substantive conversation with him at some point, in order to outline the general approach which the Administration intends to take toward US-Soviet relations. But as you presumably would not wish to have that meeting for some time yet, there would be an advantage to getting the courtesy call out of the way quickly. There is the additional factor that, in good times and bad, our Ambassador in Moscow has generally been able to see Gromyko promptly when he has instructions, and Dobrynin normally is received promptly here if he is bearing a message from Moscow. We believe it is in our interest to continue that practice whenever practical. On balance, therefore, we believe it desirable for you to receive Dobrynin on Thursday, or possibly Friday. The meeting could be very brief and very formal, limited to your receiving and reading the Gromyko letter.

If you do receive Dobrynin, we recommend that he be told to use the C Street Diplomatic Entrance, as all other ambassadors do. During a period of sensitive negotiations some years ago, Secretary Kissinger permitted Dobrynin to drive into the basement and use his private elevator, and this practice has been continued ever since. As there is no sensitivity to your receiving him, and as our Ambassador in Moscow has never enjoyed any comparable privilege, this would seem to be an appropriate time to terminate the practice.


1. That you agree to receive Dobrynin on January 22 or 23, specifying that it will be for 5 minutes only and that there will be no substantive discussion.

2. That you not receive him until sometime next week. We could inform the Soviet Embassy that you would wish to spend a few minutes in conversation with Dobrynin and that your schedule would not permit it before then.

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3. That you not receive Dobrynin in the near future and ask that the letter be delivered to another officer of the Department.


A. That you authorize us to inform Dobrynin that you will receive him for 5 minutes on January 22 or 23 (Option 1—favored by EUR).2

B. That you authorize us to inform the Soviet Embassy that Dobrynin should use the C Street Diplomatic Entrance.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, P810013–0964. Confidential. Drafted by German on January 21; cleared by Holmes. Barry wrote in the upper right-hand corner: “Request w/drawn by Soviet Embassy on 1/22, RB.” An unknown hand initialed below it: “ALA.”
  2. There is no indication that Haig approved any of the three options.
  3. There is no indication that Haig approved or disapproved. However, when Dobrynin arrived at the Department of State to call upon Haig on January 29, Diplomatic Security directed the Ambassador’s car to the C Street entrance. “I wish that I could claim credit for this inspired gesture, which conveyed so aptly the change in American attitudes toward Moscow,” Haig wrote in his memoir. “The chief of the [Soviet] desk, Robert German, applied to Assistant Secretary George Vest for permission to take away Dobrynin’s parking privileges as a means of getting the Russians’ attention,” Haig went on to say. “Vest quite properly approved without consulting me.” (Haig, Caveat, p.101)