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Anatoly Dobrynin looks on as Andrei Gromyko and Henry Kissinger shake hands prior to their talks in Geneva, July 10, 1975 (courtesy AP).

The Kissinger Telcons:

The Dobrynin File

"Happy Birthday" Henry Kissinger

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 123

Edited by Dr. Svetlana Savranskaya

Posted May 27, 2004

Archive director discusses Kissinger telcons on NPR's
All Things Considered, 27 May 2004

New Kissinger Telcons Released 26 May 2004

Kissinger Telcons on Chile

Telcons Previously Released in Other Nixon Presidential Files

A Side-by-Side Comparison of a Kissinger Telcon and a Nixon Tape of the Same Conversation

Legal Documents

This selection of documents focuses on one of the most important groups of documents in the newly released Kissinger telcons--the record of high-level diplomacy with the chief representative of the number one adversary, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. As soon as they came to power, Nixon and Kissinger believed that diplomacy with Moscow would be critical for settling the most sensitive issues, such as the Vietnam War and strategic arms control. Both wanted the White House to control the most delicate conversations, which would mean leaving the State Department and its subject-matter experts out of the policymaking-negotiating loop.

Only weeks after taking office, during his first meeting with Dobrynin, Nixon told the Ambassador that he should discuss the most important issues with Kissinger only. This new "back channel" arrangement would involve weekly meetings and, when Kissinger and Dobrynin couldn't meet, routine phone conversations. Most of the meetings were held in the White House Map Room which Dobrynin could visit without attracting the attention of the press and the State Department.

During Nixon's first term, "back channel" discussions would cover a number of negotiating fronts, especially the Berlin and the SALT negotiations, but also hot spots from Vietnam to Cuba to the Middle East. Eventually the "back channel" became a non-secret, but when Kissinger became Secretary of State, the routine meetings with Dobrynin continued.

The following selection of "telcons" illustrates the Dobrynin/Kissinger relationship, not least the great personal warmth that developed as they got to know each other better. Many of the documents focus on Kissinger's first full month as Secretary of State, when conflict in the Middle East raised the risk of the East-West crisis that both Dobrynin and Kissinger had worked hard to avoid. Nevertheless, during the October War each would work behind the other's back in order to promote their interests.


Read the Telcons

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 26 May 1973
Source: Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts (Telcons), Box 28, May 1973-June 1973 [hereafter box and file citations only]

Before leaving for New York, Ambassador Dobrynin does not forget to congratulate his colleague and personal friend on his birthday, offering to sing "Happy Birthday" for Kissinger one day in advance. Kissinger asks for a favor: to keep the "KGB guys from running loose" in his neighborhood because the evening before he had run into five agents just as he "brought a girl home."

Document 2: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 23 August 1973
Source: Box 28, July 1973-September 1973

Dobrynin congratulates Kissinger on his nomination to the position of Secretary of State and passes on to him the high praise of the confidential channel from Brezhnev and Gromyko. Kissinger speculates that he was appointed a member of the Politburo and calls Dobrynin "not just a colleague, but a personal friend"

Document 3: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 9 October 1973
Source: Box 28, October 1973

Kissinger tells Dobrynin that he had gotten a report from Jordan suggesting that the Soviet charge was encouraging "all Arab states" to "enter battle" with Israel. According to Kissinger's information, the "King considers this a Soviet request for him to send his army into action." Dobrynin reacts in disbelief and promises to check on the story.

Document 4: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 10 October 1973
Source: Box 28, October 1973

Kissinger informs Dobrynin confidentially about a "major domestic crisis" [resignation of Spiro Agnew] and suggests that there might be a delay in negotiating a cease-fire resolution. Kissinger asks Dobrynin to ask Moscow's Arab "friends" to refrain from any rash steps until the end of the day, jokingly saying that "they crossed the Suez Canal, maybe they'll cross the Hudson River." Kissinger emphasizes that this is "not a delaying tactic."

Document 5: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 24 October 1973 9:45 a.m.
Source: Box 28, October 1973

Kissinger informs Dobrynin that "the madmen in the Middle East" violated the cease-fire agreement. He promises to find out who the violators were and to put pressure on the Israelis, who were encircling Egypt's Third Army. Stressing that the U.S. is not playing any games with the Soviet Union, Kissinger assures Dobrynin that he wants to keep the lines of communication open. However, in the evening of the same day, after Brezhnev sends an ambiguous letter that Kissinger interprets as a threat of Soviet unilateral action. Later that night at a White House meeting Kissinger puts U.S. military forces on alert without warning the Soviets. That move angers Brezhnev and the Politburo; they see it as a "credibility crisis" in U.S.-Soviet efforts to bring a peaceful settlement to the crisis.

Document 6: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 24 October 1973 10:10 a.m.
Source: Box 28, October 1973

Kissinger informs Dobrynin that a U.S. military attaché will be sent to the Israeli Army to ensure "that they are not taking offensive actions" and promises to make "the most violent presentations to the Israelis" to stop their actions against the Third Army.

Document 7: General Alexander Haig/Ambassador Dobrynin, 26 October 1973
Source: Box 28, October 1973

In an angry talk with Haig, Dobrynin emotionally recounts U.S. moves that undermined Soviet-American cooperation in the Middle East. What triggered the conversation was President Nixon's remarks in a press conference where he compared the Brezhnev letter and the U.S. military reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis (which the transcriber erroneously recorded as the "human crisis"). Dobrynin explains that the Politburo "is very much upset … because they consider that you created … an artificial crisis without consulting or warning the Soviet side." The Politburo especially resented the implication that as a result of the U.S. actions they were made to look like "weaker partners … against braver United States."

Document 8: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 29 October 1973
Source: Box 28, October 1973

Kissinger informs Dobrynin apologetically about "our heroes at Defense" announcing a dispatch of an aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean; there will be an immediate retraction of the announcement. Dobrynin informs Kissinger that the Soviet military is 100% under control of the political leadership, as opposed to the U.S. military. Kissinger responds that it is only 90% under control in the U.S. Dobrynin responded that the remaining 10 percent is on Moscow's side!

Document 9: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 1 November 1973
Source: Box 28, November 1973-December 1973

Dobrynin and Kissinger discuss the composition of the U.N. peace-keeping force to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces near the Suez Canal. Then they start trading countries back and forth as if they were chess pieces controlled by superpowers.

Document 10: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 12 July 1974
Source: Box 28, January 1974-August 1974

Dobrynin and Kissinger talk after a long break in the conversations and go over the European Security Conference and the progress of SALT negotiations. Kissinger asks Dobrynin to "cooperate a little bit on Basket III," the provisions on human rights and freedom of movement. Dobrynin emphasizes the importance of the Conference to the Soviet Union, and the confidential nature of the exchanges on this subject saying that "Gromyko … will keep this close to his heart. It is a project that he likes very much."

Document 11: Kissinger/Ambassador Dobrynin, 25 May 1973
Source: Box 28, May 1973-June 1973

On a lighter note, Kissinger and Dobrynin discuss a subject that comes up very often during the conversations in the "back channel." Dobrynin notes that Kissinger was seen with an attractive young woman previously pictured in the Playboy calendar. Kissinger calls Dobrynin a "dirty old man" and expresses his "hope she isn't a nice girl."


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