home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Henry Kissinger and Anatoly Dobrynin in the Map Room at the White House, March 17, 1972 (Source: Soviet-American Relations: the Détente Years, 1969-1972)

KISSINGER CONSPIRED WITH SOVIET AMBASSADOR
TO KEEP SECRETARY OF STATE IN THE DARK

U.S. State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry Publish Record of Dobrynin-Kissinger "Back Channel" Meetings, Based on First-time Access to Classified Soviet-Era Documents

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 233
Edited by William Burr

Posted - November 2, 2007

For more information contact:
William Burr - 202/994-7000


The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top-Secret Talks With Beijing and Moscow

Edited by William Burr

In the news

"Knee-Capped By Kissinger"
By Bonnie Goldstein
Slate
November 2, 2007

Related postings

New Documentary Reveals Secret U.S., Chinese Diplomacy Behind Nixon's Trip
Chinese Marshal Received Top Secret Intelligence Briefing from Kissinger in 1972

Nixon's Trip to China
Now completely declassified, including Kissinger intelligence briefing and assurances on Taiwan

Henry Kissinger's Secret Trip to China
The Beijing-Washington Back-Channel, September 1970-July 1971

East Timor Revisited
Ford, Kissinger and the Indonesian invasion, 1975-76

The October War and U.S. Policy
Kissinger gave green light for Israeli offensive violating 1973 cease-fire

The Kissinger State Department Telcons
Telcons Show Kissinger Opposed Human Rights Diplomacy;
Secretary of State Tapped Own Phone Calls

The Kissinger Telcons
Archive Celebrates Release of Previously Sequestered Telephone Records

Kissinger to Argentine Generals in 1976: "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly"
Newly declassified document shows Secretary of State gave strong support early on to the military junta

Kissinger to Argentines on Dirty War: "The quicker you succeed the better"
Documents show Secretary of State gave green light to junta



Washington, DC, November 2, 2007 - Then-national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger colluded with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to keep the U.S. Secretary of State in the dark about ongoing secret discussions between the Soviets and the Nixon White House, according to newly released Soviet-era documents, released last week by the Department of State.

In February 1972, with the Moscow summit approaching, Kissinger met with Soviet ambassador Dobrynin, who was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State William Rogers, to talk about what the Secretary knew and did not know about “the state of U.S.-Soviet relations.” Commenting on the meeting in his memorandum of conversation forwarded to Moscow, Dobrynin observed that it was a “unique situation when the Special Assistant to the President secretly informs a foreign ambassador about what the Secretary of State knows and does not know.” This memorandum appears for the first time in an extraordinary State Department collection of U.S. and Soviet documents on the Dobrynin-Kissinger meetings, produced through a U.S.-Russian cooperative effort, with selections posted on-line today by the National Security Archive.

On October 22, 2007, the State Department’s Office of the Historian released Soviet-American Relations: the Détente Years, 1969-1972, edited by David C. Geyer and Douglas E. Selvage. Over a thousand pages long with 380 documents and introductions by Dobrynin and Kissinger, this volume (initially released in CD form by the office of the historian) includes the most secret and sensitive U.S.-Soviet exchanges of the superpower détente, the so-called “back channel” or “confidential channel” Dobrynin-Kissinger meetings. (Note 1) Besides Kissinger’s records of his meetings with Dobrynin, which had already been declassified, this extraordinary volume includes translations of previously secret cables and memoranda of conversations reporting on Dobrynin’s meetings with Kissinger as well as President Richard Nixon. Simultaneously, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s History and Records Department is publishing a Russian language edition of the documents under the title, Sovetsko-Amerikanskie Otnosheniia: Gody Razriadki, 1969-1976, Tom I, 1969-Mai 1972. The Foreign Ministry will release this volume in a few weeks, during a conference in Moscow. (Note 2) A successor U.S.-Russian volume, covering 1972-1976, is now in the planning stages.

What made this remarkable publication possible is the superb cooperation of the Russian Republic’s Foreign Ministry, which provided unmatched access to its formerly classified files. This cooperative effort began with a letter, shepherded by Douglas E. Selvage through the State Department bureaucracy, from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggesting a joint historical volume on the U.S.-Soviet détente. Frustrated by the problem of access to détente-era Soviet diplomatic records, interested diplomatic historians, in particular National Security Archive fellows James Hershberg of George Washington University and Vladislav Zubok of Temple University, played a significant role in encouraging this high-level approach to the Foreign Ministry (Zubok also reviewed the translations). The volume’s detailed introduction explains how the project unfolded under the general direction of Marc J. Susser, the Historian, U.S. Department of State, and Piotr V. Stegny, Aleksandr A. Churillin, and Konstantin A. Provalov, successive directors of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs History and Records Department.

The Russian Foreign Ministry provided more documents than could be used, but the volume includes detailed annotations, completed by lead editor David C. Geyer, based on many of the unpublished documents. Scholars with Russian language skills will be interested to know that copies of all of the documents declassified by the Foreign Ministry will become available for research at the U.S. National Archives (a parallel collection will be available at the Archives of the Russian Foreign Ministry). 

During a State Department conference held on October 22-23 to announce the publication of the volume, a number of the participants emphasized that what made it especially significant was 1) that is now possible to make side-by-side comparisons of records of the same Dobrynin-Kissinger meeting, and 2) that Dobrynin often prepared the only records of a number of his talks with Kissinger. Indeed, Dobrynin’s high-quality accounts of the meetings are often far more detailed, not only providing more on the context and atmosphere (which Kissinger sometimes did), but also recounting statements not mentioned in Kissinger’s versions, for example, on sensitive domestic political matters.  What explains this difference is that participating in and documenting his meetings with Kissinger and Nixon was Dobrynin’s full-time responsibility; the Foreign Ministry and the Politburo wanted the most comprehensive reports possible. By contrast, Kissinger met with Nixon almost every weekday and could brief him personally about the meetings, without providing highly-detailed reports; moreover, as he became responsible for more and more problems, Kissinger had less time to sit down and dictate his account of the meetings. (Note 3) For example, during the crucial April-May 1972 period, when North Vietnam launched a major offensive and the U.S.-Soviet summit was impending, Dobrynin prepared the only record of some of the discussions. That Dobrynin’s reports are now available makes it possible to look at the back channel meetings and superpower détente generally from an entirely fresh perspective.

Soviet-American Relations: the Détente Years, 1969-1972 is not yet available in print form yet or on-line, but the Office of the Historian released a special CD with the volume on it. To give interested readers a flavor of the material, the National Security Archive is publishing on its Web site some illuminating examples of the new documents. This sampling includes:

  • a unique record of Dobrynin’s first “one-on-one” back-channel meeting with Kissinger,
  • accounts of Kissinger’s September 1970 demarche to Kissinger on the Soviet submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba,
  • Nixon’s unsuccessful attempt to discourage the Soviet leadership from meeting with Democratic presidential aspirant Senator Edmund Muskie (D-Me) to preserve the White House’s political advantages,
  • Dobrynin’s initial reactions—from the notion that Beijing and Washington would exploit the “factor of U.S.-Chinese relations in order to exert pressure on us,” to the disclosure of Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China in July 1971,
  • Kissinger’s briefing to Dobrynin on what he should and should not tell Secretary of State Rogers about more sensitive issues that only Nixon and Kissinger had discussed with the Soviets
  • initial White House and Soviet reactions to the North Vietnamese 1972 Spring Offensive,
  • and Dobrynin’s mistaken estimate that the pressures for a successful summit would hold Nixon back from approving major military action against Hanoi during the spring of 1972.


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

Selected Documents from Soviet-American Relations: the Détente Years, 1969-1972

Document 8:  Their First “One-on-One”: Dobrynin’s record of meeting with Kissinger, 21 February 1969, pp. 20-25

In an earlier meeting with Dobrynin, Nixon established arrangements for the Ambassador and Kissinger to hold private meetings, without the knowledge of the State Department (which Nixon despised) to discuss matters of mutual concern.  Flowing from Nixon’s publicly declared emphasis on the need for an “era of negotiations”, the new president wanted to find ways to mitigate, if not prevent, clashes between the nuclear-armed superpowers. This conversation, for which Dobrynin prepared the sole record, covered a wide range of issues: Middle East, European security, Berlin, Vietnam, China, arms control, signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and bilateral U.S.-Soviet relations (including possible summit meeting). Of special interest are Kissinger’s general assurances concerning the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.  He said that Nixon “would like to assure the Soviet Government that … he does not have the slightest intention of intervening in the affairs of Eastern Europe.” Moreover, Dobrynin reported that Kissinger “intimated--although he did not say outright--that they favor maintaining the postwar borders in Europe.” Certainly, the Nixon administration never made an iron-clad pledge as to the inviolability of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, but Kissinger’s first assurance suggests that his statement in the introduction to the volume, that the White House never made assurances “with respect to the internal conditions in Eastern Europe,” needs some qualification. On possible U.S. relations with China, Kissinger mentioned that attempts to hold talks with Chinese diplomats in Warsaw had failed, but that Washington remained interested in holding talks in the future. The United States wanted to have talks with Beijing, Moscow’s major enemy, not from an “unfriendly designs” against the Soviet Union but from a “natural desire” for better relations with China.

Document 22: “A Reasonable Interval”: Dobrynin record of meeting with Kissinger and Nixon, 14 May 1969, pp. 59-62

In another unique record, Dobrynin reported on a meeting with Kissinger and Nixon in the latter’s White House living quarters.  After some brief discussion of the Middle East, the aftermath of the North Korean shoot-down of the U.S. EC-121, and arms control, Nixon turned to Vietnam, which was the subject of a TV address he was going to make that evening. During Nixon’s briefing on his speech, he argued that North Vietnamese diplomats refused to negotiate seriously because they believed that “time will work against” Nixon and “that he will ultimately have to give in, mainly owing to pressure from public opinion.” Nixon, however, believed that if the North Vietnamese did not change their tack and become more responsive to U.S. negotiating positions, he could convince the American public on the “need for ‘other measures’”, implicitly massive bombing strikes to coerce North Vietnam. Nixon’s veiled threats provide an example of the “madman theory”--the threat of disproportionate force--at work. While Nixon and Kissinger would not accept North Vietnam’s proposal for a coalition government, during the conversation before the meeting with Nixon, Kissinger showed considerable flexibility about the ultimate outcome of the war. He told Dobrynin that he was “prepared to accept any political system in South Vietnam, ‘provided there is a fairly reasonable interval between conclusion of an agreement and [the establishment of] such a system.” Implicitly, even if South Vietnam became a Communist regime, that would be acceptable as long as there was a “reasonable interval” after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Documents 31-34: “The War in Vietnam is the Main Obstacle”: Dobrynin and Kissinger records of meeting with Nixon, 20 October 1969, pp. 90-97

During the summer and fall of 1969, frustrated with the slowness of the Paris talks and convinced that Moscow was not doing enough to get Hanoi to settle, the Nixon administration continued to follow the madman approach by carrying out a campaign of threats to escalate the Vietnam War by striking North Vietnam. Not long after warning Dobrynin in late September that the “train was leaving the station,” Nixon and Kissinger ordered a low-level secret alert of strategic and conventional forces, not to “alarm” the Soviets but to “jar” them into a more cooperative frame of mind.  While the Soviets never mentioned the alert to the Nixon administration, they were also unhappy with the way that the U.S.-Soviet relationship was developing and the leadership tasked Dobrynin to convey those misgivings directly to President Nixon. Both Dobrynin and Kissinger created records of this key meeting, although the farmer’s account is substantially more detailed on Vietnam and the Middle East, but also on the atmospherics.

During the meeting, Dobrynin read a statement from the Soviet leadership, which maintained that U.S. positions on European security, the Middle East, China, and Vietnam “ran counter to [its] declarations in favor of improving relations.” According to Dobrynin, the leadership’s critique made Nixon nervous, but he “pulled himself together” and gave a calm and clear response, outlining his thinking on a number of issues.

While the Soviets had objected to U.S. implied threats against Hanoi, Nixon declared that the Soviets would not “break him” and that “if the Soviet Union does not want to provide any assistance now in settling the Vietnam conflict, the United States will go its own way, using its own methods and taking the appropriate steps.” One of Dobrynin’s conclusions was that “the fate of his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, is beginning to really worry [Nixon].”


Documents 82-84: “A Turning Point in their Relationship”: Kissinger and Dobrynin records of meetings, 25 September 1970, pp. 191-197

During late September 1970, the Jordan crisis, the Soviet construction of a naval base in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and elections in Chile preoccupied the Nixon Administration. These documents begin with discussion of a summit meeting as well as problems raised by the Syrian invasion of Jordan, with Kissinger concerned about Moscow’s relations with Damascus and Dobrynin worried about U.S. military preparations. Later in the day, after a Pentagon press officer had mistakenly disclosed Soviet activities at Cienfuegos, the talks became more difficult when Kissinger, according to his record, declared that “we would view it with utmost gravity if construction [of the submarine base] continued” and that the “installation [had been] completed with maximum deception.” He also reportedly told Dobrynin that Moscow and Washington had “reached a turning point in their relationship” and that “it is now up to the Soviets whether to go the hard route—whether it wanted to go the route of conciliation or the route of confrontation.” Interestingly, Dobrynin’s version does not cite Kissinger’s language about “turning point” or “hard route” (or “deception”). It is difficult to believe (although not inconceivable) that Dobrynin, who appears to have been most careful about sending detailed accounts of his meetings, would not have mentioned this. Kissinger, however, may have wanted to include some tough language in the record to satisfy the more confrontational Nixon.


Documents 104 and 105: “Get Beyond the Immediate Irritations”: Kissinger and Dobrynin records of meeting, 22 December 1970, pp. 241-248

During what Kissinger called a “cordial” luncheon, Dobrynin and Kissinger discussed the recent publication of Khrushchev’s memoirs and Soviet naval activities in Cuba, and the general problem of “worsening U.S.-Soviet relations,” including continued disagreements over the Middle East and Vietnam, and what could be done to improve the situation. Both agreed that the impasse had to be broken and that a meeting in early January could be used to advance positions on SALT, the Middle East, and Vietnam. While Kissinger’s version is fuller than Dobrynin (probably one of the few instances where this is so), the latter’s account provides interesting detail on Kissinger’s mood, e.g., that he “was on the defensive during the conversation.” Thus, Kissinger became “noticeably agitated” after Dobyrnin told him that both he and the Soviet leadership believed that despite their many talks we’re not getting anywhere.” Also unmentioned in Kissinger’s account is his apparent irritation over the fact that the head of the Soviet SALT Delegation had leaked to his U.S. counterpart information on the highly secret back channel U.S.-Soviet discussions of a summit, information which Kissinger had thought was held by only a handful of people.


Documents 106 and 107: “All the More Fitting to Receive Senator Muskie in Moscow”: Kissinger and Dobrynin records of telephone conversation, 24 December 1970, pp. 248-251

A few days later, during a phone conversation Kissinger obliquely raised a very delicate matter on Nixon’s behalf: the possibility that Democratic Party aspirants for the presidency would visit the Soviet Union to advance their causes. This was a reference to Senator Edmund Muskie (D-Me), who was planning to visit the Soviet Union. Nixon did not want Muskie or other Democrats to get any advantages from such trips and Kissinger suggested that the Soviets do what they had done with Nixon in 1967, not schedule meetings with senior officials. After Dobrynin observed that Nixon had not asked to meet with Soviet leaders during his visit as a “tourist” and “went on to ask what Nixon’s reaction would have been if the President at that time had advised us not to meet with him in Moscow,” Kissinger soon changed the subject. This intervention backfired. In his reporting message, Dobrynin advised Moscow that, given Nixon’s concerns, “it would be all the more fitting to receive Senator Muskie in Moscow,” and that Moscow should not discourage such visits because they could “be a fairly important instrument for pressuring” Nixon.
 

Documents 109 and 110: “All that Realistically Remains is Just 1971”: Kissinger and Dobrynin records of meeting, 9 January 1971, pp. 257-263

During a meeting on 9 January 1971, Dobrynin and Kissinger began breaking the ice by taking new positions on issues that had troubled U.S-Soviet relations.  Kissinger took an important initiative by suggesting compromise proposals on Berlin and SALT; the latter would include a separate ABM agreement as well as a “freeze” of ICBM deployments. Kissinger also proposed new efforts to work with the Soviets in laying the “ground-work for a settlement” in the Middle East as well as new approaches to the Vietnam problem, for example, the U.S. would no longer insist on the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam. Dobrynin’s version includes highly significant detail not covered in Kissinger’s account, such as the latter’s presentation of Nixon’s view on the interrelationship between the election cycle and U.S.-Soviet negotiations. According to Kissinger, because of electoral preoccupations during 1972, “all that realistically remains is just 1971, which essentially will be decisive in regard to whether the two countries will manage to [resolve] major international issues.”

On Vietnam, Kissinger expressed renewed interest in the possibility of a “decent interval” solution (although he did not use the term); once Washington reached a military agreement with Hanoi, the Vietnamese would have to make their own political settlement. Then “it will no longer be [the Americans’] concern, but that of the Vietnamese themselves if some time after the U.S. troop withdrawal they start fighting with each other again.” “If a war does break out again between North and South Vietnam, it will be a lengthy affair, and … will obviously ‘spill over’ into the period after the Nixon administration has left office.”
 

Document 122: “The State Department has … Been Generally Sidelined”: Telegram from Dobrynin to Soviet Foreign Ministry, 14 February 1971, pp. 293-296

This fascinating cable gives Dobrynin’s appraisal of the significance of the back channel, the interrelationships of the various pending negotiations, White House strategy, and ways and means for Moscow to exert pressure on the White House to realize Soviet diplomatic objectives.  Dobrynin believed that Nixon’s chief goal was a summit meeting and SALT agreement that would be “in hand” when a summit took place, but that the White House was less interested in a Berlin agreement. Because that was a greater priority for Moscow, Nixon could not be too negative on the Berlin talks without making “it more difficult to secure our final consent to a summit meeting,” but couldn’t be too positive either because the prospect of a Berlin agreement served for the U.S. as a “kind of guarantee of a summit.” Dobrynin thought that Nixon and Kissinger wanted to use the back-channel to reach “agreement in principle” before use diplomatic channel for more detailed agreements, but until that happened they wanted to keep the talks secret before the “outcome of the dialogue is itself clear.” This meant that the State Department was “sidelined” but it also meant that the Dobrynin-Kissinger talks unfolded on a high level of generality. According to Dobrynin, Kissinger “is noticeably apprehensive about getting into a discussion of details … lest he be ‘caught flat-footed’ without professional expertise on these matters.” Over the years, historians and critics have argued that this was one of the flaws of Kissinger’s conduct of the back-channel.  While Dobrynin could rely on Foreign Ministry experts, who were aware of the secret talks, Kissinger would not discuss them with State Department officials, who could have helped him avoid some pitfalls during the SALT talks (e.g., Kissinger’s initial commitment to exclude SLBMs from the strategic forces “freeze”, which caused great complications later on).


Documents 177-180:  “The Americans and the Chinese Will Intensify their Game”: Dobrynin cable on U.S.-China rapprochement and Kissinger and Dobrynin records of meeting, 19 July 1971, pp. 401-414

One of the stunning events in Cold War history, Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 had the impact on the Soviet Union that Nixon and Kissinger, and no doubt Mao Zedong, had sought: it made the Soviets more worried than ever about the prospect and possibility that Beijing and Washington would exaggerate and exploit the “factor of U.S.-Chinese relations in order to exert pressure on us.”  Soon after Nixon’s announcement of his forthcoming trip to China, Dobrynin sent the Foreign Ministry an analysis of the new U.S.-China relationship, the strategic and political considerations that underlay the new U.S. policy, and the possible Soviet response. While Dobrynin thought it important that Moscow continue its “current policy” toward the United States, he believed it “important that we give Washington no reason to believe that … we might make concessions under the influence of the ‘Chinese’ factor.” Two days after he sent the cable, Dobrynin met with Kissinger, at the suggestion of the latter so that he could “get a feeling for Dobrynin’s attitude.”

Dobrynin’s record of the meeting is typically more detailed and at one interesting point it contradicts Kissinger’s account: according to the latter, Dobrynin “asked” for a briefing, but according to Dobrynin, Kissinger brought up China himself because he was “impatiently waiting for me to ask many questions.” Whatever Dobrynin actually said, his version shows Kissinger providing more information and observations on the substance of the discussions in Beijing. For example, Kissinger could not resist discussing Zhou En-lai who, Dobrynin observed, had “made quite a strong impression on him.”  Kissinger also discussed the difficulties raised by the U.S. relationship with Taiwan and gave his assessment of Beijing’s thinking about nuclear strategy. Kissinger believed that Chinese “backwardness” on nuclear issues was “due to the still very great shortcomings in China’s own nuclear missile capabilities.” He also suggested that Beijing was more worried about Japan than it was about the Soviet Union; Chinese leaders “are convinced there are strong undercurrents of revanchist sentiment among the Japanese and are clearly afraid Japan might decide to become a nuclear power.” To calm the Soviets about the possibility of U.S.-China collusion, Kissinger assured a skeptical Dobynin that he “had had no conversations, and was having none, with the Chinese that affected the Soviet Union’s interests in any way.” 


Documents 227-228: Another “Watershed in Our Relations”: Kissinger and Vorontsov records of meeting, 5 December 1971, pp. 529-532

The South Asian Crisis of 1971---the break-up of East and West Pakistan, Pakistan’s brutal repression about the people of East Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, the conflict between Indian and West Pakistan, and then war--involved complex machinations by the Nixon administration, which “tilted” toward Pakistan, in part because of the latter’s crucial role in expediting rapprochement with Beijing. While India and the Soviet Union had signed a friendship treaty a few months earlier (partly to offset the U.S.-China rapprochement), local and regional concerns fueled the South Asian conflict, but Nixon and Kissinger were quick to assume that Moscow had a hidden hand in the conflict. These records of Kissinger’s conversation with Soviet diplomat Yuli Vorontsov, who filled in during Dobrynin’s absence, on 5 December 1971, illustrate the problem. To Kissinger’s claim that the Soviets encouraged the Indian “military aggression” against Pakistan,” Vorontsov reported that he “expressed surprise on a purely personal level and questioned why events between India and Pakistan are so insistently and obviously being extended to relations between our two countries.”

Kissinger’s account does not include this language or Vorontsov’s observations that Moscow also wanted to end the fighting and had called for a “political solution to the crisis.” “So what does this have to do with U.S.-Soviet relations … or even more with predictions about a ‘critical juncture.’?” In any event, Nixon quickly sent an accusatory letter condemning Moscow for “supporting [India’s] open use of force against the independence and integrity of Pakistan.”


Document 257: “A Unique Situation”: Dobrynin record of meeting with Kissinger, 4 February 1972, pp. 580-581

The tensions over the South Asian crisis notwithstanding, the plans for a U.S.-Soviet summit, announced in the fall of 1971 and scheduled for late May 1972, remained on track. While Secretary of State Rogers and the Department of State were becoming more involved in the summit planning process, Nixon and Kissinger strictly circumscribed their role.  This became a problem in early February 1972 when Dobrynin accepted Rogers’ invitation to a meeting to discuss U.S.-Soviet relations. Not wanting Rogers to know any more than was necessary, Kissinger arranged to meet with Dobrynin to update him “about what specifically the Secretary of State knows concerning the state of Soviet-U.S. relations.” Dobrynin produced the only record of this meeting, which shows Kissinger telling him that Rogers did not know about “confidential conversations on the Middle East” or Nixon’s proposal about limitations on numbers of missile-carrying nuclear submarines. Kissinger also asked Dobrynin not to discuss the summit agenda with Rogers. As Dobrynin observed, it was a “unique situation when the Special Assistant to the President secretly informs a foreign ambassador about what the Secretary of State knows and does not know.”


Document 279: “Yet Another Crisis”: Dobrynin record of meeting with Kissinger, 3 April 1972, pp. 638-641

In another unique document, Dobrynin recorded a difficult talk with Kissinger on the North Vietnamese Spring Offensive and its implications for Moscow-Washington relations. Arguing that the offensive amounted to a “large-scale armed invasion of South Vietnam” and a “flagrant violation” of the 1968 bombing-halt agreement, Kissinger suggested that Hanoi’s actions were aimed at humiliating President Nixon and “from an objective standpoint [were] unquestionably aimed at complicating the situation on the eve of the Soviet-U.S. summit. That is the only possible conclusion.” Mentioning that the North Vietnamese troops were armed with Soviet weapons, Kissinger told Dobryin that he believed that Hanoi was acting on its own and that the Soviet Union had not encouraged the offensive. Nevertheless, because North Vietnam and the Soviet Union were allies he did not want Moscow to believe that any U.S. military response to North Vietnam was “deliberately directed against the interests of the Soviet Union.” Dobrynin could only repeat what Brezhnev had already written: that the “bombing of the DRV can only complicate the situation, and consequently, the atmosphere leading up to and during the Soviet-U.S. talks in Moscow.” During the discussion that followed, Kissinger observed that “Apparently we will have to go through yet another crisis that neither of us precipitated.”


Document 323: “A Restraining Influence”: Dobrynin record of meeting with Kissinger, 5 May 1972, pp. 796-797

While Nixon and Kissinger escalated attacks on North Vietnamese forces, they held back from major air strikes on the Hanoi area or from long-standing contingency plans to mine Haiphong Harbor. By early May, however, Nixon was making decisions to move in that direction and on 8 May he gave a TV speech announcing the U.S. escalation.  Dobrynin, however, misjudged Nixon’s course of action. In another unique memcon with Kissinger, he recorded Kissinger’s assertion that the Nixon wanted the Moscow Summit to take place although he recognized that the Vietnam situation “will probably have an unfavorable impact on the meeting in some respects.”  Dobrynin’s conclusion that Nixon had made a “firm decision” to go to Moscow led him to believe that the White House desire for “productive talks [was] having a restraining influence on Nixon in terms of taking any particularly serious military measures against the DRV.”  That would remain the case, Dobrynin thought, until the summit, unless the Vietnam situation turned disastrous.  The possibility that Nixon would escalate the war, taking the chance that the Soviets would not cancel the summit (which Nixon believed was unlikely), apparently did not occur to the ambassador.  Nixon’s gamble paid off and the summit was highly successful, despite the Vietnam War escalation.



Notes

1. The Kissinger-Dobrynin talks during 1969-1973 have been characterized as “back channel” because State Department contacts with embassies and foreign offices are understood as the regular “front channel” for diplomatic communications.

2. A selection of Russian documents from the first several months of 1969 was initially published in a leading Russian journal on postwar history. See Vladimir O. Pechatnov, ed., "Sekretnyi Kanal A.F. Dobrynin-G. Kissindzher: Dokumenty Arkhiva Vneshnei Politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii," Novaia i Noveishaia Istoriia, No. 5 (September-October 2006): 108-38. Pechatnov, a professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), played a key role as adviser and compiler on the Russian side of the joint project.

3. This is not to say that no Kissinger records of those meetings exist; he may have recounted them in personal diaries or in hand-written records of the discussions.

 

home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Contents of this Web site Copyright 1995-2007 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this Web site.