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Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to Six American Presidents, Dead at 90

Nixon Tapes Reveal Dobrynin Was A Key Collaborator of Nixon's, Kissinger's

On the evening of February 14, 1969, Henry Kissinger attended a reception at the Soviet Embassy. Ushered upstairs to the private apartment of the Soviet Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, the National Security Advisor for recently inaugurated President Richard M. Nixon saw that his Soviet host was “confined to bed with the flu.” Nevertheless, the two men had a brief and “extremely forthcoming” conversation about the status of U.S.-Soviet relations and the hazards to peace, namely the Middle East tinderbox and the United States’ continued involvement in Southeast Asia. Years later, Kissinger recalled, “[Dobrynin] suggested that since we would work closely we call each other by our first names. From then on, he was ‘Anatol’ and I was ‘Henry’ (or more often “Khenry,” since the Russian language has no ‘h’ sound).” Poking fun at himself, Kissinger added, “We spoke in English. I did not make fun of him because he spoke with an accent.”[1]

Over the course of Nixon’s first term, 1969-1972, Kissinger and Dobrynin conducted secret backchannel exchanges that laid the foundation for U.S.-Soviet détente—the reduction of tensions between the superpowers. Détente flowered with the May 1972 Moscow Summit, where a monumental agreement to limit the arms race—the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (I) Treaty—was signed.

It is fitting that Dobrynin, the long-serving Soviet ambassador who dealt in confidence with U.S. Presidents from Kennedy through Reagan, passed away on the day Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. After all, it was Dobrynin who played an instrumental role in establishing the foundation on which arms control was built over the last four decades. Perhaps his spirit will live on in a new era of Russo-American détente in which our nuclear weapons arsenals—comprising 90% of the world’s total nuclear weapons—are further reduced.

nixontapes.org is pleased to bring you the conversations from the Nixon Tapes in which Ambassador Dobrynin was a participant.

Highlights from the conversations include:

  • 521-005: Nixon, Kissinger and Dobrynin had a wide-ranging conversation about the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) and a possible settlement over longstanding concerns over the status of Germany and Berlin. Nixon said it was essential for the U.S. to play a “leadership role” in nuclear disarmament and reaffirmed Kissinger’s “special relationship” with the Soviets to make progress on SALT.

  • 006-040: Nixon and Kissinger expressed their condolences to the Kremlin leadership via Ambassador Dobrynin on the Soviet Union’s loss of 3 cosmonauts in Soyuz 11.

  • 006-079: Dobrynin conveyed the Soviet leadership’s “sincere appreciation” for Nixon’s condolences regarding the tragic death of the Soviet cosmonauts.

  • 580-020: Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko visited the White House during his annual trip to the United Nations in New York City. Following a longer group discussion in which Dobrynin was a participant, the group departed and Nixon had a 20-minute tête-à-tête with Gromyko. After general pronouncements about the special role of the two superpowers in maintaining international order, Nixon candidly described the importance of the Kissinger-Dobrynin channel and expressed his desire to move Middle East discussions to “the Channel.”

  • 019-065: This audiotape is the only American record of this conversation. On the eve of a major foreign policy speech by President Nixon detailing the secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese, in the presence of the President, Kissinger called the Soviet Ambassador, and pleaded for the Soviets to restrain their ally, North Vietnam. Simultaneously, Kissinger hinted that any North Vietnamese offensive action would be duly punished.

  • 022-097 and 705-013: Nixon and Kissinger choreographed a “ladies tea” between First Lady “Pat” Nixon and Dobrynin’s wife, Irina, to signal to the Soviets that the U.S. was still interested in détente even though Soviet weapons and materiel and enabled a massive North Vietnamese offensive against U.S. ally South Vietnam.

  • 034-030: Nixon expressed his exasperation about the failure to reach a settlement between the U.S. and the Soviet ally, North Vietnam. Nixon emphatically told Dobrynin, “We want to remove this irritant between our relations.”

For a key to participants' names, click here (136k).

Conversation Number

Date

Time

Participants
Download Audio
521-005 06/15/1971 2:39 – 2:58 pm HAK, AFD, P mp3 (9.0m)
006-040 06/30/1971 Unk between 9:23 am and 9:45 am HAK, AFD, P mp3 (1.4m)
006-079 07/01/1971 3:14 – 3:16 pm AFD, P mp3 (992k)
580-020a 09/29/1971 3:03 – 5:00 pm P, AAG, AFD, WPR, HAK, WKm, VMS, RLZ, Press mp3 (32.4m)
580-020b       mp3 (22.5m)
019-065 01/25/1972 Unk between 8:55 pm and 10:03 pm HAK, AFD mp3 (8.0m)
022-097 04/10/1972 Unk between 12:51 pm and 12:59 pm HAK, AFD mp3 (586k)
024-070 05/10/1972 Unk between 4:25 pm and 4:45 pm HAK, AFD mp3 (524k)
723-005 05/11/1972 10:08 – 11:01 am P, NSP, AFD, PGP, HAK, PMF, WHP, Press mp3 (25.2m)
756-019 07/28/1972 1:45 – 1:50 pm P, AFD, AMH mp3 (1.9m)
764-002 07/28/1972 1:50 – 1:57 pm P, EED, AFD, et al, Press, WHP mp3 (3.5m)
764-001 08/07/1972 4:33 – 5:21 pm P, JDE, HAK, WHO, AFD mp3 (27.0m)
765-025 08/08/1972 5:19 – 5:44 pm P, HAK, BVP, AFD, ELR, ROE, WHP mp3 (12.4m)
790-007a 10/02/1972 10:08 – 11:18 am P, AAG, AFD, WPR, HAK, HSf, VMS, Press, WHP mp3 (11.0m)
790-007b       mp3 (22.8m)
798-013 10/14/1972 11:33 – 11:53 am P, TBG, AFD, PGP, PMF, WHP, Press mp3 (9.2m)
803-018 10/18/1972 2:40 – 3:16 pm P, NSP, AFD, WPR, PGP, PMF, HSf, WHP, Press mp3 (17.3m)
812-004 11/03/1972 10:19 – 10:37 am P, MVK, AFD, EED, HAK, PHand, Press, WHP mp3 (8.4m)
034-030 12/10/1972 12:04 pm – unk before 12:55 pm P, AFD mp3 (4.8m)


[1] Kissinger, WHY, p.113. Kissinger was 15 when he emigrated to the U.S. His brother, Walter, was 14 at the time. When asked why he did not speak with a discernible accent compared to his famous brother’s distinctive German accent, Walter explained, “Because I am the Kissinger who listens.” Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992) p.56.

 

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