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Nixon (left) and Brezhnev (right) shake hands after a signing ceremony during a 1974 summit meeting. (AP Photo)

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  • Summit Clouded by Watergate

    By Murrey Marder
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    July 4, 1974

    DUSSELDORF, WEST GERMANY, JULY 3 - The American-Soviet summit that ended in Moscow today produced a mixed score of modest successes and distinct setbacks to higher hopes, under circumstances without precedent in U.S. foreign policy.

    As Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived a few hours after the final signing ceremony in the Kremlin, a senior American official supplied an assessment that is likely to be closer to the Nixon administration's private one than any public claim.

    It was no mean accomplishment, he said, to hold to the course of detente under the conditions that exist in the United States.

    The official was referring obliquely to President Nixon. This threat was inextricably entwined in the negotiating strategy on both sides, although both would deny it. No American president ever has engaged in high-stake international diplomacy under such a cloud.

    The week-long Moscow summit talks were in fact a four party negotiation: between President Nixon and his military establishment, betweeen Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev and his military military establishment, finally between the President and Brezhnev.

    Kissinger virtually said so aloud at an early morning press conference in Moscow, in a wry touch of candor that is rare in diplomacy.

    "My impression from what I have observed is that both sides have to convince their military establishments of the benefits of restraint and that that is not a thought that comes naturally to military people on either side," Kissinger said dryly.

    Kissinger arrived in Dusseldorf tonight directly from Moscow for a few hours of relaxation at the World Cup soccer semi-finals at nearby Dortmund, before beginning a tour of North Atlantic capitals to report on the summit.

    Ironically, it is Kissinger's view that the failure of the United States and the Soviet Union to make greater progress at the summit should ease the unresolved battle inside the Nixon administration over nuclear arms control strategy.

    If the Soviet Union had been more responsive to U.S. proposals for controlling multiple nuclear warheads, there would have been greater controversy in Washington over initiatives taken by the President, it was acknowledged. This is because Nixon left Washington without an agreed government position on what he should propose at the Moscow summit.

    Kissinger insisted the night before the presidential party arrived in Moscow that the President would "not be inhibited at the summit by his domestic problems."

    In effect, what high Nixon administration officials are now saying privately is that it was not the debate in Washington over nuclear controls that inhibited the negotiations, but the combined caution of the Soviet and American military establishments.

    In September or October, and more probably October, Kissinger expects to return to Moscow to try to remove the principle obstacle to an accord on offensive weapons at the summit talkks. This was the lack of agreement on placing controls on deployment of multiple warheads, known as MIRVs.

    At a minimum, the U.S. hope had been to agree on "guidelines" for negotiating MIRV controls, possibly coupled with a temporary extension of the interim five year agreement on offensive nuclear weapons that runs out in 1977.

    Instead, the two sides decided against either a permanent agreement or a short extension of the interim accord. They selected instead the concept of offensive weapons controls to run initially until 1985 because of the uncertainties of volatile MIRV technology.

    Other nuclear accords signed at the summit were negotiated before it began.

    Spread throughout Kissinger's Moscow press conference today were warnings of the mutual danger in the pursuit of military "superiority" by either the Russians or the Americans in a nuclear age.

    Kissinger exclaimed at one point: "One of the questions which we have to ask ourselves as a country is what in the name of God is strategic superiority? What is the significance of it, politically, militarily, operationally, at these levels of numbers? What do you do with it?"

    Kissinger continues to insist that there is no clash betweeen him and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger on their basic perceptions about nuclear arms limitations. Neither will be in office in any event, a senior official noted, when the strategic approaches they advocate will come to fruition.

    It would appear that on several central issues in the summit, it was the strategy advocated by Joint Chiefs of Staff and defended by Schlesinger which prevailed rather than Kissinger's.

    Either because of the Soviet demands or the American military's position, or both, President Nixon emerged from the summit with protection on his political right flank, a major factor in the impeachment challenge over him.

    Emerging from Moscow uncommitted to any bold new initiative on nuclear controls, Mr. Nixon is considerably less exposed to warnings by policy critics that he might be a "sellout."

    A senior American official and Soviet sources in Moscow both acknowledged that an American proposal for controlling multiple nuclear warheads had been made, and was rejected by the Soviet Union. Soviet sources implied that the proposal was spurned before the summit began.

    The objective of the American offer was to agree on a ceiling figure for multiple warheads giving an advantage to the United States, which holds a commanding lead in this field, in return for a Soviet advantage in total numbers of missile launchers.

    The U.S. purpose was to strike a balance that would prevent the Soviet Union from putting enough multiple warheads on its larger missiles to overtake the United States.

    Neither side disclosed the key factor: the numbers of warheads or launchers proposed as a trade-off. Without the numbers, it is not possible to judge whether the U.S. demands or the Russian counter-demands were too high to permit bargaining.

    Kissinger left the implication that the military on both sides were demanding too much. This, in turn, raised the question of whether President Nixon was too weakened by the Watergate and the impeachment challenge to risk the wrath of the American military and their allies in Congress to put a more venturesome proposal to the Soviet Union.

    That was the conclusion reached by the Soviet Union, several Soviet sources said. A senior American official indirectly appeared to support that implication by stating that the record of progress in arms control shows that movement depends on American initiatives. Not all American strategists agree with that contention.

    In their summit bargaining, an American source said, both President Nixon and Brezhnev found that their military establishments were presenting them with "worse case" arguments, each basing its demands on the highest possible combination of nuclear deployment that could be imagined.

    The American source said the U.S. delegation initially regarded as incredible the Soviet military claims of what the United States might be able to achieve against the Soviet Union with present American military superiority. But on checking with U.S. military planners, it was said, the American delegation was surprised to find the soviet claims of American military capabilities to be plausible.

    This exchange was reported to have had a strong impact on many U.S. officials including Alexander M. Haig Jr., the president's chief of staff, a retired four-star general and Kissinger's former deputy director of the National Security Council.

    Kissinger in Moscow described these exchanges as "the most extensive discussions at that level of the arms race that had ever taken place ... with an amount of detail that would have been considered violating intelligence codes in previous periods."

    Kissinger now plans to return to Moscow in September or October, but more likely October, to pursue the negotiations. It is said to be his hope that within the next two months the differences within the U.S. government can be settled and a new start can be made on launching substantive nuclear negotiations.

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