DCSIMG

Watergate's final secret... how Brezhnev backed comrade Tricky Dicky

A MAN in crisis may find some unlikely friends, but few would expect comforting words from their nuclear-armed arch-enemy.

However, as the Watergate scandal enveloped Richard Nixon, the then United States president, in the 1970s, he received a secret message of support from Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader at the time, it emerged yesterday.

The message, delivered by then Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, stated: "No doubt, there are some people - not only in the US - who anticipate Richard Nixon won't be able to take it and will crack under the pressure. But, we are pleased to note, you have no intention of giving them that satisfaction."

In response, Mr Nixon said he wished to thank Mr Brezhnev "for the fact that he, perhaps alone among the leaders of other nations, including the allies, had found simple human words to lift his spirits", Mr Dobrynin wrote in documents which have now been released by the US State Department.

At first, Moscow paid little attention to Watergate, but as the scandal of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party offices focused on Mr Nixon, concern grew in the Politburo that it could hamper any improvement in US-Soviet relations.

"One began to sense [Mr Nixon's] growing bewilderment, lack of confidence and withdrawal from other matters," Mr Dobrynin wrote.

The ambassador was instructed to secretly meet Mr Nixon to deliver the message of support.

Mr Brezhnev clearly thought Mr Nixon was someone he could do business with. The then US president was opposed to brinkmanship in dealing with the Soviet Union, Mr Dobrynin reported to Moscow in 1969.

The State Department documents portray Mr Nixon as not counting on the use of force in dealings with the Soviet Union.

According to a telegram Mr Dobrynin sent to Moscow, sizing up the president, differences were too deep to bridge completely. But, Mr Dobrynin told the Soviet Foreign Ministry, "the president is opposed to brinkmanship in relations with the USSR, since he believes both our countries have sufficient nuclear missiles to annihilate each other many times over."

By all indications, Mr Dobrynin told Moscow, Mr Nixon "will pursue a pragmatic course that envisages negotiations with the Soviet Union in cases where it serves US interests and it is possible to compromise".

Agreements to ban biological weapons and to limit the arsenals of long-range missiles are among the understandings that emerged from the complicated US-Soviet relationship.

Also, an agreement was forged in 1971 between the two superpowers, Britain and France to reduce tensions over then-divided Berlin.

However, Mr Nixon also sent a carrier fleet into the Indian Ocean in December 1971 to warn the Soviets to restrain their ally, India, in the war with Pakistan which created Bangladesh from East Pakistan.

Historian David Geyer, the principal US compiler of the documents, said yesterday that they reflected "an unprecedented partnership between the two governments to document an exchange of views at a high level, particularly at an important period of the Cold War".

He added: "The documents also give readers and scholars a different view on foreign policy from the perspective of the other superpower."

BREAK-IN THAT FORCED PRESIDENT FROM OFFICE

ON 17 June, 1972, five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters situated in the office and hotel complex called the Watergate. It was the start of one of the biggest political scandals in American history and led to the resignation of US president Richard Nixon.

Investigations into the break-in revealed it was just one instance in a long line of illegal activities conducted on behalf of Mr Nixon and his staff.

The investigative coverage by the press was spearheaded by two reporters on the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who received tip-offs from an anonymous source known as ''Deep Throat''. He suggested knowledge of the break-in and attempts to cover it up could be linked to the White House.

After two years of investigation, it emerged the president had recorded conversations which showed he obstructed justice and attempted to cover up the break-in. The US Supreme Court ruled the tapes be handed over. With the certainty of impeachment and conviction in the Senate, Mr Nixon became the only US president to resign on 9 August, 1974.

 
 
 

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