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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976
Volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 178


178. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, December 12, 1971, 10:27–10:37 a.m.11. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 637–6. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.

Kissinger: I got the answer from the Russians. They are giving us a full reply later. The interim reply is that they have an assurance from Mrs. Gandhi that she will not attack West Pakistan, that—

Nixon: Sure it's from Mrs. Gandhi?

Kissinger: And that they will work out—they are working with her now to work out a ceasefire. And goddamn it, we made it and we didn't deserve it. And—

Nixon: Maybe we made it except, except that [unclear] overturned by this crew. You realize the danger, we must not be in a position where the Russians and we settle the son-of-a-bitch and leave the Chinese out.

Kissinger: Exactly. This is why we had to go on the other route too. I'll just call Vorontsov back and say it's too late. As I told you last night we're going back to the Security Council. So far we have no formal assurance of anything, if they want to—

Nixon: Did you get that message?

Kissinger: That's right.

Nixon: Tell me again, now, as to what the Russians, this interim reply—

Kissinger: The interim reply you are—Mr. President, I was just talking to Haig, you know, on these your perception of this is, well, you're right [unclear].

Nixon: It's not that I [unclear].

Kissinger: No. What you did this morning, Mr. President, was a heroic act.

Nixon: I had to do it.

Kissinger: Yes. But I know no other man in the country, no other man who would have done what you did. You did it not knowing any—

Nixon: You know, if we put it up to State I can just see what would have happened. I don't mean Bill. I mean the whole—

Kissinger: Including Bill.

Nixon: What?

Kissinger: Including Bill.

Nixon: No. What I meant is I'm not, it's the whole attitude, the whole government, the whole American establishment would say, well, don't start any trouble. It's all going to work out. Nothing ever works out unless you do something about it. That's the trouble with the world. That is what caused World War I, we know that was just a clumsy bunch of bastards. But World War II, Henry, was a direct result, a direct result—I mean we can talk all we want to about Hitler doing in the Jews and all that. Sure, it caused all that. But it was a direct result of the Allies backing the pusillanimous [unclear—leading wave]. Right?

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: That's what—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: That's why the biggest mistake we made was our decision last—

Kissinger: EC–121.

Nixon: The EC–121. The biggest, and the biggest error frankly that has—it was a hell of an error on Korea for us to [unclear] wouldn't go across the Yalu. MACARTHUR was right. Right as hell. And now [unclear] to this point. I don't know whether [unclear]. We've got to say we're not doing it.

Kissinger: Now, Mr. President, the next question is [unclear]. My—now that we've played it this far this is—I mean, we've broken the back of it.

Nixon: Well, don't be too sure. Why have we broken the back of it?

Kissinger: Because we have—

Nixon: Does Haig agree?

Kissinger: State doesn't know—

Nixon: Does Haig agree?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Why does he think we have broken the back of this? [unclear]

Kissinger: Because, Mr. President, when we showed, when I showed Vorontsov the Kennedy treaty, they knew they were looking down the gun barrel.

Nixon: Did he react?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: He did make—

Kissinger: Oh, man.

Nixon: He did?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. Now that—

Nixon: You told him that at that time that that's what the President was talking about when he talked to the editor.

Kissinger: Yes. But now the problem is, Mr. President, we have to go through. The big problem is as you, first of all, we have to turn the screw another half turn because if we let off the pressure too much and show any relief we've had it.

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: Therefore, my strong recommendation is we trigger this UN thing as quickly as we possibly can because it's the only way we can go on record now of condemning India.

Nixon: That's right.

Kissinger: Second—

Nixon: Second the White House statement still goes.

Kissinger: That's what I meant. The White House statement triggers it.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: It's essential now that it's a White House statement.

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: Because we now have to play it to the—

Nixon: Do the Russians—you don't have it prepared yet?

Kissinger: I've got it here.

Nixon: I need to see it. [unclear]

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Ha. Now you got it. Now we've got it. It's better than what I had.

Kissinger: Okay.

Nixon: It isn't, the rhetoric isn't as strong. But it's better.

Kissinger: Okay, now this has to go by 11:30.

Nixon: Why not now?

Kissinger: Well, because no one in the bureaucracy knows of it.

Nixon: You mention foreign people? Yes you do.

Kissinger: Yeah. I don't want them to read it on the ticker.

Nixon: Yeah. All right, go on. Now, there's no—tell them the President dictated this.

Kissinger: What I would like to do in the message is to say, now these are the orders, we can't horse around now.

Nixon: You can say this. The President has been in the office since 8:00 this morning. Why don't you just say this?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Or do you want to say this?

Kissinger: I want to say—

Nixon: You say, "The President dictated this thing. This is it gentlemen.”

Kissinger: "We cannot afford to blink.”

Nixon: We cannot, we cannot, and this is the way it is. And tell them that I will not—that I have worked, tell them I have worked out every word, every comma is mine, and that there's frankly no appeal to this.

Kissinger: That's right.

Nixon: Now I'm not going to have a call. I don't want any. Nobody is going to call me.

Kissinger: No, I'm just going to tell them this is going to be released at 11:30.

Nixon: Right. Right. Okay. Point two. Hotline?

Kissinger: Point two, yes. Hotline. "Thank you for the interim message. It arrived after the decisions had been made and they were irreversible. We are still prepared to proceed with you on the basis of my letter of so and so and so and so.”

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: "And we will stay in close communications.”

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: That definitely kicks them in the teeth.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, the Russians have said—now let's be sure that they are prepared to what? To go, that Mrs. Gandhi—they have assurances that she will what?

Kissinger: Mrs. Gandhi has assured—I haven't got the exact text here because my idiot girl who took it down froze when she heard it.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: But they're sending it over there. Prime Minister Gandhi has assured Minister KUZNETSOV, who will send [was sent?] as a result of the President's appeal—

Nixon: Minister KUZNETSOV?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: That ceasefire—no military action against—

Nixon: West Pakistan.

Kissinger: Against West Pakistan. In addition, within the spirit of the President's thing, we're trying to work out a comprehensive proposal including ceasefire, complete guarantees for the integrity of West Pakistan and repatriation of Pakistan.

Nixon: That's in there?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Good. Well add—

Kissinger: Gromyko is coming back—oh, we got them. But the big problem now is, Mr. President, not to give the, is to—if we play this well, we'll come out ahead with both the Chinese and the Russians. Hell, we are doing this, Mr. President, with no cards whatsoever.

Nixon: Well, we have one card.

Kissinger: Well, you—

Nixon: The Russians want something from us and we didn't, we didn't lecture. You know, not to talk about it, but even my friend good old Morefield was panting to go out and give the goddamn trade away. Morey, you can't give the trade away. Wasn't he? Important thing to do?

Kissinger: Mr. President, your behavior in the last 2 weeks has been heroic in this.

Nixon: Well.

Kissinger: No. You were shooting—your whole goddamn political future for next year, you were doing—

Nixon: Whole summer.

Kissinger: Against your bureaucracy. Against your, against the Congress, against public opinion. All alone, like everything else. Without flinching, and I must say, I may yell and scream but this hour this morning is worth 4 years here.

Nixon: It wasn't easy [unclear]. Well, the reason for that, and the reason the hour this morning was that I had a chance to reflect a little and to see where it was going. The world is just going down the goddamn drain. It may do it; it may do it.

Kissinger: Mr. President–

Nixon: As I told you on the phone last night, I don't know whether the United States has a viable foreign policy.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: I seriously doubt it.

Kissinger: The United States has not a viable foreign policy; it luckily has a viable President. You were here. Nelson, as much as I love him, would never have been able to do this. And he's the only one who could even have conceived it.

Nixon: Well, Agnew would have done it.

Kissinger: Agnew, Mr. President, would have done it so stupidly.

Nixon: Connally would have done it. There's one.

Kissinger: Yeah. Connally is the only man.

Nixon: Although he might have been a little [unclear].

Kissinger: He lacks your subtlety. Connally, if you watch Connally—I said the other day to Haldeman—after all, Connally was an undistinguished Governor, why is he a great Secretary of the Treasury? Because of you. Nobody ever thought of Connally as an outstanding man until you—

Nixon: No, they thought he was a good Governor.

Kissinger: I beg your pardon?

Nixon: They thought he was a good Governor.

Kissinger: A good Governor. But not a great one.

Nixon: No governors are great.

Kissinger: Well. But I've watched Connally at these meetings, and I don't fear the interrogation of him because he is the one I like by far.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: He waits, his first instinct is often wrong, like when he said to cut off aid to both Pakistan and India. Then when I, and even more you, quarreled with it then he went the other way. I better get this done.

Nixon: Yeah. You're really encouraged by the Russians?

Kissinger: I think we've got it now. The thing is to play it in such a way—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —that the Chinese, and we may have—now we may have them, Mr. President. This is the complication. The Chinese may come anyway, and we'll have to face the Russians down anyway.

Nixon: Yeah, but if the Russians and the Chinese come now they will, they will come [unclear]. The Russians want to settle it with us. If this means anything; if this means something. Now there's one great problem. I may be wrong but Communists generally use negotiations for the purpose of screwing, not for the purpose of settling. Now it may, with the Russians there's no, maybe for the purpose of—just like they screwed us on Vietnam.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: For 3 years.

Kissinger: They're too scared.

Nixon: [unclear] Do you agree?

Kissinger: They're too scared.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: They're too scared.

Nixon: Scared of what? That we will not—

Kissinger: Mr. President, Rogers can say what he wants, no one believes him. But when I showed him [Vorontsov] the Kennedy letter, he knew you mean business. And they don't—in '73 '74 they may have you; they're not ready yet. Now the big problem is—

Nixon: Yeah. All right. All right.

Kissinger: We have to tell the Chinese what the message is. We mustn't fool them.

Nixon: The Russian message?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That the Russians are—that as a result of the President's ultimatum—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I'd put it that way. The Russians have now—

Kissinger: I showed them the message, to tell you the truth.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. This message?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Or at least read a summary of it.

Nixon: That's right. That's right. Okay.

Nixon: And that we're going forward, Henry.

Kissinger: And we're going forward. And that, let's ask, see what they want. If they are threatened we will consider it—

Nixon: The Chinese know what my letter, what my conversations or letter, and letter to Brezhnev was.

Kissinger: I let them—

Nixon: They didn't go along with it. But they said they would abstain on that position.

Kissinger: Not to me. They said it to Bhutto. But we've got to get this machinery figured—

Nixon: If they say this to Bhutto too, are you going to tell him about this?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: He's an elitist son-of-a-bitch. Tell the Chinese that. Tell them that this afternoon.

Kissinger: Yep.

Nixon: And now you'll send the hotline off to Brezhnev.

Kissinger: Yep.

Nixon: But the tone will be more—don't, no more conciliatory.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Say—

Kissinger: We're just changing it a little, saying, "since your message arrived too late we were already in the machinery"—

Nixon: "The President had already directed the Secretary General, I mean the Ambassador Bush to take this to the Security Council. We had already directed. However, the offer is still open.” Is that what you're going to say?

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: But time is of the essence.

Kissinger: But I think we're in business now.

1 Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 637–6. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.