191. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Kissinger: Now, Lodge collared me on the way in, and he said he’s developing some awfully strong feelings on the POWs, and he wants to talk to you.

[Page 582]

Nixon: No, I’m not going to [unclear].

Kissinger: Which is his way of saying he wants to bug out. But I told him he had to have another time; you were terribly busy.

Nixon: No, no, no [unclear].

Kissinger: I’m seeing Dobrynin at noon, and I wanted to check with you before I did.2

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I believe, Mr. President, that your instinct on Saturday3 is the right one, that I ought to be—

Nixon: Oh, yes—

Kissinger: —tough with him.

Nixon: Tough as hell. So what—you can’t do anything—?

Kissinger: No, I—what I was—

Nixon: Let me come to a couple of points before you get to that. It seems to me that—that’s all I have Bob [unclear]. And I’ll talk to you about that press thing after I finish these—

Haldeman: [laughs]

Nixon: —odds and ends. First, I think it—I think in view of that shelling [unclear] yesterday, we ought to hit those sites that, normally, we can’t bomb now.

Kissinger: I think we ought to think about it very carefully.

Nixon: Why think, when I don’t think you need to think about it? My point is, you’ve got to show them right after these demonstrations,4 that we’re not going to be affected by them. I know a lot [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’m for it.

Nixon: Too much of this stuff—

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: Too much of this stuff indicating we’re going to be affected by it.

Kissinger: I’m for it.

Nixon: Now, the only thing to do is to bang ‘em.

Kissinger: I agree.

[Page 583]

Nixon: So, you tell them to just do it—and protective reaction. Call it “protective reaction.”

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: But, let ‘em have it.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Understand?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: This is the time to do it.

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: So, they killed seven Americans at this base by random shelling? Correct?

Kissinger: There—that’s the only thing they’ll understand.

Nixon: Yeah. And, also, you know, I mainly want them to know that we [unclear] demonstrations.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I’m—I’m—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —thrilled by it.

Nixon: Hit ‘em [unclear]—

Kissinger: What I saw this weekend,5 Mr. President—

Nixon: Up there in New York? [unclear]

Kissinger: This country needs—

Nixon: I was—

Kissinger: In Woodstock. What—that’s what I mean.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: If we don’t—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: If we don’t do it, no one will do it.

Nixon: [unclear] no doubt, no doubt they’re going to do it. And the main point is, this is just a—we’re going to crack ‘em this week—protective reaction—but, I mean, hit all three sites, now.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I mean, I—or two or three. I don’t know. Whatever is militarily feasible.

Kissinger: Let’s hit all of them—

[Page 584]

Nixon: You know, I told Laird, “Whenever you’re ready, let’s go.” Now, the choke-points are about ready; let ‘em have it.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We’re protecting American withdrawals. Second point is this: we do need something—I need something that [David] Bruce can say on POWs on Thursday. Now, we’ve got to get something that he can say.

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: I don’t know what he can say, but what I mean is when you’ve got two—stupid Cook,6 you know, and that jackass Miller7 from Iowa—both joining in this, “We’ll—we’ll predict—we’ll end the war nine months after the POW thing.” Well, of course, they’re goddamn nearing our ballpark. They’re—anyway, but the point is—

Kissinger: Well, they’re tougher than we will be.

Nixon: What? The Congressmen are [unclear]?

Kissinger: But, they want the con—POWs released first.

Nixon: Yeah. My whole point is, though: I think that we ought to have Bruce make a cosmetic offer on POWs, which we can publish. We said we will. You see what I mean? Make the offer. It isn’t going to affect your negotiation one damn bit.

Kissinger: Well, what offer are you thinking of?

Nixon: Anything.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: Just for the purpose—one, one we know they’re going to turn down. You know what I mean? So, you could say—well, I was thinking of—You could think of something like this: “That we will—We are prepared to do—we’re—we are prepared to discuss a, discuss a deadline, as soon you discuss POWs. We’re prepared to.”

Kissinger: That would give away this, the [unclear]

Nixon: Oh, I’m not sure.

Kissinger: That would—that you should do on television, if anyone does it.

Nixon: Well then, “We’re prepared—”

Kissinger: If you’re willing to do that.

Nixon: Well, put it in that—put it in the context of what we—of what we have said, then. “We’re prepared to—”

[Page 585]

Kissinger: I mean, we can press any number of [unclear].

Nixon: Well then, say that. Then, separate it out. The—then make the, make, make the, make the POW–cease-fire—

Kissinger: That we can do.

Nixon: —make that on Thursday.

Kissinger: That we can do.

Nixon: He says, “We’ll—we, we will—we will separate those things out.” Even when I do it later, you’re going to do it privately, of course.

Kissinger: You’ll do the cease-fire—

Nixon: Because you’re—you’re going to give them the date. He’s not going to give them the date.

Kissinger: No, if he, however, says, “We’re prepared to give a date—deadline,” that’s exactly what I planned to tell them.

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: And then, if you want, you can go this route, but it would—that would really look like yielding to the demonstrations. Then, you should do it. Why let him do it?

Nixon: Uh, no. I’m not going to give a date. We’re—we—look, we’re going to discuss it—

Kissinger: But that, they’ll accept.

Nixon: Hmm?

Kissinger: They’ll accept that.

Nixon: No, I don’t think they will.

Kissinger: Certainly.

Nixon: Cease-fire?

Kissinger: Well, I think, Mr. President, that’s such a big step. To take that at an ordinary session, in the middle of a demonstration—

Nixon: What can we really offer them?

Kissinger: We can say—

Nixon: Figure something out.

Kissinger: Yeah. I’ll—

Nixon: Work on it—

Kissinger: —I’ll try to have something for you—

Nixon: Something that they can turn down, but something where—and let’s, and let’s just build it up. Give it to Scali and say, “Now, build the hell out of this thing.” That’s the way I want to do it, Henry.

Kissinger: Right. We can have some unilateral withdrawal for prisoners.

[Page 586]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We can—

Nixon: And don’t let—incidentally, I’m really tired of Lodge, anyway. Goddammit, I sent him over there, fartin’ around there with the Pope, and he comes in here on this thing and, now, he wants to take a trip to Vietnam. Goddammit, leave me alone!

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: He’s never come in and showed any—he didn’t—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: When he was here last time, he didn’t say anything about what the hell I’ve been doing. Where’s he been? Why doesn’t he stand up a little? I’m going to do this goddamn meeting; I’m going to get out of there. And I’m—don’t you feel that way?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: I mean, and the idea is, Henry [unclear]. You talk to him. He can tell you about it.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Can he?

Kissinger: Oh, yes. He already has.

Nixon: Now, with regard to Dobrynin, I know that right now he’s as tough as hell. Let me tell you why you’ve got to have the POW thing: it’s purely a delaying action. Henry, [unclear] we’ve got to realize that we have got to keep them from running off. The POW wives may endorse this damn thing. You understand that?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: It’s too, too tantalizing for them. Bruce—we’ve got to indicate that we are at least doing something on POWs.

Kissinger: Actually, Mr. President, this Miller thing is—unless he’s changed it—isn’t such a bad one, oh, from that point of view. They—

Nixon: It says as soon as they’re released?

Kissinger: They, first, have to release them, and a year afterwards, we’ll withdraw our troops.

Nixon: A year afterwards?

Kissinger: It used to be a year.

Nixon: Or, nine months?

Kissinger: Well, maybe he’s changed it to nine months, now.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But that means they’d have to give up all their prisoners, first.

Nixon: Um-hmm. Well, we could almost buy that [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, not yet.

[Page 587]

Nixon: I mean—

Kissinger: You see, as soon as we’ve made the offer to them, Mr. President, and we know whether they’ll buy it or not, then we can play it any way we want.

Nixon: I know. I know. But right now—

Kissinger: And it won’t be a big deal until the result of it—

Nixon: —right now, let me say that we’ve got to put a stopper in the POWs stuff. That’s the only thing that worries me at this time.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The only thing.

Kissinger: I’ll—

Nixon: And I don’t think everybody around here is aware of that problem. You see—

Kissinger: Well, I’ll have a suggestion—

Nixon: —because it’s our Achilles heel. If those POW wives start running around, coming on to this general election, and veterans, you’re in real—we are in troubles like you wouldn’t—and you must tell all of them—

Kissinger: Well, let me talk to the leader of these wives. I know her.8 She was on national television the other day. She was very good. She is very fond of me.

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: And I think—I quieted them down—

Nixon: I know, I know. But they—they’re still worried, though—

Kissinger: Oh, they’re def—

Nixon: [unclear] you just talk to them every day, you know, and they’re, they’re a worried bunch. Yeah?

[Omitted here is a brief, unrelated exchange with Stephen Bull.]

Nixon: Now, before we leave, you have advised that—just think about—understand: I’m just looking for a gimmick.

Kissinger: I know.

Nixon: I don’t give a goddamn. I don’t want to, Henry, to accept it, but don’t assume when you talk to ‘em—Colson9 is very close to it. There’re a [unclear] number of groups Colson can use. Be sure you talk to them, too, to see what groups are ready to take off. You see?

Kissinger: Right.

[Page 588]

Nixon: To see that they’re holding firm. See, Henry?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We—don’t assume when you talk to one that you get them all, because there are about 18 different—like it’s with veterans. We got 90 percent of the veterans—95 percent of the veterans, but 5 percent go around and give you hell. See?

Kissinger: Right. Right.

Nixon: I think we can hold ‘em, but I think we’ve got to get it to them, and if we can make some kind of an offer, or even tell them that we are going to make an offer, fine. They have to get some assurance, Henry. They’ve got to get some assurance—

Kissinger: I—I’ll talk to the wives—

Nixon: —on what they want to know.

Kissinger: What I should do—

Nixon: Don’t assume the one woman, though. She’s just one of many.

Kissinger: No—but I want to talk and get her advice, because I trust her. And then, I’ll, I’ll do—She’s, she’s tough enough. It isn’t—I don’t want to give the impression that she’s easy, but she’s been—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Let me talk to her, first. She was on national television the other day—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and she was pretty firm.

Nixon: Well, we’ve got to have something new on POWs Thursday. It’s got to sound new. That’s all. Just put—have Bruce put something out, some gobbledygook. You know, take your pick. So that he—So that he just doesn’t say, “We repeat our October 7th offer—”10

Kissinger: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Take the October 7th offer, refurbish it, take out the faulty ammo and put a little something in—

Kissinger: Right. I will have a suggestion for you first thing in the morning.

Nixon: Yeah. And then we’ll have Bruce present it, and then we’ll build it up in advance; say he’s going to make an offer on POWs, and then say, “I offer to do this.” And, for example, include in it—make it a comprehensive offer: we turn over the 10,000 people. We [unclear] the damn thing, you see—?

Kissinger: Right. Right. Right.

Nixon: That’s what we have to do. That’s the only thing we have to worry—realize: I don’t give a damn about the Congress, demonstrators, [Page 589] or anything else, but I’ve got to keep the POW wives from taking off. They could really hurt us. The Congress would pass that so goddamned fast it’d make your head spin, Henry. I know this Congress. On that issue—they would not desert us on the others, but they’d desert us on that issue. See?

Kissinger: Well, I’ll do my best by tomorrow to—

[Omitted here is discussion about Kissinger’s upcoming meeting with Dobrynin.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 489-5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. This exchange is part of a larger conversation, 11:46 a.m.-12:07 p.m.
  2. Although Kissinger met with Dobynin on April 26, they did not discuss Vietnam. A memorandum of conversation is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971, Document 192.
  3. April 24.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 190.
  5. Kissinger attended the Bilderberg Group conference in Woodstock, Vermont, April 23–25. The Group, made up of political, financial, and social elites from Western Europe and the United States, met in a different country each year, by invitation only, to discuss current issues.
  6. Senator Marlow W. Cook (R–KY).
  7. Senator Jack R. Miller (R–IA).
  8. Probably a reference to Carol North, then Chairman of the Board, National League of Families.
  9. Charles W. Colson, Special Counsel to the President.
  10. See Document 46.