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

Kissinger: I don’t expect much to happen until the election.2 And I won’t go—

Nixon: You really think you should see them [North Vietnamese] the 13th? But, we agreed to it, so that’s that—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: I guess it’s—

[Page 877]

Kissinger: —it was a close call. The reason, as I put in my memo to you,3 I decided to go along with it is was we’ve given them eight points. If they don’t reply, then I’ve gone to two meetings without Le Duc Tho present. It’s another kick in the teeth by them. They haven’t replied to our eight points. If they attack in the meantime, we can say they attacked while they—while we had offered them eight points and hit them. If they don’t attack, then we have got through the Vietnamese election campaign without being hit—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —without a big offensive. And I have to go anyway to set up my trip and to get the details be—begun for yours. So, for all these reasons it’s a—it’s a close decision, though.

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: I will not go again after that one—

Nixon: You know, I wouldn’t. I—It seems to me that—I mean, just going over there and yakking around, you know, and they go over the same ground, and maybe, maybe—well, we’ll settle one little, miserable point—

Kissinger: Well, it has one advantage. If we go on the 11th or the 13th—I gave them these two alternates—it has—it has—and then, we don’t settle it, which I don’t think we will, then, on the 15th and 16th they get hit with that Russian announcement.4

Nixon: Um-hmm—

Kissinger: That’s going to be a real jolt to them. And then—

Nixon: You still think the China thing’s going, right?

Kissinger: Oh, they’re—

Nixon: —despite the fact they haven’t agreed yet—

Kissinger: I agree with Connally. When I told Connally about the China thing, he said to me: “It will make a settlement more slow but more assured.” And he’s absolutely right. They are—I think part of their stalling is to show us that they were not pressured into it by the Chinese.

Nixon: They can see—in other words, they will see inevitability.

Kissinger: What they will see, Mr. President, is that their two big allies are dealing with us before the war in Vietnam has ended. Both of them have invited you to their capitals while the war is still going on. Both of them, no matter what they tell them, have a vested interest [Page 878] to make sure that they don’t screw it all up because they obviously have their own fish to fry.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: So even—and even if the Soviet Union doesn’t do anything, it—in bringing direct pressure, the mere fact that they are seeing you, that they are pushing you—pushing them on page 50, again,5 for a month or two, while people are yakking, then my trip to Peking is again. We’ve got them off the front pages—no matter what happens—until the middle of November.

[Omitted here is discussion related to the People’s Republic of China.]

Kissinger: I mean, we are really within sight, now. If I were in Hanoi, I just wouldn’t—first of all, we have—we’ve made Vietnam a small country in Asia.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: That, already, changes the ballgame. Johnson—it was the only foreign policy Johnson had, and, therefore, the slightest twitch was a headline.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I mean, now, if they start twitching and screwing up the peace trips of a President, what can they do?

Nixon: Who’s?

Kissinger: I mean, the North—the Vietnamese. Supposing they start an attack while you’re preparing to go to Peking, which would be the Tet period.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: I wouldn’t bet that the American public would turn against you.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: They might turn against them at that point.

Nixon: Yeah. The American public isn’t going to like anymore so-called “escalation.” That’s the problem we’ve got.

Kissinger: I think they’ll settle this winter—this fall. November is now what I think. By—they’re not going to go the route. [pause] At the very least, if it isn’t settled—

Nixon: Oh, at that time, we’re ready to exchange prisoners for termination.

Kissinger: That’s what I mean.

Nixon: And, so, we just say, “All right—”

[Page 879]

Kissinger: Maybe, maybe towards—what we may have to do—

Nixon: Plus cease-fire.

Kissinger: We’ll have to see in November, Mr. President. You may want to have just a two-month withdrawal schedule if the negotiations are close to, to succeeding. But we, we—

Nixon: You mean, like—what do you mean? Two months? Get out then—?

Kissinger: Instead of announcing the whole thing, just announce a two-month increment to keep the negotiations going. But we don’t have to be safe—decide that now.

Nixon: Well, we’ll see you later.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 566–14. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The exchange is part of a larger conversation, 2:52–3:23 p.m.
  2. A reference to South Vietnam’s upcoming October 3 Presidential election.
  3. Document 245.
  4. Nixon and Kissinger intended to publicly announce in mid-September that American and Soviet leaders would meet in May 1972. As it turned out, the announcement was not made until October 12, 1971. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 1, footnote 2.
  5. I.e., to the back, or least important, pages of the newspaper.