283. Editorial Note

President Nixon met again with Henry Kissinger on December 12, 1971, in the Oval Office of the White House to discuss the message just received from the Soviet leadership (Document 284). The White House tapes document log prepared by the Nixon Presidential Materials Project indicates that the conversation began at 10:27 a.m. A note on the message indicates it was conveyed by Vorontsov to Haig at 10:45 a.m., but Vorontsov called Kissinger at 10:05 a.m. and read the text of the message. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) Kissinger began the conversation by reporting: “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. And that they will work out—they are working with her now [Page 787] to work out a cease-fire.” Nixon commented: “We must not be in a position where the Russians and we settle the son-of-a-bitch and leave the Chinese out.”

Turning to the decision made earlier in the morning to confront the Soviet Union with military force if necessary in support of China, Kissinger said: “What you did this morning Mr. President was a heroic act.” Nixon responded: “I had to do it.” He ruminated that the prevailing instinct in the government was to avoid difficult choices: “Itʼs the whole attitude, the whole government, the whole American establishment would say, well donʼt borrow trouble. Itʼs all going to work out. Nothing ever works out unless you do something about it. Thatʼs the trouble with the world.” He harkened back to the appeasement of Hitler before World War II and ascribed the war to the “pusillanimous” conduct of the Western allies when confronted with Hitlerʼs challenge. Kissinger pointed to the contrastingly strong stand Nixon had taken in the present crisis: “When I showed Vorontsov the Kennedy treaty they knew they were looking down the gun barrel.” Nixon asked: “Did he react?” Kissinger replied: “Oh yeah.”

Kissinger suggested that it was time “to turn the screw another half turn.” In his view, if the United States was to ease up on the pressure on India and the Soviet Union “weʼve had it.” “Therefore,” he added, “my strong recommendation is that we trigger this UN thing as quickly as we possibly can because it is the only way we can go on record now of condemning India.” Nixon concurred: “Thatʼs right.” Kissinger felt that it was “essential” that the condemnation be leveled initially in a White House statement. Kissinger put forward a draft of such a statement and Nixon approved it.

Kissinger was confident that events were moving in the right direction: “Weʼve got them. But the big problem now is, Mr. President, not to give the—is to—if we play this thing well weʼll come out ahead with both the Chinese and the Russians.” He went on: “We are doing this Mr. President with no cards whatsoever.” Nixon felt he had one card: “The Russians want something from us.”

The optimism engendered by the Soviet response was tempered, near the end of the conversation, by the fact that the crisis still could take a dangerous turn. Kissinger said: “The Chinese may come anyway and weʼll have to face the Russians down anyway.” Nixon responded: “Yeah, but if the Russians and the Chinese come now they will come” [largely unclear, apparently Nixon did not feel that a military confrontation with the Soviet Union was as likely as it seemed earlier]. “The Russians want to settle it with us. If this means anything [the Soviet response] this means something. Now there is one great problem. As I said, I may be wrong, but Communists generally use negotiations for the purpose of screwing, not for the purpose of settling.”

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Kissinger felt that the Soviets were “too scared” to play a devious game with the negotiations. He referred again to the Kennedy commitment to Pakistan as convincing Vorontsov that the United States “meant business.” Kissinger felt that the Soviet Union was not ready for a military confrontation with the United States. “In 73–74 they may have you. Theyʼre not ready yet.” He added: “We must tell the Chinese what the message is. We must inform them.” Nixon asked: “The Russian message?” Kissinger responded: “Yeah.” Nixon said: “That the Russians are—that as a result of the Presidentʼs ultimatum, Iʼd put it that way, the Russians have now” Kissinger interjected: “I showed them the message, to tell you the truth.” It remained, Kissinger felt, “to see what they [the Chinese] want.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, December 12, 1971, 10:27–10:37 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 637–6)

At 11:06 a.m., Nixon and Kissinger began the process of drafting a response to the message just received from the Soviet Union. They continued to work in the Oval Office on what was sent subsequently as a hot line response. Kissinger concluded from the Soviet message that “there wonʼt be military action.” He was referring to further Indian military action against West Pakistan. He went on: “Itʼs just a question of how to wrap it up now.”

Kissinger then read a draft hot line message to Brezhnev. He and Nixon discussed and revised it according to Nixonʼs instructions. Nixon stressed that the message should emphasize that “time is of the essence to avoid frightening consequences neither of us want.”

Nixon reverted to the public statement the White House would issue condemning India and observed that in issuing the statement the United States would be “putting it to the Indians.” “The argument against putting it to the Indians,” he said, “is, as you know, that well if we put it to the Indians then they will stiffen their backs and say screw you.” Kissinger interjected: “They wonʼt.” Nixon continued: “But my view is that … they seem to be affected by world opinion. To the extent that they are goddamn it weʼre going to get it across that world opinion is against them.” (Ibid., Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, December 12, 1971, 11:06–11:14 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 637–11) The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recordings printed here specifically for this volume. Transcripts of both conversations are published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Documents 178 and 179.