116. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Laos and the Middle East.]

P: What about Dobrynin and that submarine?

K: I told him. It was a pretty starchy conversation.2 He said, do we have to check every submarine with you? I said no, just nuclear submarines and with a tender then it’s a base. He wanted to talk about [Page 339] the other business. I said we had better wait a few days. He did say he had a message from Hanoi to us. I said if we had a ceasefire through 72 many things could be discussed. He said he had an answer but he wouldn’t give it because of Berlin. He will give it to me. We have to show they cannot play with us while we are negotiating.

P: We have piddled around too much in getting stuff into the Baltic (and Mediterranean). Which will worry them the most?

K: Both. A larger ship into the Black Sea, like a cruiser.

P: Let’s play that. They will talk.

K: It’s a cheap move.

P: I will say we are watching it.

K: Just refer to the statement—”I would like to recall my statement that nuclear submarines being [omission in transcript].”3

P: Just leave it where it is. We can’t change it now.

K: He knows that offensive weapons—they have weapons that can reach the U.S. on other submarines. This is an attack submarine.

P: The other was phrased and I don’t think we should fool around with it. Because then we are giving an edge. Perhaps we should have said it before but now we are stuck with it. Leave it “nuclear submarines.” I won’t quibble about that.4

[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 8, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 115.
  3. During his press conference that afternoon, the President received a question about the Soviet submarine in Cuban waters. “On December 10, you may recall,” Nixon replied, “I said that if a nuclear submarine were serviced from Cuba or in Cuba, that this would be a violation of our understanding with regard to the Soviet Union’s activities in putting offensive weapons or a base in Cuba. Now as far as this submarine is concerned, the question is a rather technical one, whether it is there for a port call or whether it is there for servicing. We are watching it very closely. The Soviet Union is aware of the fact that we consider that there is an understanding and we will, of course, bring the matter to their attention if we find that the understanding is violated.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, p. 163) Nixon meant to refer to his remarks on Cuba—not during his press conference on December 10, 1970—but during his televised “conversation” on January 4, 1971. See Document 81.
  4. During a telephone conversation that afternoon, Kissinger briefed U. Alexis Johnson on Nixon’s comments to the press on Cuba. According to the transcript, the conversation included the following exchange: “K: He said there’s an understanding regarding offensive weapons and nuclear submarines. J: He did that deliberately? I don’t think we are on solid grounds on that. I think it may come back to haunt us. They may come back at us with that. On Jan. 4 statement it was passed over and people read that as—. K: We could go back to the record. J: I went back to your conversation on that and it’s clear. I think we should stay with that. We are on good ground with that. I think we have a problem with what we do with the Soviets. K: What should we do? J: Call Dobrynin in and say, ‘How come?’ Go back on the record on this tender. It’s more than an occasional port call.” Kissinger asked Johnson to “write from record what you think the understanding is in 3–4 sentences. I think time is to hand it to him [Dobrynin] again and say this is it.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 8, Chronological File)