124. Conversation Among President Nixon, the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman), and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of unrelated issues, including foreign trade policy, the President’s schedule, and the White House tape recording system.]

Nixon: [The trouble] with Henry’s personality, Bob, is it’s just too goddamn difficult for us to deal with. I mean, let me just put it out there for a minute, for this reason. If we—you know, I have, I beat him over the head time and again, you know, to get him to—you see, he’s trying to get involved in the Mideast again. I said, “Don’t do it.” I mean, I just don’t encourage him, because I don’t know whether that’s going to come out or not. He’s praying every day they’ll have a war out there, because, you know—and I know that. [unclear] I went over that speech. That’s why I sent Safire to see Rogers.2 But I use that only as an example. We also have the problem too, that in these other areas, he is just so damn jealous of letting even Haig come in. You know, I had—I’ve called Haig a couple of times. And last night, I called Moorer, you know, to keep an eye on this myself. Keeping up on things—I should. I’ve got to. But I only mention that as a problem. He’s a—maybe he was wrong, you know, in those negotiations, you know, to go to Paris and those trips.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: Not all the time, about it. That doesn’t prove anything. I mean, many of us have been wrong.

Haldeman: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: He’s always tried. He was wrong; he tried. But he was wrong in the sense of saying, “Well, they’re ready to start jiggling,” or “They’re—I think they’re going to twitch,” or “We can just hope.” You know, all that sort of thing. He has always felt that. His big pitch last night to me was: he was talking to Dobrynin, and Dobrynin raised the [Page 362] point today—yesterday that they [North Vietnamese] would be willing to talk again to him.3

Haldeman: Hm-hmm.

Nixon: Now, I don’t believe that at all. I think what has happened is that Henry has planted the idea again. Henry said, “This is the time.” I said, “No, it isn’t.” It’s not. I’ve got to tell him to waste no time. You see, the problem is that, let me put it: Henry’s not a good negotiator. He just is not. He does not know—shit, he does not know how to—you’ve got to keep him the hell out of that sort of thing, because he’s a—he’s in negotiation just like he is in your staff meetings.

Haldeman: It’s an attitude.

Nixon: He’s an admirable worker, he’s a superb writer, he’s absolutely loyal to the country, to us, and so forth and so on. But in a deeper sense, a very, very difficult problem in working with these people that I must work around. We just can’t have a blowup, you know. I mean, I can’t have a blowup with Rogers—or Laird, for that matter. And once Connally gets in there, he could blow up with him. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a matter of—at the present time, of course, we’re kicking around the possibility of wanting a letter to Kosygin.

Haldeman: Well, we’re back on a sticky wicket there, because on the plane down to Florida, Rogers said he wanted to talk to you about it.4

Nixon: About the summit?

Haldeman: He said, “You know”—you see, he doesn’t—

Nixon: He thinks that we should have it next year.

Haldeman: He raised the scenario yesterday that—he said, “We aren’t going to get a SALT agreement.” Of course, Henry thinks we have one.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: And, therefore, we—then we might as well forget that and we ought to work to a summit next year. He raised it. I was over there for lunch yesterday going over personnel stuff with him.5 And he raised that whole thing again, that Moorer said; so then, he thinks the Russians will go along because they needed this as much as we do. They’ve got their own—

[Page 363]

Nixon: Reasons?

Haldeman: Hm-hmm.

Haldeman: And I—well, I can’t—you know, don’t say anything to him at all—

Nixon: Letters.

Haldeman: —whatever he’s talking about. And get—

Nixon: Henry’s only reason, Bob—

Haldeman: This puts it—I don’t know. It’s this problem there that—

Nixon: It’s a very difficult problem, because I can’t conduct these negotiations, conduct, you know, independent discussions here without—Henry is—goddamnit, Bob, he’s psychopathic about trying to screw Rogers. That’s what it really gets down to. He wants to have a SALT agreement and a Berlin agreement. And I keep him—I keep him out of the Mideast with, just by tugging. But he wants to do that without, so that—I don’t think I’m overestimating the problem. I think it’s a very serious one.

Haldeman: Oh, it is.

Nixon: He’s just goddamn hard. I mean, I can’t—don’t you agree? Haldeman: And we kept, you know, patching it over with Band-Aids and airbrushing it, but—which we do. Maybe we keep on doing that now. But I’m not sure. It flares up and down and—the problem really is though, at least I think, and as I found when—if you face that there’s an insurmountable problem between the two of them, Henry is clearly, to me at least, more valuable than Rogers is.

Nixon: That’s true.

Haldeman: And more irreplaceable than Rogers is.

Nixon: True. True. Because I don’t trust the State Department.

Haldeman: But if Henry wins the battle with Rogers

Nixon: That’s right.

Haldeman: —and resulting in Rogers going, then I’m not sure

Henry’s going to be livable afterwards, livable with afterwards.

Nixon: He’s going to be a dictator.

Haldeman: And—

Nixon: You got to remember, too, the need for Henry becomes less as time goes on. Do you really realize that? He divides us. And you know—

Haldeman: But it takes—you see, he’s right on a lot of things—

Nixon: I know.

Haldeman: —like procedurally, that don’t interest you and—

Nixon: That’s right.

[Page 364]

Haldeman: —that we don’t want to be bothered with and shouldn’t be.

Nixon: That’s right.

[Omitted here is discussion of the National Security Council system.]

Nixon: You’ve got to remember that Henry is a terribly difficult individual to have around, you know, in terms of our, just our whole general morale. I mean, he just really is, Bob. It’s too damn bad. But he’s making himself so, and I think it’s because of his, this psychotic hatred that he has for Bill. What the Christ is the matter with him? What the hell is it? I mean, he—hardly anybody believes that—is Rogers out to get him? Is that it? He’s constantly saying, “I don’t want to—I can’t go into it.” Then he shouldn’t mention it to me. He says, “I can’t go into it now, but—” Well, Christ, then he shouldn’t tell me. I shouldn’t be worried about things that he can’t go into now. He just says—

Haldeman: Did he raise that with you?

Nixon: Every day. It’s something or other. Well, you know about what’s, the way State’s cutting him out, cutting us up, the things they are doing, the horrible things they are doing.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: And then I find it in Joe Kraft’s column.6 Now, what the Christ bit of difference does that make?

Haldeman: Well, they leak something big they’re going to want to hit you on today.

Nixon: Sure.

Haldeman: I don’t know if saw that story today, put out that State had triumphed over the NSC and got SALT removed from the State of the World message, the basis on which the SALT talks are [unclear].7 Not a lot on that other story.

Nixon: Kraft?

Haldeman: No, it’s not a piece of his.

[Page 365]

Nixon: Just say—I want you to send a memorandum to Rogers and just say that, “The President’s on this and he thinks this is not helpful. He says it makes the task exceedingly more difficult. Really believe that you—” Well, why don’t you call him? Say, “Look that’s it. That’s a real tough thing.” You know, “We have enough [with] our routine to do anything about whether someone would do such a thing.” You see, Rogers overlooks a lot of his damn people too. He will not discipline them. It doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference whether SALT’s in the State of the World or not. You know it’s—nobody gives a shit, except Henry.

Haldeman: That’s right.

Nixon: That’s the point.

Haldeman: So where does he—?

Nixon: But on this—but nevertheless, they belong—

Haldeman: Except—except really the SALT thing is—the SALT stuff in there was really about the only news there was in the whole thing.8

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic policy and other issues unrelated to the Soviet Union. Kissinger entered at 10:52 a.m.; after a brief exchange on the President’s schedule, Haldeman left at 11:05 a.m. Also omitted here is further discussion on the military situation in Laos and Vietnam, including a proposed trip to Saigon by Haig. During the latter exchange, Kissinger commented: “what I’m most anxious for now, after what Dobrynin said to me yesterday—I consider that Hanoi overture extremely uncharacteristic.”]

Nixon: Let me ask this: Where does everything stand now? Do I understand that—did we, with regard to a letter to Dobrynin—to Kosygin, have I sent a letter to Kosygin?

Kissinger: No, but—

Nixon: That wasn’t a letter.

Kissinger: No, what I have done is—

Nixon: Is to suggest—

Kissinger: No. I have given a draft letter—

[Page 366]

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: —to Dobrynin

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —which Kosygin will approve.

Nixon: Yeah. And then—

Kissinger: Or not.

Nixon: And then he will clear that through the bureaucracy? Is that the goal?

Kissinger: Then, if he approves it, then we’ll know what his answer will be too.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: He will give me a copy of his answer and I’ll edit that.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: That Dobrynin is sharp as a tack. The way that he edited that letter of yours—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —actually strengthened it.

Nixon: Yeah. Now, the point is, that having done that, then when we get it back, we just bring in the people and say, “Look, here’s the”—what do I do?

Kissinger: If they accept our proposal, you’re going to have more trouble with Smith. Smith will tell you they won’t accept it.

Nixon: That’s all right, because I’ll just say that I—that I’ve decided to take an initiative here and I’m going to do it. And that’s that. I’m not going to screw around with Smith on SALT anymore.

Kissinger: And, of course, today they have another story that they made me back off SALT.

Nixon: I saw that.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: I saw it. Let me first—

Kissinger: And it’s going to hurt me again with Dobrynin.

Nixon: Is it? That’s a screw-up. That’s—that doesn’t make any difference, a long op-ed on this whole—but it’s interested. We have a section on SALT.

Kissinger: Yeah, but I yielded and I—

Nixon: You gave in?

Kissinger: For the sake of peace with Rogers, I yielded on it.

Nixon: Did you?

Kissinger: It was frivolous. Well, because I don’t want to come to you—

[Page 367]

Nixon: No, but how much did you—? You had something, but you didn’t take the whole section on SALT?

Kissinger: Oh, no. But I took out much of it. And it’s pure mischief. They had me on the phone ten times in one day. And then they demanded to see you. I didn’t want to put you in the position where you would have to rule either for me or for Rogers.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because I don’t think it’s the right position for you to be in.

[At this point the President called Haldeman to order an investigation into the leak on the SALT section of the Annual Report on Foreign Policy. Omitted here is Nixon’s side of the telephone conversation.]

Nixon: Getting back to the other thing.

Kissinger: But I—

Nixon: On Berlin. How do we do the—? Don’t worry about this one now. But on Berlin—

Kissinger: Well, on Berlin, we—

Nixon: There—the deal there, it’s all in channels—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —so we don’t have to worry about that.

Kissinger: With the Berlin deal, the only pity is you won’t get the credit.

Nixon: Yeah. Well, let’s try.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: Let’s leak a story.

Kissinger: But we can leak it. I’ll tell you when we get the—after the agreement is signed.

Nixon: No. No, I don’t want it before—I want it before the agreement is signed.

Kissinger: Well, before the agreement is signed—

Nixon: I’m going to leak the story that we’re doing it. Screw them.

Kissinger: That’s right. Of course—

Nixon: We’ve got to leak stories that we—well, then, why not leak it now?

Kissinger: Well, because it’s too early. But this is going to be obvious long before there’s a signature. We’ll have plenty of opportunities.

Nixon: When do you think Berlin will come off?

Kissinger: Depending on how quickly we can move the Germans, within two months.

Nixon: All right. Send a letter—send a message to Rush and say that he should indicate that the President is playing a personal role in these negotiations.

[Page 368]

Kissinger: Right. To whom?

Nixon: The press. When he’s talking to them, you know, on this background.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That the President is personally in charge of these negotiations. Let’s just get that in.

Kissinger: I think if—well, Mr. President, if we could wait a week—

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: Until we could get some answers—

Nixon: All right, fine. As soon as you get the answers—

Kissinger: Otherwise, if it fails—

Nixon: As soon as you get the answers, and you think it’s on stream, have him put out the fact that the President is personally—and have him put it out. It’s much better than having it come from here.

Kissinger: Because at this point—

Nixon: Then, you see, then we could—then the people, the other people in the government, they can’t claim they did it. But I want them to know that we did it.

Kissinger: Because at this point, Mr. President, we’re not—this is not like SALT. SALT, you can make one big play.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And they’ll accept it or not.

Nixon: And then have the State Department trying to—

Kissinger: And I think they’ll—

Nixon: Now, on this one—on SALT—my view on that is that, if they come back and accept this thing—and you think they may now.

Kissinger: Oh, yes. I think—

Nixon: If they come back and accepted it, then my view is that, I just call in—well, I’d have to have that son-of-a—I have to have Smith in too, don’t I? What do I do? We’ll have an NSC meeting or what? Or just have him—

Kissinger: Well, I’d call in Rogers and Smith and I’d say, “I’ve thought about it.”

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: Actually, the New York Times yesterday had an editorial suggesting you write a letter to Kosygin.9

[Page 369]

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: So you say, before they go you want to break the deadlock. And this is the letter you’re going to write. Now, Smith is going to have a heart attack at that point.

Nixon: Smith? I’ll call in Rogers to tell him.

Kissinger: And tell Rogers then.

Nixon: And he just tells Smith. And that’s it. I’m going to tell Bill that’s the way it’s going to be.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: That’s better. I think with Rogers along, I could say that I have strong feelings about this.

Kissinger: And I can get Laird aboard.

Nixon: I’m so sick of that Smith anyway. I don’t like him. I don’t trust him.

Kissinger: Well, I think we can get Laird aboard. The only thing that’s going to cause trouble—there are two things that are going to cause trouble. One, they can’t surface. That’s why they didn’t want the long SALT section, because they didn’t want to get you—the section is long but not as detailed as it was. But [that’s] not important. They don’t want you to get the credit for it, but they can’t say that. The second thing they won’t want is the change in the position on the ABM, because they’ll say the Russians won’t accept it.

Nixon: Could you get Laird to agree to that?

Kissinger: But Laird will back that. I’ve already talked to Laird, because we couldn’t do it without Laird.

Nixon: [unclear] Well, go ahead and work that out.

Kissinger: But to show you something of this labor of Dobrynin: when I gave him the letter to Kosygin

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —he didn’t say, “I have to refer that to Moscow.” He said that too, but he immediately started editing it to see what would be easier for them to take and what wouldn’t. And I had a section in there about MIRVs. And he said, “Why don’t we both drop that one, since it’s embarrassing for you?” And he’s got a good point. I had in the letter, “MIRVs would be permitted.” He said, “Of course, they’ll be permitted.”

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 456–5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Haldeman in the Oval Office from 10:05 to 11:05 a.m.; Kissinger entered at 10:52 and left at 11:30 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. According to his Appointment Book, Rogers met Safire on February 22 at 3:21 p.m. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers) No record of the conversation has been found.
  3. See Document 122.
  4. Rogers presumably talked to Haldeman aboard Air Force One during the flight to Key Biscayne, via Homestead Air Force Base, on February 11. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No record of the conversation has been found.
  5. According to his Appointment Book, Rogers met Haldeman for lunch on February 22 at 1 p.m. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers) Although no record of the conversation has been found, Haldeman described the meeting in his diary entry for the day. (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  6. In his February 18 column, Kraft reported that Kissinger was “in the thick of a furious internal fight about the next American move in the arms control negotiations.” Kraft added that the conflict between the National Security Council staff and Department of State on SALT had “come to a head” over the draft text of the President’s Annual Foreign Policy Report. (Kraft, “Arms Control at Bay,” Washington Post, February 18, 1971, p. A21)
  7. The Washington Post reported on February 23 that the Department of State had “successfully intervened” to remove a detailed discussion of SALT from the President’s Annual Foreign Policy Report. (Marilyn Berger, “State Dept. Bars SALT Details in Nixon Message,” Washington Post, February 23, p. A4)
  8. According to Haldeman, Nixon spent considerable time on February 23 debating how to handle the Kissinger-Rogers problem: “He feels that we definitely have got to develop a new approach. He’s about ready, I think, to face up to the probable necessity of having one or the other go, a suggestion that Henry keeps roaring into my office with at each new problem and threatening. I think that for the long haul that probably is what’s going to have to happen. For the short haul, we may be able to do more than just the temporizing we’ve been doing to keep the thing on the track, and I’m going to try to work something out after the State of the World with Henry, and then with Rogers, to see if we can’t get them both to face up to the larger necessity of doing what’s right.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  9. In its February 22 editorial, the New York Times advocated “rapid action” to improve U.S.-Soviet relations on two fronts: trade and arms control. “The most urgent need in the coming weeks is a dramatic new American move—preferably in a direct Nixon message to Premier Kosygin—to break the impasse in the SALT talks.” (“Improving U.S.-Soviet Relations,” New York Times, p. 28)