127. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Nixon: Hello.

Kissinger: Hi.

Nixon: I thought you were going to see him.

Kissinger: I’m seeing Dobrynin at—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —six. And I have an answer from Rush on Berlin.2 And I’ll just put that to him.

Nixon: Where are you going to see him? Over here?

Kissinger: In the Map Room here.

Nixon: Right. Because—

Kissinger: I have two—three items—and one other thing.

[Omitted here is discussion of Chile, China, and Vietnam.]

Nixon: As far as I’m concerned, I’m not too—

Kissinger: And also—

Nixon: I just thought that psych-—I wasn’t doing it because we lost the hill. I just thought that psychologically it was a damn good thing to keep banging them there.3

Kissinger: And also, I must then say, the day after the TASS statement,4 to then hit them—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I’d just like to see whether we get an answer from Kosygin to your letter.5

[Page 376]

Nixon: What is the—what’s your evaluation of the TASS statement? I think what you did was written last night.6

Kissinger: My evaluation is that that was the—

Nixon: Why did they move it two weeks? And why did they—

why did they make it? Because they’re—?

Kissinger: I think it’s the minimum that they could do. They would have had a hell of a lot of explaining—

Nixon: You mean they must have had a lot of argument before they decided to make it?

Kissinger: Well, I think they must have had some hell from Hanoi. Why—

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: —why it is this that they didn’t make any statement of support.

Nixon: I see.

Kissinger: And China must have attacked it. And I think it’s the minimum that they can do. But maybe it indicates that they’re shifting to a tougher line. I just—

Nixon: I doubt it.

Kissinger: You couldn’t draw the conclusion—after Cambodia they made an immediate statement. They held a press conference. They went into high gear. This time they said nothing officially—

Nixon: I wonder if they’re doing it because they think that maybe they’ll get public support—try to stir up, gin up support in this country.

Kissinger: I think that’s one of the factors.

Nixon: That’s what I was thinking it would be.

Kissinger: And I think that the public support is—

Nixon: They always react to that, Henry.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: But as a matter of fact, it’s interesting to note, as they said to me, the doves have one hell of a time getting—they’re split without Symington, [Senator George] Aiken and all these other faces, it’ll be faceless.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

Nixon: Well, how did you feel your—what’s your conversation supposed to be about with him today?

Kissinger: Berlin.

[Page 377]

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: And I just wanted to—he might, might have an answer from, well, on the letter, but we’ll have to see.

Nixon: Probably not. I’ve prepared the way, incidentally, for the summit thing. Not just the summit, but the SALT thing. I told Rogers I didn’t have any confidence in Smith.7 I didn’t want him to have any discussions with him until I had him in. But I said, “I’ve been thinking a great deal about this whole SALT mess. I might want to make a statement or I might want to write a letter or something.” And I said, “If I do, look, I’ll tell you, and you’re going to tell Smith, but I’m not going to go let him in.”

Kissinger: No. Excellent.

Nixon: Now, you see, I’ve figured we really don’t need him. If he doesn’t come in, forget it. My view is that we get it, then I’ll get the letter, and I’ll write it out because I’ve already decided on it. This is it. I’m going to do this on my own.

Kissinger: No, I think, Mr. President, if he doesn’t come, you ought to make a public statement offering it publicly.

Nixon: That’s what I was thinking, Henry.

Kissinger: I mean, if Kosygin

Nixon: Oh, I know.

Kissinger: If we don’t get an answer, then I would make a very forthcoming offer.

Nixon: And before it, so people—so that we can—I told Bill, I said, “We have got—I’ve got to take credit,” I told him, “for anything that happens in arms control.” And I said, “It can’t be Smith who’s going to get the credit.” I said, “He’s a small player and I don’t trust him.” I put it right to him. I said, “Therefore, I’m going to make a statement or”—I didn’t indicate a letter to whom—but “I’ve decided I might want to write a letter and make a statement before the thing begins. And then we’re going to go back. I won’t—I will not discuss it with Smith.” So we’re all set on that.

Kissinger: Okay.

Nixon: Now, “The ball’s in your court and it can go over if you can.” I hope it’s a letter.

Kissinger: Oh, that would be spectacular.

[Page 378]

Nixon: That would be great.

Kissinger: And that would shut up the doves a bit.

[Omitted here is discussion of press relations, in particular, regarding Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 460–27. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office on February 26 from 5:47 to 6:08 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 123.
  3. Reference is to Hill 31, a key defensive position in Laos maintained by the South Vietnamese army. It was overrun by North Vietnamese troops on February 25.
  4. For the text of the Soviet statement, published in Pravda and Izvestia on February 26, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 8 (March 23, 1971), p. 20.
  5. Reference is presumably to the draft letter from Nixon to Kosygin on SALT, which Kissinger gave Dobrynin on February 22. See Document 121.
  6. Not further identified.
  7. Before his meeting with Kissinger, Nixon met Rogers in the Oval Office to discuss several issues, including the SALT negotiations. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A record of their discussion on SALT is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 135.