132. Editorial Note

During the first week of March 1971, President Richard Nixon spent considerable time managing the conflict between Secretary of State William Rogers and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, including their differences over the conduct of Soviet-American relations. On March 2, Senator Stuart Symington addressed the “Kissinger syndrome” from the Senate floor, charging that Kissinger had become “the most powerful man in the Nixon administration next to the President himself.” According to Symington, Kissinger—due to his mastery of the National Security Council system—was now the “Secretary of State in everything but title.” The Senator cited several newspaper reports to support his case, in particular the recent series of articles in the New York Times (see Document 95). “According to the Times articles,” he declared, “it was Dr. Kissinger whom the President selected to deal directly with the Soviet Union in connection with the possible installation of a submarine base in Cuba; thus bypassing the Secretary of State, who reportedly had a more restrained view toward the matter.” (Congressional Record, Senate, March 2, 1971, pages 4498–4503) Nixon discussed the fallout from this “big flap” in the Executive Office Building that afternoon with two of his closest advisers: H.R. Haldeman, the White House Chief of Staff, [Page 389] and John Ehrlichman, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs. According to Haldeman:

“The three of us had a long discussion about the whole RogersK problem, trying to figure out whether there’s any solution. John feels that it’s reached the point where it is actually unsolvable, and that one or the other has probably got to go. He feels that Henry’s at a point emotionally where, when one of these things hits, he’s going to come charging in and quit before he actually even realizes what he’s doing; and that once he does so, it will be too late: there won’t be any more we can do about it. I question whether this is likely to happen, but I guess it might. In any event, the P concurred with my feeling that Henry is much more valuable to him than Rogers, but that there’s a real problem of whether replacing Rogers will solve the K problem. In other words, once Bill’s gone, the problem could very well arise anew with the next Secretary of State.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)

While Symington criticized his role in Washington, Kissinger continued to emphasize the Soviet role in Cairo. Three members of his staff—Richard Kennedy, Harold Saunders, and Samuel Hoskinson—addressed the issue in a March 2 memorandum, briefing Kissinger for an upcoming meeting of the Senior Review Group on the Middle East. The meeting had been scheduled to discuss the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process, particularly in the wake of the February 26 response from the Israeli Government rejecting the Jarring proposal for an interim Suez Canal agreement and the letter from Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to President Nixon criticizing the Israeli Government for its “obstructionist, bluntly expansionist position.” In their memorandum, Kennedy, Saunders, and Hoskinson suggested that Washington try to break the deadlock by developing a new approach to both Tel Aviv and Moscow. “On approaches to the Soviets, no one has yet developed a serious strategy for dealing with the USSR,” they explained. “The two outstanding questions are how we should try to involve the Soviet Union in the peacemaking process—they have clearly lobbed the ball into our court with the Kosygin message—and how to deal with the question of reducing Soviet combat forces in the UAR. As far as can be seen at the moment, State still is not considering a comprehensive strategy and is at most dealing with a possible response to Kosygin.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1161, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East–Jarring Talks Edited and Indexed, March 1–4, 1971 [3 of 3])

The Senior Review Group met on March 3 but deferred discussion of the Middle East until a later date. Kissinger, however, raised his concerns in a meeting with Haldeman at 8:10 a.m., linking the conflict with Rogers to the conflict in the Middle East. (Library of Congress, Manuscript [Page 390] Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule) Haldeman described the discussion in his diary:

“The big problem today is still the KRogers situation. Henry came in this morning and was not at all upset, as he has been in the past, but was talking about his frustration over the fact that we’re going to go ahead tomorrow or Friday [March 5] with, I guess, an agreement for a Big Four meeting and a Soviet-United States blast at the Israelis for not cooperating properly. In any event, we have given away this Four Power talk and the blast at the Israelis.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)

According to Haldeman’s handwritten notes, Kissinger qualified his position: “K—frustrated [be]cause we are giving away 4–power talks to Russians—could have traded it for summit.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, H. R. Haldeman, Box 43, H Notes, Feb. 15, 1971–March 31, 1971, Part II)

Nixon called Kissinger at 9:58 a.m. to review the issues likely to arise during his press conference the following evening, including Vietnam and the Middle East. According to a transcript, the conversation included the following exchange:

“P: What do you have on the M.E.?

“K: Likely to blow this weekend. Tomorrow we will go with the statement condemning Israel. Then Israel will make a public—

“P: I don’t care about rhetoric—

“K: The next sequence of moves will be—it may tempt the Arabs into an attack. I didn’t want to press State yesterday or today. They are reluctant and I don’t think it’s good now. We will do it over the weekend and take the public heat for a few days. Too much now to overrule it. They have gone too far. It’s not decisive. If we can get a package together saying what they must do but also what we won’t demand.

“P: The condemnatory statement will be done by the 4 powers?

“K: They loaded it and we couldn’t pull back. It gives the Soviets something they wanted but it’s not decisive. At any rate Mitchell was in yesterday and was very concerned. I told him to sit tight.

“P: What about the answer from [to] Kosygin?

“K: At the end of this week. Could you give me advance information on what you intend to say on NVN invasion at the press conference?

“P: I have the briefing book and getting everything together now. I am reading what I have said previously. I will know by tomorrow noon.

“K: If you can give me a few hours advance warning then I can use it as an excuse to call Dobrynin in.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File)

[Page 391]

According to Haldeman, the President spent nearly two days preparing for his press conference. (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) Kissinger contributed an index of foreign policy questions and answers, which he forwarded to Nixon on March 2. Nixon carefully studied the index, underlining various passages and collecting his thoughts in the margin. The index covered a variety of issues related to Soviet-American affairs, including SALT, Berlin, and China. Nixon noted, for instance, that the goal of his diplomacy was improvement in East-West relations, not deterioration in Sino-Soviet relations. He also addressed the question of Soviet military presence in Egypt, writing in the margin:

  • “1. No outsider should seek a permanent military presence—
  • “2. No outsider should seek to dominate the area (not U.S.—not S.U.)
  • “3. Nations of Mideast must be dominant.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, President’s Personal Files, Box 166, Foreign Affairs File, Foreign Policy Briefing Book, March 2, 1971 (Pat Buchanan))

The President held a half-hour-long press conference in the East Room at 9 p.m. on March 4. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) During the conference, Nixon followed Kissinger’s advice by sending a message to Moscow—in effect, responding to the recent Soviet note on Laos (see Document 128). When a reporter asked whether the United States would support an invasion of North Vietnam, he replied that “no such plan is under consideration in this Government.” The President expressed some optimism about the prospects for talks on SALT and the Middle East; in the latter case, he indicated that he was prepared to “join other major powers including the Soviet Union” in guaranteeing a settlement. Nixon, however, adopted a less positive tone in response to a question on Symington’s remarks on Kissinger, calling them a “cheap shot.” “[T]he Secretary of State is always the chief foreign policy adviser and the chief foreign policy spokesman of the Administration,” he declared. “At the same time, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs does advise the President, and I value his advice very much.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pages 386–395)