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

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

[K:] I had a talk with Dobrynin yesterday.2

P: What did Dobrynin say.

K: He said I might have an answer by Tuesday3 on this thing. I told him, “I hope you noticed the President’s press conference.4 Your communication had some influence on him. It was partially in response to your communication on Vietnam. I hope you also noticed what he said about the air—that he will do exactly what he said he will.” Dobrynin said his party leaders are now getting ready for the Party Congress, so they are only focusing on one thing. But he thought he would have an answer by Tuesday.

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P: So that we could have an exchange of letters. If it doesn’t turn out we can make a speech. I don’t think SALT should start by some jackass statement by Smith again.

K: The way the instructions are for Smith, they will start and deadlock and then he will want to come to the rescue and our problem is to preempt him by two weeks. Just before the talks start, or by April 1, have you make a statement to break the deadlock.

P: I would rather do it before because they are never going to agree with Smith, are they?

K: No. The talks are guaranteed to deadlock and they will deadlock for a long stretch. So you might want to save it for April.

P: I am talking to the newspapers on April 13.

K: Could conceivably have the talks announcement on the 6th or 7th and then on the 13th make your SALT proposal. We could keep it screwed up in Vienna until then. But I haven’t given up on the exchange of letters.

P: I think there is a good chance. They need it and we need it. We have been conciliatory but firm. Didn’t he feel that we were pretty evenhanded in the press conference, or did he mention that?

K: He did not make any comment on that. It was a very short meeting. I said, with March 16 approaching, when do you think you will have an answer? He said he noticed in your press conference you noted our original position on SALT.

P: We will agree on defensive and say next year we will discuss offensive—the letter will say that—right?

K: Yes.

P: And then next year we will have another meeting to do that.

K: He brought [up] that message to talk to the North Vietnamese again and I said, sure, they know how to get hold of me.

P: You told them through Walters,5 didn’t you?

K: They know that. I did not tell him that. We won’t make any move now.

P: No, don’t make any move at all unless to get out of Paris. Make up a scenario whereby we break off the talks and make another move to talk about prisoners—in Geneva or some such thing.

K: The only other thing—the Egyptians have refused to extend the cease-fire.…give us a year’s breathing space. Up to now Sisco and Rogers have been reluctant. I think we should go for the partial solution.

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P: That will give the Egyptians a reason. They don’t want to break the cease-fire.

K: The end of the cease-fire puts the Egyptians under pressure. It gives us the running room here. At the same time we can move some of the general solutions into a private channel and give the Russians an added incentive for a Summit.

P: Things on Berlin are going smoothly?

K: Yes.

P: How about getting the meeting, but not the full NSC. Apart from us, Rogers, Laird, Helms, Sisco—that is all. If you get in Agnew he will want to argue about the merits, etc. Haig should be there to take notes. I don’t like to get into this thing that Johnson was in—to have a lunch.6 These things are all NSC meetings. Eisenhower used to call them Executive Sessions. You don’t have to have everybody.

K: The only ones you are scrapping are Agnew and Lincoln.

P: Should we have Moorer?

K: No, we don’t need him on this. With Sisco’s impetuosity—the thing to do is slow the thing down.

P: Do you think I should inform Rogers to get at it in a subtle way?

K: There is an advantage to having it Tuesday or Wednesday so that they can’t do anything until we have that meeting. I would recommend Wednesday in order to keep them from buck-shooting cables all over the place. It is the one area we haven’t played the control game where we don’t move until we know where we are going. If we had gone the other way a blow-up with the Israelis and then the cease-fire—Sadat was in Moscow March 1 or 2.7 Dobrynin told me he had a file, private or otherwise on everything we had given to Cairo. I don’t think he was bluffing.

P: Bob Finch, who is very close to the Jewish leaders in California said they were really reassured by the press conference when I said blankly I wouldn’t impose a settlement.

K: I told Tricia on Thursday night that for diplomatic skill that Israeli statement was a masterful statement.

P: I have a feeling that the press conference came just about the right time on all these issues. On Laos it came at the right time because we had to have a time that would be followed by some news that would [Page 396] not be too bad. Just sticking it to the press in the way that they couldn’t respond. The press corps needed to have that said to them.

K: They keep saying you were mad at them. I told them you were not mad at them, you were just stating the facts.

P: I don’t think they have ever been so frustrated.

K: We had had nothing but … them, then you go on and speak with confidence and say it is going to work out as well as Cambodia and remember you people predicted that it wouldn’t work. Strategically this is more important than Cambodia.

P: It is more important because Cambodia was already done. It is the second battle. We are really choking their lifeline now.

K: They moved one battalion east—the North Vietnamese do a flanking push on Route 9 and immediately ran into some of our reserves and lost 200 men. That is something that a week ago would have driven us crazy when we did not have enough men in there. I think the biggest turning point administratively was your decision to get that private briefing from Moorer a week ago on Thursday8 because when we called over to the Pentagon and said we needed that they felt they had to answer these questions and get ready for your briefing. And they pushed on together and got themselves a plan.

P: Abrams seems to feel better now does he?

K: Yes, he is on top of it now. Some day I would like to know whether there wasn’t a private understanding with Laird and … At any rate you were right, Abrams is now going like the Abrams of Cambodia and for a week there it looked like he was shell-shocked.

P: Maybe it was that he ran into those 100 tanks. It was an awesome thing. I think Laird has held back on the air strikes for two weeks. Now that we have ordered it they will give our people a shot in the arm.

K: The Russians I will have to tell you are going to scream a bit.

P: We know that.

K: Even if it slows down our discussion with them by a couple of weeks.

P: We know them. What is the Chinese political statement?

K: They haven’t made it yet. The North Vietnamese in Paris said we don’t want to go into a conference even if they are urging us to do it. We haven’t urged them to do it lately so maybe the Russians or the Chinese did.

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P: The Chinese must think there is not going to be any Yellow River concept. That is the reason they haven’t moved in yet, don’t you think?

K: They just can’t be sure what you are going to do if they tackle you. The second thing—they still have these 36 Russian divisions sitting up there.

P: I will give Bill a call today and tell him we would like to have a meeting Wednesday. When do we have an NSC meeting?

K: On Monday9 and that will be on SALT.

P: All right, Henry. Thank you.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File. No classification marking. Nixon was at Camp David; Kissinger was in Washington. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 133.
  3. March 9.
  4. See Document 132.
  5. General Vernon A. Walters, Military Attaché at the Embassy in Paris.
  6. President Johnson held regular “Tuesday lunches” with the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
  7. During the visit, Sadat reportedly requested Soviet MiG-23s to counter U.S. Phantoms in the Israeli air force. According to Sadat, the Soviets agreed to provide not only the aircraft but also the pilots to fly them until Egyptian pilots could be trained to take their place. (Ro’i, From Encroachment to Involvement, p. 548)
  8. February 25. During a meeting at 12:35 p.m. on February 25, Nixon, Kissinger, and Moorer discussed the possibility of bombing targets in North Vietnam to protect American reconnaissance and strike operations and to relieve the immediate threat to South Vietnamese supply lines in Laos. For the text of a memorandum of conversation of this meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 137.
  9. March 8.