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

Kissinger: Well, I saw our friend.2

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: And he brought me a reply, a draft letter, which they would give you. And now we’re in a bit of a negotiation. I don’t know if at first you want to hear the details. They want a shorter letter from you.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: In fact, there was a lot of detail—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in mine.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And Dobrynin says—

Nixon: Well, at least, it’s a reply though.

Kissinger: Oh, they’re dying to reaffirm the summit meeting.

Nixon: All right. All right.

Kissinger: And they’re saying—

Nixon: They want that announced now?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: They don’t want it announced?

Kissinger: Not now. [That would be] too fast, Mr. President.

Nixon: Fine. Look, I’m just trying to feel them out.

Kissinger: But—

Nixon: All right. But on this, do they want this exchange of letters to occur now?

Kissinger: Well, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Do you think we can? Why don’t you just summarize it for me?

Kissinger: Well, the exchange of letters is that I have proposed with him, in the draft of your letter, a very detailed agreement on freezing.

[Page 400]

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: They don’t want to do that. They—and Dobrynin says frankly they don’t want to do it because he thinks that the preparation for the Party Congress they can’t all get together—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Fine. So what?

Kissinger: So they gave us a much shorter reply and they recommended we give them a much shorter letter, which just talks about the principles rather than the technical details.

Nixon: But does it mention offensive and defensive?

Kissinger: Yes. Now, there we had one point—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —which we have to settle with them.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: They, of course, are driving their usual hard bargain. They say, “Let’s negotiate in detail defensive first and then we will discuss the freezing.” I told him that I didn’t know your thinking—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —but that that was too vague. I think what we have to ask them is this, Mr. President: that they agree to the principle of the freezing of deployments. Then we will authorize Smith to discuss ABM limits. And then, before the whole thing gets wrapped up, we will agree to the specifics of the freezing. I don’t think with this new Soviet missile buildup we can afford to sign an ABM-only agreement—

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: —that isn’t very specific.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion with Butterfield of the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: My view is you get what you can get in the beginning and then you do whatever to have an agreement together. It’s nice for their—I don’t mean—you see what I mean? Particularly with an ABM-only agreement. It’s fine, as far as you could do it, but that would be a disaster.

Kissinger: Disaster. Well, on that kind of language, they are—

Nixon: That would be a mistake. Well, I don’t know what you can get.

Kissinger: On this one, too, they prefer Moscow and Washington rather than—

Nixon: What?

Kissinger: Rather than two sites. These are—

Nixon: Well, they can’t compare these things in significance, Henry.

[Page 401]

Kissinger: Exactly, Mr. President. I think the significance of this is that they’ve gone this far. This is their first position on the inspection. Obviously, they’re going to try to get the best possible deal.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I don’t believe that he expected for a minute that we would accept this draft, as I said before.

Nixon: Yeah. Keep you both working on it—did he agree to that?

Kissinger: That’s right. And he—

Nixon: But he gives you—you ought to have something very soon.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. He’s dying for you—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: He wanted to—he said—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —he was going out of town this weekend—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and he will be delaying coming back.

Nixon: Fine. Why don’t you get back up—? Use your intelligence [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, but anyway—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We can do that.

Nixon: But I’ll tell you what. You go forward and get it just as fast as you can.

Kissinger: Well, we’re meeting Monday.3

Nixon: And what kind of a—just get it. Don’t hang around long. You’ve got to get something done before Smith gets out there.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange with Ziegler on an unrelated press statement.]

Kissinger: Smith won’t, can’t do any damage, because he’s frozen for four weeks—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —into position. We’ll have this settled in two weeks, leaving only two topics left to go.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We’ll be done within ten days in my view.

Nixon: Your view is that we might have the exchange of letters in ten days?

[Page 402]

Kissinger: Within two weeks. If—unless there’s a total deadlock, which I don’t believe.

Nixon: You think you can get something though that’s—

Kissinger: They didn’t come this far—if they’ve agreed to a letter—

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion of textile negotiations with Japan and the military situation in Vietnam.]

Nixon: Listen, we’ve got to stick to our guns but, I think, running this thing now could have an enormous effect. We need something like this about now.

Kissinger: Well, we’ll have this—

Nixon: Just make any kind of a damn deal. You know it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference. We’re going to agree to settle it anyway. Just drive the hardest deal you can.

Kissinger: Push the letter. I think, Mr. President—

Nixon: You drive it and I’m going to write the letter.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. What we can do is probably, after being—we may have to give on Moscow and Washington.

Nixon: But what about Scoop Jackson?

Kissinger: Well, he’s only a Senator.

Nixon: Don’t tell him that.

Kissinger: Yeah. But we have to get some sort of recognition that—4

[At this point, Nixon and Kissinger apparently continued the conversation as they left the Oval Office.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 467–11. 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 Kissinger from 8:50 to 9:01 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Dobrynin. See Document 135.
  3. March 15.
  4. During a telephone conversation at 11:40 a.m. on March 13, the President asked Kissinger: “What will be your next move with Mr. D?” Kissinger replied: “I am going to hand him a redraft of your letter. It takes out some of the precise details about the dates of freeze… They can be left for negotiation. It can be too complicated. Just so we can get the deadlock broken. We have to do it. There is no one in the bureaucracy who defends the Safeguard system except Laird. I am seeing him [Dobrynin] on Monday [March 15] at 4 o’clock.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 9, Chronological File)