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

[Omitted here is discussion of Scali’s new responsibilities as the President’s Special Consultant.]

Nixon: Now, one area that is particularly—it will be particularly important too. And I noticed that, I mean, I was eager to hear your comment on the China thing. And, I think, Henry, that it’s important that you have a talk with John about how all this began—

Kissinger: We’re going to get together. We’re going to get together this afternoon—2

Nixon: —how all this began. There’s much more than meets the eye here. For example, you probably were under the impression, and much of the press corps is, that the China initiative came from State.

[Page 500]

Scali: Right.

Nixon: It may surprise you to know that the China initiative I undertook started 20 months ago. The first announcement made 13 months ago was utterly opposed by the Foreign Service. You know why? Well, they’re not—they’re for it now. You know why? The Kremlinologists. Chip Bohlen3 wrote in a memo.

Haldeman: Llewellyn Thompson.

Kissinger: Tommy Thompson.4

Nixon: Tommy Thompson did. The State Department Foreign Service people—not Bill. I’m not referring to Bill.

Scali: Bill Rogers?

Nixon: Bill Rogers plays the game the way that he’s supposed to. In other words, by [unclear]. They opposed it because they said it’s going to make the Russians mad. Sure, it made the Russians mad. We didn’t do it for that purpose, although it may be a dividend. Who knows? It depends. If it makes them mad, it helps us. But the point is, State, from the beginning, opposed it. They only came around on it in the past, perhaps, two or three months. Now, the reason being, that is, that they have the idea that we need a détente with the Russians; we must do nothing that irritates the Russians. Every time Kosygin came to see anybody at State, or anybody in the White House, he raised holy hell about what we were doing with China. And he scared them off—but not me. I deal with the China things for long-range reasons—very, very important reasons. Now, that brings us to the present thing: ping-pong. It’s very important now—we’re going to have another announcement tomorrow, which you should fill John in on—it’s very important now that we, while we want to get every dividend we can on this, that we not appear to exploit it. Now, the reasoning is that, much as we want the publicity, we’re playing for much higher stakes. We’re playing for much higher stakes with the Russians—and this thing is sending them right up the wall, the ping-pong team. And we also are [Page 501] playing for high stakes with the Chinese. It makes good—it’s very good copy here for us to appear to be the people that are, have opened up the Chinese thing, and so forth and so on. But our major goal is to open it up. And whenever a propaganda initiative will have the effect of hurting that goal, we can’t do it.

Scali: Sure.

Nixon: Now, the reasons why, at this point, what I think we can get when we—and this is where subtlety is involved—where we can get maximum benefit here. When this announcement is made tomorrow, everybody’s going to read into it a hell of a lot more. Incidentally, this announcement that’s going to be made tomorrow, we’ve been planning for months. It just happens to fall right after the ping-pong team. See, we didn’t know the ping-pong team was going to happen like that.

Kissinger: We had some feeling that something was going to happen. They—

Nixon: Oh, yeah. Because they have been dropping little hints around the world at the various Embassies, and for months we’ve been expecting some thaw. We didn’t expect—but I suppose we were looking more to the fact that the thaw might come in Warsaw. But the Chinese, with their usual subtlety, had the thaw—we’ll call it a “thaw” for lack of something else; the press will all write it that way anyway—it comes in another area. Right?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: You never can predict how the Chinese are. They’re much less predictable than the Russians. The Russians are predictable. The Chinese are not predictable.

Kissinger: But they’re subtler.

Nixon: Because they are Chinese, not because they’re Communists. The Russians are more predictable because they’re doctrinaire, but you can goddamn near tell how the Russians will react to the Chinese ping-pong thing. I can almost tell you what Dobrynin will say when he comes back—and particularly on this announcement.

Kissinger: Well, if Dobrynin were here, he’d be over here already.

Nixon: So—but my point is, and this is the thing where John can probably get the word out, we—now, let me say: we don’t want to start a fight with State about this—actually, with the career guys. We’re not trying to, even though they constantly may try to cut us out, but—at the White House. And we don’t want to embarrass—we don’t want to, particularly, have anything with regard to the—with regard to Rogers, you see, because that’s very important to maintain that.

Scali: That’s right.

Nixon: But on the other hand, we cannot allow the myth to exist, to get [unclear], that this whole thing, which was mine alone—

[Page 502]

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Henry, you recall I put it out. It didn’t come from the NSC staff either. I put the whole damn thing out 20 months ago, starting that trip around the world.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: He’ll give you the chapter and verse. It’s a fascinating story, and some day it’s going to be written. But anyway—and maybe now, maybe a little bit of it now. A little bit of it now, before it’s announced, just to see if we can’t—

Kissinger: I think we should get a little further. It’s—the danger is that this whole operation will stop again. And we’ve had it started once and it stopped.

Nixon: And it stopped. That’s right.

Kissinger: We shouldn’t crow too early.

Nixon: We don’t want to crow. We don’t want to crow. We simply want to say we’re watching with interest and all that sort of thing. The point is that I think that it’s important, Henry, for John to know what the game is.

Kissinger: I’ll give him the picture this afternoon—

Nixon: Now, John, the main thing that you have to know is that first, everybody around here, and everybody in the government, in the NSC, is not told everything. They are not. But I told Henry that I want you to know anything that—in these critical areas. But you must remember that when we are telling you these things, as I’m sure you know, that, usually, there’s an awful good reason not to tell others.

Scali: I understand.

Nixon: And so, you know what I mean. And that’s the reason on the—I use the China thing as an example; I don’t know of a better one. It’s a very delicate situation. Maybe in three weeks we’ll want to tell a little more of the story. Maybe not this week. Maybe a little of it comes out this week. As I suggested to you this morning, I may have to remind you—

Kissinger: We can get a little out. Well—

Scali: I want to be in the position of knowing so that I can recommend to you, perhaps, when.

Nixon: That’s right.

Haldeman: That’s—

Nixon: Sure.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Scali’s responsibilities; Scali and Haldeman left at 11:46 a.m.]

Nixon: I don’t think you’ll have any—I know you’ll have no problem with leaks from him [Scali]. None.

[Page 503]

Kissinger: I won’t tell him, though, about the summit game yet.

Nixon: Oh, God no. I don’t want anybody to know about the summit game—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —that hasn’t been told. The only one that knows is Haldeman.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Shultz doesn’t know.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Ehrlichman doesn’t know.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Jesus Christ! If that ever gets out, it’s down the drain.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The summit game should be absolutely between us.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Until Dobrynin gets back. And also the SALT game.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Don’t tell him about the SALT game—the SALT game, the summit game. But the China game is something else again. He should know that background. Tell him why we don’t want a broker.

Kissinger: Incidentally, I thought I’d have Dobrynin’s replacement in for five minutes this afternoon, because there’s a meeting—it’s just a technical thing—between Rush and Abrasimov that I’ve set up for Berlin for Friday.5 And I’ll just review the arrangements with him. It will take five minutes, but it’s—it shows them that this channel has some uses for them. I won’t say anything else except the technical arrangements of that meeting.

Nixon: Yeah. Fine. Whatever you want.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and China, including U.S. diplomatic representation in those countries, as well as other matters unrelated to the Soviet Union.]

Kissinger: But now, if a few good things happen, people will say, “He [Nixon] knew all along what he was doing.”

Nixon: Yes—

Kissinger: And, of course, if we pulled off a spectacular and—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —settled it this year—

[Page 504]

Nixon: Well, let’s not even think about that.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The only good thing that I would like to see—

Kissinger: It could happen, Mr. President.

Nixon: Well, it could.

Kissinger: I really think it could—

Nixon: It could. But the good thing that I would like to see—I mean, I’m shooting low. At the lowest, I want the summit.

Kissinger: Yeah. I think that will—

Nixon: Even without SALT. Just the summit.

Kissinger: I just don’t see how they cannot have a summit.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I mean—

Nixon: If we have the summit—

Kissinger: —looked at from their cold-blooded point of view, they may—after all, you don’t like Brezhnev and you would just as soon screw Brezhnev. But why would you expend your capital on somebody who is irrelevant to you? They may not like you. If this were ‘72, they probably would hang on. But the fact that Brezhnev has just been elevated to the top spot, and you would be the first President to come to Moscow—the Russian people are pro-American. It would mean one hell of a lot of symbolism to them if they can get a SALT agreement signed in Moscow, so that the—

Nixon: The Russian people are pro-American.

Kissinger: Yeah. It’s a Moscow treaty. He can claim credit for it all over the Communist world.

Nixon: Incidentally, could I—could you make a note, and I know that it’s a silly thing to even think about, but why not—why don’t we consider the possibility of a, which you raised with Dobrynin, of a non-aggression pact? Why not?

Kissinger: No. That’s dangerous because that would be the end of NATO.

Nixon: No, I mean with NATO.

Kissinger: Well, that’s what they’ve always offered.

Nixon: No, no no, no. What I meant is the whole wax—the whole ball of wax.

Kissinger: Yeah, but the danger—

Nixon: Not with America in, not the Soviet Union and the United States in—

Kissinger: No, but the danger—

Nixon: Now, look, I know that—

[Page 505]

Kissinger: The danger is that then they’ll say you don’t need a NATO. But what we can do is have a European security conference next year.

Nixon: Well, we agree to that next year.

Kissinger: No, we agree to it at the summit for next year, so you have had—

Nixon: And that’s got to come for a reason.

Kissinger: —a big conference next year.

Nixon: Have that next year, but what the hell comes out of that? Hope?

Kissinger: Nothing but a conference.

Nixon: Well, we can have a lot of nice little truisms about travel.

Kissinger: Well, it just keeps things moving. I mean, at this stage of the game, if we can play a cold-blooded game, in which we don’t give anything away, we can make them work for it, because I really think your re-election is essential for the country. There just isn’t anybody else.

Nixon: Except Connally.

[Omitted here is discussion of Connally’s qualifications and of the President’s schedule.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 478–7. 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, the meeting began at 11:19 a.m.; Scali and Haldeman left at 11:46 and Kissinger remained until 12:16 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Scali on April 13 from 6 to 6:48 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No record of the conversation has been found.
  3. Charles E. “Chip” Bohlen, former Ambassador to the Soviet Union.
  4. Llewellyn “Tommy” Thompson, former Ambassador to the Soviet Union. During a meeting with Nixon and Kissinger on February 7, 1969, Thompson warned that the United States “should be careful not to feed Soviet suspicions about the possibility of our ganging up with Communist China against them.” (National Archives, RG 59, Rogers’ Office Files: Lot 73 D 443, Box 4, White House Correspondence, 1969) According to Kissinger, Thompson and Bohlen “courageously” expressed similar concerns to the President in early June 1969. (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 189–190) No record of the conversation has been found. Six months later, Thompson and Gerard Smith proposed that Dobrynin be informed before public announcement of the resumption of Sino-American talks in Warsaw. After consulting Nixon and Rogers, Kissinger formally rejected the proposal on December 12. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 11 and 105.
  5. April 16. See Document 175.