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

[Omitted here is discussion of China, including the proposed visit of Senator Mansfield.]

Nixon: We’re not moving too fast on that [China]. We’re moving goddamn slowly.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: We’re going to continue to move slowly, Henry.

Kissinger: I don’t think we have to hurry now.

[Page 530]

Nixon: If we push—

Kissinger: First of all, we now have to hear from the Russians. We have to hear what they’ve got to say.

Nixon: That’s right, if anything. And also what Chiang [Kai-shek] has to say.

Kissinger: No, the Russians, after that first bleat, I think we’ve quieted them down with our statement. See, that Ziegler statement—2

Nixon: —was very good.

Kissinger: —was front page in the New York Times and they reported it in Moscow.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. And you, of course, calling him—

Kissinger: And my calling Dobrynin.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And my calling Vorontsov.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And while I’m sure they’re spinning like crazy—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: And we’ve got their paranoia working for us. No matter how much we protest, they don’t believe it anyway.

Nixon: They particularly won’t believe me.

Kissinger: Yeah. But on the other hand—

Nixon: You see, they really think I’m a tricky bastard. And they’re right.

Kissinger: Well, you’re the toughest President they’ve dealt with.

Nixon: You see, the others—

Kissinger: If you had the nuclear superiority—

Nixon: You see, the sentiment that—if they thought I was sentimental, you know, if they thought I was really like I was talking last night,3 you know, about wanting to visit China and the whole joke, you know, and all that crap, then [laughs] there’s nothing—but they know that—

[Page 531]

Kissinger: No, they know you.

Nixon: They know that’s cosmetic.

[34 seconds not declassified]

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —with the Chinese, the Russians, there is an enormous respect. And in this respect—from this point of view, your April 7th speech—4

Nixon: Helped?

Kissinger: —was crucial.

[Omitted here is further discussion of press relations and China.]

Nixon: You know, I was glad to do one thing the night I presented to your friends at State: to nail that Cuban thing. That paper—

Kissinger: Oh, that was well done.

Nixon: Tell them, by God, that, you know, with the Chileans, that as long as they treat us right, we would treat them right. The Cuba thing, they weren’t treating us right. That’s so damn true.

Kissinger: Oh, absolutely.

Nixon: I could’ve mentioned—the reason I didn’t mention it—I know you had it in the briefing material—because they’re receiving arms from the Soviet. I just thought that right now, that there’s no reason, before your meeting—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: No need to throw another bomb in there. You noticed last night, we avoided any major Soviet thing, or—

Kissinger: Although if the Soviets don’t make a major move with us, Mr. President—

Nixon: Ho!

Kissinger: —I am afraid we have to go hard on them. Because what they are doing now in strategic deployment is scary.

Nixon: Well, I was all set for that.

Kissinger: Of course, they’ve got—

Nixon: I think that, however, is about right. See, now, I—I’m going to have a press conference two weeks from Thursday,5 this last Thursday.

[Page 532]

Kissinger: Hmm.

Nixon: That’ll be the time—

Kissinger: By that time we’ll know.

Nixon: —we’ve got to know. And then, at that time, if they haven’t moved then, Henry, I’m going to have to lay it out there. That’s when we’ll get the question on SALT.

Kissinger: I think that’s right.

[Omitted here is discussion of Soviet and U.S. strategic forces (see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 148) and of Vietnam and China (see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 185).]

Kissinger: But we’ll know by Wednesday,6 I would think, what—where the Russian thing is going. I mean, if we know that the week after next we have a SALT announcement—

Nixon: That’ll—well—

Kissinger: —then that’s going to be a tremendous thing.

Nixon: And, hell, that’ll take—that will take care of China for a while? And—


Kissinger: If we get this—

Nixon: If we could get—to be perfectly frank with you, Henry, maybe we want it after the demonstrations.

Kissinger: I think it’s better that way.

Haldeman: I would.

Kissinger: Well, we couldn’t.

Nixon: Why is it better? Why have the demonstrations afterwards?

Haldeman: Let them have them. Let them run their course through May 5th. We can’t make it by then anyway. Can you?

Nixon: Yes—

Kissinger: No. I think you can get the SALT announcement—not next week. I think you could get it the week after next by around the 30th.

Nixon: That’d be before the demonstration, then?

Kissinger: No—

[Page 533]

Haldeman: No. No, you got one demonstration—the big demonstration’s on the 24th. Then you have—

Nixon: When’s that?

Haldeman: This—a week from today.

Nixon: Right.

Haldeman: That’s—

Nixon: Well, it’s my view that—it’s my view, I’ve just decided—I told you, Henry—I decided, Henry, not to do—I was going to have an office press conference next week. Then I decided not to—

Kissinger: I think—

Nixon: I think this serves as two press conferences. That’s enough.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: Now, two weeks, however, from now, I’ll have a press conference.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I’m not getting frozen into it, but I—about the time, I’ll want to hit television.

Haldeman: You won’t be—we are just getting to the point where you have to do one on TV.

Nixon: TV? That’s right. You get back to the TV leadership. Now—

Haldeman: And that’ll have been three weeks after your—

Nixon: That’s right.

Haldeman: —your troop announcement.

Nixon: Three weeks after the troop, which is about right. See, we’re trying to hit about every three weeks.

Kissinger: No, that’s, that fits very—

Nixon: Now, if that—by that time we might have SALT.

Kissinger: Yeah. Or at least we would know whether we won’t have it.

Nixon: We’ll know. We’ll know if we won’t have it.

Haldeman: If we do have it—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: —I sure wouldn’t announce it at the press conference.

Nixon: Oh, hell no! Come to think of it, you know what I could do? [laughs] Well, we—it depends on how we want to play it. Rather than having a press conference, we may just go on—

Haldeman: TV.

[Page 534]

Nixon: —go on TV for five minutes at night.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: See, Henry?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Five minutes at night in prime time to make an announcement—

Haldeman: All from here.

Kissinger: Another possibility—but I think Bob is right. The more likely thing is that it would be around May 7th. This stuff probably will have to go back and forth once, and they [the Soviet Politburo] meet every Thursday.

Nixon: Okay. Right.

Kissinger: But we’ll know all of this when Dobrynin is back.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on the President’s schedule.]

Kissinger: But if we get this thing moving, we can literally have something happening every two or three weeks in foreign policy right through the summer.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: In fact, maybe right through the year. We can do this, then the summit, then the Thieu meeting, which if we get the Hanoi stuff moving, could have a very positive news story. By that time the summit will be approaching.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: Once we have something going with the Russians, we ought to try to open talks with the Chinese on something.

Nixon: What agreements?

Kissinger: Oh, I’d be cold-blooded. I’d—

Nixon: Hell, I said last night we’d be glad to open the talks in Warsaw right away—

Kissinger: And I will—or do it in some other channel and—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: I would tell Dobrynin we are going to do less if these things work. But since he doesn’t know what we’ve planned, less is whatever we’re doing.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I’ll just say that’s less. And—

Haldeman: [We] can’t turn it off altogether but we’re willing to interplay them.

Kissinger: That’s right. So if not much is going on, we’ll take credit for it. One other: we need them so that we can play them off.

[Page 535]

Nixon: Well, we may not get them.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: If we don’t, then we’ll find another game. What the hell? We’re doing pretty—

Kissinger: Oh—

Nixon: We’re doing about as well as anybody could expect.

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: I don’t think the demonstrations are going to hurt too much. I don’t, in my view—

Kissinger: We need it—

Nixon: And if they demonstrate—

Kissinger: Hell—

Nixon: —just so they demonstrate hard.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam, China, and the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: I think you can tell me when he [Dobrynin] gets back whether he’s going to diddle you.

Kissinger: I’m not going to let him diddle me. I’m—my judgment, Mr. President, if you agree is that we should go for broke with this fellow now. And then—

Nixon: Oh, hell, yes.

Kissinger: —I’ll just tell him this is—I’ll break the contact, I won’t see him anymore, because if we can’t settle a simple exchange of letters, then let him work with the State Department.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I mean, that’s a daring ploy, but they want this contact.

Nixon: If they want Berlin. That, really, is probably—

Kissinger: [6 seconds not declassified]

Nixon: [6 seconds not declassified]

Kissinger: [11 seconds not declassified] And, as for Berlin, they can never get it by themselves.

Nixon: You don’t think so?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: Yeah. He [Brezhnev] needs some successes. He, Mr. President, in his way, he’s got a domestic situation as complex as you have and more intractable. He’s got to do something that he did. And he’s got a lot of opponents in the Politburo, and he’s got to make the same decision. He’s got to get—I think he needs you in Moscow at least [Page 536] as much as you need to be there. The best thing the Chinese have done for us is not so much in domestic opinion, which is good enough, but it’s given us the maneuvering room with the Russians. The thing that worried me with the Russians was that they might think you are so vulnerable—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —that they’re doing you a personal favor that they wouldn’t have done.

Nixon: So what if maybe they couldn’t. But now they may have to do it for themselves.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: In other words, they figure that the Chinese—the race to Peking is on. Well, just so we can keep Peking from slapping us. Well, it isn’t—well, we can’t control that either. They might. Do you think they might?

Kissinger: No, but we should just—insofar as possible, if we could just be a little more disciplined. The government has been superb.

Nixon: Yeah, but the—

Kissinger: What you said yesterday was—

Nixon: Well, but what about the press shitting and the rest? Should we—

Kissinger: But there’s nothing we can do.

Nixon: That’s right. They’re going hog-wild.

Kissinger: Well, after that first orgasm, I think they’ve got to quiet down. And they can’t keep sending telegrams.

Nixon: Let’s see. They’re probably thinking [unclear] hay out of the China policy again. Because, as I said last night, implied, if you try to make hay out of it, it won’t work.

Haldeman: With all we’ve done, you don’t really need to make much hay out of it.

Nixon: I think what we do—

Haldeman: It makes hay out of itself.

Kissinger: That would—

Nixon: We should just let it rest. And, well, also, there’s this other danger: you might make hay out of it and then—

Kissinger: Could I make a [unclear]—

Nixon: —and it’d be a disappointment.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: They could turn on it.

Kissinger: That—

[Page 537]

Nixon: Well, we’re prepared for that. We’re prepared.

Kissinger: Well, you’re, publicly—you have been less enthusiastic than some of the people who have been praising it.

Nixon: That’s right.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 481–7. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met Kissinger and Haldeman in the Oval Office from 2:36 to 3:30 p.m. on April 17. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See footnote 6, Document 181.
  3. The previous evening, the President participated in a “panel interview” during the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors at the Shoreham Hotel. For the full text of the interview, during which Nixon answered questions on foreign policy on Vietnam, China, Cuba, and Chile, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 534–550.
  4. For the text of the President’s April 7 speech, in which he reported the “success” of Vietnamization and the South Vietnamese raid into Laos, see ibid., pp. 522–527.
  5. April 15. The press conference was held on April 29; see Document 199.
  6. April 21.
  7. Haldeman described this “long, typical Saturday afternoon gab session” in his diary: “Henry feels that what makes the P so formidable in his dealings with the Communists is the fact that he has turned their theory of protracted war against them, and apparently the Communists have that same feeling. He wanted to give some thought to letting the Ping-Pong team come in, just as another hype to the fact that this was what was done. Henry’s basically opposed to that and doesn’t want to overplay the China thing until we get something more going.” “Another point that was made,” Haldeman added, “was that the whole China thing has given us maneuvering room with the Russians, because now we’re not backed against the wall. The problem now is that we’ve got to avoid making too much hay out of China, because they might pull the rug out from under us; and we don’t want to get our neck out that far. The P’s concerned that we still keep the heat on the opposition. They’ve all joined with us on the China thing, and that, in a way, is not as good as when they opposed us, such as in Laos.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)