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

[Omitted here is discussion of opponents to the President’s policies, in particular, his conduct of the war in Vietnam.]

Nixon: You say Dobrynin will be back tomorrow night?

Kissinger: Tomorrow late afternoon. I’ve got it—we’ve—I’ve got the FBI checking passenger lists.2

Nixon: You expect, then, to hear from him probably Thursday,3 don’t you?

Kissinger: No later than Friday. He may have to translate something he’s bringing back.

Nixon: Translate. All right.

Kissinger: Oh, he’ll bring something back.

Nixon: Now, hold the horses: he’s going to bring something. He said he had a message.4

Kissinger: Well, if not, I’ll call him.

Nixon: If not, you say, “What the hell is the message here?”

Kissinger: Yeah. I’ll tell him—

Nixon: I mean, don’t—

Kissinger: Either now or we’ll break the channel. I think we—

Nixon: Hell, no. No fooling around. But I think it’s got to be, it’s got to well be understood—I mean you, for your bargaining purposes—that if they, if he ain’t going to play, then we’ll explore the Chinese one to the hilt if there’s any way of exploring it.

Kissinger: Yeah—

[Page 542]

Nixon: The other way—the other thing is, Henry, if he isn’t go to play, even though probably it’s going to get a little—it will cost us, however, our electoral future—by God, we’re going to wake this country up to the danger. And I’ll do it. I’m going to tell the country that things are—that we’ve got to get re-armed.

Kissinger: I’m not sure it’s going to cost us.

Nixon: I’m not sure. It may be—it may, it may.

Kissinger: It would put the other side into a hell of a position.

Nixon: The country is so, you know, weary trying to get peace.

Kissinger: But I think—

Nixon: Our problem—

Kissinger: But I think they’re going to play, Mr. President. I can’t imagine—

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: I think the best explanation for the Russian—for the Chinese behavior is that they’re—that they had to get in before Brezhnev did.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: Because then, on any other ground, they could have waited a month or two.

Nixon: Let me tell you this though, Henry. If they play, God knows—we all know—but if they play, it will be because you and I planned the whole goddamn thing. It wouldn’t—listen, there wouldn’t be a chance of a Russian play now, a year before the election, if we didn’t have the Chinese warming. There wouldn’t be a chance. You know that. Is that right?

Kissinger: And there wouldn’t be a chance with the Russians if we hadn’t played them so cool all along.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Hell, they were going to give SALT away the first year.

Nixon: That’s right. Oh, sure. SALT. Yeah, they would have given the Mideast away—not the Mideast but Berlin.

Kissinger: Berlin.

Nixon: They were going to give Berlin away. They’ll do anything for Willy Brandt.

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: Right. To hell with them. Don’t give them a thing.

Kissinger: And if we hadn’t—if you hadn’t done Cambodia—

Nixon: Ha!

Kissinger: Basically, we gained with the Russians with these tough moves. They screamed a bit, but that’s something they understand.

[Page 543]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We’ll know by Friday what he’s come back with.5

[Omitted here is further discussion of opponents to the President’s policies.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 483–13. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met Kissinger in the Oval Office from 1:12 to 1:25 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Several reports on Dobrynin’s whereabouts, transmitted through Haig to Kissinger, are ibid., NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 5 [part 1])
  3. April 22.
  4. See Document 176.
  5. During a meeting in the Oval Office the next afternoon, Kissinger reported that Dobrynin would return to Washington on April 22—one day later than expected—due to problems with his flight connections. “We might as well find out what they’ve got to say, if anything,” Kissinger commented. “And if he has nothing, that too will be significant. Trying to sweat us out—in that case, we have to go unilaterally.” Kissinger suggested that Nixon might want to “make the SALT offer then public.” The two men also discussed how to proceed with Dobrynin. Kissinger: “I’ll ask him for lunch on Friday.” Nixon: “Well, that doesn’t make any difference about whether you appear to be too eager. Screw them. Right now, there’s no eagerness. It’s cold turkey. Understand?” Kissinger: “It’s cold turkey. I’m just going to tell him—” Nixon: “All right. [unclear]” Kissinger: “—’If you have nothing—’” Nixon: “What’s up?” Kissinger: “‘If you have nothing, go and see Rogers from now on.’” Nixon: “That’s right.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 484–13)