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

Kissinger: Hello, Mr. President.

Nixon: Who won?

Kissinger: It was a draw.2 To sum it up, Mr. President, they’ve, to all practical purposes, given in on this SALT thing. They’ve come back with a letter from Kosygin and they’re willing to have the exchange of letters published. Up to now, they wanted it secret. There’s still one point, which I will raise in a minute. On the summit, they reaffirmed the invitation and they want it in September. I mean, they agreed with us that it should be September. They do not want an announcement now. And they say there has to be some progress in Berlin; they can never explain it to the Politburo. And I—when he said that, I blew my top—I mean, deliberately. I said, “Now,” I said, “You’re making a terrible mistake.” I said, “If we have a goal, then the President, who never plays for little stakes, would recognize that it has to fit into this framework. If you’re trying to hold him up with Berlin as a means to get to the summit, you don’t understand him. I’m not even sure if he’ll let me continue talking to you on Berlin under these circumstances.” I thought this—

[Page 553]

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: This was the only way of doing it, because we really cannot promise to be able to deliver on Berlin.3

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: I mean, the Germans have screwed it up to such a fare-thee-well that they may not be prepared to yield anything. I’m seeing Bahr this weekend. He’s up there. And I’ll have a better estimate at that Woodstock conference. My estimate is—oh, he was really—then he started explaining, “Oh, they’re enthusiastic. Don’t you realize what a tremendous thing it is for us, the first American President in the Soviet Union? That we have four new members in the Politburo?” “I try,” he said, “you have only one man to convince. I had to talk to all fifteen.”

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: He said, “To sell this was almost impossible.” That I even believe—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: —because on this one they have yielded 98 percent. They’ve practically accepted our position on the SALT. They’re giving us a hell of a lot more than—

Nixon: What is left? Well, let’s look at where we start from here. What about the SALT position? What’s—

Kissinger: Well, they [unclear]—

Nixon: What is the timing?

Kissinger: Well, that we can settle next week. We could publish the exchange of letters within a week.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT (see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 150).]

Nixon: Why don’t you get back to him [Dobrynin] now, though, as time is of the essence here now? We’ve got to, you understand? We have a—we have a little bit of a problem in terms of—

Kissinger: All right.

[Page 554]

Nixon: —what benefit it is. Look, let me put it this way: all this is a bunch of shit, as you know. It’s not worth a damn. But the point is that in terms of our public relations, we can use something like this at this time. I—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —don’t want to have anything wrong for public relations reasons, but I don’t want to horse around and put it out three weeks from now when it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: You see my point?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And so, I—you can work the thing out. Fine.

Kissinger: All right. I’ll call—

Nixon: How would you—?

Kissinger: I’ll call him. I said I’d talk to you—

Nixon: You could call him and say, “All right, we’ve talked about it,” and that I suggested a formula. Why don’t you put it that way?

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: That we’ll have here—that I suggested a formula, whereby we’d move to a private undertaking on this, and keep it out of the—let’s—don’t get specific in terms of the Moscow-Washington thing.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We’ll have an answer right away.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT (see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 150).]

Nixon: What do you have to talk about at the summit?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: What do you have left to talk about?

Kissinger: Oh, at the summit? Oh, the final agreement on this. And that won’t be all straightened out. It will be signed at the summit.

Nixon: I see.

Kissinger: And we’ll have—

Nixon: I—you see what I mean Henry? I think we’ve got to have something that will come out of that, you know [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’ll fix that. I’ll guarantee you that it won’t be settled before. You see, once we get this exchange done, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —the next thing, the next move you can make—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —is to separate out the accidental issue.

Nixon: Right.

[Page 555]

Kissinger: And get that agreement signed this summer. They’ve already offered it.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: That you can get done in four weeks.

Nixon: Well, you feel then that they came out about like you expected then, right?

Kissinger: Yeah, I thought, they’re—they’re a cool bunch. I thought—they are dying to get you to Moscow, Mr. President, and I think it would be a mistake for us to promise them a Berlin agreement. In fact, what I’m inclined to say, when I see him, is to say “Your reaction was just what I predicted.” That you just make no commitments until then, when they are ready for the summit. I said, “You think you’re doing the President a favor about the summit. You’re absolutely wrong.”

Nixon: That’s right—

Kissinger: “—we’re not going to pay any price for the summit. We make agreements in our mutual interests or not at all.” But they want you there. About that there’s no doubt. Because as soon as I got tough—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: The sooner—

Kissinger: Because as soon as I got tough, he started pulling back. He said, “No, no, no, you misunderstood. You have to tell the President we are renewing the invitation. September is an excellent time. It’s a good time, still good weather—”

Nixon: Yeah, but when do they—when do they want to announce it?

Kissinger: Well, then I said, “Look, we would like to make the announcement four months ahead of time. That’s what we always do with state visits.” He said, “Well, two months is a little better.” I think they have a massive problem of getting their government to [unclear].

Nixon: Make it three months.

Kissinger: And I think they really want it. They probably may need some progress on Berlin. But I think—I’m seeing Bahr this weekend, and I think they know there’ll be progress on Berlin. And they’re using this to—

Nixon: Um-hmm [unclear]. So it came out pretty well? Didn’t it?

Kissinger: Well, I think this one, I think your SALT agreement, Mr. President—

Nixon: Without China—without China, they aren’t going to [unclear]—

Kissinger: The SALT agreement is going to drive Berlin.

Nixon: Let me tell you something: without China, they never would have agreed to the SALT.

[Page 556]

Kissinger: Because this—

Nixon: Yeah—?

Kissinger: [unclear] SALT. I don’t plague you with it. What they started with—

Nixon: I know. And a hell of a long way.

Kissinger: This is 90 percent of what we—

Nixon: Can I—but I just say I think you’re absolutely right. Make the private commitment, like we did with the other. All right, leave Washington and New York out of it—leave Washington and Moscow out of it. We’ll just work out an agreement on that at the proper time. Is that what we do?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Provided they agree to the freeze on January 1st.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: But he can put that date in, can’t he? What the hell, you’ve got to have a date in it.

Kissinger: He can’t put it in the letter.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: It has to be negotiated.

Nixon: The date of January 1st?

Kissinger: Of the freeze.

Nixon: Oh, I see. But you want to have a private understanding—?

Kissinger: I want him to agree. We—we promised him we’ll yield on this—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and, we want them to promise—

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: —[unclear] that what I had originally proposed—

Nixon: Right. And that when we agree to the summit, we will set that date.

Kissinger: Right.4

[Omitted here is further discussion of several issues, including how to handle the Secretary of State.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 487–21. 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 3:20 to 3:36 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 189.
  3. Haldeman, who also attended this meeting, described the outcome in his diary: “It turns out [Kissinger’s] got the SALT Agreement at least 90 percent okay; the only question the Russians raise is that they want to go back to the Washington Plan rather than the Safeguard Plan, whereas we’ve just shifted from Washington to Safeguard. The P agreed we could work that out, not in the open agreement, but under negotiation.” “The [summit] thing has stalled on the problem of the Berlin settlement,” Haldeman added, “and the Russians will not announce it until they have something worked out on Berlin.” “Henry says they’re in complete agreement on it. They like the idea of September instead of August, so we’ve won that point; and they are pushing hard to get the P there, so he thinks it’s going to work out, that we don’t have any real problem in keeping them hanging in on it.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  4. During a telephone conversation at 5 p.m., Kissinger and Dobrynin continued their discussion of SALT and Berlin: “K: I have had a talk with the President. The Berlin reaction was what I predicted. D: On the first or second? K: On language. D: On that one. K: On specifics I will talk to you next week after the weekend conversation [with Bahr]. On the letter I—many positive aspects in it and only one problem that concerns the President at this point I made to you on which I will have a compromise suggestion that will try to meet your point.” The two men agreed to meet again on Monday, April 26. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 27, Dobrynin File)