196. Editorial Note

During his meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin on April 27, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger received a telephone call from Pakistani Ambassador Agha Hilaly. Although Kissinger was unable to take the call at the time, [Page 568] Harold Saunders of the National Security Council staff later informed him that Hilaly wanted “five minutes of your time as soon as possible” to deliver “an urgent message from his President having to do with Communist China.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1031, For the President’s Files—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Exchanges leading up to HAK’s Trip to China, December 1969–July 1971) When they met in the White House later that evening, Hilaly gave Kissinger a handwritten note, forwarded by Pakistani President Yahya Khan, from Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, which included the following invitation: “the Chinese Government reaffirms its willingness to receive publicly in Peking a special envoy of the President of the U.S. (for instance, Mr. Kissinger) or the U.S. Secretary of State or even the President of the U.S. himself for direct meeting and discussions.” (Ibid.) The note is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVIII, China, 1969–1972, Document 118. Kissinger immediately took the message to Nixon, who was in the Lincoln Sitting Room. “There was little need for conversation,” Kissinger recalled in his memoirs. “The message spoke for itself.” (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 713–715) According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted from 7:05 to 7:50 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No record of this conversation has been found.

Nixon, however, called Kissinger later at 8:16 to discuss the situation by telephone. The two men first reviewed a list of possible envoys to China; they then considered the possible implications of the message for their foreign policy:

Nixon: “All in all, of course, the whole thing that you can take some comfort in, you know, when you talk about how this happened, that it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t stuck to your guns through this period too, you know. We—”

Kissinger: “Well, Mr. President, you made it possible. It’s—”

Nixon: “We have played a game, and we’ve gotten a little break here. We were hoping we’d get one, and I think we have one now. If we—”

Kissinger: “Well—”

Nixon: “—play it skillfully. And we’ll wait a couple weeks and then—”

Kissinger: “But we set up this—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “—whole intricate web over—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “When we talked about ‘linkage,’ everyone was sneering.”

[Page 569]

Nixon: “Yeah. I know.”

Kissinger: “But we’ve done it now.”

Nixon: “That’s right.”

Kissinger: “We’ve got it all hooked together.”

Nixon: “And—”

Kissinger: “I mean, we’ve got Berlin hooked to SALT.”

After further discussion of the message itself, Nixon and Kissinger assessed this latest development in their triangular diplomacy:

Kissinger: “Well, Mr. President—”

Nixon: “Yeah?”

Kissinger: “—the difference between them [the Chinese] and the Russians is that if you drop some loose change and try to pick it up, the Russians step on your fingers and fight you for it. The Chinese don’t do that. I’ve reviewed all the communications with them. And all of it has been on a high level. I mean, if here you look at the summit exchange, they haven’t horsed around like the Russians.”

Nixon: “No, they haven’t.”

Kissinger: “And compared to what the game was, the Russians squeezing us on every bloody move—”

Nixon: “Yeah. Yeah.”

Kissinger: “—has been just stupid.”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “And so I think that they probably figure they cannot trick us out of Taiwan, but they have to have a fundamental understanding.”

Nixon: “Yeah. Well, we’ll put Nelson [Rockefeller] in the back of our minds as one possibility.”

Kissinger: “That’s right.”

Nixon: “Incidentally, what’d Haig think of this?”

Kissinger: “Oh, he thinks this is one of the great diplomatic breakthroughs.”

Nixon: “Does he really? Yeah?”

Kissinger: “Oh, yeah. And he thinks if we play it coolly and toughly and with the same subtlety we’ve shown up to now—”

Nixon: “Yeah—”

Kissinger: “—we can settle everything now.”

Nixon: “He thinks we go—he goes that far [unclear]?”

Kissinger: “Oh, yeah. I have absolute—I’ve never said this before. I’ve never given it more than one in three. I think if we get this thing working, we’ll end Vietnam this year. The mere fact of these contacts is one of—”

[Page 570]

Nixon: “Another thing, of course, that is important is [laughs], you know, we do have a little problem of time, in terms of wanting to announce something in this period of time. And—”

Kissinger: “Yeah, but we ought to be able to announce this by the end of the first week of June anyway.”

Nixon: “Well, we’d have to if you’re going to be there in June.”

Kissinger: “And if we have the SALT—”

Nixon: “If we could—if we could get it earlier. Now, the thing is, is SALT going to turn them off? No. No?”

Kissinger: “No.”

Nixon: “No, particularly—yeah, but, I must say, we’re going to drag our feet with on that summit with the Russians, though. They’re—”

Kissinger: “Well, nothing can happen on that for a while now.”

Nixon: “No, no. They—that’s—the ball’s in their court and—”

Kissinger: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “—they’re sitting there piddling around. All right, they can piddle. And—”

Kissinger: “They won’t—they won’t move fast.”

Nixon: “No?”

Kissinger: “And they’ll be confused by the protests in this country.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 2–52) The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.