198. 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 Kissinger’s schedule, including his meeting that afternoon with Hilaly on the opening to China.]

Kissinger: I talked to Dobrynin this afternoon about Woodstock.2 Rush always takes so much time to prepare this four-corner thing. He had some practical point on how Rush and DobryninRush and Falin, they are desperate to talk to Bahr for negotiations, you know, with regard to Berlin. He said, “A newspaper let us know [unclear].” He [then] embarked on a long speech. He said, “When are you [going] to Red China?”

Nixon: Did he really?

Kissinger: So I just said, “Anatol—”

[Page 573]

Nixon: Did you tell him—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: —there was anything to it?

Kissinger: “The President is doing it for our relationship—”

Nixon: [unclear] will this?

Kissinger: Yeah. Well, also it shows how nervous they are.

Nixon: Well, it has nothing to do—

Kissinger: “It has nothing to do with the Chinese,” I said. “The President is eager to do—and he said—negotiating with you. He’s not pressing you. He just wanted a sense of normalcy.” After a while, he said that SALT, he could promise me, would deal with the summit right away. [He said,] “The point is the President took the view—and it looks like it may—[that] it would be a better chance to lead by public speeches.” [I said,] “As you know, we had no choice.” I don’t see how we can, in front of our bureaucracy. If we want to yield, we can. After the negotiations start, in the context of negotiations, we can, because I told him, I said, “Look, if you don’t sign this letter, you’re right back in Vienna, which is where we want to push you anyway. The letter says you should negotiate it in Vienna with a Presidential commitment.”

Nixon: [unclear] in Vienna next week?

Kissinger: In fact, we don’t have to decide until next week. The only disadvantage with that is we’ll have to do it while I’m in Palm Springs.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I don’t see how you, in a Presidential letter, Mr. President, [can] agree when the basis of the agreement is that we tear down our, what we’ve been building, a new expensive—

Nixon: [It’s] illogical.

Kissinger: —platform—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in return for they’re keeping what they’ve already got.

Nixon: And then we have to build one in Washington.

Kissinger: And build one in Washington. I think we’re better off if that, if a desire for that develops, to let it emerge out of a deadlock in negotiations.

Nixon: Right—in exchange for a letter.

Kissinger: [If they] come back and say no, you could tell them to sit down for now.

Nixon: Right. Henry, this is not an acceptable letter.

Kissinger: [unclear] say we won’t yield, eventually. I told him—well, I have told him it would—

Nixon: It’s something to negotiate.

[Page 574]

Kissinger: I said, “Let them negotiate it. The fact that the President signs the letter means he won’t, that we both are committed to try to get an agreement. And it’s not reasonable to negotiate with a deadline. Let both governments look over the record first.” [unclear] many hours and weeks they screwed around though, if we yield.

Nixon: Then what we really gain, if that is the case, out of our ABM position, is simply an agreement on their part to freeze the further development of offensive missiles. The Soviets are ahead. Indeed, though we did carry it out, it’s worthless. Point that out to him. [After] a day or two, it’s worthless, you know. [unclear] But I mean, it’s worth it for—

Kissinger: You could justify—

Nixon: —ABM.

Kissinger: You could justify it on ABM.

Nixon: That’s my point. You know, here we are; they’re ahead.

Kissinger: If you were a cheap politician, you could do it now.

Nixon: Yeah, I know. But I’m not going to do it.

Kissinger: I think it will help you in the long run. They respect you more.

Nixon: That’s right.

[Omitted here is discussion of sending a Presidential envoy to China, during which Kissinger commented: “My own current view is, if the Russians accept SALT, then it would be an argument against my going. I would wipe my hands clean. If they reject SALT, then we have to go for broke, at least before announcing it formally.”]

Nixon: We’ve got to deal with the Russians. The Russians can cause us too goddamn much trouble. Between now and 1972, I feel, if there’s any place in the world, they can screw us in Cuba. They can screw us in—in Berlin we can screw them. We got the ball there. We got—

Kissinger: Well, oh, we can certainly wreck the Berlin—

Nixon: I mean, as far as SALT is concerned, it’s dead. I mean, the Russians, let us suppose that they come back, you know—the Soviet summit is still possible. Did Dobrynin raise the summit today? Or you just didn’t raise that?

Kissinger: Well, I said, “Anatol, you remember the—”

Nixon: You just mentioned it to him.

Kissinger: To him. “Now, look,” I said, “You know, the big issue, the only reason there’s any movement on Berlin at all is because of me.” And I said, “The President”—a minute later, I said, “Anatol, of course, the President believes [I should break] this contact, if it doesn’t work out on SALT.” Instead of—

Nixon: His position is going to be that—

Kissinger: Instead of Rogers

[Page 575]

Nixon: Don’t call—

Kissinger: Well, I had to give them a name. I told him.

Nixon: I’d add something else: you have decided [against the] summit. Say, I know with Bill, bureaucratic problems here, that you—the problem you weren’t at the State Department, the problem with the Russians—you figure the Russian game is over. You know, that’s just sticking it right to them, right? I don’t know if they’re going to be upset. But that’s my approach. Nice to have these phrases.

[Omitted here is further discussion of sending a Presidential envoy to China.]

Kissinger: Having gotten to this point, Mr. President, they’re not going to bail.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: But the Russians didn’t get diplomatic relations—

Nixon: Of course, you want to—that’s right, that’s right. You want to—if we’re going to get a summit with the Russians, then you were wrong.

Kissinger: I wasn’t wrong. We’re going to get a summit, [Mr.] President.

Nixon: Well, we’re certainly not sucking after it, believe me.

Kissinger: I’m not so sure we want it in this way.

Nixon: That’s right. Yeah.

Kissinger: My instinct tells me we’re going to get the SALT and the summit. Look at their choices: what—where else are they going to go?

[Omitted here is a brief discussion on Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 252–20. 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, Nixon met Kissinger in the Executive Office Building from 4:51 to 5:49 p.m.; Haldeman joined the meeting at 5:20. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Haldeman described the discussion in his diary as follows: “We had another session in the afternoon at the EOB, and Henry had his thoughts more in line then and made the point that he was the only one who really could handle this [secret trip to China], and that the way to go at it was in effect to set it up for the P, with a secret meeting prior to that with Henry; and that’s the way it was left as Henry took off late this afternoon for a week in Palm Springs. No action will be taken for a week or ten days, and then we’ll start moving from there.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  2. No record of the meeting between Kissinger and Dobrynin that afternoon has been found.