204. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig), and the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1
[Omitted here is discussion of the impact on domestic politics of the President’s foreign policy, in particular, Vietnam and SALT; the latter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 153.]
Nixon: Now, it [SALT announcement] could be ready next week, of course, if he [Dobrynin] comes back with some kind of an answer.
Haig: If he has an answer.
Nixon: If he has an answer. If he doesn’t have an answer—it probably isn’t going to be ready anyway for two weeks, so it’s probably a moot question. Now, what could happen, what could have an effect. I will agree what could have an effect is an announcement of a summit with the Russians. That would have an effect on this whole thing. However, they aren’t ready to do much else—
Haig: They’re not—
Nixon: —and we’re not going to press them for an announcement. They’re—we’ve told them already, “When you’re ready, you tell us.” Now, they’ll tell us. If they should come in, unexpectedly, and say, “Look, we’d like to go forward with an announcement and so forth”—because we’re not going to ask; no more, no more; we can’t appear anxious—that could have a very dramatic effect. See, that’s the kind of announcement, though. And that’s what an announcement will be with the Chinese—of a meeting, you understand, as distinctive from—well, that the President will receive the table tennis team when it comes over, and we’re going to release some more items for trade with China. You see? These—so, here’s the things that will happen. The SALT thing can have a little blip effect on the Congress for a day or two, so if we can get ready for Wednesday, go Wednesday.2 If not, hold it for two weeks, and we’ll do it then. Then the summit thing, if something comes on that it could have an effect. It could be the big play in early June, if they’re ready to announce it. But if not, then let it go. Then we might only have only one bow left at this time, in the political field, and that’s [Page 593] the meeting with Thieu and the combat troop thing. And that would help. But it would have to come June 8th. If it comes later in the month, it could be—it would be past the votes. And I would hate like hell to go over and have a meeting with him and announce that no more combat troops are going to be there after the Senate had voted a terminal date. You see my point? I don’t want to have actions taken which appear to be the reaction to the House—
Nixon: —or to the Senate.
[Omitted here is further discussion of Congress and Vietnam, portions of which are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 197, and ibid., volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 153.]
Nixon: The only other thing coming up is SALT. SALT isn’t enough. I know that.
Nixon: SALT is not enough, because it is not, you see, too directly enough related to Vietnam. A summit would be enough, because people would think that you’d, at the summit, you might talk about Vietnam. See?
Haldeman: The summit—summit—people understand a summit.
Haldeman: People don’t understand SALT.
Nixon: SALT is way over their heads. They haven’t the slightest idea what SALT is. It’s too goddamned complicated.
Haig: Of course, the China thing, I think, has the greatest impact.
Nixon: It has an impact. But there, they’re going to need [unclear exchange]. But the China thing, the China thing, which—a China—an open meeting by a Presidential emissary, or actually a Presidential visit. You see, the difficulty with our whole China thing, though, is that there we have the Russian game. We can’t announce that, “Well, there will be a Presidential visit to China.” First, there can’t be a Presidential visit to China as long as they’re supporting South Vietnam—North Vietnam. So that’s the deal. It’s got to be a straight cold turkey deal on that. Second, we don’t want to throw the China thing, until we get the Russian thing, one way or the other. Because once you do that, you knock off the Russian summit. And the Russian summit is more important. It may be that we don’t want it, but my point is you’ve got to play, you’ve got to let both strings play out a bit.
Haldeman: The Russian summit is more important substantively. It sure isn’t more important, I don’t think, in public drama in this country.
Nixon: Could be.[Page 594]
Haldeman: We get more out of China [unclear].
Haig: The China thing, I think, means more in terms of the war in Southeast Asia.
Nixon: To the postwar order?
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: On that note, you see, we got down to—
Haldeman: And by then the war will be—
Nixon: You see, Bob, you see, Al, you’ve got that position in a way that—Henry’s now sent a message. I understand he’s going to send it through the Ambassador, Farland, Saturday. I talked to him last night.3
Nixon: And that’s fine. Farland will carry it back. So then they’ll fire it off to the Chinese. And then the Chinese, they don’t have to respond. Then the question is: when does he go?
Haig: Yes, sir, the timing on it is just—my personal view is that I don’t think these things are going to solve the Congressional problem. I think we have to take it head on. But I personally think that the position you’ve taken is the right position, and the responsible ones would be afraid to overtake it.
Nixon: No question about it. It is the right position. It is responsible. And I’m going to continue to take it, you understand. And I—but don’t think it won’t have an enormous effect on the Congressional problem if you announce a summit with the Russians. It’ll have an enormous effect. You could then take—you could take those bastards to task for undercutting the President when he’s about to do this. You tell them this story: [unclear] “You’re going to look awful bad, taking the President on, blah, blah, blah.” Scare ‘em.
Haig: That’s right.
Nixon: That’s it. But when you don’t—but we don’t have the card to play yet. See?
[Omitted here is further discussion of SALT (see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 153).]
Haig: I think—I read—I was encouraged by what Semenov said yesterday.4 I think what he was saying was, in effect, they will take the Moscow package; you can have ABM anyplace you want it; but, you’ll have a ceiling on the number of missiles.[Page 595]
Nixon: No, I got the impression that the National Command was his concern.
Haig: No, I think they were talking about their own.
Haig: It could be either but I think they’re going to come back to it—
Nixon: Well, on the other hand, why does Semenov tell it to that asshole Smith? I mean, Henry’s always so jealous of his channel, and I—and there are good reasons for it—
Haig: Well, I think the reasons for that are just as simple, sir. To the degree they can keep you from getting the credit, they’re going to do it. They don’t want you to be re-elected—not one goddamn bit.
Nixon: That’s right, too. So they may want to have it come from Smith and all the rest.
Haig: That’s right, sir.
Nixon: Well, that won’t happen. They don’t know how much I control it.
Haig: No, that’s it. If we—that’s the other reason why we have to move before then: the summit.
Nixon: That’s the reason, too, that may be moving with the summit venture too late.
Haig: [Joseph] Kraft is back in town and he said that everyone he’s talked to in the Soviet Union said that you’re too tough. They don’t want to deal with you. They want to get another man in.
Nixon: What’s that? Did he write that or the Post has written it?
Haig: He hasn’t written it. I got this from the cocktail circuit.
Nixon: Well, good. Of course, he’s a little—of course, he knows that. Well, he’s one of them.
Haig: [laughs] Exactly—
Nixon: For Christ’s sakes. Of course. And he knows goddamn well I’m too tough. In this last two weeks was the first instance I’ve heard of that. This last month they’re showing it again. And they—this really must rub it. They’re having their problems.
Haig: Right. I think actually, sir, that you’ve got everything postured just beautifully in timing it, with the exception of this Senate—
Haig: —Senate problem, which is where we have a short fuse on it. But, the other things are ideal.
Nixon: You just have to have something when it comes off.
Haig: They want a summit. I think they don’t want us to move with the Chinese. We can’t—that’s the other reason why we can’t move too quickly with the Chinese—[Page 596]
Nixon: Oh, now that’s—you understand, I’m not saying we’re going to move with the Chinese or the Russians. And on ABM, I’ll delay that goddamn thing ‘til hell freezes over if necessary. But I do say that we have to do something—
Haig: We have to get it—
Nixon: —tangible on Vietnam. And since we don’t have—if we can’t do it with regard to the draftee thing, then we’ll have to move the Thieu thing up to the 8th. That’ll work, and that’s good enough. It’s the best we got. It’ll help.
[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam, including reports in the news media.]
Nixon: First, he [Kissinger] gets the man a message out through Farland. Second, on SALT, if we can’t do it Wednesday, then I don’t care.
Haig: It will take time, though—
Nixon: There’s no timing problem on SALT.
Nixon: We’ll do it on our own, deliver it at that time, and, if it suits our purpose to wait two weeks, wait two weeks. See? There’s no—nothing in it for us to go the balance of that week that I can see. Now, on—
Haldeman: You know, Wednesday you’re not doing much in the morning.
Haldeman: For TV, you ought to do it Tuesday night.
Nixon: Well, hell, if at all, we could get the word out earlier than that. There are ways to hold them.
Haig: If that doesn’t turn then, then the—that influences your timing and your—
Nixon: With China?
Haig: —the agreement with China.
Haig: It’s that simple.
Nixon: Absolutely. We do have another card to play. That’s the—
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: That’s the beauty of our situation today, which we haven’t had before, and the Russians don’t know this. And assuming the Chinese mean what they say, we just ought to accept the goddamn deal in the Senate, in a way that it helps with the—we hope—the prize it would be. Well, we see our problems developing, but don’t—move it, move it in a way so that we think what we will do, make all the plays on our domestic thing. Now, the idea of—I’d much prefer, myself—I’d [Page 597] prefer to have the Thieu visit later in June. Press on the SALT a little. Don’t assume that SALT will buy us the time we need. It will not.
Nixon: SALT will help if it comes. But, you—we either have to have a summit announcement with the Russians, or an announcement of some kind of a visit with the Chinese, a public announcement of progress on the Chinese front, a significant thing. I don’t mean the trade crap. Or, we have to have the meeting with Thieu by the 10th of June. You see what I mean? There’s our problem. So, if one of those three come off, fine. SALT alone will not do it. I’ve analyzed the whole thing—
Haig: Yeah, I think if you end up with SALT and you end up with the Thieu meeting, it’s going to be tight and it’s going to be tough. But you’re going to have right on your side. Now, when you follow that with a summit or—and a high-level Chinese meeting—one or the other, or perhaps both if we do it very well, I think we’ve got it—
Haldeman: Created enough for a loop then—
Haig: I just think that—
Haldeman: You put all that together then you—
Haig: You just can’t—
Haig: Your foreign policy would have been absolutely revolutionary—
Haldeman: But you’ve got to get it all done.
Nixon: The only trouble is, though, that how can you get both summits—the Chinese and the summit with the Russians?
Haig: Well, I say if the summit with the Russians, and a high-level delegation with the Chinese.
Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. And that would buy those Senators.
Haig: That could be done.
Nixon: Okay. Okay. That’s about the way the game looks to me this morning.5
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 493–10. 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 Haig in the Oval Office from 11:26 to 11:58 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)↩
- May 12.↩
- See Document 203.↩
- See Documents 201 and 202.↩
- Haldeman reported in his diary that evening: “He [Nixon] had Haig in to discuss the general need for action regarding Vietnam.” “He is concerned about the Senate and House and, to some degree, the public reaction in this country, but he’s as hard line as he’s ever been on running out the war on the proper basis as we see it. And I’m very certain in my own mind that’s the case. I don’t think there’s any thought at all in the P’s mind of being pushed into setting a date, because he’s still very optimistic, not only about Vietnam (although he doesn’t think Henry’s going to make any headway on an effort for negotiation), but I think he does feel the Chinese might put on some pressure, and that in any event we’re in good shape and can go ahead with our withdrawal program. He’s also very optimistic about the SALT possibility plus the Summit, plus the China breakthrough. So I don’t think there’s any danger of his softening at this point, at least, not until all these other things fall through.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)↩