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

Nixon: Hi, Henry.

Kissinger: Mr. President.

Nixon: How are you?

Kissinger: Okay.

Nixon: You look good.2

Kissinger: Yes, I had a good vacation.

Nixon: You have a meeting as soon as you get back?

Kissinger: Yeah, I’m seeing the head of the Institute of World Politics in Moscow.3

[Page 601]

Nixon: Oh, I see.

Kissinger: And he’s well connected at the Politburo. But—but they really are playing a rough game with us on that SALT business, and—

Nixon: Oh, I expected they would.

Kissinger: Because what they’re doing now is, they’ve put into Vienna the proposal which we turned down. They made as a formal proposal.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And, I had Haig call in Dobrynin and raise hell with him last week, as he probably told you.4

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And Dobrynin said, “Oh, it was all a mistake.” But of course, they’re—what they may do is, they may finally accept our proposal.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: But deprive you of the credit for it by putting it into Vienna.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: I mean, they won’t deprive—it’s just a cheap little stunt.

Nixon: They’ll try, and if anything happens in Vienna, they’ll take the credit for it.

Kissinger: Of course. Now, this is the message that I’m—

Nixon: What about the reporting of—?

Kissinger: Yeah, the Chinese—

Nixon: What about the—well, when are you supposed to hear, if at all, from Dobrynin, since he’s out?

Kissinger: This week. I think, Mr. President, my view is, I—

Nixon: You’re not going to hear from him, are you?

Kissinger: Well, my view is this, Mr. President: we can’t let them diddle us along.

Nixon: That’s right.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and SALT; the portion on the latter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 154.]

Nixon: The way it looks, you’re not going to get anything on SALT before Sunday.

Kissinger: Well, I’m not sure yet on SALT. If we don’t get anything by a week from today, we have to assume we won’t get anything.

[Page 602]

Nixon: You should have it by now, though, shouldn’t you?

Kissinger: He said two meetings of the Politburo, which means we should have it this week. Of course, it will take them a few—if the Politburo met Friday,5 then it will take them two or three days to draft instructions. We should have it by Wednesday night—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —if it takes a normal course.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Now, on the Vietnamese, on Hanoi, Mr. President, I think we might seriously consider the following: that if they come back with an unsatisfactory reply, that we just drop it. And that you might consider this Howard K. Smith idea of going to Congress and make the whole proposal. And you could say, which would be true, that on January 8th we in effect told them through the Russians that we would be willing to set a deadline if they gave a ceasefire. I did suggest to Dobrynin the general—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —outline of it as a, in a somewhat vaguer way but it was clear enough. They then said they—they waited for two months before they replied and said they’re willing to talk. We offered to talk, and they didn’t talk, so we’re making it public. Make it as a public offer, and then we’ll be on record. And, I think we have to find some way of going on the offensive on this issue instead of always defending ourselves.

Nixon: Well, yeah, we have to for other reasons, too.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 200.]

Nixon: Getting back to the Russians. I think that the—I think that when he [Dobrynin] came back, they watched the demonstrations and the rest. You noticed Joe Kraft’s been worming around to the effect that the Russians don’t want Nixon and so forth. I think the Russians may be playing a strict political game.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: And if they are, they can’t play it with us.

Kissinger: Well, that’s what I mean, Mr. President. I don’t think we should get into a position where we are caught between the doves and the hawks.

Nixon: No.

[Page 603]

Kissinger: And where the Russians are whipsawing us.

Nixon: So, how do you avoid that?

Kissinger: Well, what I think, if they—what I would suggest is the following: if they don’t come through with an answer by next Monday—6

Nixon: Right. One week.

Kissinger: One week. We tell Rush he’s no longer authorized to talk on Berlin, except in formal channels. No private meetings with the Russians on Berlin—

Nixon: Good. Do you think that will hurt them?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: All right. Good.

Kissinger: I will stop talking to them about—

Nixon: China?

Kissinger: —Berlin.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And indeed about anything until they come with a proposal—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —that comes along.

Nixon: Does Rogers know that Rush has been talking privately?

Kissinger: No. He [Rush] hasn’t started talking privately yet.

Nixon: Well, then—

Kissinger: We just authorized it.

Nixon: Oh, oh. I see. Okay.

Kissinger: No, and Rogers does not know, so it’s easy to—

Nixon: Well, then, you tell him, “No.” He doesn’t talk to them. They haven’t taken it up with him at any rate.

Kissinger: Oh, they have taken it up, but their Ambassador [Falin], to do it, has just arrived.

Nixon: Okay. Good. All right. We’ll stop that.

Kissinger: We’ll just tell Rush not to do it.

Nixon: Stop that. Stop this. Fine. Good.

Kissinger: And, we’ll just drag out our feet on Berlin. We’ll tell Rush he should be slow as hell on Berlin. We’ve been—

Nixon: Oh, absolutely! That’s—

Kissinger: We’ve been the ones—

[Page 604]

Nixon: We’re not going to give them a goddamn thing on Berlin—!

Kissinger: —who kept it going. And, then, I think, Mr. President, if we know we are going to be in trouble with the Russians, you might consider—

Nixon: The Chinese?

Kissinger: Well, the Chinese anyway—going on television with the facts of the military situation, and just put it to our opponents.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: And play it very tough in SALT. What we mustn’t do is yield in SALT

Nixon: No!

Kissinger: —beyond the point which we’ve already given them in my channel, because that will just encourage them to whipsaw us.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 154.]

Kissinger: They [the Soviets] have asked for a recess on May 28th.

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: And a reassembly on July 1st.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Now, that would be consistent with phasing it into the summit schedule. Well, it’s—and it means that they’re not going to beat us over the head for four weeks.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Secondly, you could argue that they’ve put forward their proposition—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah?

Kissinger: —for their own bureaucratic reasons, that they can’t turn around 180 degrees—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —without having made some bureaucratic record from which they then retreat.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Actually, their proposal is making our bureaucratic position easier on the exchange of letters, if they still come through. If—if they don’t come through by next Monday, then we know they’re stonewalling us. Up to now, it’s still a normal decision-making time. It does take them about—

Nixon: Why is that?

Kissinger: —two to three weeks.

Nixon: You’ll know next Monday. Don’t fool—don’t have any illusions. If they don’t come through next Monday, then it’s done.

[Page 605]

Kissinger: Then it’s done.

Nixon: And then I would let Dobrynin know, coldly, that, “That’s it. We’ve got our answer.” From now on we can play it, and I’d stonewall them in Berlin. That will bring Brandt down, won’t it? Being a good person—

Kissinger: I can make it tough for Brandt. Yeah.

Nixon: That’s too damn bad. That’s fine. Let it be tough for him. Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That’s my view on that.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: I thought they were supposed to know this Monday. You rather thought they were, didn’t you?

Kissinger: Well, I—no, this week. If it goes beyond this week, they’re either having a serious disagreement or they’re playing us tough.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Beyond next—until next Monday evening, you can give them the benefit of the doubt. After next Monday, you’ll know that there is—that they’re maneuvering us. I mean, I’d put it that way.

Nixon: Well, all right, so we won’t get—I think looking at what’s probably going to happen, the Russians will not do anything. Let them—we’ll let them sweat and die on Berlin. I think with regard to going on—

Kissinger: Of course, one week may—

Nixon: —and trying to get people all mobilized to support national defense, we’ve got to be sure we have some soundings to see what kind of support we’re going to get on that. You see—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —you can’t go out and play it around without having some chance.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: We’ll do a little polling on that.

Kissinger: One week, Mr. President, may be caused by this statement that Sino-Soviet disputes.7 I told—

Nixon: Rogers’s statement?

Kissinger: Yeah. I told Bob right away that this might delay the SALT thing by a couple of weeks, because that—

Nixon: That has to—for both China and Russia.

[Page 606]

Kissinger: Yeah. It was a disaster.

Nixon: The dividend statement? Is that the one?

Kissinger: The dividend statement.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The Taiwan Straits one—that was, that was also—

Nixon: But, we tried to clear it up? Do you think we could—?

Kissinger: Well, you did it very—

Nixon: Yeah, but I mean it’s a—I mean, the point is that the damage is done. Four days later we tried to clear it up.

Kissinger: Because it happened, unfortunately, a day after Dobrynin told me that if we played them off against each other, there’d be a very tough reaction out of Moscow.8

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: It’s hard for them to believe that it’s—

Nixon: That Rogers didn’t do it at our instructions.

Kissinger: Exactly. You know, that’s awfully hard to convince people of.

Nixon: Well, he just dropped it. It was at a press thing, apparently.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Coming back to this, the Russian thing. The other play we have to do is on Vietnam. See, that’s the game now. Let’s forget the Russian thing and the rest at the present time. The game is where it is. All that matters here is Vietnam now.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and preparations for Kissinger’s secret trip to China. A portion of the former is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 200.]

Nixon: Let’s just think about that a minute. Did you give this to the Pakistan Ambassador this afternoon?9

[Page 607]

Kissinger: I’ve already told the essence of it to Farland, who’s giving it to Yahya.10 Yes. This is going with the packet.

Nixon: You’ve already given it to him. Okay.

Kissinger: But we could have, if this comes off—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —we could have a public—that’s why I put in this idea of a special emissary.

Nixon: Yeah, I know. I saw that. That was to follow the secret meeting. You see what I’m getting at is that the Russians are going to play this kind of game with us, so we may have to play the public—if we only had a man to send over there. Goddamnit. I’ll try to do this tomorrow. A half-hour thing won’t work, will it?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: It won’t work.

Kissinger: I think it’s the best way to get results, because—

Nixon: You can talk turkey.

Kissinger: I could talk turkey and we could announce this, if it works at all, say, August 1st, and then have an emissary, and then have you go.

Nixon: I wouldn’t have the emissary if that was the case.

Kissinger: No. Well, you might, but—

Nixon: Well, if we’re going to announce me going, why have somebody else take the cream off?

Kissinger: Well, if we sent an inconspicuous—if we sent a guy like Bruce, he wouldn’t take any cream off.

Nixon: Hmm. Maybe.

Kissinger: Or even Murphy. Just in case the Chinese want some public demonstration.

Nixon: I see. Well, we’ve got other plans. We’ll see what happens. I’m not—I think—I’m inclined to agree, to say a little bit. We have weathered this storm of demonstrations and so forth, extremely well.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: We—it’s to the consternation of all the intellectual, all of the intelligent critics of our policy. They’re worried as hell about it, that we didn’t cave for—by God, I just don’t know, Henry, whether—how you can be a lot tougher now. Right now—I mean, I don’t know what we can do at the moment. We’re certainly prepared to do something.

Kissinger: Well, we can—

[Page 608]

Nixon: We’ve got to turn on the goddamn Russians though.

Kissinger: We’ve got to turn on the Russians.

Nixon: With Russia, there’s no question, and that’s why the public surfacing, the surfacing of the visit to the Chinese, it’s quite apparent, is worrying the hell out of them.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I wouldn’t diddle it away, though. I think that’s—

Kissinger: I just think that once—what we absolutely have to have to the Chinese is a reliable contact and a game plan, which they and we follow. And if we can get—once we get that visit set up—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —we may still get—the secret meeting has the other advantage. Of course, you’re assuming we won’t get the SALT

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I’m not so sure on that yet.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: We’ve got to do it—

Nixon: Well, anyway, we’ll see. [laughter] I’ll see you later.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Have a good time.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 496–9. 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 Oval Office from 12:57 to 1:30 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. This meeting was the first between the two men since Kissinger’s return to Washington the previous day from his two-week working vacation in Palm Springs, California. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  3. Arbatov.
  4. See Document 202.
  5. May 7.
  6. May 17.
  7. See Document 199.
  8. See Document 192.
  9. Before this meeting with Nixon, Kissinger met Hilaly at 12:10 p.m. to deliver the reply to Zhou Enlai’s latest message; see Document 196. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule) In the reply, Nixon proposed a “preliminary secret meeting” between Kissinger and Zhou to prepare for his subsequent visit to China. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1031, For the President’s Files—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Exchanges leading up to HAK trip to China, December 1969–July 1971) The reply is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 125. No U.S. record of the conversation between Kissinger and Hilaly has been found. For Hilaly’s record, see Aijazuddin, ed., From a Head, Through a Head, To a Head, pp. 66–70; see also Kissinger, White House Years, p. 724.
  10. See footnote 9, Document 203.