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

Kissinger: I had another go around with our friend this morning.2 Here is the problem: he says this has been drafted by the Politburo. And he says they’ve never done this before. I believe it, because there’s so many conflicting interests involved.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And that the previous time when I told them to substitute a word, they said that it’s already implied in the text. And just to make sure, they are willing to make a public statement that says they’re committed to making an agreement simultaneously.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: He said if I want to change—he has no authority to change the text of the Politburo. If we want to change that word—

Nixon: It has to go back.

Kissinger: —then he has to go back and it will take two weeks. Now—and it’d cause some irritation. Now, we have these choices and I just want to put them to you. What he is willing to do—and I’ll show you the text—he’s willing to, when we exchange these letters, is to give him a statement saying, “When I told Ambassador Dobrynin that the agreements should be simultaneous, he told me on behalf of his government that this was unnecessary, because it is already implied in the text.” And, of course, there is the public statement they will make, which commits them to it. Now, we have three choices. We can go back to them for two weeks, for another go-around. And he said they’ll almost certainly accept it. What he asked us to consider is whether it’s worth the irritation it will cause there. Secondly, we can accept it. And thirdly, we could do something in between, which is to say, that I would call him in and say, “The President accepts this. However, since you tell me that it doesn’t make any difference to you, and since he feels it makes a difference to him, he would like to ask you to change this without making it a condition. And he would certainly appreciate that.” The advantage, if there were no other consideration, in general, one [Page 640] should play it hard with them. The other hand, looked at from our side now, the danger that I see in waiting is the following: if this goes another three weeks, two weeks, they’ll babble on in Vienna for ten more days; their proposal will leak, so that by the time you go public, it will look like scavenging on Smith’s deal.

Nixon: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the fundamental consideration. Now, the point is, it just depends on whether we think they’re going to break their word.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: What does it really say? What does it say now?

Kissinger: May I read you—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —the operative part? There are two hard and closed paragraphs, which you—

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Now, this is—will this be made public?

Kissinger: No. What—

Nixon: Now, what’s the hard part?

Kissinger: What is made public is easy. What’s made—

Nixon: Read what is made public.

Kissinger: What is made public, we are on easy street. “The Governments of the United States—”

Nixon: They agreed to make this public timing?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: They will say the same thing publicly?

Kissinger: Word for word.

Nixon: All right. Fine.

Kissinger: “The Government of the United States and the Soviet Union, after reviewing the course of their talks on the limitation of strategic arguments—armaments, have agreed to work out, this year, an agreement for the limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile systems. They have also agreed that, together with concluding an agreement to limit ABMs, they will agree on certain measures—”

Nixon: To eliminate?

Kissinger: “—to limit—”

Nixon: To limit ABMs.

Kissinger: “—to limit ABMs. They will also agree on certain measures with respect to the limitation of offensive strategic weapons,” that is—

Nixon: Certain measures?

Kissinger: Yeah. Well—

Nixon: There’s a pattern.

[Page 641]

Kissinger: —what they are, there isn’t—”The two sides—”

Nixon: That’s the public statements: “The two sides.” Go ahead.

Kissinger: “The two sides are taking this course in the conviction that it will create more favorable conditions for further negotiations to limit all strategic arms. These negotiations will be actively pursued.” So in the public statement—

Nixon: That’s good.

Kissinger: —they are committed. There’s no problem with the public statement.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Now go ahead with the private thing. Kissinger: The one thing we have—they—he hasn’t yet agreed to, for “this year.” But he says there’s no problem. He just has no authority; he has to check.

Nixon: No authority. How long will it take?

Kissinger: One week.3

Nixon: I think you’re going to have to put “this year” in, Henry.

Kissinger: He says it’s no problem. It’s—

Nixon: That’s what we’re talking about, doing a priority basis. Otherwise, we’re saying we’re just going to continue to do what we’ve been doing.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: “An agreement for the limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile systems.”

Kissinger: I mean, that’s—there’s no question about—

Nixon: That’s good.

Kissinger: —simultaneity here.

Nixon: Exactly.

Kissinger: And they will publish that as a Soviet government statement.

Nixon: Now, the private statement.

Kissinger: The private one is a little—

Nixon: Who sees this? Everybody? Just the—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: —principals.

Kissinger: Just the principals.

Nixon: Dobrynin

[Page 642]

Kissinger: The first two paragraphs, they’re peculiar to ours. That’s not in theirs. Theirs picks up with the third paragraph.

Nixon: What do we—how much of this becomes public? Anything?

Kissinger: Nothing. Except that the fact that there has been an exchange.

Nixon: We should—we show all this to Rogers and Smith?

Kissinger: Yeah. If you don’t, Mr. President, your active role will really not be that—

Nixon: Oh, of course. Henry. We just want to be sure we do.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: We’ve got to be goddamn sure that they know who has done this. And, look—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —I know how these boys play the game.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: They’re going to know. Well, I think you’ll convince Smith. Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Won’t you? Huh?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah, and Rogers, too.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Smith will convince Rogers.

Nixon: [reading] “Proceeding from the situation that now exists in the talks, the Government of the United States is prepared—” Is this the same thing in theirs?

Kissinger: Yeah. Word for word.

Nixon: It would help if it were “this year” in this.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah, that’s why he says they’ll certainly accept it.

Nixon: “After concluding—after concluding the agreement—”

Kissinger: No, that’s a different—that’s the long term one. The next paragraph.

Nixon: Limiting strategic—put that in your paper.

Kissinger: For all of this. I wanted to change—I wanted to have the word “worked out” in there. This is a commitment to fin—to make the basic understanding before the other one is completed.

Nixon: Three and a half years.

Kissinger: You see, there’s a difference between an “agreement” and an “understanding.”

Nixon: Yeah. “The United States Government favors the principle of freezing.”

[Page 643]

Kissinger: It has the same degree of formality.

Nixon: “Agreement to discuss—”

Kissinger: That’s also why we want to use the word “discuss.”

[Omitted here is further discussion of the agreement on limiting ABM systems and the understanding to freeze strategic offensive weapons, in particular, the respective texts of the joint statement and the unilateral private statement on the simultaneity of talks.]

Kissinger: The only question is—

Nixon: Whether we get something—

Kissinger: —if they want to play rough in Vienna, or Helsinki when the meeting takes place, whether they can then say all they are bound by is the letter, not the public statement. But if they don’t want an agreement, they can find 500 other ways of stopping the agreement. And they can then say we drafted this thing sloppily. And that will be partially true.

Nixon: You mean our critics can say that?

Kissinger: Yeah. And we’ll have some vested interests in the bureaucracy, which will want to prove that doing it out of the White House has its disadvantages. On the other hand, the price we pay, if we wait, is when their offer, or alleged offer, becomes public, that then the impact of this is going to be substantially lost.

Nixon: Well, look, when this—if this reads, “discuss,” isn’t that what Smith’s already done in Vienna?

Kissinger: No, with him they didn’t even agree to discuss it before. They said “discuss” afterwards.

Nixon: In other words, for us to conclude in there just—

Kissinger: Was that they agreed that they will make or reach a basic understanding.

Nixon: But what does it say there?

Kissinger: It says, “The Soviet Government”—I’m just now reading how it’s worded.

Nixon: I know. “The Soviet Government—”

Kissinger: “The Soviet government favors the principle of freezing strategic offensive weapons and is prepared to reach a basic understanding on this point.”

[Omitted here are a brief exchange on the President’s schedule and further discussion of the SALT announcement.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 498–11. 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 2:15 to 2:34 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 214.
  3. May 17.