219. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

P: Well, you got everybody under control there?

K: Yes. You know it is tough going. I have a Verification Panel meeting now2 and Smith is dancing all over the place. He is so delighted with what he has that he wants to announce it. If we don’t go on Thursday3 something may leak.

P: We are going on Thursday.

K: I talked to Gerry—

P: Has he talked to Rogers?

K: Yes, Rogers knows.4

P: Will Rogers know the difference between the two?

K: Yes. We will explain to him. We have 2 problems. The proposal made to Smith was the one that we had talked about in February or [Page 652] March. All that they did was take what we said to them at that time and gave it back to Smith now. We have got more than Smith did but in a whole different concept.

P: Smith is not to go out and State not to go out and say that all because of Smith’s brilliant negotiation we got this. I think that we should have some of the media people in—not all of them—just some of the main ones. Chancellor, Sevareid,5 Howard K. Smith. Even the column[ist]s I would talk to. Roberts, is OK. I do not know who you have in the Times.

K: Frankel will understand it.

P: He (Smith) certainly must be surprised he got this offer.

K: Of course, because—This is what they were going to recommend to you.

P: And he is suggesting we take it.

K: I am telling him that the President is in Key Biscayne, he has all the papers with him and he is thinking about the whole thing. I told him you would see him on Tuesday.

P: I have to see Rogers before him and I think I should see him alone. What should I tell him?

K: Simply that we have this proposal. You should not be too modest about the agreement. The Soviets have accepted this and it is much beyond the agreement they offered Smith.

P: Say in March they came back and this and that. I have no problem with Smith. I don’t give a goddamn about what he thinks. But when Rogers comes in how to say we handled that.

K: Well, you could just say that we got a reply in early April when he was away.

P: But we got it earlier than that. I will just tell him that we proposed this in January and they came back in April while he was away. This is simultaneity, right?

K: They have accepted the ideas of linkage and simultaneity. Even linkage we got through your efforts.

P: I think I will start with Rogers simply by saying that we started in January and while you were away they came in with a response. We are going to turn down what they submitted to Smith and then they came through with this. Have you told Smith to keep his mouth shut?

K: Yes. They all think that you are thinking over the proposal and they wouldn’t say anything to jeopardize that. They have been pretty quiet.

[Page 653]

P: They must not put anything out on it.

K: Chalmers Roberts called me yesterday6 and he knew nothing about it so they haven’t gotten wind of it.

P: When we put it out it will have to go further than Chalmers Roberts. I don’t like this business about putting ourselves under a gun. Any agreement to agree on ABM and …

K: break the deadlock.

P: Forget the deadlock. What is this going to mean to the common person and will they understand it. Danger that it will not be understood. Point is we are saying that two governments commit themselves to an agreement?

K: Not exactly that far. But the common person does not know about these things. They will take their lead from the person who does know something.

P: Yes. Another thing we will have to keep the Senate and Congress in line because I do not want them to defer funds for ABM.

K: We should just tell them that everything has come through just like you said. You said that if they voted for ABM it would help with the negotiations. It has. I think this would help with the Congress.

P: But to what extent does this point [put] us under the gun and put the Soviets under the gun to come up with an agreement and to negotiation [negotiate a] freeze. There is not a goddamn thing in it—

K: That is what the Soviets will try to do but we aren’t going to let them and that is not what we have now.

P: The way the paper is written now does not provide for action this year?

K: No.

P: Just serious discussions? If we don’t get some sort of agreement—that should be our goal internally. If they do not have action this year they will be yapping.

K: Come back from … ABM only with just an agreement.

P: How does it differ? I know but you tell me. Read it to me.7

K: I don’t have it in front of me at the moment but it says we will agree also on certain measures to limit offensive weapons. Does not use the word freeze.

P: Smith will see the difference. Have to get the papers to see the difference.

[Page 654]

K: Chalmers Roberts will write it is great.

P: We want it far beyond Chalmers Roberts. It is important for you to sit down with Scali and Rogers and decide who should be briefed.

K: I see, but I think I must do that.

P: We must sell two or three of the leaders.

K: I must do it because I understand it better than Scali.

P: Oh yes. But I don’t want you to waste your time. You should see only about 1/2 dozen people. That’s right. Only you can brief. We need the three networks, Post and Times and Stuart Hensley (phonetic).8

K: I will sit down with Scali on Monday.

P: You are going to tell him on Monday.

K: No, I will do it on Tuesday after you have talked with Rogers and Smith.

P: I want you to scare people to death if word leaks before 12 noon Thursday, this puts us in a very awkward position because we have agreed with the Soviets.

K: One word—just language to work out. Nothing at all.

P: But as far as he is concerned we have agreement that we go on Thursday noon.

K: Yes.

P: On this Mansfield thing—I just talked with McGregor9 who is going to be on Face the Nation or Meet the Press … those who would vote unilaterally to bring forces home are looking at only one side—reducing American costs—reducing the danger of war is another thing they should look at and reducing tensions. If there is an imbalance created then this would have the effect of increasing the chances for disagreement. Southeast Asia, Middle East.

K: I think that is an excellent way of putting it Mr. President.

P: In the 19th Century any sort of stability was built on the balance. This was the way the British foreign policy worked. All on a balance of power.

K: I think that is an excellent way of putting it.

P: This Brezhnev thing has been of help to us.

K: It has had a good effect for us. I think we are well covered.

[Page 655]

P: I do not think that it was bad. He asked for it. We didn’t know that Acheson was going to use that word, but everyone knows his tongue.10 It was an asinine proposal. You feel pretty good about that one?

K: I think we could come out excellent.

P: You know I tried to imply with Brooke.11 That any person who votes against the President on Monday will look bad on Thursday. They are not going to look very good when this thing comes out on Thursday if they voted against the President.

K: These things altogether are getting them really upset. Said at the time of Laos that the Chinese would come in and the Chinese moved toward us. The Mansfield thing then SALT comes up. They have got to think that you have a hell of a lot more up your sleeve and you have.

P: We have Muskie in a trap.

K: If you would want to shoot a bullet in June we could break out the hotline part of it.

P: Save it for a Summit. We have to have a few things to talk about.

K: We can break that out at 10 days notice.

P: We have to get this out though. I think you should talk to Wilson, Bill White.12 Reducing our costs is a laudable objective but should think of the balance of power and reduction of tensions also.

K: I think that is an excellent way to put it.

P: Europeans will become nervous and there will be an increase in tensions. Haldeman was telling me about how Rogers caught Symington.13

K: Yes.

[Page 656]

P: … 7,000 tactical weapons. Bring them back here, and Rogers said that we don’t want them back here. I think these guys are in an awfully bad wicket. They are playing on the Nation’s terrible, terrible fatigue over the war. The Nation thrashes out—like on Calley.14 We just want to be sure that they don’t thrash out and do not bring down the whole house with them.

K: I think we have scared them.

P: You are going to Paris on the 30th? You are going to England first and then—

K: I don’t know if I can work that out now.

P: Well you can go to Paris if you want to. Take a weekend. You don’t have to go to England as an excuse—you can go to Paris if you want to.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File. No classification marking. Kissinger was in Washington; Nixon was in Key Biscayne.
  2. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger chaired the Verification Panel meeting from 10:10 to 11:51 a.m. but left at 11 for 25 minutes to take the President’s telephone call. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) The summary of conclusions from the meeting is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 156.
  3. May 20.
  4. According to his Appointment Book, Rogers met Smith on May 11 at 10:46 a.m. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers) No record of the conversation has been found.
  5. Eric Sevareid, television commentator for CBS Evening News.
  6. See Document 218.
  7. Reference is to the draft letter from Nixon to Kosygin. See footnote 2, Document 211, and footnote 3, Document 214.
  8. Stewart M. Hensley, United Press International.
  9. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon called Clark MacGregor, Counsel to the President for Congressional Relations, at 10:36 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No record of the conversation has been found.
  10. During a press conference at the White House on May 13, Acheson declared that to reduce American forces in Europe without a corresponding reduction in Soviet forces—as envisioned in the Mansfield Amendment—would be “absolutely asinine” and “sheer nonsense.” (Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953–1971, pp. 298–299)
  11. Nixon and Kissinger met Senator Edward R. Brooke (R–Massachusetts) on May 14 from 12:57 to 1:41 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 499–24.
  12. Richard L. Wilson, Washington bureau chief for Cowles newspapers; and William S. White, syndicated columnist.
  13. The Secretary testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 14. Rogers told Haldeman about his exchange with Symington during a telephone conversation that afternoon. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, H. R. Haldeman, Box 43, H Notes, April–June ’71)
  14. Lieutenant William Calley, USA, was court-martialed on March 29 for premeditated murder in the so-called My Lai massacre of March 1968; he was sentenced two days later to life imprisonment with hard labor.