221. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
P: I was thinking that if we don’t get the reply until tomorrow—well, if you get [it] then we can still make our Thursday date.2
K: Well, if they agree, Mr. President, it would be a nuisance to change it again.
P: That’s right, if they agree. The difficulty is that if they didn’t agree until Wednesday, it would be almost impossible for us to get our—
K: No, we could do it. I have reviewed all my telephone conversations with D[obrynin], and have asked Haig to review them and we just don’t see that it is probable or completely conceivable that anything could go wrong.
K: And he is just being [a] super-meticulous being after all just wanting to make absolutely sure that it is in order.
P: Particularly, if the way you put it that you said we agreed, but would like to check this other thing, I suppose—
K: That’s right, and I told him specifically not to put [it] to the government, just to do it if the Foreign Minister has that authority.
P: Well, that may be, of course, but by the time they get it translated—
K: Well you see, I got through talking to him at 6:00 on Thursday,3 it was already 1:00 in the morning in Moscow Friday. So even if you put it on the wire right then and there, it couldn’t have arrived there before Friday noon. Brezhnev was in Tiflis [Tbilisi]—he didn’t get back until today.
P: What I meant is that it may be that they or I can see why, even with that kind of suggestion, they would check it in the government—and it just takes time. They know very well that we have got to know about 48 hours in advance of an announcement—it [is] a difficult situation. Let me put it this way: I think that probably—not in terms of appearing anxious or anything, that you probably should call Dobrynin [Page 660] tomorrow by noon (I wouldn’t do it before then)—that gives him time to get.…
K: Well I just think, Mr. President, that as soon as he has something he’ll call me.
P: The reason I would call him only is to say look if we are going Thursday, we have got to know. Don’t you think—
K: Well, I have already called him twice today.4 I called him first to see if he had an answer and then I called him back to say look if the hold up has anything to do with that word, just forget about the word, but I didn’t say forget about the word, I said give us an answer first about the date—we don’t have to have the answer on the word until Wednesday. Too much depends on it for them, Mr. President, to screw it up now, it is just inconceivable. If they screw it up now, they know they lose Berlin.
P: Well, they goddamn well will, but they know it, because we can make them lose it—
K: Now we can still kill it. That’s why I delayed the meeting from the 19th to the 27th.5
P: Well, okay. Then I would not call him—he should call you tomorrow. The only thing that I see is that—let’s suppose you don’t hear anything tomorrow—you have got to call to find out whether we are going to go Thursday. You know we’ve got too damn many things—
K: Well, if I don’t hear from him tomorrow, then I call him at 9:30 on Wednesday to say whether we shouldn’t—what he thinks about [it.]
P: You may want to call him tomorrow only for the purpose of saying, “Look—do you want to slip it a day or what the hell is going on?” That’s the point that I see. I wouldn’t do it until—late in the day.
K: And that gives him a chance to get another cable out to Moscow—tell him we are all prepared and ready to go on Thursday so we have got to know—I think that is a very reasonable thing to have and he has indicated that he has no, or rather that that’s the way it is to be.
K: Oh yes. I just can’t conceive the text is all agreed, we went through it word for word to make sure the English conforms to the Russian, the announcement is their announcement and so I just don’t [Page 661] see where the slip up could be unless they are trying to accommodate you on that word and that word we are just doing for the record so that we don’t get screwed up there6 and people accuse us of sloppy drafting, but we are still protected by their exchange.
P: Yes. I would say then by tomorrow afternoon at 3:30—that’s 10:30 Moscow time—well there is a transmission time and decoding and stuff like that.
K: That’s right, that’s what I told him this afternoon.
P: It is the day that we are worried about—we need to know about that.
K: That’s what I told him this afternoon.
P: We have other problems ourselves about what we schedule on Thursday and what we schedule on Friday.
K: Right, Mr. President—Good-bye.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 29, Home File. No classification marking. Transcribed from a tape recording made at Kissinger’s residence. According to a typed note on the transcript, the tape was “brought in” to the White House on May 18.↩
- May 20.↩
- See Document 216 and footnote 2 thereto.↩
- Kissinger called Dobrynin at 3:40 and 4:15 p.m. to discuss the date of the SALT announcement. During their conversation at 4:15 p.m., Kissinger also reported a “purely bureaucratic” problem: “If we don’t go with it Thursday, we have to make an announcement on a day Congress is in town. If it is not Thursday it can’t be before next Tuesday.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 27, Dobrynin File)↩
- See Document 210.↩
- Capitol Hill.↩