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

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam, including a proposed meeting in June with South Vietnamese President Thieu.]

K: By the end of the month—by June 25th, you will see your cards much more clearly.

P: Yeah.

K: Mr. President, one thing I was going to suggest to you tomorrow—we ought to give the Russians an ultimatum in about two weeks. If they don’t deliver now, we will just delay till next spring on the Summit.

P: This is June—in 2 weeks you say we would do this?

K: Yes. We have announced a Summit or know we are going to get a Summit.

P: I don’t know if you can get anything out of them on that.

K: We have just given them the Gleason [Gear contract], a huge package on economics they want—2

P: I spoke to these editors down there today3—I talked generally about the whole thing. I said it could open to other things but a lot of negotiating to go forward and so on.

K: They are trying to play Berlin. If we get a commitment out of them, [omission in transcript] pressure on SALT.

P: A commitment isn’t enough.

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K: I mean an announcement. They are going to harvest everything and we will end up losing.

P: You didn’t talk about SALT today?

K: No, no; on Monday.4 He said if these things work out, bigger things will follow.

P: What the hell bigger can follow?

K: We can speed up the Berlin negotiations. If there isn’t a Summit—there is no earthly reason to refuse a Summit now.

P: And we have settled on SALT—I mean [omission in transcript].

K: We have given them the economic package. Mr. President, if you agree, fairly soon—after the first of June, around the 4th or 5th—I will say we have been horsing around for a year that we would be that we would be glad to come to Moscow but will delay—. On SALT, I gave him 48 hours—and he came back in 24.

P: We will just say we will have to postpone it indefinitely.

K: Then let’s just forget about it.

P: As far as this year is concerned.

K: That’s what I mean. We have all the cards in our hands. We will know yes or no from them. We will have the Chinese answer and see Thieu and they won’t scream so much.

P: Yeah. Well, that doesn’t bother me any to push them on that. The only thing that worries me is that it appears we are begging for the goddamn Summit. I would think they would want it too.

K: They want it. They are playing a cute game. I think this way if we keep giving them economic aid—

P: Gleason is all we are going to give them.

K: And the computer. You had already given them your approval when Heath was there.5

P: The computer, yeah.

K: We have a chance to give them more economic things—

P: I would do it in a weak thing.

K: On the 2nd or 3rd of June.

P: Right after Memorial Day, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

K: Exactly.

P: Alright.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

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[P:] Anything else new—You think the SALT thing is eventually going to get understood by everyone?

K: It is understood now.

P: By people that know anything about it.

K: By people that don’t know anything, they think you have achieved something they don’t understand. The whole press [and everyone]6 very positive. Henry Brandon had a very good article in the London Sunday Times although I don’t know what distribution is here—a very good response.

P: It is kind of like the China thing, it has the same positive response.

K: Everyone feels in foreign policy you know what you are doing.

P: Except in Vietnam. Really the problem—our enemies and press, people like Resor7 keep hacking away. We are carrying a burden then we have to make a sale nobody will buy.

K: People will buy it.

P: Except in Vietnam. The polls are pretty rough and they have some effect on the jackasses that read them. Well, we will hope for the best. Go right ahead with the Thieu thing and get it out of the way. I don’t mind putting it off.8

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File. No classification marking. A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 3–118.
  2. See Document 230.
  3. The President held a briefing on domestic policy in Birmingham, Alabama, that afternoon for representatives of the Southern news media. During the briefing, Nixon stated that the May 20 announcement on SALT “indicates and gives us at least some hope that a different relationship between the two powers will, in a step-by-step basis, develop in the years ahead.” For the full text of his remarks, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 664–676. According to Haldeman: “the P delivered a 55 minute talk on foreign policy, which according to [Secretary of Labor] Romney and others, was absolutely superb, although E[hrlichman] was somewhat upset because it hadn’t been on domestic policy. The P’s feeling was that the other subject would have far greater interest with that audience.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  4. May 24. See Document 229.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 229.
  6. Brackets are in the original.
  7. Stanley R. Resor, the outgoing Secretary of the Army, had recently expressed his personal doubts to the press about the war in Vietnam. (Michael Getler, “Resor Still Unsure on Vietnam War,” Washington Post, May 23, 1971, p. A1)
  8. Haldeman reported in his diary that Nixon called him at home later that evening, “mainly to change the dates on the Midway trip. He’s talked to Henry, and because of the meeting with Sainteny in Paris and the unlikelihood of an answer before the 8th, or actually the impossibility of an answer before the 8th, we have to put the Thieu meeting off until after the 20th. So we’ll work out a change for that.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)