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

[Omitted here is discussion of China and Europe, including talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions.]

Kissinger: For them, Mr. President, after all, they [the Chinese] are revolutionaries. But you think of this peasant, former peasant, Mao, the Great March, and then the President of the United States comes to Peking at the end of his life. That’s—

Nixon: Well, that’s why this former peasant—Brezhnev has god-damn well got to decide whether he wants us to come or not. And—

Kissinger: I think they’re—Dobrynin again this morning talked about that trade deal, that $500 million trade deal.2

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We just don’t have enough information to act on it.

Nixon: Well, he didn’t—but he didn’t raise the summit. He never raises it, does he?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Well, he must have a reason, you know.

Kissinger: Well, no. They are very cute. They figure you’re very eager, so they figure they’re first going to make you pay on Berlin. Then they’re going to make you pay on trade and after that they give you the summit.

Nixon: What the hell are we going to talk about there?

Kissinger: But I think—well, we can have—we need the summit for a number of reasons. It will discipline them during SALT.

Nixon: Right. Well, we got—we need the summit for the reason of getting a deal on SALT.

Kissinger: That’s what I mean.

Nixon: If that fizzled, then we’ve got to hang.

[Page 707]

Kissinger: And we can—

Nixon: Dobrynin said he’d let Semenov know that he’s not going to screw around on that final announcement?

Kissinger: Yeah. That’s right. Well, they always try to cut a little deal. He said, “Can’t we talk the first two weeks about ABM-only?” I said, “Anatol, let’s not horse around. If we want an agreement—you need some face-saving thing; you want to talk about ABM for a week. That’s one thing. But, essentially, it has to be concurrent. And if you read the letter, it says ‘to be discussed before,’ so we know what we have.” And I have tapes of conversations.

Nixon: Oh, I know. Yes. But anyway—

Kissinger: So what I think we should do is—it’s playing dangerously, it’s living dangerously, but that’s how you’ve got where you are in foreign policy and in other things too. The thing to do is to tell, in my view, is to tell Dobrynin in early June, “We’ve reviewed our, the state of relations. Things are now moving on a number of fronts. Either you can commit yourself now for a summit in September or we won’t have one this year.” He thought I’d heard—

Nixon: Will that appear too eager?

Kissinger: That’s less eager than just sitting there waiting for them.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: And then we—and then, if they turn us down, Mr. President, then I would drag our feet on trade, on Berlin, for at least—yeah, I’d certainly, on trade, drag our feet. Otherwise, we’ll have given them almost everything they need, and they don’t need the summit any more.

Nixon: Well, we’re going to drag—trade? Hell, I’ll never sign another goddamn thing for them if they don’t do the summit.

Kissinger: My feeling, Mr. President, has been that I gave them an ultimatum on their exchange of letters.

Nixon: Uh-huh.

Kissinger: [Llewellyn] Thompson would have had a heart attack.

Nixon: I know. And incidentally, we’re going to be—but can we still drag on Berlin if we have to?

Kissinger: Yeah. I just cabled to Rush: for Christ sakes, not to settle it too quickly.3

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Does he know this? You’re sure he understands it?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. For all these reasons, if—we should not let them control the pace of events, if you’re willing to forgo the summit in September.

[Page 708]

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: But I think we—let’s wait through the next week and see.

Nixon: If we don’t have a summit at all with the Russians, to hell with them. You get a deal with the Chinese; we’ll go to China earlier. Why not?

Kissinger: It also has the advantage that then we know where we stand.

[Omitted here is further discussion of China and domestic politics.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 504–13. 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 and Kissinger met in the Oval Office from 4:10 to 4:26 p.m. The two men met with Rogers for an hour and a half beforehand to discuss several issues, including Chinese representation at the United Nations and negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Excerpts from the discussion with Rogers and the subsequent conversation between Nixon and Kissinger are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume V, United Nations, 1969–1972, Document 358.
  2. See Document 234.
  3. See Document 230.