243. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic politics and Vietnam.]

Kissinger: When the Russians want to, they can certainly move fast.2 I called Dobrynin yesterday morning and said that, “Look, you don’t want to end this on a sour note.” And we had a cable from Sem—from Smith saying that Semenov took him aside at the beginning of [unclear] Smith.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: Kishilov told Garthoff—that’s our guy—after the meeting that the Soviet statement had been changed as a result of your talking with Dobrynin, and gave Garthoff to understand that the Soviet Delegation had not been happy. Well, I talked to Dobrynin

Nixon: Well, you know, it’s quite an arrogant establishment too—

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: —just like there is in ours. Their guys probably play a tougher line.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That may be that Dobrynin and Brezhnev would throw them down the line—throw them down the well. It’s good.

Kissinger: He did just what we asked him to. I told—I called him at 10:30 in the morning. He called me at 6:30 and said the instructions have been issued. Smith—I didn’t tell Smith what the instruction was but they told him to omit any interpretation of the statement; just stand on the statement.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: With Smith, now, it’s not a concession that means a hell of a lot, except it shows how much importance they attach—

Nixon: Maybe—

Kissinger: —to your channel.

[Page 716]

Nixon: Maybe it shows that they’re—we’ll find out if they’re going to deal on anything else.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam, the President’s schedule, and China. During this period, the President also met with Representative William O. Mills (R–Maryland), who entered the Oval Office at 10:07 and left at 10:20 a.m.]

Kissinger: And if the thing works right, Mr. President—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —we may be able to announce the Peking visit by the middle of August.

Nixon: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. I know. I know. You’re—

Kissinger: Because I—after they talked like this—

Nixon: If we get any, Henry, if we get the kind of breaks to—and that’s the way we—but you see, that’s what I mean: where you’ve got to have the word from Dobrynin first in the event you do meet them. If Dobrynin does not come forth on the summit, the Peking visit’s going to come forth this fall.

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: Period.

Kissinger: Well, that’s why we—

Nixon: What the hell? Why not? Let’s go there and talk about anything, even though they don’t agree with us on Vietnam. In fact, we could go there and I’ll repeat it at the Russian summit.

Kissinger: Well, you have to decide what’s worth more to you: the announcement of a visit, and then the anticipation of it; or whether you want to actually have the visit this year, which would be a very dramatic turnaround.

Nixon: Just as long as I have the visit. Again: one or the other.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Let me put it this way: don’t wait. Next year is a political year. Everything will be cast in a political connotation. Everything we do.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: It is not good, therefore—and also, if you get into next year, nothing can occur after July 1st, when the Democrats nominate. Because after that time, all the goddamn press will insist that the Democratic candidate had to go along. You understand?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: That’s the other problem.

Kissinger: That’s—

Nixon: Or his adviser will want to go along. Now, Johnson didn’t do that. The son-of-a-bitch didn’t tell me about the bombing pause, except [Page 717] on the telephone. Nevertheless, that’s what they’re going to say. So, therefore, all of our foreign policy initiatives have to be completed by the 1st of July. There ain’t nothin’ else that could be done.

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: You see what I mean?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: So there’s our—there’s the deal. That’s why, Henry, what we’ve got to think of: I prefer a Russian summit this year, and a Chinese next year. But it would have to be in the spring.

Kissinger: Oh, yes. Absolutely in the spring.

Nixon: Not in July. You see, beginning—

Kissinger: Oh, no. April or so—or May, or whenever you want it.

Nixon: Sure. Maybe March.

Kissinger: Or March.

Nixon: What I’m getting at is, the further away from the election—

Kissinger: Sure.

Nixon: You know how these damn bastards react to everything. Even now, they say it’s all political. Now, that doesn’t bother me particularly, except that, as you get to the point where they have selected a candidate, or where it’s quite obvious there’s going to be one, the pressure is going to be enormous.

Kissinger: But we don’t—

Nixon: They never did that when I was running, but they will do it.

Kissinger: We don’t have to make the decision now. The one advantage of having something like it happening in—apparently, as I got it from that Harvard professor—3

Nixon: Something. Where we—

Kissinger: You see, if you were—

Nixon: But you can’t tell—he’s, that’s just a lower-level person.

Kissinger: Yeah, but the Chinese wouldn’t dare to speak—

Nixon: If you think so.

Kissinger: —like this without instruction.

[Page 718]

Nixon: Maybe they’re lying.

Kissinger: No, they wouldn’t do that. No, assuming—I don’t want to draw too many conclusions, because we’ll get our answer within two weeks—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —but they obviously don’t want to have opposition people come to Peking before you’ve been there. And—

Nixon: They may just announce a couple of opposition people, doing it just to be screwing with me.

Kissinger: Yeah, but if a summit were announced, in the interval between its announcement and your going there, they don’t want to irritate you, I think. Well, let’s see what Dobrynin brings back. I’m going to give him the ultimatum very shortly and tell him if it isn’t now, we can’t do it this year. That’s the only way they’ll believe it. I cannot—if I just ask him for an answer—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —then we’ll look like plead—it’d look like pleading and nervousness. If I tell him it’s now or never—so far, brutality has been the only—and daring, gambling have been—

Nixon: Just put it—you have to put it on the basis that our—”The President has got varying constituencies, you know.”

Kissinger: I said we just will not be in the position—

Nixon: “He can’t be in the position. He’s filling it out for the balance of the year—state visits, and so forth and so on,” and—

Kissinger: “And we just won’t let you play this game. You know as much now as you’re going to know from us. And if you can’t make up your mind, then let’s wait for a time when you can make up your mind, which cannot, then, be this year.” That’s—that language, he’ll understand.

Nixon: Then—

Kissinger: It has a lot of advantages, because if—

Nixon: It may be that you ought to have both do it now—it may be that—actually, the best of both worlds would be to have the China card in your pocket before the—

Kissinger: That’s why I hope—that would be—

Nixon: But you aren’t going to get that this week. You aren’t going to get the message?

Kissinger: No, the Chinese will wait two weeks. That’s their system, Mr. President. There’s just no way they—

Haldeman: Has it been one week?

Kissinger: Nineteenth, twenty-sixth, it could happen next week. It could happen by the end of next week. Very soon next week.

[Page 719]

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

Kissinger: You know, I proposed to Dobrynin yesterday that Semenov come over here—

Nixon: Oh, what’d he say about that?

Kissinger: —and sign the hot line agreement. And he said he thought that was a good idea. Now, of course, the hot line agreement doesn’t mean a damn thing, but everyone will figure—

Nixon: For accidental war, you mean?

Kissinger: No, the accidental war, I—

Nixon: Well, the hot line we’ve already got. Is it a new one?

Kissinger: No, no. But we’ve got a new one via satellite.

Nixon: Oh, I see.

Kissinger: And—

Haldeman: Is it hot or not?

Kissinger: No. Dobrynin—this, incidentally, is interesting—Dobrynin said, “Why don’t we keep the accidental war for a possible higher-level meeting?”

Nixon: Good. We need something. I couldn’t agree more.

Kissinger: Because just in case there is no SALT agreement, we’ve got that.

Haldeman: We got that.

Kissinger: And as far as the public is concerned, they figure if the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister comes over here to sign anything on arms control—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —it must mean that things are going on.

Haldeman: That’s right. It would—it doesn’t matter at all what you’re signing, if you’re signing something.

Kissinger: They don’t know the difference between—

Nixon: Well, they don’t even know what this statement was we made last week.4

Haldeman: That’s right.

Nixon: They just don’t know.

Haldeman: That’s right. They don’t.

Nixon: Most people are confused as hell.

Haldeman: I’ve done—

[Page 720]

Nixon: The intelligent people that I run into—

Haldeman: They don’t—

Nixon: You know, I talked to—you know, when I went out there and was talking to people on that plane while going to the Johnson thing,5 and they asked me, I mean, and I don’t know what it was. You know, a lot of them didn’t get the idea that—first, they missed that it was a Presidential initiative. The first couple days, apparently, it didn’t get across. Well, I—apparently, it got across in the Senate, because we got [it] across later. You see, they missed the idea that it was mutual. But now, I think both those things are getting across.

Kissinger: Also, you know, little straws in the window. At the Kennedy Center yesterday,6 Dobrynin was there with Tommy Thompson.

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: And when he saw me, he came dashing across the hall, and he said, Henry”—Thompson was trailing behind him—and he said, “Henry, just let me know when you go back to the office, because I can’t have you in the office and me here. You’ll get too far ahead of me.” And—

Haldeman: [laughs]

Kissinger: And Thompson [laughs] said to me, “God, you really have some relationship with Dobrynin.” Well, I don’t kid myself. I have no relationship with Dobrynin as an individual—

Nixon: Right. No. Thompson is naive to think that a relationship is what does it. You do have a relationship—

Kissinger: It’s because of you.

Nixon: —the reason is that the relationship is at the summit.

Kissinger: They want you—

Nixon: It’s the summit.

Kissinger: —a relationship with you.

Nixon: The reason that Henry’s got us into some—now, Bill, actually and Bill—well, frankly, let’s put it another way: if it were [Elliot] Richardson, rather than Rogers, we could use Richardson with a lot of this stuff.

Kissinger: A lot of it. Or—

Nixon: But you cannot use him now, because—you cannot use Rogers, because Rogers, he’s got to go back and debrief the goddamn State Department. And some of this stuff, too—

[Page 721]

Kissinger: And he—

Nixon: —I don’t think he really understands.

Kissinger: He doesn’t understand.

Nixon: You agree? Do you?

Kissinger: He’s too impatient.

Nixon: He’s too—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —gullible. He thinks, “Well, let’s go out and make the deal.” “Well, if we could do this or we can do that.” You know? Or, “Can’t we even say this much or do—?”

Haldeman: Is this whole string—?

Nixon: What he’s really, Bob—

Haldeman: Just play it out.

Nixon: You know, Bob, the main thing with Bill is that he’s just panting to get into the news. The man—but coming back to the whole thing, do you not agree with me that it’s just as well to let Rogers make the announcement, then when we—that is, when we move to do China?

Kissinger: Well, let’s see. I—basically, yes.

Nixon: What do you think, Bob?

Haldeman: Domestically, I think it very much is, because I think it’s one that ain’t going to do you any good.

Kissinger: And also—

Nixon: Despite the polls.

Kissinger: —quite honestly, Mr. President, it will help us with the Russians.

Nixon: Yeah.

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

Nixon: We got to milk the publicity out of every achievement. And everything has got to be a Presidential initiative. Now, as far as Berlin is concerned, we did it. And we’re going to—

Kissinger: We’ve got to leak that, because, really, that is a—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: —it sounds as if—

Nixon: When will it come?

Kissinger: It’s moving. Now, we can—I’m slowing it down a little bit—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —just to get the summit.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

[Page 722]

Kissinger: July, I think.

Nixon: All right. That’s got to be a Presidential initiative too. I might announce it.

Kissinger: You may get credit, Mr. President. I set up that procedure, on your instructions, on an airplane. I got Bahr invited to the moon shot in January—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —so that I’d have an excuse to see him.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I rode up on a plane with him to New York, and we worked out that whole procedure. And we’ve got a file this thick—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —of backchannel traffic to Bahr and Rush.

Nixon: Right. Yeah.

Kissinger: And the Russians—

Nixon: It’s a hell of a job. I know.

Kissinger: And, actually, that was a trickier one, because we had another party involved, than—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —than SALT. And that—

Nixon: It’s a hell of a job.

Kissinger: Now, if that happens in July, we can say they had a Berlin crisis and we solved it.

Nixon: [unclear]

Haldeman: They had an escalating war and we brought it down. They had a missile—

Kissinger: The Berlin thing—actually, and the way it—

Nixon: The Berlin thing is really more important, really, in terms of world peace, than either the Mideast or—I mean, in order of magnitude, the least important is Vietnam. It never, never, never has risked world war.

Haldeman: Right.

Nixon: You know that. Hell, we all know that. I mean, I’ve been making that speech for 20—for 10 years. You know it’s true. China’s going to intervene? Russia’s going to intervene? None of them will ever intervene. Second, the next is the Mideast. That has the elements that could involve the major powers, because it’s important. But, compared in the order of magnitude, the Mideast to Berlin, Christ, it’s light-years difference. Berlin is it. Shit, if anything happens in Berlin, then you’re at it, right?

Kissinger: Right.

[Page 723]

Nixon: That’s why Berlin is so enormous, and also—

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: —it’s more important to the Russians.

Kissinger: And, what we—

Nixon: The Russians will let—they’d let Egypt go down the tubes. They will never let Berlin go down the tubes.

Kissinger: And we got a number of very significant concessions out of them. For example, they had always insisted that we call—these are minor things—that we describe in the document—

Nixon: Uh-huh.

Kissinger: —Berlin as “Berlin (West).” We’ve insisted that they say, “The Western sectors of Berlin,” so that it shows—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —that, the Four Power responsibility. They’ve now accepted this.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Secondly, which is more important: They had insisted all along on legal justifications that gave East Germany control over access.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: They’ve now accepted legal formulations in which they have a responsibility for access, which they never did even in the ‘40s. That’s more than Truman or Roosevelt got out of them.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And, under those conditions, the Berlin agreement—which I always told you, we had to cut our losses—will actually be a small net plus on the ground. I would like to call Dobrynin to discourage him from—he’s going over to State today—from mentioning a Foreign Ministers meeting on Berlin.

Nixon: Foreign Ministers?

Kissinger: Because—

Nixon: Now, Bill didn’t raise this point at his crazy meeting with—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: He’s—well, he can—

Kissinger: He can’t float it. It’s too complicated—

Nixon: Oh, it’s the silliest thing I ever heard of. Gromyko?

Kissinger: I think if there are high-level meetings, Mr. President, for this year and next, they ought to be yours.

[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the President’s schedule.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 505–18. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Nixon in the Oval Office from 9:50 to 11 a.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. See Document 234.
  3. As Kissinger later recalled: “On May 26 an old colleague from Harvard called up to say excitedly that he had been in Ottawa the day before and that members of the newly established Chinese mission there had complained that President Nixon had been invited to China but would not come.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 726) A transcript of the telephone conversation between Kissinger and his “old colleague”—Professor Jerome Cohen—is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 10, Chronological File.
  4. See Document 225.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 231.
  6. Reference is to the grand opening the previous evening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.