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

[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the President’s schedule and of Kissinger’s plans for secret talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris.]

Kissinger: Now, I had a cable from—

Nixon: Rush.

Kissinger: —from Rush.2 And [laughs] we are in the ridiculous position, Mr. President, that—

Nixon: Yeah. What did he want?

Kissinger: —the Berlin talks are going so well that we may not be able to slow them down enough. I think we’ll have the Berlin agreement, unless there’s a snag, by the middle of July, which makes it imperative that I talk to Dobrynin and tell him—

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: —”This is it, now.” And actually the Russians are making two-thirds of the concessions.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

[Page 731]

[Omitted here is further discussion on Germany and Berlin, as well as on Brazil, Vietnam, and the news media; the discussion on Germany and Berlin is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 245.]

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, if we get Semenov over here to sign the hot line agreement—it doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. It just—

Nixon: It helps.

Kissinger: It helps. If—the Berlin thing is going to break—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in the next two or three weeks.

Nixon: I think that what we’ve got to figure, in the least, is that we get those two. But, on the other hand, the Berlin—can we keep Berlin from breaking if they don’t agree to a summit?

Kissinger: Well, I’m going to give him [Dobrynin] an ultimatum on the summit a week from Monday.3 The next—

Nixon: It might work but I’m just asking, in order to go, whether we can mess it up.

Kissinger: Yeah. We can keep it—

Nixon: You see?

Kissinger: —we can keep it from breaking.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: We have to be bastards but we just—

Nixon: All right. We’ll be bastards. That’s right. Just say the President—all right, and when he gets to that say, “We’re not going to agree to Berlin. It’s up to you.”

Kissinger: The next time they’re going to meet is on June 4th. And that’s mostly technical stuff.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: Then Brandt and Rush are going to come over here.

Nixon: Then we see Brandt?

Kissinger: And we see Brandt. And before Brandt gets here, I’m going to tell Dobrynin, “That’s it now. We’ve horsed around long enough.”

Nixon: We have.

Kissinger: “We have to make our basic decisions.” The only thing is, the only way we’ll make it plausible is to say, “If you reject it now, that’s it for this year.” That’s the one thing—

Nixon: The submarine that’s in Cuba is not nuclear, is it?

Kissinger: It is nuclear.

[Page 732]

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: It is a nuclear-powered submarine. It doesn’t have missiles on it. It’s one of these cheap gangster shots. At first, I thought it wasn’t nuclear.

Haldeman: Did you know it wasn’t?

Kissinger: No, that was another conversation. No, it is nuclear.

Nixon: Hmm. Is that right?

Kissinger: That’s what I found out yesterday.

Nixon: I read something incorrectly.

Kissinger: No, that’s right. He told me it wasn’t.4

Nixon: I told him that although the submarines were not nuclear—

Kissinger: Yeah. Our information was wrong.

Nixon: —there was a submarine at a base in Matanzas.

Kissinger: And I corrected that. I called him back and said that—

Nixon: [unclear] All right.

Kissinger: —we had gotten new photography, and it was nuclear.

Nixon: Yeah. So?

Kissinger: Well, he says they announced it. It’s at the very edge of the understanding. It’s just at the edge of it. And they’re not in Cienfuegos. It’s a gangster thing to do. And I think if it comes up in the press conference, as it may because now the word will get out, I wouldn’t get into the question of whether it violated the understanding.5 But I’d be very tough on what we’re—

Nixon: I’d just say, “There is an understanding and we expect it to be complied with. The Soviets are quite aware of it,” and let it go with that.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And that I—

Kissinger: I won’t comment on every single trip—

Nixon: “I’m not going to comment on it. The Soviets are quite aware.”

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Is that enigmatic as hell?

Kissinger: Much better.

[Omitted here is discussion of China and Vietnam.]

[Page 733]

Nixon: The problem here, though, with the Russians and the Chinese, what really helps us, is that they have an enormous problem between each other. They try to cut us, our balls off, and here we are—

Kissinger: I think they’ve never had as tough an opponent in here as you’ve turned out to be.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. In a minute here you’ve got to give [Senator Strom] Thurmond a call, right? And have, I mean, the Russian line that we had agreed to quit, to give up ABM before we have an offensive limitation. But it’s rather awkward language of the communiqué to have at all.6

Kissinger: It says, “Together with.”

Nixon: “Together with.” Goodness, if—aren’t these people stupid up there, though? We say, “We shall concentrate this year on negotiating—”

Kissinger: But, of course—

Nixon: “—an ABM agreement.” And then, it goes on in the next sentence—

Kissinger: “Together with, we will agree on—”

Nixon: “Together with this, we will agree with that.” You see? That’s all we have to do: say, “Look, you’re off-base, Senator.”

Kissinger: They are—but what is happening is, Mr. President, I really think that the Communists are beginning to dominate some of our media. Six weeks ago, they were—

Nixon: On that, I agree with you.

Kissinger: Because now—

Nixon: I’ve been saying that for years.

Kissinger: I saw a New Republic article in which they castigated you for the SALT thing because you maintained the relationship between offensive and defensive limitations. Here the Russians have already agreed to it, and they’re still hitting away at it, which is, of course, what the Russians really want. And that’s what, if they babble away enough, of course, the Russians will pick it up at the next Helsinki thing. That’s why we should get the summit date fixed.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because then they’ll be reluctant to be too—

Nixon: Well, Henry, no summit, however, under any circumstances, unless we do have an interim SALT agreement to put it to, to put it on the finish there. We have to do that, Henry. To go there without doing that, that’s not even worth our time.

[Page 734]

Kissinger: They may agree to it now, because we can’t be sure. But—

Nixon: Perhaps.

Kissinger: —we’ve got to gamble, I think. We can always sign the Accidental War agreement. We can announce some progress on SALT. If there is a deadlock in Vienna, we can break it at Moscow.

Nixon: Why do you have a summit, then? Fisheries?

Kissinger: Frankly for—partly for domestic reasons, and partly—I frankly feel, Mr. President, at this point, that to keep the Democrats out of office next year—

Nixon: Right. Is the main thing.

Kissinger: —is a major national necessity.

Nixon: That’s right. It’d be terrible if they got in.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Terrible. You know, really, really, with the irresponsibility that they have displayed, it—

Kissinger: The [Democratic] Party is unfit to conduct foreign policy. These are the radicals.

Nixon: Well, it’s just the Eastern establishment.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: That’s where the damn radicals are.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Basically.

Kissinger: And another argument for the summit is we have a better chance of getting the SALT with the summit then—

Nixon: I agree. I agree. They’ve got reasons as well as we have to have something come out of the meeting. So we can be sure on that. I’ll put this—the other side of the coin. That we’re not going to have a summit and come out with an ABM agreement.

Kissinger: Out of the question. That we can’t do—

Nixon: Never, never, never.

Kissinger: That we cannot do.

Nixon: I don’t think it’s all that difficult. I think they can get—we can have an ABM agreement and a limitation on offensive weapons.

Kissinger: It’s on offensive weapons, so it shouldn’t be so hard—

Nixon: It’s all we’re asking.

[Omitted here is extensive discussion of numerous issues, including the news media, domestic politics, and Laos.]

Kissinger: Mr. President, for us to get Berlin, SALT, China, the summit, all into one time frame, and to keep any of these countries—

[Page 735]

Nixon: To keep Europe happy.

Kissinger: To keep Europe happy, to keep Vietnam from collapsing—

Nixon: Yeah. [unclear]—

Kissinger: —that takes great subtlety and intricacy.

Nixon: All of this, everything is close. But on the whole, everything worthwhile in the world is close. Nothing is easy. Nothing is easy in these times.

Kissinger: To get this Berlin thing is, I now consider, practically certain. We’ve got that where we had SALT in March—

Nixon: I ought to get into that, don’t you think?

Kissinger: I beg your pardon?

Nixon: I probably ought to get into that act sometime.

Kissinger: Berlin?

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: Still—

Nixon: Get a little credit.

Kissinger: When Brandt is here, you may be able to do something with that—

Nixon: Well, we’ll see.

[Omitted here is further discussion on Germany and Berlin, as well as a brief exchange on Presidential appointments and Kissinger’s schedule; the discussion on Germany and Berlin is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 245.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 507–4. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met Kissinger in the Oval Office from 9:08 to 10:32 a.m. (Ibid. White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 230.
  3. June 7.
  4. Reference is probably to Kissinger’s telephone conversation with Helms. See Document 246.
  5. The presence of the Soviet submarine in Cuban waters was not raised at the President’s press conference on June 1; see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 688–697.
  6. See Document 225.