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

[Omitted here is an exchange on Le Duc Tho’s visit to Beijing and Moscow, as well as discussion on Vietnam and the Middle East.]

Kissinger: The thing we need for the next two months is quiet, because we don’t want to get the Russians lining up with the Egyptians and get everybody steaming up with a big Mideast crisis. And I think we should just slow that process down a little bit for the next two or three months and not get so much out front. Frankly, I think we have two ways we should have done it: either the way I suggested, by working out again with the Israelis; or to do it together with the Soviets.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: After the brokering around without objective and floating plan after plan, which puts us right into the middle of it, it’s going to—the problem now is to keep the Middle East from blowing up [Page 763] until the end of August. If we can get the other things going, then they will play back on the Middle East.

Nixon: Yeah, of course. Apparently, in terms of trying to—as far as the Soviet is concerned, there isn’t much of a problem. They won’t—

Kissinger: No, they’re mad that they—

Nixon: They may come back. No, what I meant is, if they come—I’m speaking of a summit—

Kissinger: Oh, the summit.

Nixon: If they come back, I’m happy just to have him [Dobrynin] come in and offer it to me.

Kissinger: The summit?

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Oh, the summit is easy.

Nixon: It’s the easiest, because, I mean, he just comes in and says, “I have instructions from my government to invite you.” I’ll just tell everybody. I’m just going to do it that way.

Kissinger: [That’s] how it should be.

Nixon: That’s right. Then—

Kissinger: And that doesn’t involve me at all.

Nixon: Well, it doesn’t have to be done—what I mean, if you had suggested we do that, you know what I mean, go over and suggest it to State and so forth—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: The difficulty, if they do it over there, I have no control over the damn thing. It will get out in the press and screwed up beyond belief. So I’ll just have him come in here. It’s no problem.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: Call Bill in—

Kissinger: And then we’ll announce it out of here.

Nixon: —just call Bill in and tell him. That’ll be that. The Chinese thing—that’s a tough one. That is really something. You see, we’re playing with fire, playing with fire. [On] Dobrynin, I guess we could do the—I think it’s—your thought is that when you’re there, I should send a message to arrange for you to have a meeting with Haig. My talk with—do you see—? I mean, how do we get there? How do we get Bill informed?

Kissinger: Well, I think once I am on the way, you might tell Bill that Yahya offered to arrange for me talk to the Chinese when I’m there.

Nixon: Exactly. Without saying: what, how, when, who?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Right.

[Page 764]

Kissinger: And then blame, you know—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Then just say that I improvised everything once I got there.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And I mean, his concern—my impression of Bill is that he doesn’t give a damn what I do as long as I don’t get any credit for it. And as for what we could still consider, it depends on what the Russian game is. If the Russians don’t have a summit, then we would just announce a Chinese summit—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —and we wouldn’t have to explain how it was arranged.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: We would just say, “As a result of high-level contacts—”

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: “—Prime Minister Chou En-lai has—”

Nixon: No, I think we could tell Bill in that case. We’d just say that—

Kissinger: Oh, we can tell Bill, but—

Nixon: No, Bill, I think you could just say that when you were there you saw the Chinese. You don’t tell him about seeing Chou Enlai or anything. Or I guess you’d have to then, don’t you?

Kissinger: I don’t think that Bill cares as long as we don’t let it out.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: And we’ve now proved with SALT

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —where my name is—

Nixon: But you could just then say that when you got there, Yahya said Chou En-lai would like to you see here, and you went over and saw him.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: After you leave, I guess the thing to do is to say, now, you’re going to Pakistan, Yahya is very interested for you to see the, talk to the Chinese Ambassador, I’ll say, while you’re there. Then it develops beyond that—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —and I say not to go ahead—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —off this trade event, so then you just go on as it was. Then it comes from there. Right?

[Page 765]

Kissinger: If I—

Nixon: You know, there’s too goddamn much been going on. That’s the problem.

Kissinger: If we don’t have the summit right way, then we can announce a mission of Bruce and have the summit emerge out of that. Or announce in principle that we are accepting the summit and sending Bruce in the interim. If you have a Russian summit, there’s something to be said, not to announce a Chinese summit—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —before you’ve been in Moscow.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. This—would you have Bruce there before?

Kissinger: No. My suggestion would be the way—

Nixon: Have nothing announced?

Kissinger: No. No, we have to have something—

Nixon: I don’t think the Chinese are going to stand still for that kind of thing.

Kissinger: No, no. They’ll insist on announcing something. Therefore, my recommendation would be that we announce, say, early, the first week of August, that, as a result of high-level contacts between the Chinese People’s Republic, you have decided to send Ambassador Bruce as a special envoy to Peking. Whatever the date is, the visit should be—

Nixon: How do we, can you, could we just explain that to Bill in terms of the fact that that was stuff you arranged when you were with—in Yahya’s place?

Kissinger: And Bruce—well, and Bruce goes in the middle of October.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: I will have it all arranged with Chou En-lai, or whoever, that Bruce’s—after Bruce’s return, which would then be the first week of November, say—

Nixon: We’ll announce it. My thought—

Kissinger: —we announce the summit. If they want more than that, which they may, then we may have to say that they have invited you to Peking, you have accepted in principle, but in order to pave the way, you are sending Bruce.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: It would be a little better if we didn’t drive the Russians straight up the wall—if there is a summit.

Nixon: We’ll worry them.

Kissinger: Bruce alone is going to worry them.

[Page 766]

Nixon: Hm-hmm. [unclear] the Russians are not aware of the fact that we could turn towards the Chinese. They must be aware of it.

Kissinger: Oh, you—

Nixon: They can’t possibly be aware of the magnitude of it at this point. They just wouldn’t believe it. That’s the thing.

Kissinger: Mr. President, what we are doing with the Chinese is so daring on our side and on their side. They’ve been negotiating—Dobrynin told me—you’ll see it in the memorandum that’s coming in to you—2

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: Dobrynin told me that their Ambassador there never sees anybody higher than a Deputy Foreign Minister. They’ve had a border negotiation going on for two and a half years. I don’t think any Soviet person except Kosygin has seen Chou En-lai in two years. So the idea that you might go to Peking, and that we might have talks at this level, cutting through all this stuff—Dobrynin asked me whether Ceausescu is carrying a message for us.

Nixon: [laughs]

Kissinger: Well, you know, it’s—

Nixon: What are you going to say?

Kissinger: I said—I didn’t answer him that way. I said, “You know, Anatol, you’re an experienced diplomat. What can you really say through a third party?” And he said, “That’s right.”

Nixon: Maybe he doesn’t believe you. But that’s, nevertheless, good. You just got him worried there. He knows.

Kissinger: And I sent a half-assed message to Ceausescu. That’s in order not to make the Romanians lose face—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —or wonder why the hell—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —we’ve suddenly dropped them. But the Chinese are really rough. They’ve now published a communiqué strongly supporting Romania and Yugoslavia. They are really kicking the Russians.

Nixon: Are they?

Kissinger: Oh, God.

Nixon: You see, the way this might sort out, the Russians could continue to—could put it to us because of the upcoming election—I have this in mind—and not want to go forward on a lot of things. If [Page 767] they do, then we turn right on arms, and we also make a straight deal with the Chinese, by God.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And we play it right out. That will give them some pause. If they see the United States with 800 million Chinese, that will scare the living bejeezus out of them.

Kissinger: Well, the main thing is we have to keep the Middle East quiet as far as the Russians are concerned for the rest of the summer. If you see DobryninBrezhnev, and if you then make a deal with Brezhnev, which we both enforce, that’s one thing. But we can’t piddle it away on the Sisco level and have a premature crisis. And the Russians won’t dare to turn you down when it’s all said and done. Kosygin gave a fairly hard speech;3 Podgorny made a very gentle one; Brezhnev made an even gentler one.4 They both—Kosygin didn’t make much reference to the SALT thing; both Podgorny and Brezhnev did. See, Kosygin dropped one notch in the hierarchy, and he may be wanting to line up the hard-liners against Brezhnev. It’s just a bunch of—you know, everyone always said he’s a soft-liner.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But they’re cutthroats. They’re using whatever is available.

Nixon: Anything to get to the top.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 518–3. 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—who had just returned from a weekend vacation at Key Biscayne—met Kissinger in the Oval Office from 10:32 to 11:11 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Document 252.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 255.
  4. Podgorny spoke at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on June 10; Brezhnev addressed an election meeting at the Kremlin on June 11. During his speech, Brezhnev urged the United States to adopt a “constructive position” on arms control. “[T]he importance of the Soviet-American talks on limiting strategic armaments,” he declared, “is growing; in our opinion, a positive outcome in these talks would be in keeping with the interests of the peoples of both countries and with the task of strengthening world peace.” For the condensed English texts of their speeches, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 24 (July 13, 1971), pp. 4–8, 19–20.