27. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and Chalmers Roberts of the Washington Post1

K: I call you because I admire your editorial policy so much.

R: I don’t write editorials. I hear sweet mood music over there after the President’s meeting with Gromyko. I want to be sure I hear the right tune. After hearing Gromyko’s remarks yesterday2 and what Ziegler put out,3 it seemed to accent the positive and not the negative in Soviet relations. Ziegler says the President will say something on this tomorrow. I got the impression that the crunch is over. You said in one backgrounder you didn’t know if they were going to a hard line and the impression I get that since Cuba is taken care of we are back at the status quo ante.

K: How could we take care of something that didn’t exist?

R: You will never find—I didn’t say it didn’t exist. I quoted people at State who said that.4

K: That’s right. The crunch is over is premature but we are trying to move in a positive direction. The major differences remain. We can say that we are trying to move differences from confrontation to negotiation. [Page 109] The last two months have shown that pressure tactics don’t work and we are ready to pursue the other course.5

R: When are you going to tell us what really happened on Cuba?

K: In due course.

R: Did you read my article on Sunday?6

K: You are factually wrong but psychologically on the track. Not factually wrong but facts not quite right but you were psychologically on the right track. It’s essential—

R: I was cautious on facts since I don’t have much.

K: It was a reasonable statement. I can’t confirm facts. You were on the right track.

R: I have not seen what the Pentagon said on the last day or so. Has everything moved out of Cienfuegos?

K: Yes but one ship still in another port but it can’t do what it could in Cienfuegos. Also, in the past—we have an on the record commitment about submarine bases.

R: And reference to Cuba ’62.

K: A public acknowledgment of Cuba ’62 and its extension to a submarine base. It puts things again on a different footing.

R: On recollection of Cuba ’62 issues, Castro wouldn’t play and Kennedy said he would live with the deal that was consummated.

K: Because we didn’t [omission in transcript]. It gave us an extra choice.

[Page 110]

R: You take Gromyko yesterday as being nothing more than pro forma?

K: That speech was written before he left.

R: If the crunch is not quite over, what remains?

K: The rectification problem and how to handle the Suez problem. Are they trying to put the squeeze on? The other we can handle as a negotiating problem.

R: That’s what you said about a tactical advantage. When are we going to sit down?

K: You and I? Let’s aim for next week.

R: Why was SALT brought up again?

K: We wanted to make sure we are heading in the same direction. The meeting was scheduled for one hour but lasted 2 and a half, and it was a small segment.

R: You had interpreters.

K: One way. He will only speak in Russian. SALT was only mentioned.

R: How about Berlin?

K: More specific on that.

R: The M.E.?

K: Let’s wait a bit. Call David Young early next week.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 23.
  3. During his news conference at the White House that afternoon, Ziegler announced: “For our part, I can say that the discussions were helpful. The meeting was conducted in a friendly atmosphere. It is felt that the meeting was helpful, as I said earlier, for laying the basis for improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. We also believe that the meeting was useful from the standpoint that it allowed the President to give the Soviet Foreign Minister his personal and direct expressions on the subjects discussed.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, Ziegler, Numerical Subject File, Foreign Affairs and Defense, Box 28, 03.3—Europe, Sov. Union)
  4. In a “news analysis” of the controversy over Cuba, October 1, Roberts cited the following statement from an unnamed White House official: “the Soviet Union can be under no doubt that we would view the establishment of a strategic base in the Caribbean with the utmost seriousness.” Roberts also noted that “the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs still claims it knows nothing about Cienfuegos since that is the responsibility of officials handling Soviet affairs.” (Chalmers Roberts, “Remarks on Cuba Base Reflect Worry About Soviets,” Washington Post, October 1, 1970, p. A15)
  5. On October 23, Roberts reported that the White House and Soviet Embassy had both adopted a similar “public position,” hoping that the meeting between Nixon and Gromyko would lead to an improvement in relations. “But the private American view,” Roberts added, “was that the U.S. believed that the NixonGromyko meeting and the two earlier sessions in New York between Gromyko and Secretary of State William P. Rogers had convinced Moscow that pressure tactics used against the United States do not work. It that was felt that while it would be premature to say that the recent Soviet-American crunch is over, it would be correct to say that the U.S. is trying to move in a positive direction, that is, to turn from confrontation to negotiations on major differences between the two countries.” (Chalmers Roberts, “Nixon, Gromyko Confer,” Washington Post, October 23, 1970, p. A1)
  6. October 18. In an article on the meeting between Rogers and Gromyko two days earlier, Roberts reported that American officials would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a Soviet-American “understanding” on Cienfuegos. “But they spoke in a manner,” Roberts concluded, “that left no doubt Moscow’s statement of Oct. 13 that the Soviets were not building a ‘military base’ and the quick American characterization the same day of that statement as ‘positive’ were pre-arranged.” (Chalmers Roberts, “Rogers, Gromyko Are Silent on Cuba; Secret Pact Seen,” Washington Post, October 18, 1970, p. 1)
  7. At 6:10 p.m., Kissinger also called Marvin Kalb of NBC News, who noted a change in Soviet-American relations. Kissinger replied: “If you read what I and the President have been saying, we never went quite so far as talking about a period of testing. We wanted to be sure the positive side would win out. Pressure on us wasn’t way to get anywhere. During the summer, Cuba, ceasefire, Berlin air corridors have been worrisome symptoms. But if you read my backgrounders when I spoke about Cuba you have to be careful to avoid getting tactical advantage out of every situation and get [omission in transcript] of peace. We have had Jordan and other near confrontations and we are trying to convey that if they are prepared to have a fundamental appraisal, we are. They want to get into Cuba but they have given us assurances on Cuba ’62 and submarine bases. For your own guidance, if you look at Gromyko’s performance yesterday you can see his tone today is more directed towards the future. That doesn’t mean we have come close to an agreement. This is the WH perception.” Kissinger further suggested that Kalb would “have our general philosophy” by reading the briefings in Hartford on October 12; see Document 1. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File)