278. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

Nixon: Well, it means we almost have—the purpose of that is it puts us on the hook.2

Haig: That’s exactly right.

Nixon: Like I said, well, we’d do well—there isn’t much time left in September. What the hell? Who’s had the time to wait? They’re taking—the odds had to be—

Haig: Exactly.

Nixon: It’s a just a, it’s a rather crude, crude and obvious attempt to put it off. I mean, they have held—I mean, their reasons so obviously are—I tried to get a [unclear] but I feel that that’s what their line will be. They mainly want to keep us—they want to get everything they can from us.

Haig: Exactly.

Nixon: But they aren’t getting—I mean, we aren’t. And, now, the thing to do is tighten up on them. Very tough. Don’t you agree? Like on Berlin. I wouldn’t give them a goddamn thing.

[Page 814]

Haig: Well, I just sent a message to Rush and told him to delay everything, not to accept any new meetings on the subject, and just to hold up.3 Sweat them a little. That’s what they really want. They’re pressing to get that thing locked into shape.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Can we still stop it?

Haig: Well, it’s still manageable, sir. It’s going to take a little gasping, because of the German side. They’re so goddamn panting on this thing.

Nixon: Sure.

Haig: But we can make it very difficult. I don’t know. I think they—they’re also quite goosey about the SALT thing. They want to keep it more in their direction and, with ABM and maybe something general and fuzzy on the offensive.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm. Well, that’s the way they’re playing it. And we have to play the—there isn’t any question that we have to play the other option now.

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: What do you make of it?

Haig: It really makes it little easier for us. It’ll be a good goddamn lesson for them.

Nixon: Yeah. Well, the point is that the—Henry, of course, has been so terribly concerned—well, there are—the major concern is that, the meeting in Tibet. And this is my major concern: as we move into the Pacific, and toward China, it raises us all sorts of problems in the Pacific. And it does.

Haig: Exactly. It does.

Nixon: Yet it’s going to come. It’s going to come sometime, and I think those problems will have to be taken sometime. I’m not sure that just slipping into it is going to be—perhaps it might. I mean, I think it’s—otherwise, others are going to start to move. It’s—that movement’s going to be taken. But, nevertheless, that’s that. The other side of that, of course, is that—he’s [Kissinger] been concerned that, well, if we move toward China, then the Russians will really put the squeeze on us. Well, now how? So, they can raise hell in the Middle East. Fine. I don’t care. I mean, they’re sure to send a submarine in—that sort of thing. I can puff around too. But on SALT, so they delay.

Haig: No, I think we have to do something.

Nixon: What’s the plan on that?

[Page 815]

Haig: We—they obviously have heard that—

Nixon: In other words, we can use the—we just use the Chinese for our major diplomatic move this year—

Haig: Yeah.

Nixon: And a weeping SALT delegation will have to come home. Good.

Haig: Oh, I think they’ll get the word on this thing. We’ve played this thing very, very straight with them. These are not something that have—some discussions that have just occurred. My God, we’ve been talking about it for a year. And they knew it. And we’ve made some very major moves in the direction of—

Nixon: Well, we gave them that ball-bearing plant.4 Isn’t it [one of the] things we did for those—?

Haig: Right, sir. And, mostly, this Berlin thing. My God, we’ve done things for them there that they never could have accomplished.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Haig: And we played it very conciliatory on the SALT business. We met them half-way.

Nixon: Oh, I’ll say. We met them at least half-way.

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Well, that’s right. Now, you sent it off to Henry—all right, so he knows. You’ve already told people that, to hold up on Berlin.

Haig: I’ve sent him a message there—

Nixon: Just say that I—

Haig: —with doubletalk. Right.

Nixon: I think, let’s go for the marbles on that one. And, incidentally, without a—and I mean directly now; no Bruce visit, if they’re playing that. You see my point?

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: I think this, now, is one where, rather than going for the Bruce thing that they’re playing, no use to screw around with that. Just go for a Presidential visit in November.

Haig: Right.

Nixon: Make some arrangements. I mean—

Haig: And—

[Page 816]

Nixon: —it’s a little cleaner way to handle the Chinese thing anyway.

Haig: It is cleaner.

Nixon: It’s the way they wanted it. And they suggested that. We—it would be that they—they’re smart enough to know we’re diddling them along when we send Bruce. We just come right out and hit them right like that. And we’ll let the Russians say what they goddamn please.

Haig: That’s right. The next time we discuss something with them, they’ll give it a little harder thought.

Nixon: Hmm.

Haig: I’m inclined to think, knowing those bastards, that this is the way to deal with them and not the other. They don’t understand—

Nixon: No. No. No, they want everything that they can get. And we’re doing—and we didn’t give it. But we have played the other pretty tough. And, I mean, pretty—we’ve been very measured and orderly. And we have got now to play the Chinese thing. And then—

Haig: And, obviously, the wording of that thing, they really stretched the point to be affirmative and yet to hold. They didn’t—it could have been much more—

Nixon: Well, the—

Haig: —negative.

Nixon: —the wording is pretty good, except that that doesn’t mean anything here. That they’re just throwing that in, that’s cheap. Words don’t cost them anything.

Haig: No.

Nixon: But—what did they talk about, November or December? That’s what that response we have would amount to.

Haig: That’s right, sir. And they didn’t make a commitment either.

Nixon: No.

Haig: If anything, they could use any pretext to delay it.

Nixon: No, well, their idea that, “Well, look, we’ll let you come provided you do things for us.” Well, bullshit. We don’t want to come that badly.

Haig: Right.

Nixon: That’s the point that we have to be at. We don’t have to wait for a summit that much. That’s just the way it’s going to be. We’ve got to play the negotiating right down to the nub.

[Omitted here is discussion on India.]

Haig: Well, this’ll get their attention. I’ll tell you that, sir. They had no more conceived of the alternative here.

[Page 817]

Nixon: Hmm.

Haig: They obviously thought that they would—they could play it.

Nixon: However—

Haig: They obviously think they can play us at their pace and on their terms.

Nixon: They also look at the—they also probably are figuring—they want to get everything they can out of us. They think we want it too much; you know, that we want to come and that we’re pressing; and that they—they think that they would, they probably would hold it if they can.

Haig: Exactly.

Nixon: It’s their business.

Haig: [unclear] and you know they’re not going to support you. They never would. They’d do anything they could to keep you out.

Nixon: I know. You notice that they play around that way.

Haig: It puts a shock to us.

Nixon: It must be quite a disappointment to Henry. If anyone, he was certain that—

Haig: Well, sir—

Nixon: Do you agree that he was—? No, he was convinced they were going ahead.

Haig: Well, I think he expected an answer that would be affirmative, but I think he was hoping for a negative one, because it makes the whole exercise cleaner. It’s not either. It’s not really negative. It’s essentially a wishy-washy blackmail, I think.

Nixon: Oh, hell—it’s clean. You’re right. It doesn’t mean, it doesn’t mean one damn thing, except that they think there’s—[reading] “Of course, in any case, it is important that both sides would pursue in the relations between themselves such a course which to the maximum degree would ensure the fruitfulness of the meeting. It is necessary that both sides will allow in their activities nothing that would make the situation unfavorable for the preparation and holding of the meeting and would weaken the chances of getting positive results.” Well, they seem to think we’d get more positive—[reading] “At the same time there is yet not full certainty whether agreement could be reached as soon as desired. There is yet not full certainly whether agreement could be reach as soon as desired. There is not much time—” Well, [that] puts it better. That’s a little crude.

Haig: That’s right. That’s—

Nixon: They’re obviously very good at—[reading] “put into practice the important understanding between the President and the Soviet [Page 818] leaders which President Nixon confirmed to the Soviet Ambassador through Dr. Kissinger.” What the hell was that—beyond courtesy?5

Haig: Well, I think what he’s talking about is progress in Berlin and SALT, which would lend itself to—

Nixon: Good. Well, that’s all right. We have to play another round. We’ll see now what happens on the, [on] Dobrynin’s front. They ought to be quite exercised.

Haig: Well, this is going to be very—

Nixon: They’re also—

Haig: [unclear] through this, sir, is that they’re not going to be able to stand up on a soapbox and say we’ve practiced duplicity, or we deceived them, or we—

Nixon: Hmm. This is going to get out there.

Haig: Right, which would set the stage for exactly what we’re doing.

Nixon: [unclear]

Haig: We didn’t have a good picture before. If they had come back affirmatively, we were going to have one hell of a time—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —bridging these two things.

Nixon: Now, as this comes out, as it turns out, you know, the real thing we’d like to do is to have both. But, in a sense, having both, it would have been awfully difficult to figure out how the hell to play it.

Haig: Yes. I think they would have—

Nixon: I think if we had announced them, and then announced China, they might have knocked it off.

Haig: That’s right, sir.

Nixon: We don’t want to—now, we’ll go to China and then it’s up to them. I mean—

Haig: We’ve got the psychological edge here.

Nixon: We’ll see what the hell they’re willing to do.

Haig: Right.

Nixon: I suppose that they’ll be damn difficult on SALT.

Haig: Even if they—they want that. They want that. They’ll have to readjust their entire timetable, because I’m convinced they’re planning to go into China. And to do that, they’ve got to have a settled flank, a settled rear.

[Page 819]

Nixon: You mean you think they’re probably going to attack the Chinese sometime?

Haig: Yes, sir. I think probably—

Nixon: [unclear]

Haig: —in about two years.

Nixon: Huh?

Haig: I think they’ve been planning, in about two years, to go in there. This is just going to shake that up. And the best part of it is that, by God, we have the psychological initiative. They are the ones that have been intransigent. And we were forced to react.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 538–4. 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 Haig in the Oval Office on July 6 from 9:10 to 9:25 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. The tape machine apparently did not record the beginning of the conversation, which presumably included a clearer reference to the subject, the Soviet note, Document 273.
  3. See Document 276.
  4. See Document 242.
  5. See Document 269.
  6. After his meeting with Nixon, Haig reported by backchannel to Kissinger: “Discussed message with President. He has approved course of action you outlined in Tosit 11 with respect to that subject. He suggests that, if possible, you eliminate the interim visitor [Bruce] and propose moving directly to final round.” Haig also assured Kissinger that “no response has nor will be given [to Dobrynin] until further instructions from you.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 432, Backchannel Files, Very Sensitive Trip Cables) See footnote 4, Document 275.