28. Editorial Note

On October 23, 1970, President Richard Nixon addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on its 25th anniversary. During the week before the speech, the President prepared the text with three of his assistants: Henry Kissinger, Raymond Price, and William Safire. Nixon called Kissinger late on the afternoon of October 16 to review his plans to send a signal to the Soviets. After discussing the technical details, the two men turned to the substance of the speech:

“K: [T]here’s a section which speaks of need for restraint in international relations and Soviet/U.S. relations and winds up with theme—

“P: Of what pulls us together—

“K: And first 25 years we were enemies and became adversaries and now let’s become competitors. Now we should do something jointly. Prisoners of war, peacekeeping, narcotics. Then a very idealistic section working towards peace.

“P: What you could do is get in the theme that 25 years ago the U.S. [and USSR] had basically worked together to bring UN into being and hopes of the world were there for the two great powers working together and the great secret (?) in the next 25 years is to work together again. It downgrades the other nations but they know it’s the truth.

“K: It doesn’t have to. It’s good.

“P: Say with our allies and friends [we] reached a point to meet in San Francisco and we worked together despite differences in ideology and did not impair our working together readily and now we need a victory for peace. We worked together for a military victory, now we need a victory over poverty and that stuff. Give Ray and Safire a crack. I want a final version at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning. That gives the boys more time.

“K: You will have a good product.

“P: We may catch the mood in view of the fact that Gromyko meeting was the day before. We may catch the right note and get some credit for the speech. We didn’t last year.

“K: There was a concerted campaign last year.

“P: Even though it was a good speech but in comparison to Kennedy speech—I was reading the Kennedy speech after the Russians recognized East Germany and he talked about Stalingrad. What rhetoric! And in terms of inflammatory—talks about [the Berlin] wall being built thereafter. I would have built it too!” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

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In spite of the efforts of his speech writing team, the President complained in an undated memorandum to Price that the text still lacked his “style, rhythm and structure.” Rather than dwell on the failures of global security, Nixon wanted to focus on geopolitical realities:

“You must recognize that one of the reasons the world had such great hopes for the United Nations at its inception was that the two most powerful nations, the United States and the Soviet Union had been allies and friends as they fought together for victory in World War II; that they had cooperated together in bringing the United Nations into being and the assumption was made that this cooperation would continue.

“It has not continued. This is not the time to point the finger of blame but simply to look at the facts of international life as they are rather than as we would like them to be.

“(Then comes in the section—which I very much want it—which is—good hard realistic talk—to the effect that we must recognize that the United States and the Soviet Union have very profound differences. Those differences aren’t going to be changed by better personal relations between the heads of their governments or by better understandings. We must expect that the two powers will be competitive in the world for the foreseeable future. The question is to channel that competition into creative rather than destructive activities. To move our relations from confrontation to negotiation and eventually to peaceful competition.

“I see no harm in going back to the peaceful competition theme. It is usually considered that Khrushchev thought it up—actually it was almost coincidental that at the time he made his peaceful competition proposal in the late fifties my speech at Guildhall in 1958 ran to the same theme and I think it has great pull and great appeal even today.”

Nixon asserted that the two superpowers had three fundamental interests in common: to avoid nuclear war; to limit or reduce the costs of armaments; and to increase the benefits of economic and cultural exchange. He also raised a fourth interest—the Third World—suggesting that “one-half of the savings” from arms control could be applied to “international development.” He continued:

“I have been thinking about it and it may be that this is too obvious a gimmick and it might not be acceptable in the US let alone being irritating to the Soviets. Maybe it just isn’t worth throwing out in this speech even though it would be about the only hard, new lead that we would have in the whole miserable exercise. In any event, let’s put it in only in parentheses at this and after seeing what Gromyko says I will determine whether we will leave it in.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, President’s Personal Files, Box 62, President’s Speech File, October 23, 1970, United Nations Speech [1 of 2])

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Price incorporated much of Nixon’s memorandum into the final text of the speech. The President, however, gave Price another memorandum on October 19, suggesting an insertion after the section on “the three great forces that draw the US and the Soviet Union together.” “[I]t might be well and newsworthy in discussing [the desire to avoid nuclear conflict] to have a brief paragraph pointing out that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have avoided direct conflicts since World War II despite their differences; that both now desire to avoid that conflict, that history, particularly the tragic experience of World War I indicates that great powers can be dragged into conflict by wars that are allowed to get out of hand between small powers.” After citing “the case of the Balkans in World War I,” Nixon provided a contemporary example:

“[T]he Mideast is such a place today where the major interest of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union are involved, where the problem is deep, difficult insofar as the local enmities and rivalries are concerned, but that the real question of whether there is peace or war in the area depends on whether the two major powers play a role which strengthens the forces of peace or the forces of war. For that reason we must work together not only to avoid war in the area but to develop a more compatible live and let live détente—this should be done not only because of our very sincere interest in seeing that the people of this area do have peace so that they can turn their energies to the enormous problems they have internally and not be diverting so much to the enormous burdens of war but from the self-interest of the U.S. and the Soviet Union it is absolutely essential because we otherwise will find that without our wanting to have it happen, without our intention, we could be dragged into confrontation that could lead to conflict.

“Therefore, the United States not only urges the continuation of the cease-fire and welcomes the statements of the Soviet Union on this score but we will continue to work in all forums for a settlement that will reduce the dangers of war, not only in this area but with conflict that might involve the major powers.” (Ibid.)

Price revised the text of the speech in accordance with the President’s instructions. Kissinger, however, criticized the draft, especially after Gromyko’s speech at the United Nations on October 21 (see footnote 3, Document 23). During a telephone conversation with Price that evening, Kissinger raised a number of concerns:

“K: I have just started reading your draft and this is just—there is one major problem which was highlighted by the Gromyko speech. What we have about the Soviet Union right now is the sort of canned … assistant professors of peace groups. I know you got 90% of it from the President. If we say before the UN all the reasons why we must work together without even a slight slap at what they have done, we will make ourselves look totally ridiculous. I find it hard to see what [Page 114] Gene McCarthy would have had different than what we have here. I think we should go back to what we had. What you say on page 2 should be made in reference to the Soviet Union, instead of a general attack on all countries. What we have on the Middle East is dangerous in the extreme. What does he mean we are working—does he want an explosion from the Jewish community ten days before the elections and for what? Are we announcing that we are going into discussions again? What is he trying to say?

“P: That is verbatim from a tape he dictated.

“K: Let’s take out the phrase, ‘in all available forums.’ We have to tone down paragraph on page 7. We must not work together—that’s exactly what has been happening. Somebody who has just kicked us in the teeth and then has just repeated it in a speech to the UN—it just doesn’t sound right. We must ‘work’—leave out ‘together.’

“P: What he is saying is not that we have been—but that we should.

“K: I guarantee you this paragraph is going to—no one listened to me in June.

“P: It didn’t come across to me as soft. It came across to me as a warning to the Soviets.

“K: I am not going to argue because this is not the way to write a speech. But I tell you that anything under these conditions which gives us a condominium impression is going to be serious. I don’t mind saying we must strive, we must work, but together just has to go. I don’t like the whole paragraph because it doesn’t say anything. It is canned—it doesn’t mean anything. What does he have in mind? The Soviets kicked us in the teeth by violating the agreement and they have refused to rectify it. Are we going to say let bygones be bygones? What do you suppose it means?

“P: That they have not worked together in the past and they have to now.

“K: I am telling you the Soviets will tell us they accept the paragraph and let’s get going working together. We have two choices—either work together or work on alternative paragraphs.

“P: I think there ought to be a paragraph from you that he could work at.

“K: I would prefer to have him have one instead of driving him up the wall. I consider this paragraph lousy—it’s just not related to the issues on the table. This can get us in the dilemma that got us in the mess to begin with. I don’t believe Sisco will approve this. Will you try to redraft this to take my concerns in mind? Can we get it within the next hour so we can send it to the Department? I would like a paragraph that takes note of the Gromyko speech that says he [Nixon] will however not engage in recounting our list of grievances, to say one of [Page 115] the paramount problems of this period is that we have to transcend the approaches in which each country was to achieve for itself the greatest possible gain. Do you see what I mean? Say because such an approach could lead to confrontation. This is all the more important because there are bigger things with regards to the Soviet Union. I think we are letting them off in a way—this speech now reads as if nothing happened this summer.

“P: It doesn’t to me.

“K: Look, I have been a party to all discussions with the Soviets. What could we not have said on page 6 or 7 in June? Everything we said in June is the universal truth. The Soviets have a big decision whether they are to confront or cooperate. What the New York Times said today is what I agree with—of course, they got it from my backgrounder in Hartford.


“P: I will try to work out something.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

On October 22, both before and after his meeting with Gromyko, Nixon continued to revise the text of his address. According to H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff, the President “[s]pent all afternoon in EOB on speech, except for time with me, and K.” (Entry for October 22; Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)

Secretary of State William Rogers called Kissinger that day at 2:11 p.m. to suggest some last minute changes. “As the [North Vietnamese] would say,” Kissinger replied, “we will approach them with good will and serious intent.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File) In an undated handwritten note to Nixon, Rogers also offered his congratulations: “During one week the media says ‘U.S.-Soviet relations at a low ebb.’ Next week ‘the U.S. & the Soviet Union have joined forces.’ I think your speech has the right tone.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, President’s Personal Files, Box 62, President’s Speech File, October 23, 1970, United Nations Speech [1 of 2])

The next day, the President delivered his half-hour speech to the General Assembly at 3:30 p.m. According to one press report, the “scattered applause” was “noticeably shorter and less enthusiastic than it had been for the preceding speaker, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.” (Henry Tanner, “Nixon, at the U.N., Bids Moscow Keep Rivalry Peaceful,” New York Times, October 24, 1970, pages 1, 10) Haldeman recorded the reaction from both the audience and from Nixon himself in his diary as follows: “United Nations. Usual lousy [Page 116] reception, really bad for United States President to be treated that way. He really roared through his own speech and took off like a bolt after he finished. Not a good deal for us.” “P still complaining about the speech,” Haldeman added, “feels Ray and K failed to come up with anything new.” (Entry for October 23; Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) For the full text of the speech, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pages 926–932.