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

Nixon: Well, Henry, tell me about your meeting with Mr. D.2

Kissinger: Oh, God, he was [unclear]—

Nixon: Who isn’t—? How was your staff?3 I bet they were ecstatic.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah, Mr. President. Their morale is way high.

[21 seconds not declassified]

Nixon: Well, Henry

Kissinger: They have—

Nixon: But I think it’s too late.

Kissinger: Every sophisticate—

[Page 847]

Nixon: Well, sophisticate? I want the people.

Kissinger: Well, the people—

Nixon: I don’t give a shit, but the story has now set in.

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: State cannot—

Kissinger: They can’t do it.

Nixon: I’m not going to let them do it.

Kissinger: State can’t do it.

Nixon: On that, we did something that’s good. They’re not going to come in and preempt it.

Kissinger: Well, they sure as hell—

Nixon: You’ve given Rogers one hell of a lot more than he pleaded about.

Kissinger: They sure as hell weren’t claiming that they participated in the Cambodia decision, although they did a lot more there.

Nixon: Or Laos.

Kissinger: Or Laos. Or anything else that was tough. Well, I told Dobrynin that I—I began to doubt that there is a God, because I lied to him actually. I’m sure that if there were one, I would have been punished. But—

Nixon: [laughs]

Kissinger: But I started off and then he—first of all, I’ve never seen him so forthcoming before today.

Nixon: Good. Really?

Kissinger: Well—oh, yeah. Even the State Department will someday—

Nixon: Ambassadors.

Kissinger: —know—

Nixon: Rogers.

Kissinger: But it’s best not to talk about it. I’ve got a lot of details here to show you.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: Let me—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: [I said,] “Let me give you a picture of how the President’s mind works. This isn’t to pacify you. He just—and he wants me to tell you that, in terms of world leadership, he recognizes only the Soviet Union and the United States will lead. But after June, we’re using every stop.”

Nixon: Precisely.

[Page 848]

Kissinger: “I want to tell you, under one trivial condition, which, well—which I’ve heard here as well.” I said, “Remember, we gave you until July 1st. I can tell you in strictest confidence that, before we left Washington, my instructions to the President—I was going to go to China in June. My instructions to the President—from the President.”

Nixon: Which? Your role?

Kissinger: It’s not that kind of relationship.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: But that—the burden’s on them.

Nixon: Him.

Kissinger: And then I said, “We have no choice. The President has said if anything we conduct will destroy us all, it’s the arms race.” I think here we could tell Rogers what we’re doing.

Nixon: Good. Tell him.

Kissinger: Again, I told him that, he said I told him that—I said, “Moreover,” I said to him, “I told you six months ago that we couldn’t do it in November or December. So when you said you wanted it in November or December, well, the President had to assume that this was a nice way to back out.” He said, “No, no, no, no. We want it. We very much want it. I can tell you in strictest confidence, off the record.” Well, we’re both pushing at each other.

Nixon: Yeah, I know.

Kissinger: You know, pushing this strictest confidence, off the record.

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: And they had already made their decision. They were getting ready to pick the date. Well, he said—”But now,” he said, “can we pick the date now? What can I report?” Then I said, “Well, in principle, yes, but, of course, now we have a new situation.” He said, “Would you be willing to come before going to Peking?” I said, “Anatol, be classy.” I said, “We have to go now in the order in which we announce it.” He said, “Would you be willing to announce it before you go to Peking?” I said, “Well, I’m not sure what the President’s”—but I said, “We may consider it. But I’ll talk to the President. The President makes decisions.”

Nixon: That’s right. I’ve approved anything—

Kissinger: He said, “Well, it better go tonight; they’re having a meeting on it on Thursday.”4 So, what I think—

Nixon: Right.

[Page 849]

Kissinger: Then I said—then he said, “Well, if you go”—[laughs] the shoe is really on the other foot now—he said, but he said, “If you come after you’ve gone to Peking, why won’t Peking hold you up until May?”

Nixon: They can’t.

Kissinger: I thought it was somewhat of a cheesy play. I said, “Sorry, I don’t know what Peking is going to do, but if they try to make conditions—” What reason would they have for treating you, the President—

Nixon: Just one.

Kissinger: —to such a condition? “But I have no reason to believe that they would make such—” Well, he was just sniffing in a conniption. So what I think is going to happen now, unless they make public the decision to go very tough—which would be but, well, maybe 30 percent—I think they’re going to calm down. I think we can announce the Moscow summit before you go to Peking. And that would actually help—

Nixon: Exactly.

Kissinger: —with the Chinese because—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —taking effect after we go to Moscow.

Nixon: Before.

Kissinger: And the sequence that I now see is I might go to Peking at the end of September, get the damn thing locked up.

Nixon: Then announce it.

Kissinger: Then announce the summit for Peking.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Then while I’m in Peking tell them that you’re going to announce the summit for Moscow. And then at the end of October announce the summit for Moscow for the end of March.

Nixon: So, April is too early.

Kissinger: Is April early for that?

Nixon: We could still do it in April. Work out your—you don’t have to worry about, well, going in the order we put ourselves in.

Kissinger: Well, that’s April.

Nixon: April. Yeah. I hope they embrace it, that the Russians will do that time and play over there.

Kissinger: But I think we could have one spectacular after another.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The other trip to Peking; the announcement of—

Nixon: Why don’t you let him know—?

[Page 850]

Kissinger: But I’m going to phone him tonight.

Nixon: I’d let him know that, well, there really are several—let me put it: I will hold the period around the 1st of May.

Kissinger: I won’t even give on that.

Nixon: Okay. The spring of next year.

Kissinger: No, I think what I would do is to say—we tell them in Sep[tember]—as I told them, that we’d do it after Peking. And they sort of—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —come in with a specific proposal of when to announce it and so forth.

Nixon: We’ll ask them—

Kissinger: We’re thinking of roughing [out] our schedule.

Nixon: That’s right. And we’re seeking accommodation on other things and so forth. But he was certainly not unpleasant.

Kissinger: Then he asked me, he said, “It would really help,” he said, “if you give our people a briefing—”

Nixon: [laughs]

Kissinger: “—of what went on in Peking.” Well, I gave him a briefing about this Aviation Week.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: He said, “Did you discuss Soviet air defenses or Soviet bases?” I said, “We avoided it for the first powwow.” He said, “Well, are they worried that we’d attack them?” I said, “Anatoly, you seem to be very [more] worried about China than Japan.”

[Omitted here is discussion of China and Vietnam, including domestic reaction to recent developments.]

Kissinger: I think they [the North Vietnamese] have got to settle now, because if we—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Mr. President, if we get a Russian summit, I think—oh, another thing Dobrynin said is—who knows about these things?—“What can you really settle with the Chinese?” He said, “I thought we were your natural partners in Southeast Asia. We’re both trying to avoid Chinese expansion in Southeast Asia.”

Nixon: Shut up and get out! [laughter]

Kissinger: Then he said about India and Pakistan. He asked me what my impression was of, due to the fact there hasn’t been any war there for a while, whether it should become international.

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: Exactly. The U.N. is chained up. He [Dobrynin] talked to me with a respect that I hadn’t encountered before.

[Page 851]

Nixon: Did you see Harriman? Was he more affected?

Kissinger: Oh, I saw him with the Indian Ambassador.5

Nixon: Was he shaken?

Kissinger: He was shaken.

Nixon: Oh, well. You know, it shows what you’ve done. You know another thing too that shakes them, Henry. They worry, worry in a different sense: the information, gut issue. I was their fear. This shakes them up completely because people say, they say, “This son-of-a-bitch went into Cambodia; this son-of-a-bitch went into Laos; this son-of-a-bitch may be a disaster; this son-of-a-bitch is unpredictable. We don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Kissinger: Yeah, but I—

Nixon: You see? That’s a good thing.

Kissinger: “But he has big plays.” I mean, here you were, by any reasonable prediction, you were totally on the ropes.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: And if you, then, by any reasonable prediction, however, save yourself—

Nixon: Who would’ve dreamed—?

Kissinger: Oh, absolutely. But that you held it with ice cold nerves for two months.

Nixon: That’s something—

Kissinger: You took the shellacking.

Nixon: That’s something that you could use with the people tonight, you know.

Kissinger: Now, who, in God’s name—

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: —which other American political figure would have just had the effrontery to take the riots, the Congressional action for two months—?

Nixon: Without saying, “Gee whiz, fellows.”

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and China.]

Nixon: We’re going to be goddamn loose on Vietnam though, Henry.

Kissinger: I thought I’d be in my manner much, very gentle with them.

[Page 852]

Nixon: Exactly.

Kissinger: Because they—I’d put it right into their heart, for one thing.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: They know now I’m not a pushover.

Nixon: I think that we—and I think in general it burns to say, you know, “Here’s what we differ on”—that kind of a spirit, Henry. “What do you have to offer?” and so forth; “Well, we’ll look it over,” then, “Screw you.”

Kissinger: But never—that shouldn’t be gloating.

Nixon: No gloating ever. No. No, I agree. I agree. I think that the very cool and strong position that we know what we’re doing, we’ve got the hole card, and we’re not going to gloat over you. What do you got to offer? Another settlement.

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: Now, what in the hell are they [North Vietnamese] going to do? What the Christ is their option now—except, I guess, to fight on?

Kissinger: Well, but Mr. President, I think—there’s one point I made to Dobrynin here today: “You know, he [Nixon] has guts. There never was, to tell the truth, a tougher guy.”

Nixon: You told him that too?

Kissinger: Yeah. I think—the Russians cannot control the Berlin thing. They can try to stir up the North Vietnamese people. And the North Vietnamese have to decide whether they want another series of bloodbaths. The Russians have to decide whether, that, having caused one great play, they might still go into a few other places. I mean, I can tell Dobrynin what I want, but I’m not concerned with the Soviet Union. That doesn’t, that’s just something for the record. We don’t have to discuss it. The mere fact though that those with ties to the Chinese, who have troops on the border—

Nixon: That’s fine. You know, they’re capable of bringing a freeze, a deep freeze, you know, with the Chinese attacking the Russians for their program—that would be after SALT, you know.

Kissinger: But when you consider that Kuznetsov has been—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —their Deputy Foreign Minister, has been in Peking for nearly two years and has yet to see Chou En-lai.

Nixon: But, what I mean is, with the Chinese fear of the Russians on this, they would be close to us.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Now, now that this—this is just a total upheaval.

[Page 853]

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam and China, including Congressional reaction to recent developments.]

Kissinger: We’ve got to play it out. We can’t afford to play a dirty game.

Nixon: We can’t afford the time.

Kissinger: But we’ve got to get the basic script, not the content, of course, but we’ve got to do it the way with consultation—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: —with Gromyko on their answer, that we know which sequence to do—

Nixon: Will it hold the value—?

Kissinger: —and what is possible, so that he doesn’t ask something of you, that there is no other trip competing. And the meeting ought to be—

Nixon: Will Bruce be present for all your meetings?

Kissinger: Yes, I’m sure.

Nixon: Good. Talk maximum first. You see—and also Bruce knows that Bill just can’t handle this.

Kissinger: Oh, God. When I told Bruce that Bill was going to speak on Vietnam next month—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —he said if you write a speech and you tell him he can’t answer very many questions—well, naturally, he assumes the President—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: You’ve got him on the right road. This Congressional thing is too bad.

Nixon: Oh, I don’t want to do it. They come down to you—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —and you deal with the committee. But when they talk to Rogers [laughs]—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You see, you got to remember, now, you were in the position—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —where you goddamn confused [F. Edward] Hébert.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That’s very good though.

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: That’s why—and also why be bored with the goddamn Senators, Henry? You had to—

[Page 854]

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You had to babysit them all this time. And now that will allow us to concentrate on more important things. I’m a little tired of them, aren’t you?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. But I think we have—I tell you Dobrynin—oh, he said, “SALT is going along fine. Berlin is going along fine.”

Nixon: Good. But we’re not going to be in any position—

Kissinger: He just thought he had you on the run.

Nixon: And he doesn’t.

Kissinger: [unclear] I should—

Nixon: No gloating on China. Now, he says he’ll—

Kissinger: I’ll either be going home for vacation soon or—

Nixon: You’re all packed.

Kissinger: —I got to stay here and handle our relationship.

Nixon: Now, he’s saying—

Kissinger: When I was on the West Coast—

Nixon: —if we had a meeting before theirs? Never.

Kissinger: That was crazy.

Nixon: Never. Never, beforehand.

Kissinger: That would be putting it to the Chinese.

Nixon: Yeah. Or, and you know—but he then came to the conclusion: well, maybe we should have one afterwards and announce it before?

Kissinger: Right. I suppose. I’ll have to think about that.

Nixon: Well, tell him anything you think would be appropriate.6

Kissinger: No. I think we should have it.

Nixon: Absolutely. We want a meeting.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: We want a meeting. A settlement for a meeting would be very useful. Tell him, if he comes back today, that I can’t keep traveling [Page 855] all the time. Say that I’m sick. All right. Well, get a rest before your 7 o’clock meeting.7

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: It’s a long day.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 262–9. 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 Executive Office Building from 5:10 to 5:35 p.m. on July 19. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 288.
  3. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met members of the National Security Council staff in the Executive Office Building at 4:40 p.m.—presumably to discuss his secret trip to Beijing. Kissinger apparently left the meeting early to see the President. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No substantive record of the staff meeting has been found.
  4. July 22.
  5. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Indian Ambassador Jha for lunch in San Clemente at 1:12 p.m. on July 17. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  6. Nixon raised the issue again during a meeting in the Executive Office Building at 5:05 p.m. on July 20 with Kissinger, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to Haldeman, Nixon was discussing plans for China, including a preliminary trip in September to prepare for the President’s visit: “Then K came in, and the P raised with him the point of whether we ought to consider doing the Russian Summit first, and Henry definitely says no. Instead we should plan on Russia in the spring, but announce it before we go to Peking. This is the way he’s put it to the Russians, and he wants to hang tight on that.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  7. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger held a press backgrounder that evening at Tayloe House. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)