315. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1

Kissinger: They’re having three-day sessions on Berlin.2

Nixon: Who? State?

Kissinger: No, no. The four powers. And it’s—the problem is to get the French [laughs]—

[Page 933]

Nixon: Hmm?

Kissinger: —from shutting up long enough so that the Russians can make the concessions which are already agreed to. We have a text. It’s all agreed to. But we have to go through a—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: You go through the ritual so the French will keep quiet.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We’re going through the ritual. We have a script in which the Russians make extreme demands and then yield.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule, White House facilities, and China.]

Nixon: Henry, how much have you talked to Bob about the other thing? Did you just mention it to him?

Kissinger: I just hinted—I mentioned it to him in passing. I haven’t—

Nixon: Well, did you talk about the meeting?

Kissinger: On walk—going into the boat yesterday evening.3 You mean the Russian thing?

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I haven’t given him any of the details about it.

Nixon: You mean, about it—but you keep hinting to him about the possibility of a meeting?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: A summit or something of that sort?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. The reason I wanted to get you in, Bob, was to emphasize that, probably, 10 times as important as keeping the Chinese thing secret, this must be secret. Now, this means Ehrlichman. It means, obviously, Peterson. It, of course, means Scali. It, naturally, means Ziegler. But it particularly means—let me say: I don’t want you to break over—the only one that I’m sure you’d even be tempted to ever mention it to would be Ehrlichman, because he’s so—

Haldeman: I don’t mention any of these to anybody.

Nixon: I know. I know. I know. What I meant is, though—incidentally, we got to go further. It means John Mitchell.

[Page 934]

Haldeman: Right.

Nixon: It means John Connally.

Haldeman: Right.

Nixon: Naturally, if we just mention it to either of those, and you haven’t told Agnew, he gets pissed off. Now, what is involved here is that, in essence, is that the Soviet have replied—replied in a very positive, simple note.4 Henry’s going to meet with Dobrynin—when?

Kissinger: Next Tuesday,5 after I’m back from Paris.

Nixon: The purpose is to—he’s got—the purpose is to set the date. And the date of the meeting we’ve decided upon will be between May—May 20th to June 1st.

Haldeman: End of May.

Nixon: So the Soviet meeting’s set. And they’ve offered May or June, did they not?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: So we—that would fit in perfectly then. I wouldn’t mind having it—the later in May, the better, in my opinion.

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: The date, May 25th, May 27th—something like that. It’s just—

Kissinger: My [unclear]—

Nixon: If you could even start it on May 28th and finish June 3d or something, that would be all right. Do you understand?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Because then you have—it’s a good time. The weather’s a little better and all that crap. Now, whatever you want, but if they want it a little sooner, that’s fine. Now—

Haldeman: Do you care at all about coincidence with primaries? In other words, do you want to look at that in any of that context?

Nixon: I think it’s—that’s always irrelevant.

Haldeman: Well—

Kissinger: I think California—

Haldeman: —except for the way it’s going to be played. The California primary is clearly going to be the primary. It’s the first Tuesday in June.

Nixon: Yeah, but that’s—what day is it?

Haldeman: I don’t know. I’d have to look—get it now.

[Page 935]

Nixon: Yeah. Well, do you think we’ll run right into it?

Haldeman: Oh, that’s the thing. Whether you want it—we ought to at least consider whether you want to run into it or whether—

Nixon: Or not. These are bigger than China in March now—bigger, Henry. They’re earlier in March.

Kissinger: Yeah. First—

Haldeman: June 6th.6

Nixon: Well, that’s fine.

Kissinger: I think—

Nixon: No, no that’s too late.

Kissinger: I think it’s a mistake, Mr. President. When we’ve told the Chinese we—the Chinese, after all, first asked us for—

Nixon: It must be in May. All right, fine. We’ve got to have it in May. So we’ll work it out in May. And the other one, you figure March for—

Kissinger: I thought any time in the first 10 days of March.

Haldeman: Then you got the other—the other big primaries will be next year in Florida and Wisconsin, which are [in] March and April.

Nixon: Well, you said we were heading in there in April.

Haldeman: Afterward.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: Well, if you go from around—

Nixon: March?

Kissinger: If you go in the first week of March to Peking, that runs into the campaigning in New Hampshire.

Nixon: Well, the campaigning in New Hampshire itself is really all February and part of March. But we can’t say that we’re not going to go anyplace until April.

Kissinger: No, no. That’s good. I mean, it blankets the—if the trip—

Haldeman: Yeah, but there’s some advantage to not blanketing the Democratic campaign for one thing.

Nixon: Well—

Haldeman: There’s also the question of whether you get charged with the cheap shot of trying to blanket it by taking your trip.

Nixon: No, we should not take it—no, I’ve deliberately worked it out so we would not take either one on the day of a primary.

Haldeman: Right.

[Page 936]

[Omitted here is discussion of electoral politics, the President’s schedule, and China.]

Kissinger: Now, what date should I give the Chinese? This is important because—

Nixon: When is the date of the primary? 14th?7

Kissinger: Oh, I’m sorry.

Haldeman: It’s another [unclear]—

Kissinger: Because, now, we have to play it differently. The original idea was not to give them a date until I’d been in Peking—to have that hanging over their heads. But now that we’ve got to make the announcement with the Russians in September—

Haldeman: You have to announce Russia in September?

Kissinger: Well, my worry is this: if we tell the Russians we agree now, but we’ll announce it in December, which was the original game plan—

Nixon: No, no—

Kissinger: —and then I go to Peking before—

Nixon: Well, yeah.

Kissinger: —it will look like a transparent slap in the face.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Kissinger: That we’re running—

Nixon: But when you got something, use it.

Haldeman: On television, the Chinese—

Nixon: When you got something, use it.

Kissinger: So the way to handle the Chinese is to do it—if you agree, Mr. President, what I thought I would do on Monday is say this: we’re willing to set the date, whichever we agree on here—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —and give it to them. But we’d like to announce it only after I’ve been to Peking.

Nixon: Don’t you think that we should give them a choice?

Kissinger: Yeah, I’d give them a range of days.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Then, secondly, I’d say, “Now, you remember I told the Prime Minister—”

[Page 937]

Nixon: “I told you it should go in order—the President’s the very first to come.”

Kissinger: Yeah. I told him, and I’ll tell them that I’ve—

Nixon: For maybe four days?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: For talking, we need a week in China.

Kissinger: I think you’ll need four days in Peking. And then—

Nixon: To talk.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Yeah, I’d say a week. That we’re—a week to one—

Kissinger: And I think if they, for example—

Nixon: The translation problems. You see, the visits to both Russia and China take twice as much time to accomplish—first of all, there’s more to talk about. Second, they take twice as much time because of the enormous translation problem.

Kissinger: And you don’t want to put yourself through what I did.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: It was necessary in my case, but it’s too dangerous for a President to be talking—

Haldeman: Going all night.

Kissinger: —10 hours a day. I mean, because if you make a slip—

Haldeman: Except that’s the way they do these things.

Nixon: Well, but—

Kissinger: Well, but—

Haldeman: Well, the point is that the Chinese—

Nixon: Yeah, we’ll see.

Kissinger: But we can break that up.

Nixon: But we won’t—it will be better, better handled than that.

Kissinger: At any rate, what I would propose to tell them, Mr. President, is—give them this date. We’ll set the time for my trip to Peking. But, I’ll remind them of the fact that I told Chou En-lai, and you said in your press conference,8 that whenever a negotiation reaches a certain point—that we had already accepted before I had been there—that, under those conditions, we’d go to Moscow.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 938]

Kissinger: Now, it looks as if Berlin is coming to a point. Thank God, it is.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And I can’t tell them [the Chinese] yet whether it will or will not. But, if it does, if they then extend the invitation, we can’t refuse it, except that we will do it two or three months after we’ve been there, and we’ll give them a week’s warning—

Nixon: But we will have—we will announce it, but we—our trip will be three months after their trip.

Kissinger: Right. But I won’t tell them, yet, that it’s set. I’ll tell them we’ll let them know five days or a week ahead of time if we do announce it. I don’t think it—I want give them a full week.

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: Besides, I’ve got to tell them you’re going to see the Emperor of Japan, too, which they won’t like.

Nixon: Yeah. Just a courtesy. They’ll understand that.

[Omitted here is discussion of the crisis in South Asia and of the President’s schedule, including plans for his trips to China and the Soviet Union.]

Nixon: Well, let’s come back to the other point, as far as the meeting, and what we do is concerned: we now are going to have an announcement of a Russian summit in September. Right, Henry?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Without question.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: And in September—well, that’s when you will announce your October, your trip to China? How is that coming?

Kissinger: Well, around September 30th, we’ll announce the trip to China.

Nixon: You’ll announce the Russian summit before you announce your trip to China?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You think so?

Haldeman: Mid-September?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Is that the best strategy here?

Kissinger: Well, the best strategy—yeah, because I don’t want the Russians to think that we just sneaked in another visit to China.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: I think I can handle the Chinese, because the record of the meeting should show, and your press conference makes clear, that [Page 939] if there is an agreement—I told Chou En-laiChou En-lai said, “Why don’t you go to Russia first?” I said, “Because it’s a different problem. There would have to be some concrete achievements.”

Nixon: Hm-hmm. Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: “With you we have a philosophical problem and set the direction.” And I said, “It may come first; it may not.” Then he—then I said to him—the only thing we’ve told them is we would not go to Russia first. We’ll go to Peking first. We sent them a communication. We didn’t tell them we won’t announce it. So what I think I ought to do is to tell their Ambassador in Paris on Monday—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —that I don’t know anything specific, but as negotiations develop and succeed—we will be in no position then to refuse the invitation, but we can put it after Peking, and we intend to put it after Peking.

Nixon: “The President has directed that—”

Kissinger: That it be put after Peking.

Nixon: That’s fine. That—

Kissinger: And, if there is an announcement, we will let them know five or six days ahead of time. There is nothing now—I’ll lie to them.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Well, it will be true. There won’t be anything contemplated at that moment, because I will not speak to Dobrynin until after I get back from Paris.

Nixon: Right. Right.

Kissinger: So the only part of the game plan it changes is that, instead of holding the Peking date, we’ll agree on that now—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —but not announce it until I come back.

Nixon: You know, an amusing thing I noticed in an AP dispatch, a dispatch by Gwertzman in the New York Times,9 and so forth: those farts are really—whatever you call them—[they’re] upset.

Kissinger: [laughs] Yes, they—

Nixon: They brood about our problems with the Russians—

[Page 940]

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —and the Russians are mad. And they are—

Haldeman: Oh, the Russians put it in—Pravda’s put out a thing that they’re mad.10 They say that, that deeds—

Kissinger: Well, it’s one of these—if you read it carefully, it’s one of these bleating things—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —saying, “I hope you behave yourselves in China.”

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: But, on the other hand, our press has signed onto that just beautifully.

Kissinger: I mean, I read the note to the President last night from the Russians. It’s the warmest, most—

Haldeman: Really?

Kissinger: —sucking-around note—

Haldeman: [laughs]

Kissinger: Don’t you think, Mr. President, that—?

Nixon: No question.

Kissinger: The tremendous importance they attach to good relations. The date should be fixed at the earliest time.

Nixon: “We [Soviet Union] welcome our [United States’] going to China.”

Kissinger: Yeah. [laughs]

Haldeman: Really? They said they welcome your going to China?

Nixon: Oh, sure.

Kissinger: They did it in the guise of answering this note, which we sent them the night that the President made the announcement.11

Haldeman: [laughs]

Kissinger: The President directed—

[Page 941]

Haldeman: Yeah, the announcement—

Kissinger: —I give them a little note, where I said, “We are prepared for an agonizing reappraisal.” They, in effect, said that won’t be necessary.

Haldeman: No, I mean you—

Nixon: Playing that hard game was right. You know, we—

Kissinger: Oh, God.

Nixon: Remember, we figured that language out, et cetera.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Right. I thought we might—you see, the “agonizing reappraisal” will remind them of [John Foster] Dulles, too.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: There’s a tough son-of-a-bitch sitting around here. And that’s—

Kissinger: But again, the fact is, if you had all the experts—

Nixon: Tough.

Kissinger: —would have said, “You do this, and they’ll”—

Nixon: Oh—

Kissinger: You remember Thompson?12

Nixon: Oh, well, God, even State wanted to inform them how we’re going to keep the Russians from going overboard. And I said we will handle it.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We handled the Russians, and we handled the—

Kissinger: The Indians—

Haldeman: Well, your thought is that you’d announce Russia in mid-September.

Kissinger: 15th or 22nd. I don’t know what your preference is.

Nixon: 15th.

Kissinger: Well, it—may I suggest: it depends a little bit on what comes on Monday.

Nixon: Oh, everything depends on whether anything comes with the Vietnam thing.

Kissinger: Because the Vietnam thing will be settled either by September 10th—

Nixon: Or not. All right.

Kissinger: —or after November 1st.

[Page 942]

Nixon: Yeah. You just let them know that. All right.

Kissinger: Oh—

Nixon: I understand.

Kissinger: —with all of this, Mr. President, it’s got to be settled. There’s no way that Hanoi—we’re taking Hanoi off the front page now.

Haldeman: Pretty well knocked them—

Kissinger: If we do nothing else till November, what are they going to do?

Haldeman: Then when—you would announce your China trip on September 30th?

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Give or take a few—

Haldeman: After Hirohito.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: Then you’d go in the middle of October? We’re down to New Year—

Kissinger: Go around October 15th.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: Tell him [Dobrynin] the President, who, looking at principle—we’re all set on it but that we—but it’s very important not to talk to any other people in the bureaucracy until you talk to him personally. That I’m working on my schedule at the present time. “As you know, he’s trying to—we’ve got to work it out so doesn’t appear to be political,” and all that crap. Okay? They’re always looking to—

Kissinger: Okay.

Haldeman: And then—

Nixon: I don’t want him to raise it with the State Department.

Kissinger: Oh, no. That he knows. But his minions may do it.

Nixon: Well, they talk. You know—I mean, I don’t want him to—not that handling Rogers on this should be any difficulty. Should it?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: We’ll see.

Kissinger: But I’d wait until we’ve got it all set and tell him—

Nixon: I know. I know.

Kissinger: —a week before.

Nixon: Well, I know. I’ll tell him a week before. But I think that the thing, the important thing here, is that there’s no problem due to the fact that the summit thing—hell, he was here when we discussed it before. We just say that he got a message, and when, and that he [Dobrynin] [Page 943] brought it in here, and we worked, I worked—I agreed on this date. Period.

Kissinger: That’s right. That’s not hard.

Nixon: That’s that. But I don’t want him [Rogers] to go—

Kissinger: Well, he doesn’t really give a damn as long as—

Nixon: But he’s going to be going—

Kissinger: He doesn’t give a damn.

Nixon: —or else he’ll be insulted.

Kissinger: As long as he gets the credit—as long as I don’t get the credit, he’s happy.

Nixon: Well, that’s all right.

Kissinger: And, on this one, I’m not involved at all directly. So, I mean—

Nixon: He will know. [unclear]

Kissinger: He’ll know, but, I mean, the public doesn’t. It’s fine with me. I don’t want any credit out of it. I just want to make sure that the credit goes in here.

Nixon: I know.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s foreign policy, China, and the Department of State.]

Nixon: Put yourself in the position they are in. Bill and his people over there, naturally, are proud men, and they’re intelligent men, and the rest. They do like to think they run foreign policy. They don’t, and they’re just finally learning it. Because in every major decision, they have either been against it or don’t know about it. They didn’t do SALT. They didn’t do Cambodia and Laos. And they were very glad not to do it. They had no influence on our whole—they peed, you know, on all of our programs. Take the Jordan thing. Christ, they didn’t do anything but screw that one up.

Kissinger: And then there’s Cienfuegos, for which we’ve never gotten any credit.

Nixon: As a matter of fact—as a matter of fact—Cienfuegos? Christ, did they do anything about it? Hell no.

Kissinger: They fought like hell.

Nixon: We have played a very goddamn tough, skillful game here. It’ll come out sometime. And I don’t mind Bill now and then getting a little of this. But, Bob, we’re not going to let State put out any line that they pushed me into something. Now that would be a very bad thing—

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: —to be in the press. Do you agree, Henry?

[Page 944]

Kissinger: Oh, yes, and that’s what the liberals would like. They need some guy who made you do these things.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We’ve avoided this on China. There’s no one—that hasn’t been written at all.

Nixon: Well, this is being said. It will be—

Kissinger: Yeah, but it hasn’t happened yet. And I think this one ought to be positioned as your initiative—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —growing out of—

Nixon: Well, Henry, I can understand—

Kissinger: I can background it—

Nixon: But let me say that I—you can do the backgrounder as you should, but, in a very curious way, even though it is, on reflection, a little embarrassing at the moment, I backgrounded it a bit when I mentioned that we discussed the matter with Gromyko.

Kissinger: Hmm.

Nixon: They know damn well—

Kissinger: But I thought we could tie it back to—

Nixon: And did you know—and we remembered too late—the day we were across the street, and we talked about it a little and so forth, that day we had a long discussion and we decided then that there should be one in principle?

Kissinger: That’s right. That’s why we ought to hold the announcement tight. Once it’s made, we can background it the way we backgrounded the China thing.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Tying it back to your moves over two years.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And I think we can get the same sort of stories again. Not as dramatic, because—but still enough people will write it.

Nixon: Well, but I think when you play down the dramatic, we may be thinking a little too small here. I knew the China thing would be big because of the land of mystery. But the reason this is dramatic is that a trip [to the Soviet Union] would not have occurred to unsophisticated people. The reason this is dramatic is that so many, though, of the smart people have said, “The China thing makes the Russians mad.”

Kissinger: Of course, the—

Nixon: “Now, the Russians, we have a terrible problem in our foreign policy.” Here we kick the Russians in the teeth—and they invite [Page 945] us. So it shows enormous hope on the big problems. Now, I don’t think the Russian—I mean, the Russian thing is going to be one hell of a story.

Kissinger: Well, you’re changing the whole approach to foreign policy, because all the wise guys, the people who told you, “ABM will kill SALT”—that’s been proved wrong. “Go to Peking, it will drive the Russians crazy.” That’s been proved wrong. “If you play it tough in Jordan, there will be a war.” The opposite was true. It ended the war.

Nixon: Well, they’re—

Kissinger: No, I think the record in foreign policy next year is going to be—

Nixon: Well, hold on. One more. We’ve got two out of three now.

Kissinger: I—

Nixon: And we always said there were three. The two is pretty good.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, if I were in Hanoi now, this is not a brilliant position for them. They’ve got their—I don’t think either Brezhnev or Mao wants them to screw it all up.

Haldeman: Will they give you a signal on that before you go over this week, do you think?

Kissinger: No.

Haldeman: Will the Russians signal what—not on the trip, but on what their position ought to be?

Kissinger: No, they may wait till November. But, in my view, they’ll accept it either now or—by next spring, I think we’ll be—we’ll have to meet before we go on these trips.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on Vietnam and Kissinger’s schedule.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 561–4. 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 Kissinger and Haldeman in the Oval Office from 9:15 to 10:50 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Haldeman described the meeting in his diary: “Henry was in, following up on his meeting with Dobrynin last night in which he got confirmation of the Soviet Summit, and that led today into some schedule discussion of how we go about both the trips. We agreed to go to Southern California and spend a couple days of preparation, and then a night in Wake on the way to China. We’ll set China for February 25, and the Soviet trip for May 22.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  2. From August 10 through August 23, the representatives of the four powers met in “continuous conference” at the Allied Control Council building in West Berlin to negotiate the final terms of the quadripartite agreement.
  3. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon hosted a dinner aboard the Presidential yacht Sequoia from 6:38 to 8:55 p.m. on August 10. In addition to Kissinger and Haldeman, the guests included: John Mitchell, Billy Graham, John Ehrlichman, and Donald Rumsfeld. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) For his diary account of the evening, see Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition.
  4. Document 314.
  5. August 17.
  6. The date of the California primary in 1972.
  7. The New Hampshire primary was scheduled for March 7; the Florida primary for March 14.
  8. See Document 308.
  9. In a special piece for the New York Times—not a dispatch for the Associated Press—Bernard Gwertzman summarized an “authoritative article” (see footnote 10 below) on the Soviet reaction to the recent rapprochement between Washington and Beijing. “It is assumed that the lengthy treatment given the question in the Soviet Union,” Gwertzman concluded, “reflects Moscow’s concern over the turn in Chinese-American relations.” (Bernard Gwertzman, “Moscow Hopeful Nixon Won’t Drop Soviet Problems,” New York Times, August 11, 1971, pp. 1–2)
  10. On August 10, Pravda published Arbatov’s assessment of the announcement of Nixon’s trip to China. “It is quite natural that in the Soviet Union, as in other countries,” Arbatov commented, “these deeds and the development of events will be followed with great attention.” For an English translation of the complete text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 32 (September 7, 1971), pp. 1–4. Arbatov described the background behind the article in his memoirs: “I was very worried about our confusion and groundless fears; they could have harmed our policies and our interests. I then took the somewhat unusual step of requesting an opportunity to publish an article in Pravda about the forthcoming Sino-American meeting. Even though it would appear under my byline, I understood it would be regarded as representing an official point of view.” (Arbatov, The System, p. 181)
  11. See Document 284.
  12. See Document 174.