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

Nixon: Well, how’d you get along with our friend, Mr. Dobrynin?2

Kissinger: Well, they agreed to the signing date of the—

Nixon: Could he [unclear]?

Kissinger: —of accidental war. No, of accidental war.

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: That’s September 30th. That’s settled.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: And I’ve now sent him to Bill to work it out. On the summit, he says he’s got to go back. He looked at the draft, and he said that looks fine to him, but he isn’t authorized to agree to it. But he thinks there’s no problem. And, after all, they approached us. So I don’t see that—I think that’s done.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: I gave him the 15th or 16th of September, whichever they prefer.

Nixon: To announce?

Kissinger: To announce.

Nixon: And the 22d of May is when to go.

Kissinger: To go then. Berlin really seems to be done. [I] just got a message from Rush.3

[Page 955]

Nixon: Is he in good form?

Kissinger: Oh, he’s tremendous.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: Oh, this, really—we’ll never get credit for it—but this is—

Nixon: No, Berlin—I mean Dobrynin.

Kissinger: Oh yeah, he’s in good form.

Nixon: Isn’t that nice?

Kissinger: Hmm.

Nixon: The way he is.

Kissinger: Oh, he’s [Rush] a good man.

Nixon: My God, yes. It shows you about having one of your own, doesn’t it, Henry?

Kissinger: Oh, God, that’s something in the second term, we’ve got to do. Dobrynin was very impressed by this economic move.4 He said, “He [Nixon] really moves in a big way when he moves.” I said, “Yes, in everything.” I said, “It’s dangerous to crowd him.”

Nixon: [laughs] That’s true.

Kissinger: And I think that’s the lesson that a lot of people are going to draw from this.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s new economic policy.]

Nixon: If we could get that—but you see no, you have no inkling, inclination that he [Dobrynin] isn’t, where he’s not going to come on the summit thing now.

Kissinger: Oh, that’s done.

Nixon: Yeah. He sees that it was their deal on that decision, doesn’t he?

Kissinger: Oh, that’s done.

Nixon: And what was the date that we—?

Kissinger: May 22d.

Nixon: The date of the announcement—?

Kissinger: They won’t horse around with you again, Mr. President.

Nixon: The date of the announcement is September 15th?

Kissinger: Of course, I gave him an extra day—15th or 16th. It’s a Wednesday, but I—

[Page 956]

Nixon: Did you give him another day to do it beside the 22d? Did you give him—

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: —a choice?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Wasn’t any particular reason to. That’s a good day.

Kissinger: No. No. I told them that if they wanted to move it back a day or two we could do that. But—

Nixon: Well, if they horse around again, we won’t go. That’s my view.

Kissinger: They won’t horse around. They have the fear of God. He kept pumping me again about China.

Nixon: Did he?

Kissinger: Yeah. He said, “Why don’t you set a date with China?” I said, “Remain relaxed.” He said, “Are they making demands on you? They always make demands on us.” I said, “No, it’s a very satisfactory relationship.” And he said, “You know, we want you to know, we’re trying to restrain the Indians.” [I said,] “That’s a good thing. I don’t think you want to tie yourself to those”—he’s fishing. He said, “Did you discuss China in Peking—India in Peking?”

Nixon: [sighs]

Kissinger: I said, “Look, I won’t go into what I discussed in Peking, but we have our own fish to fry with Peking.”

Nixon: That’s good. Well, it’s a long, long time, isn’t it? What are your plans now?

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: Are you going to go to California and stay—oh, yes, you are.

Kissinger: No, no. If you agree, I’d like—I’m taking my children out tomorrow.5

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: They enjoy it so much.

Nixon: How wonderful. What is the situation on your—

Kissinger: And then I’ll go over again [to Paris] on September 13th. I don’t expect much to happen until the election. And I won’t go—

[Page 957]

Nixon: You really think you should see them [North Vietnamese] the 13th? Well, we agreed to it, so that’s that.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: I guess it’s—

Kissinger: —it was a close call. The reason I, as I put it in my memo to you,6 I decided to go along with it was, we’ve given them eight points. If they don’t reply, then—I’ve counted two meetings without Le Duc Tho present—it’s another kick in the teeth by them. They haven’t replied to our eight points. If they attack in the meantime, we can say they attacked while they, while we had offered them eight points, and hit them. If they don’t attack, then we have got through the Vietnamese election campaign without being hit.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: Without a big offensive. And I have to go anyway to set up my trip and to get the details begun for yours. So for all these reasons—it’s a close decision though.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I will not go again after that one.

Nixon: Well, I wouldn’t. It seems to me that—I mean, it’s just going over there and yakking around, you know, and they go over the same ground and maybe, maybe, well, we’ll settle one little miserable point.

Kissinger: Well, it has one advantage. If we go on the 11th or the 13th—I gave them these two alternates—it has, and then we don’t settle it, which I don’t think we will, then on the 15th and 16th, they get hit with that Russian announcement.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: That’s going to be a real jolt to them. And then—

Nixon: But you still think the China thing’s going, Henry?

Kissinger: Oh, they’re—

Nixon: Despite the fact they haven’t agreed yet?

Kissinger: I agree with Connally. When I told Connally about the China thing, he said to me: “It will make a settlement more slow but more sure.” And he’s absolutely right. They are—I think part of their stalling is to show us that they were not pressured into it by the Chinese.

Nixon: And they can see—in other words, they will see inevitability.

[Page 958]

Kissinger: What they will see, Mr. President, is that their two big allies are dealing with us before the war in Vietnam has ended. Both of them have invited you to their capitals while the war is still going on. Both of them, no matter what they tell them [the North Vietnamese], have a vested interest to make sure that they don’t screw it all up, because they obviously have their own fish to fry.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: So even—and even if the Soviet Union doesn’t do anything, in bringing direct pressure, the mere fact that they are seeing you, that they’re pushing you—pushing them on page 50 again for a month or two, while people are yakking, then my trip to Peking is again—we’ve got them off the front pages, no matter what happens, until the middle of November.

Nixon: You’ll announce your trip to Peking. Did you talk to the Chinese about when you want to announce it?7

Kissinger: I asked them for their suggestions. I think probably early in October.

Nixon: Oh, just before going.

Kissinger: What do you say?

Nixon: I haven’t—

Kissinger: Anything we say, they’ll do.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: End of September?

Nixon: I’d go a little bit, I’d go—I’d like to hit the Russian—well, announce the Russian summit and then, two weeks later, announce the Chinese.

Kissinger: That would make it about September 29th.

Nixon: Yeah. September 30th.

Kissinger: Well, September 30th, we have the accidental war signing.

Nixon: Oh, I see. Well then—well, I’ve been meaning—it isn’t all that important.

Kissinger: We can announce it September 20th?

Nixon: Yeah, I’d say September 20th. Go a week—a week after the Russian thing, announce your trip to Peking.

Kissinger: All right.

[Page 959]

Nixon: About a week.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: September 25th would be a good time.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: A little bit later. Give the Russian thing a week to ride and then—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —announce your trip to Peking.

Kissinger: All right. That will—that’s actually very clever. Then on the 30th, we’ve got that Gromyko shot. I promised Gromyko—I promised Dobrynin that you would see Gromyko when he was here.

Nixon: Of course.

Kissinger: And—no, we’ll have—

Nixon: He’s got to feel—I mean, he’s got to deal. They got to deal with us for a while now.

[Omitted here is discussion of U.S. domestic politics, Vietnam, and Kissinger’s schedule.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 566–14. 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 Oval Office from 3:07 to 3:23 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 317.
  3. In a special channel message to Kissinger on August 17, Rush reported: “A new formula developed Sunday evening [August 15] broke the impasse and averted the impending crisis. It also opened the way to complete agreement which I am sure you will find satisfactory.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1 [1 of 2]) The four-power Ambassadors initialed the draft text of the Berlin agreement on August 18, pending approval from their respective governments. The initialing of the agreement came as a complete surprise to the Department of State, including Rogers, who immediately recalled Rush for consultation. For documentation on the resulting confusion in Washington—including transcripts of Kissinger’s attempts to reassure Dobrynin by telephone—see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Documents 296 ff.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 317.
  5. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger left the White House at 1:12 p.m. on August 18 to join the President in San Clemente. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  6. Reference is presumably to Kissinger’s summary memorandum to Nixon on his meeting with Xuan Thuy in Paris on August 16. See footnote 4, Document 316.
  7. See Document 316.