329. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and Attorney General Mitchell1
[Omitted here is a brief exchange on the Middle East.]
Kissinger: [There’s] some shooting going on along the Suez Canal, which started—in the middle of the week,2 the Israelis—
Nixon: I saw that.
Kissinger: —shot down an Egyptian plane that was over-flying them for reconnaissance. And they have been firing machine guns at these planes just to show that they weren’t—
Nixon: And they hit one?
Kissinger: When they hit one by, really by accident, more or less—
Nixon: [laughs] Goodness sakes, if you can bring a quick, a modern plane down with a machine gun, it must be a horrible, poor pilot.
Kissinger: Right, it was—
Nixon: Jesus Christ!
Kissinger: It was a lucky hit. Thereupon, or maybe for other reasons, the Egyptians shot down an Israeli plane 30 miles inside Israeli territory yesterday: a transport, a combination transport/intelligence plane that was 30 miles inside the Sinai Peninsula. So this morning the Israelis have taken out some SAM sites. And that’s where it is. Now, there were some people who wanted you [Nixon] to appeal to both sides to show restraint. I think it’d be a great mistake at this stage. The thing may stop now. The Israelis have said they’d stop. The Egyptians know we want to preserve the ceasefire. I think we ought to watch it another couple of days.
Nixon: Hm-hmm.[Page 990]
Kissinger: I don’t think we ought to get ourselves drawn into another negotiating round there.
[Omitted here is further discussion on the Middle East.]
Kissinger: The Israelis won’t do anything; the Egyptians won’t do anything unless the Russians urge them—or unless the Russians tolerate it. For reasons we know, the Russians are unlikely to have a big blow-up in the Middle East between now and October 12th.
Nixon: Do you think that really reached them?
Nixon: Do you think you ought to call Dobrynin?
Kissinger: Dobrynin isn’t back yet. He’ll be back Monday,3 which is another reason—
Nixon: Well, you could tell Dobrynin [on] Monday, “Now, look here, [unclear]—”
Kissinger: If it’s still going on Monday I think it would—that would not be a bad move to appeal to the Russians—whether we should jointly cool it.
[Omitted here are a brief exchange on Lebanon and Jordan and discussion of SALT (printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 198). During this conversation, Nixon commented: “I marked, incidentally, Henry, on the letter from Brezhnev. I think you ought to take Dobrynin and brace him damn hard on the fact that Brezhnev did not respond with regard to the offensive weapons thing in SALT.” Despite his comment, Nixon did not mark Brezhnev’s letter but Kissinger’s memorandum thereon; see Document 328, footnote 4.]
Nixon: As a matter of fact, when you really think of Berlin—and I haven’t looked in detail, but I’ve looked at that record some—if you look at what Dobrynin first talked about, it was cynical as hell.
Kissinger: Oh, God.
Nixon: And you kept hammering, and hammering, and hammering, and, finally, by a torturous route, we have an agreement, which is really pretty good.
Kissinger: The agreement, now, is—I have this friend, this right-wing friend in the Pentagon, I’ve shown you some memos of his, Kraemer.4[Page 991]
Nixon: Kraemer. Yeah.
Kissinger: Who, when he was—
Nixon: He always is the one you send in, who gives us the analysis.
Kissinger: Yeah, well—
Nixon: I like him.
Kissinger: He was giving me—
Nixon: I should meet him sometime.
Kissinger: Well, I’ll bring him in if you want—
Nixon: You bring him in. All right, go ahead.
Nixon: Tell him that I do read his stuff though.
Kissinger: Yeah, I will tell him that.
Kissinger: Well, he had said that Berlin was lost all along.
Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: And I, in fact, showed you memos of his. Well, he’s now studied the text of the agreement that Ken Rush signed, and he says it’s unbelievable. It’s—you know, he says the basic situation is lousy, which we know. But the agreement as such is unbelievably good.
Kissinger: So there we came out all right. Now, the only reason this [SALT] isn’t an unmitigated loss is because, actually, we don’t mind staging it so that you can sign it next year.
Nixon: You mean to let the delegation get it screwed up, and then we’ll—?
Kissinger: Well, let the delegation horse around a bit. Otherwise, it would have been unconscionable what they have done. But John sits through these meetings. These guys act—
Mitchell: Well, Gerry Smith is trying to make a record for Gerry Smith on this zero ABM, one way or the other.
Nixon: He always does. Well, the minute that we got the ABM through the Congress, the son-of-a-bitch has, ever since, been trying to get it out. Like SALT.
Mitchell: Well, but here if [laughs] this preliminary agreement even mentions zero ABM in the preamble as a direction that you want to go, then you’d lose the ABM in the Congress. Who in the hell is going to vote for it—
Mitchell: —when you’re going to ultimately get the zero ABM?[Page 992]
Kissinger: Actually, Mr. President, I praised—I praised Dobrynin on this offensive link before he went back.5
Nixon: All right—
Kissinger: —before he went back, and on September 10th, the Russians in Helsinki made a formal statement that they recognized there was a linkage, that the two had to be discussed simultaneously.6 So I think we’re going to move along on it.
[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East and China.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 576–6. 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 Mitchell in the Oval Office on September 18 from 10:40 to 11:01 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)↩
- In a September 18 memorandum to the President, Kissinger reported that, according to Rabin, the Soviets had “cooperated in the Egyptian shootdown” and that “it could be argued that the Soviets are prepared to see some risks taken to worry the US.” “But at some point they will have to calculate the disadvantages of resumed hostilities,” Kissinger added. “If they have some influence, one would assume an interest in maintaining the ceasefire, although it cannot be ruled out that some Soviet hardliners would take risks to see the US embarrassed.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East,General, Vol. 8, 1971)↩
- September 20.↩
- See Document 294. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger met Kraemer and Haig for dinner on September 14. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No record of the conversation has been found.↩
- See Document 323.↩
- In telegram 1013 from Helsinki, September 10, Smith reported on the “mini-plenary” session that morning, including the following news: “Semenov read prepared statement saying it is incorrect to say Soviet side is not inclined to discuss offensive systems. May 20th agreement visualizes certain measures on offensive systems will be agreed to as well as reaching ABM agreement by end of year. Principle of a freeze is acceptable to both sides and it is understood details will be discussed before completing ABM agreement so that there can be simultaneous agreement on both defensive and offensive systems.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 18–3 FIN (HE))↩