42. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and Max Frankel of the New York Times1

K: I had a painful, semi-blackmailing conversation with Ben Welles who is doing the Cuba story.2 He wants to say that we have reason to believe that this tender will leave in two or three days. I don’t think this can be said because (a) this isn’t true, and (b) to say it at this point will jeopardize the whole complex back-and-forth on this issue. He says if I don’t tell him what is true, he will have to go with what he thinks is true. Very few people in this government know what is true. This isn’t true. It may come true but if it does, it would be a pure accident. When does he plan to publish this? Tomorrow?

F: Tomorrow.

K: For reasons which you don’t know and cannot control and for which you are not to blame, it would be the worst possible timing and would jeopardize the whole thing. He can, if he wants, speculate about permanent stationing there. The true reasons I cannot give you now, but the article appears at an excruciatingly bad time. We can get this wound up only by keeping the profile low.

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F: I think I get the picture.

K: I don’t object to most of the rest of it, but lay off the tender to some extent.

F: Let me see if we can find some way of sloughing away from it.

K: In return, when the tender leaves, I will explain to you why this is so sensitive and give you a chance to do an article. If I have deceived you in this phone call, then you could slam me.

F: I wouldn’t do that. You understand why this is an intriguing topic for us. But I will talk to him.

K: But it would be most unfortunate right now.

F: I understand.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. During a telephone conversation with Kissinger five minutes before this one, Welles reported: “We have written a story that US has understanding with the Soviet Union not to base nuclear missiles in the Caribbean waters or nuclear missiles in the Western Hemisphere. We would not be averse if they want to use recreation facilities, service and maintenance or calls at the ports. We have hopes that there will be evidence in the next few (3 or 4) days of the removal of the tender in Cienfuegos.” Kissinger did not think the story was “outrageous,” but warned that any reference to a deadline for Soviet withdrawal would be “really unfortunate.” Although Welles wanted to avoid being “irresponsible,” he insisted that his source of information was “accurate.” “All you have is gossip,” Kissinger replied. “I do not know who gave you this information but this is just not right.” (Ibid.)
  3. On November 15, the New York Times published a front-page article by Welles on efforts to resolve the controversy over Cienfuegos. Welles reported that American officials expected the Soviet Union to withdraw the submarine tender from Cuban waters “in the coming days,” contradicting the claim of “another highly credible source” that the tender would leave “within the next two or three days.” Such action, he explained, would be in accordance with the unwritten “understanding” between the two sides. According to Welles, Kissinger’s “quiet diplomacy”—including secret meetings with Gromyko and Dobrynin—was behind the “understanding.” Welles also repeated the warning of unnamed officials that “the national interest might be impaired by anything that Moscow might interpret as an ultimatum, even through press reports.” (Benjamin Welles, “Soviet’s Removal of Vessel Is Awaited by U.S.,” New York Times, November 15, 1970, p. 1)