46. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1

K: I have two problems, one major and one minor. I will give you the major one first. I had a call yesterday from Dobrynin,2 strictly between us, expressing total outrage at the Washington Post article on Sunday. He didn’t mind the NY Times story on Cuba.3

J: I just saw the NY Times this morning.

K: He said NY Times is inaccurate. He says the Washington Post mentions 5 secret meetings between him and me. He wants to know if there’s an agreement between State and them on what’s a fact. I find that hard to answer. We have tried to work together cooperatively. Two senior respected journalists who said that the WH is over excited on Cuba and said give us the truth. When they said this is going to be written about one way or another, I refused to talk to them.

J: Did they imply it’s coming out of here?

K: Yes.

J: I can’t think who it is.

K: Let me say right here that I don’t think it’s you.

J: I appreciate that. I can’t think of whom.

K: There was 5.

J: I didn’t think of 5.

K: I thought I had him but it is 5. No. 4. I will have to check it. Be that as it may, he believes that the best way to kill the speculation is to say 5. It was 5. You have 5 memcons over there.4 The basic problem now is that whoever is doing this is playing with national interest. Two interpretations—One is that we mean to invade and that’s impossible. So a higher establishment believes the Soviets have a right to do what they are doing. I did talk to Dobrynin on Saturday.5

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J: You mentioned that.

K: He said, “I communicated to Moscow.” He said, “You talked to me and then there are two stories”—they will read it as an ultimatum. It says State is beaten into line. It’s in the Washington Post and LA Times. State beaten into line and carefully avoided understanding.

J: We did say understanding.

K: I approved it. It couldn’t have started without someone starting it. It has nothing to do with personal positions—it’s in the national interest. You know what the Russians must conclude.

J: I can’t think of where—it’s never gone beyond you and me and the Secretary. Not even my own office. I can’t think of where it could be coming through. We have used understanding instead of an understanding because in previous years we made many letters to the Congress that there was no understanding or agreement.

K: Kennedy didn’t want to appear soft on Cuba and we might invade. But no one today would believe that. So we are leaving open that they have a right to construct nuclear installations. The way the agreement runs that isn’t even precluded (?). It’s an agreement totally to our (or their) advantage.

J: Entirely so. McCloskey statement is clear on that.6

K: One of these newsmen I have shut off that I must check with the President but he will write a major story. He will say there’s total confusion and that State and the WH are at loggerheads.

J: I will find out from McCloskey what he is picking up.

K: He will write it. It’s Chalmers Roberts.

J: I heard this morning that he was working on it at the same time that Ben Welles was working on it. Murrey Marder picked it up and the Post story was done by Marder.

K: That’s right.

J: Chal has an additional story?

K: He has 5 pages of notes.

J: Good God!

K: We can do a number of things. Ziegler could say something but it’s raping State. I think McCloskey should say that he omitted the participle in front of understanding.

J: Put that way—

K: And that would end it and it would come from you and with grace. We wouldn’t be disciplining you.

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J: You think that would kill it?

K: If he said there is an understanding, they will ask what it is.

J: And what the text is. Say it’s contained in the public statement which he pointed out in previous [omission in transcript].

K: The most gentlemanly low-key way. If it came from you it would be much better than one of us over here saying it.

J: I have no problem with that.

K: I have not told the President about this because I think it is important that we work together.

J: I have no problem with that and I can handle that.

K: Then I will tell Roberts there’s nothing to say anymore.

J: Should he say it to Chal or at the conference?

K: At the conference, then it will be on the record.

J: OK, let’s.

K: That would be a great help.7

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on Portugal and Malta.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. Reference is to the meeting—not a telephone call—between Kissinger and Dobrynin on November 16. See Document 44.
  3. Sunday, November 15. For the newspaper reports, see footnote 3, Document 44, and footnote 3, Document 42.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 40.
  5. November 14. See Document 41.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 40.
  7. During his daily briefing that afternoon, McCloskey provided the first on-the-record account of the Soviet-American “understanding” on Cienfuegos. When asked to define it, McCloskey replied: “Well if the question is, ‘Does this mean that the United States will not invade or intervene in Cuba?’ the answer is we have no plans for invading Cuba. On the other leg of it, ‘Does this mean that the Soviets cannot introduce offensive weapons and construct bases for such weapons?’ the answer is yes.” McCloskey, however, would neither confirm nor deny published reports of “five secret contacts.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of News, Transcripts of Daily News Conferences of the Department of State, Vol. 56) On November 21, Chalmers Roberts reported in the Washington Post (p. A1) that “the Nixon administration is deeply disturbed by Soviet activity at the Cuban port of Cienfuegos.” “[T]he issue has cast a deep pall over the whole range of Soviet-American relationships,” Roberts observed, “including such ongoing negotiations as those on Berlin and on the limitation of strategic arms.”