69. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: I thought you might like to know, Mr. President, that the top four leaders of the Polish Communist Party including Gomulka have resigned.2

P: Humph.

K: And that the man who’s taking over we have generally thought of as a traditionalist …

P: Um-huh.

K: He has said that all reforms now have to be carried out by consulting the workers’ interest. Now a number of things to be said, everyone would have thought Dubcek was a traditionalist when he came …

P: He became a tough son-of-a-bitch.

K: And he became a very liberal Communist.

P: (laughter) I know.

K: Yeah. But whatever it is—what it may mean is that they will cancel the price rises. Our guess on Friday3 was that if he came in he’d cancel the price rises which would look like a liberal—like a move to placate the workers.

P: Yeah.

K: But which would buy them more trouble later on.

P: Yeah. Well, it of course has an enormous effect in world opinion, don’t you think? If they …

K: And I think it has a tremendous effect on the Communists.

P: That’s what I mean.

K: Because here they are, they try to loosen ties a little bit, they are doing it—loosening things a little bit, they are using—they are doing [Page 214] it with the Germans and nevertheless the system can’t stand even that little strain.

P: Um-hum.

K: Which shouldn’t even be a strain.

P: Yeah. Think it’s good news don’t you?

K: Oh, I think it’s good news. I think what it means …

P: Even Gomulka.

K: Even Gomulka—what I think it means at a minimum is that they are internal—that they will be much more cautious now in their policies. I think it will mean a slowdown of their playing with the Germans but above all I think … I wouldn’t be surprised if it meant that the Soviets decide that the taunt [détente?] with the Germans is too dangerous and they had better get a little closer to us. As a tactical maneuver, I don’t think it will change their basic orientation.

P: You mean it will put the Soviets—them to have a little pressure to come closer to us you mean?

K: I think it puts a little pressure on the Soviets to come—it will either mean that they will tighten up all the way across the board and pursue a new transition policy towards everybody but I think if they want to taunt in the West they are more likely to seek it with us now than with the Germans.

P: Yeah.

K: Because we are less of a threat to them in Eastern Europe.

P: Well, that’s good, good, well.

K: But in any event whatever it does to us, I think …

P: It will give a little break.

K: They will be more absorbed in their own affairs for a while now.

P: This will shake the Soviet leaders don’t you think?

K: Oh, yes. It shows them that really they don’t have the basis …

P: They just know their system doesn’t have any support.

K: That’s right. It will make …

P: Be sure that the State Department doesn’t give any condoning of this damn thing, you know what I mean. I just want to be sure that there is no weak shrub that we think, you know what I mean?

K: Oh, yes. I think what we should say is that this shows how fragile these governments are and …

P: That’s what they should say. Let State say a few things, make them say that, see what I mean.

K: And that there is no basic solution, until Eastern Europe is re-integrated with the Western Europeans, something like that ought to be said.

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P: Right, right. Well, if any of the State guys get out of line on this, I’m really going to raise hell because boy they want to—they’ll just think this is terrible you know because it affects Ostpolitik—it will worry that damn Bahr won’t it?

K: Well, as I told you the other day,4 he said which we got from intelligence sources that if this goes much further, that’s the end of Ostpolitik.

P: Right. Well, okay.

K: Well, at any rate, I thought you might like to know this. I think it’s good news.

P: Very interesting. Okay Henry, thank you.

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 29, Home File. No classification marking. Although the transcript is undated, Kissinger’s comments on the news from Warsaw clearly indicate that the conversation took place on December 20. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Kissinger called Nixon on December 20 at 5:49 p.m.; the two men talked until 5:54. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Edward Gierek replaced Gomułka as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ (Communist) Party and de facto leader of the Polish Government on December 20.
  3. December 18. See Document 67.
  4. See Document 68.