95. Editorial Note

On January 14, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger received a telephone call at 7:22 p.m. from Yuli Vorontsov, the Soviet Chargé d’Affaires. According to the transcript, the conversation included the following brief exchange:

“V: Dr. Kissinger, I have got a special message from Moscow especially for you. Would like that you should be told that the reply [to] questions and considerations raised in the talk you and Anatoliy [Dobrynin] had before his departure will be given when Anatoliy returns to Washington next week.

“K: I will do nothing till I talk to him.

“V: That’s the way I understand the message.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 8, Chronological File)

During the White House staff meeting the next morning, Kissinger defended his handling of the secret channel with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, in particular, his reluctance to brief Secretary of State William Rogers. White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recorded the day’s events in his diary:

“The big deal of the day today didn’t involve the P[resident], but rather K[issinger], who got into his usual tirade against State and Defense at the staff meeting this morning, and I hit back at him on the point that he had created some problems himself by the failure to notify Rogers of his last meeting with Dobrynin. That upset him. He packed up his papers and left the meeting. He came back about ten minutes later and asked [Herb] Klein to leave so that he could talk to the four of us: Rumsfeld, Shultz, E[hrlichman], and me. He then said that he had to make his decision about going back to Harvard in the next day or so, and that if this wasn’t straightened out, he was going to go back and not stay here. He was more uptight than he usually is on the subject, and this was the first time he had raised it with the group, although he’s been discussing his problems with E during this past week in California, while I was away, and has John quite disturbed, although it’s basically the same routine over again. As a result, John and I met with him briefly a little later in the morning and agreed that something had to be done in the way of a showdown with the P on the whole subject, but that it should not be done until after the State of the Union speech. This successfully stalls Henry past the time of his return to Harvard, which I don’t think he has any intention of doing.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries, pages 233–234)

On January 16, the President released a letter thanking Kissinger for the “difficult” decision to resign his position at Harvard University in order to retain his position at the White House. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, page 40)

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The Kissinger-Rogers conflict nonetheless continued to complicate the Kissinger-Dobrynin channel. On January 16, Under Secretary of State John Irwin called Kissinger at 11:55 a.m. to underscore Rogers’s interest in the President’s annual foreign policy report, which was scheduled for submission to Congress in February. “He wants to be able to review the paper,” Irwin explained, “and have the State Department put something into it and then he wants to look at it and discuss it with the President—the whole formulation of foreign policy.” Rather than debate the issue with Irwin, Kissinger suggested that Rogers “talk to me sometime because sooner or later this always comes back to me.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 8, Chronological File) As soon as he hung up, however, Kissinger called Haldeman to complain that Rogers may have received Nixon’s permission to revise the report. “Once this is over there and once he challenges me, and once I lose,” Kissinger warned, “my position here will be untenable.” The two men then briefly considered several contingencies. Haldeman said:

“I can’t imagine there is any agreement that would cover this. On the other hand, I can see the President if Rogers came to him on a specific issue—how you resolve it rather than how you confront it.

“K: I am determined to make him knuckle under. We have Dobrynin coming back next week. I’m not seeing him again until I know what Rogers is going to do.

“H: I think that is right. “K: I will add this to the list.” (Ibid.)

The list of complaints, from Rogers as well as Kissinger, soon grew longer. On January 18, the New York Times began publishing a seven-part series on the conduct of foreign policy in the Nixon administration. The first article, written by Terence Smith, asserted that the Department of State “is no longer in charge of the United States’ foreign affairs and that it cannot reasonably expect to be so again.” (Terence Smith, “Foreign Policy: Decision Power Ebbing at the State Department,” New York Times, January 18, 1971, pages 1, 14) The second article, written by Hedrick Smith, portrayed Kissinger as “the instrument by which President Nixon has centralized the management of foreign policy in the White House as never before.” According to Smith, the Soviet Union dominated Kissinger’s calculations. “If President Nixon’s wariness arises from an instinctive, almost ideological anti-Communism,” he posited, “Mr. Kissinger’s derives from a commitment to international order. He sees the world as a global chessboard on which the Soviet-American competition is played. A gain or setback anywhere affects the entire relationship in his view, so one must demonstrate strength.” (Hedrick Smith, “Foreign Policy: Kissinger at Hub,” New York Times, January 19, 1971, pages 1, 12)

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Neither Rogers nor Kissinger appreciated the publicity. The White House spent considerable time on January 18 dealing with the problem. (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries, page 235) While Nixon and Haldeman tried to placate Rogers, Kissinger tried to control the damage, summoning two New York Times reporters, Terence Smith and Max Frankel, to his office. Although no record of the conversation has been found, Kissinger met William Safire, the President’s speechwriter, shortly thereafter. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) According to Safire’s memoir, Kissinger vented his frustration against the Secretary and the Department of State:

“‘You feel better now?’ I asked. ‘No!’ Henry pronounced, bounding up again—this was good for him, getting it off his chest—’Look what they tried to do with the Cuban submarines. After the Russian tender was on its way back home, State gives a backgrounder to Max Frankel at the Times that said I overemphasized the crisis, that no senior official recognized it as such. Can you imagine what the Russians said to the guy who recommended they pull it back? ‘You dumb cluck—you see, we never had to.’ And then after it was all over, somebody in State turns around and claims in Newsweek they were the ones who did it after all.’ Henry’s ire was running down. ‘At least that wasn’t dangerous,’ he murmured, ‘—just sick.’” (Safire, Before the Fall, pages 402–404)

Kissinger called Frankel that evening to go over the “ground rules” of his own backgrounder, emphasizing that nothing should be “attributed to White House sources.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 8, Chronological File)

On January 24, the New York Times published Frankel’s piece (pages 1, 24), the last in its series on Nixon’s foreign policy. According to Frankel, Nixon was determined to conduct a “forward diplomacy”—in spite of the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. In order to achieve his objectives abroad, the President had decided to concentrate decision-making at home, notably in the White House. Under a photograph of Dobrynin, Frankel described the substance behind this “firm Nixon style”:

“The most conspicuous consequence is that he has imposed on all major foreign policy decisions his personal sense of rivalry with the Soviet Union. He has shown himself cautiously ready to negotiate for accommodation in regions of conflict and for some moderation in the arms race. But he has insisted on proceeding from a posture of strength, both personal and national.

“The President has taken or threatened tough action—from Cambodia to Cuba to the Middle East—to prove that he would not hesitate to use his strength and to demonstrate that American weariness was not to be confused with weakness. On several occasions, he has wanted to show himself even tougher than subordinates thought wise.”