100. Editorial Note

On April 13, 1972, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger met Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in the Map Room at the White House from 12:05 to 12:46 p.m. to discuss his upcoming trip to Moscow and proposals for talks with the North Vietnamese. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) Although no substantive record has been found, Dobrynin described the meeting in his memoirs: “When I informed Kissinger on April 13 that we agreed to receive him on his secret mission, he said he was also willing to meet the North Vietnamese in Moscow if they wanted (they said they preferred Paris). He briefed me on the basic American position, but the leadership in Hanoi did not let us know where it stood.” (In Confidence, page 244) Kissinger then briefed President Nixon in the Executive Office Building at 2:16 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

Kissinger: “I had another talk—”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “—with Dobrynin.”

Nixon: “Another talk?”

Kissinger: “He came in and said he’s already got a message back from Moscow saying that it’s very important I should come.”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “They want me to come.”

Nixon: “Did you give him the answer then today and say it was OK?”

Kissinger: “I said you were not yet back, but I would give him the final answer. I just thought that we should—”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “—wait for—”

Nixon: “Right. I’m waiting. Right.”

Kissinger: “Vietnam will be agenda item number one. And therefore they request that I get there a day earlier than I had suggested. And also they said the Vietnamese delegation for their talk with me is coming through Moscow on Sunday [April 23]. And they want to have completed their talks on Vietnam with me before Sunday.”

Although Kissinger commented that the Soviets were “really slobbering right now,” Nixon first wanted to discuss domestic politics and public relations, including his address the following day to a joint meeting of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa (see below). Kissinger then continued to report on his meeting with Dobrynin.

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Kissinger: “Now, one thing Dobrynin told me is that as of Tuesday night [April 11] the North Vietnamese were still coming on the 24th. And—”

Nixon: “Yeah. Well—”

Kissinger: “Well, but that’s, they made three conditions: that we come on the 13th; the 20th, the plenary session; and that we stop the bombing of the north. We have not met any of these conditions. If they come under those circumstances, that in itself is an unbelievable confession of weakness.”

Nixon: “I agree.”

Kissinger: “Secondly, if they come after I’ve been in Moscow—and he told me that Moscow [unclear] my going there—which is fine. They won’t leak it; they have no interest.”

Nixon: “We don’t care about the leak.”

Kissinger: “But after that visit, now what Dobrynin said to me—You know, it’s very different cycle now. None of this—”

Nixon: “I know he gets to the cold points. I know.”

Kissinger: “It’s now as cold—Now, it’s like your conversation—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger:“—at the time you were building up the [unclear]. None of this baloney about what are we doing to us, how does this—.”

Nixon: “Well he comes in and says, ‘My government [unclear] that.’ And then he talks just like it’s straight out of the horse’s mouth.”

Kissinger: “He says, ‘Look, we have this problem. Our national interest is against what’s going on in Vietnam now.’ He also—”

Nixon: “Yeah, they’ve been saying that. That’s the Harriman line.”

Kissinger: “Well, yeah but not—No, there’s been no reply like this.”

Nixon: “I know, I know. But, you know, that’s, that is the Harriman line. Go ahead.”

Kissinger: “No, but—”

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: “No, their line used to be that we were ruining the possibility of good relations with them.”

Nixon: “Oh, I get it. Go ahead. But whatever it is—”

Kissinger: “He was saying their national interests. On the other hand, he said we shouldn’t push them in a position where they seem to be selling out.”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “But, he said, ‘Let’s be realists. What do you want?’ I said, ‘We want an end of military operations. That’s the minimum. We are not going to sit there and talk and get ourselves chopped up over a period [Page 316]of months. We’ve now got our forces together out there and we’re going to use them.’ He said, ‘Can you, is that an irrevocable decision against us?’ I said, ‘We will do what is necessary but the war in Vietnam must stop.’ He said, ‘If we give, get you a guarantee that military action stops for a year, is that satisfactory?’ Mr. President, frankly—”

Nixon: “If he needs it. Did you tell him that?”

Kissinger: “If these guys after this attack—”

Nixon: “Well, the point is that you could have a truce for the purpose of talks. That’s what I have in mind. But go ahead.”

Kissinger: “Well but we may even get peace, that’s why I don’t want to—”

Nixon: “Yeah, but don’t give it away. Oh I know.”

Kissinger: “Don’t give it away yet. But, if after cranking up this operation, they stop—I said, ‘Now the first thing, you have to remember, Anatol, is we don’t believe a word Hanoi says. So Hanoi can offer us anything but you, you’ve got to guarantee it publicly before we can even con—, before I can even take it to the President. Because the President is in such a mood now that if I come to him and say Hanoi promises something he will throw me out of the room.’”

Nixon: “Good. What’d he say? Does he believe you?”

Kissinger: “Oh, yes.”

After discussion of U.S. naval presence in the Gulf of Tonkin, Kissinger reported a Soviet proposal for negotiations on Vietnam.

Kissinger: “So he said, ‘Are you prepared to do this?’ He said, ‘If we get military operations stopped, are you prepared to say to the North Vietnamese you have proposed a coalition government, we’ve proposed an election; We’re willing to talk whether a compromise is possible between these two positions? Talk about a compromise we can do, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Sure.”

Kissinger: “If they stop military operations for a year, they’re finished.”

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: “Because that would be interpreted all over Vietnam as a massive defeat for Hanoi.”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “Then he said, ‘Well, what about this limitation of military aid if both of us agree?’ I said, ‘All of your allies would have to agree too. We can’t let you send stuff in through Czechoslovakia.’”

Nixon: “And your allies, the Chinese, have to agree too.”

Kissinger: “Well—”

Nixon: [laughter]

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Kissinger: “All I’m trying to say, Mr. President, is—You remember how many years we tried and they wouldn’t even communicate our messages—”

Nixon: “I know.”

Kissinger: “—to Hanoi.”

Nixon: “I know.”

Kissinger: “He tells me they’re in active daily contact. He says, Vietnam is agenda item number one when I get there. He says—”

Nixon: “When you get there?”

Kissinger: “When I get there—”

Nixon: “Oh yeah. Hell yes.”

Kissinger: “But they’re trying to get the goddamn thing—they’re not saying, ‘If you blockade, you’ll be in a confrontation with us.’”

Nixon: “Well, I hope that he doesn’t feel, though, that he doesn’t come out with coalition government concession from you.”

Kissinger: “There’s no chance of it, Mr. President. What he’s looking for, as I understand it, is some face–saving formula that enables them to stop the war for a time—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “—in which we are committed to talk about something and they are committed to stop fighting. We will have achieved—If they stop fighting, Mr. President, it will be a bigger victory by far than the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Nixon: “Oh, shit, we didn’t lose—The Cuban Missile? Christ, we didn’t lose any Americans. The Cuban Missile didn’t involve Americans; it involved a bunch of damn Cubans.”

Kissinger: “Let’s look at it another way. Supposing tomorrow morning Hanoi publicly said to you, ‘We are willing to make a compromise on the political thing, are you willing to talk about a compromise without making a proposal?’ we’ve got to say, ‘Yes, we’ll talk about it.’”

Nixon: “Basically what we’ll have here is a bombing halt with, with action on their side rather than an understanding.”

Kissinger: “But the ball is on their side.”

Nixon: “On both sides.”

Kissinger then recommended that Nixon approve plans for “some strikes on truck parts and POL depots around Haiphong and Hanoi this weekend.” Kissinger argued that bombing in the North was more effective than fighting in the South, which “won’t get the Russians in.”

Kissinger: “Because if the battle is confined to the South—”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

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Kissinger: “—the Russians will believe that if Hanoi wins that’s good for us, for them because it weakens us; and if Hanoi loses, it’s good for them because it increases Hanoi’s dependence on them. So the southern battle they don’t mind. What’s panicking the Russians is that we will blockade or that we will so tear up North Vietnam that they will be forced to put in something in an area in which they have nothing to gain. And, therefore, risky as it is, we’ve got them to where we are in this game by running enormous risks.”

Nixon: “The Chinese raise hell about it. That’s what I would do.”

Kissinger: “Well they’ll all raise hell about it. I’ve already told Dobrynin we’re going to do something intensified. And he said, ‘Well, must you do it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, as long as [unclear] but it won’t be a good [unclear].’”

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: “The point is, Mr. President, the extent of the damage.”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “We don’t have to do it. But I think showing that we keep coming, that this thing is going to get worse and worse is helpful.”

Nixon: [unclear] “in my view—And of course we always run the risk of blowing the whole thing.” [unclear]

Kissinger: “Mr. President, I cannot believe that. I believe that the only thing that can blow this is if we blink now.”

Kissinger suggested another link between the military situation in Vietnam and political relations with the Soviet Union. Dobrynin had recently said that Moscow “very much appreciated” Nixon ’s decision to avoid “ostentatious connections with the Catholic Church” during his trip to Poland. “What we have to show the Russians,” Kissinger told Nixon, “is that they are jeopardizing this sort of cooperation by horsing around in Vietnam.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, April 13, 1972, 2:16–2:50 p.m., Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 329–32)

During the meeting Kissinger also convinced the President, albeit temporarily, to delete a sentence from his Canadian speech. (Ibid., White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, Haldeman Files, Box 45, Haldeman Notes, April–June 1972, Part I) The sentence, which had been intended as one of a series of signals to the Soviets, reads: “The great powers cannot avoid responsibility for the aggressive actions of those to whom they give the means for embarking on such actions.” (President’s Reading Copy; ibid., President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, Friday, April 14, 1972, Canadian Parliament Speech) According to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, who also attended the meeting, Kissinger insisted that the [Page 319]United States should respond to but not initiate a public debate with North Vietnam. (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) In his Ottawa address on April 14, the President delivered a clear message to Moscow on Vietnam—including the sentence previously deleted at Kissinger’s request. Although his visits to Beijing and Moscow were “for the peace of all mankind,” Nixon warned that summit meetings might create “unrealistic euphoria.”

“The responsibility for building peace rests with special weight upon the great powers. Whether the great powers fulfill that responsibility depends not on the atmospherics of their diplomacy, but on the realities of their behavior.

“Great powers must not treat a period of détente as an interlude between periods of tension. Better relations among all nations require restraint by great nations—both in dealing with each other and in dealing with the rest of the world.

“We can agree to limit arms. We can declare our peaceful purposes. But neither the limitation of arms nor the declaration of peaceful purposes will bring peace if directly or indirectly the aggressive use of existing weapons is encouraged.

“And great powers cannot avoid responsibility for the aggressive actions of those to whom they give the means for embarking on such actions.

“The great powers must use their influence to halt aggression—and not to encourage it.” (Public Papers: Nixon , 1972, page 540)