105. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is brief discussion of the military situation in Vietnam.]

P: Well, I’ll tell you they [North Vietnamese] are being punished and they are taking heavy casualties. The bastards are—

K: Mr. President, if they don’t make it this time, they are not going to come back for two years.

P: If they don’t make it this time, we’re out of the woods, but the point is that we have to realize though that our hole card is the blockade. However, that’s why you’ve got to get it settled with the Russians now. I don’t want a meeting—you see, when you meet with them it’s either got to be on the way to settlement or we blockade. You see that’s the one thing I’m concerned about, these bastards, that they will filibuster us.

K: They can’t filibuster you beyond the 25th of April.

P: Right.

K: And on the other hand, Mr. President, the major thing now is to beat down these North Vietnamese. I told them that you could not have a reasonable summit meeting if there were major action going on in Vietnam.

P: Right. He [Dobrynin] understands that, doesn’t he?

K: Oh, yes.

P: Good God, we can’t go there with Russian tanks and Russian guns killing South Vietnamese and Americans. Hell, no, we’re not going to go! We won’t go. It isn’t just a reasonable summit; it means there ain’t going to be no meeting, that’s what he’s got to understand.

K: Right.

P: And you can—so you’ve got a few cards to play yourself on your trip.

K: Well, I think when I say if we keep our nerves, I don’t mean you. I mean if as a country we keep our nerves, we are going to make it. Assuming the South Vietnamese don’t collapse on us but there is no sign of this.

[Page 342]

P: They may be stronger than we think.

[Omitted here is detailed discussion of the military situation in Vietnam.]

K: Well. We’ve got a few hole cards.

P: I think we’ve got Bill [Rogers] on salvo; he’ll take a hard line. I think he knows it.

K: I mean, Mr. President, even if some protests start next week, we’ve got a big hole card.

P: Well, the fact that you’ve been to Russia.

K: Exactly.

P: When we blow that one, that’s going to really—of course, if we blow that one, you realize we will say then that we are not going to the summit. But that’s—

K: Well, no, but there may be conditions which we may blow it—

P: And still go, huh?

K: And still go to the summit. For example, supposing we get a settlement which the Russians guarantee.

P: Oh, that! Oh, any settlement.

K: My assessment is that the chances are 50–50 that we may want to blow it at some point. But at any rate, it is a good hole card to have.

P: Well, we shall see. Oh, yes, that’s the reason why you are going. It’s a good thing to do. As I said, after reversing earlier the decision, I think it’s right; you’ve just got to go. Whether they come or not, the Vietnamese—

K: You could even make a case if they come a week later, it gives them a better chance to work them over.

P: Yeah, yeah. Well, also, we’ve got a chance to work them over too. You understand if they don’t show—I mean, after you meet the Russians—

K: Oh, we go right back to him.

P: Don’t you agree.

K: Oh, yeah.

P: And the Russians have got to damn well understand that. And, also, they’ve got to understand—Well, I don’t know, I just have a feeling, Henry, that the strategy, which you and I both agree on, is the right one.

K: No question.

P: Everybody thinks it’s too hawkish; too unreasonable and so forth but what the hell else can you do?

K: Mr. President, if we had pursued the Laird strategy, we might have won in the South but the war would have dragged on and on [Page 343] and on and winning in the South is no—doesn’t bring the Russians in. What brings the Russians in—I mean, we wouldn’t have won in the South, we could have held in the South and what brings the Russians in is the fact that the situation may get out of hand. Pouring that Fleet in there has made more of an impact on the Russians than the defense of An Loc which they don’t understand.

P: Yeah. The Fleet shakes them because they think it’s a blockade.

K: Of course.

P: And they’re right.

[Omitted here is discussion of the military situation in Vietnam and of Rogers’ upcoming testimony on Capitol Hill.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 397, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking.