109. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and Secretary of State Rogers1

K: Bill.

R: you’ve seen this protest I guess that was delivered to Beam.2

K: No, I haven’t.

R: Yeah, well, they’ve made a protest and they say that four of their ships were hit. They do not make any claim that there were dead or wounded among the Soviet employees; they say there were dead and wounded among the workers of the Port.

K: Yes, that’s what intercepts indicate, yes.

R: The tone of the protest seems to me to be milder than the ones that they made in ′67 and ′68, and it’s a lower level. In that case the protest was made to Rusk himself, I guess in both of those cases.3

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K: Yeah.

R: And this is a protest to Beam by their Deputy Foreign Minister, Kovalev.

K: That’s pretty mild so we shouldn’t be too provocative in our reply.

R: No, I think we’ve got to tone down our answer.

K: Right, I agree.

R: And I’m preparing one now to send over; I don’t know as we have to rush getting it back.

K: I don’t think we should reply until tomorrow, Bill.

R: I think that’s right.

K: That’s pretty encouraging, don’t you think.

R: I think so, yeah. Just a minute here. TASS has also put out a statement.4 The statement TASS put out is a little tougher; it says the Soviet people wrathfully condemn these U.S. acts of aggression, and so forth.

K: Yeah, well of course they’ve got to do something like that.

R: But I think in reading, comparing this protest with the others it doesn’t accuse us of intentionally and deliberately doing this as far as they’re concerned. And the general rhetoric is somewhat softer, so …

K: I think we should give a fairly low-key reply, Bill. I don’t think we should confront them that way when we are after all somewhat in the wrong in the actual act.

R: I agree. Well, I think what we can do is pretty much along the lines of the last one. We don’t want to be more apologetic than the last time because I think that last time was a direct hit. I think we can … we’re not sure of course whether these were hits by American planes or whether it was misfiring on the part of the North Vietnamese.

K: Yeah.

R: Well anyway, we’ll have something drafted to send over.

K: Good, thank you Bill.

R: Right, bye.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 108. During a telephone conversation at 3:10 p.m., Rogers asked Kissinger to inform him if Dobrynin wanted to deliver a formal protest. Kissinger replied: “If we get any word here we will send them over to you. I think the way to handle it [is] we should make a formal protest, admit it and apologize.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) Nixon and Kissinger discussed by telephone at 3:35 p.m. how to brief Rogers on the secret trip to Moscow. Nixon: “You would wait ‘til you left before he [Rogers] was told.” Kissinger: “Yes, because he’s going to drive you crazy if it’s done before. And he will go to Dobrynin before.” Nixon: “Yeah.” Kissinger: “he’ll call him in. This way he can’t reach Dobrynin.” Nixon: “Yeah.” Kissinger: “And he will be no madder one way or another.” Kissinger thought that Haldeman and Haig should handle the assignment. Nixon agreed and suggested they tell Rogers that “the Russians have decided to get into the act; they’ve asked you [Kissinger] to come there and the idea is to discuss the matter and that the North Vietnamese may be there.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, April 16, 1972, 3:35–3:54 p.m., White House Telephone, Conversation No. 22–159) Haldeman himself followed this line in a visit to Rogers’ house on the evening of April 19. “He took it extremely well,” Haldeman wrote in his diary, “we didn’t have any problem at all with him, which was kind of a surprise. So that worked out probably better than we expected.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 442)
  3. In June 1967 U.S. aircraft inadvertently hit two Soviet ships, the Turkestan and the Mikhail Frunze, in separate strikes near Haiphong. For texts of Soviet notes protesting each incident, both of which were delivered to the Embassy in Moscow, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 939–941, 945. For further background, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. V, Document 188. On January 4, 1968, U.S. aircraft accidentally hit another Soviet ship, the Pereyaslavl—Zalesskiy, in Haiphong harbor. For further background on the incident and the subsequent exchange of notes, see ibid., vol. VI, Document 10.
  4. Presumably a reference to the TASS statement, published in Pravda and Izvestia on April 17, which stated: “[The] Soviet people angrily condemn these acts of U.S. aggression in Vietnam.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. XXIV, No. 16, May 17, 1972, p. 4)