116. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Democratic criticism on the military situation in Vietnam.]

Kissinger: The Chinese statement is very mild, Mr. President. Mansfield made a statement saying this will prolong the war; it will make his task in China harder.2 It just proves he doesn’t know a goddamn thing.

[Page 368]

Nixon: His task in China! You know, we’ve, we’ve allowed, we have given him really the extra bit of rope here, as if he had any god-damn special task commission—He doesn’t have a thing. He’s a pain in the ass.

Kissinger: Mr. President, when I tell the Chinese Ambassador tomorrow that I am going to Moscow3—We are now playing this reverse.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: They are not going to look for trouble with us.

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Kissinger: Because that shows them we have a—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: What we get out of the Moscow trip is pressure on Peking, pressure on Hanoi. What they get out of the Moscow trip is pressure on Peking. But that’s—

Nixon: Right. We don’t mind giving them pressure on Peking. But as far as Mansfield is concerned, let me say that when he returns, he’s got to be savagely taken off too, because he has been, you want to remember, with his nice manner, he has been vicious in a way that he has—

Kissinger: You see what I think, Mr. President, is, I now think that deal that I suggested to you this morning4—I don’t think the Russians could, if they wanted to, deliver a final settlement. What I should do—

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: —is pretend that that’s what we want, and retreat to an interim solution, so that it looks reasonable.

Nixon: The interim solution being again?

Kissinger: The interim solution being, we say let’s return to the status quo before the offensive.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: They withdraw the three divisions that came across the DMZ; we stop the bombing; they scale down their offensive actions in the South; Russia guarantees this and talks; Le Duc Tho returns to Paris; and talks start. Mr. President, if we deliver that, I think, first of all, we can murder our critics here. Second, I believe if talks start under those circumstances, Hanoi may negotiate seriously for this reason. They’ve thrown their Sunday punch this year; they were defeated on the ground and hit very hard in the North; if they do it again next year, after you’ve been re-elected, they’ll be even worse off.

[Page 369]

Nixon: I’d make one other condition. We’ll stop the bombing in the North, provided they withdraw their three divisions across the DMZ and return the POWs. I think we’ve got to insist on that at this point.

Kissinger: Well, that they won’t do.

Nixon: Try it.

Kissinger: I’ll certainly try it.

Nixon: You understand? Or at least they’ve got to do something on POWs. You know, you see you can even retreat there. They’ve got to start with some token on the POWs, the sick and wounded, for example.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Doesn’t that make sense?

Kissinger: That makes sense.

Nixon: But, let me say that I am not—

Kissinger: But, you see, then I would murder the Democrats. If that is done, I would—

Nixon: Well, we can murder them, except, you understand, Henry, they go into their convention, we go into the campaign, with the war still going on. That’s our problem. You see the only way that we can get this thing out of the way—That’s why we may have to go the harder line, the blockade and the rest, rather than taking the half-ass line like this. The only way we can get this out of the way is to get the war over with.

Kissinger: I think, Mr. President, we go this route and if we get the Russians involved getting it settled this far, we have a real chance of getting this settled well before the election, because then I do not see what Hanoi is going to wait for. What will be better for them next year than—?

Nixon: Well, it has to be tied in then with an announcement in June. And as I’ve said we’ve got to consider the May announcement as to whether or not that has got to be thrown now. I wonder if the May announcement—

Kissinger: I would not announce anything this week. Why not do it next week?

Nixon: That’s what I mean, next week.

Kissinger: Oh yeah.

Nixon: The May announcement.

Kissinger: For your press conference.

Nixon: But the point is, whether that May announcement should simply be a reduction of forces or whether at that point we want to use the draft—

Kissinger: I would not, Mr. President.

[Page 370]

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: To announce the reduction of forces in the middle of an offensive is such a show of confidence that I—Besides we have the Moscow thing next week too available.

Nixon: You mean maybe. You mean, you mean to surface it?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: But, I mean, but we wouldn’t surface it if talks were going on, would we?

Kissinger: Why not? If we said it was arranged in Moscow.

Nixon: Well, you know, that might be an idea.

Kissinger: Supposing you—

Nixon: I might just open the press conference with that.

Kissinger: That’s what I mean. You say—

Nixon: Kissinger’s been to Moscow and talks are going to resume. And then—Boy and that would flabbergast those sons-of-bitches.

Kissinger: Well, that’s what I mean. And then I would, sort of in a low-key way also get a few thousand troops out of there.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on troop reductions.]

Kissinger: My instinct is, Mr. President, that next week I am going to—You know, the Russians are tough and I may not be able to get it done, but we should try—

Nixon: This talk with Dobrynin today, what’s it about?

Kissinger: Nothing.

Nixon: Is he bringing a message?

Kissinger: No, he brought me the message.5 The talk with Dobrynin is just to show him we’re tough. To say, you know, we won’t reply to this—

Nixon: Oh, oh, he’s going to reply to the message—

Kissinger: No, no. I’m going to reply to the message he brought last night.

Nixon: Oh, you’re going to say, “we’ve received it. The President has noted it. We understand that’s the position you have taken. And we—”

Kissinger: I won’t even say that.

Nixon: Wait a minute. “But you’ve got to understand that we’re taking the position that we’re going to take and the President is not going to be deflected one bit and he has no answer to this.”

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: You see what I mean?

[Page 371]

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: “Not going to be deflected a bit. You’ve got to understand that and our talks as far as the summit are a separate matter, a separate matter from Vietnam.” You know what I mean. But then link your talks on Vietnam with mine. Stick it to them.

Kissinger: Right. I think—

Nixon: You know what worries them though—

Kissinger: Oh the blockade worries them.

[Omitted here is discussion of press reports on the military situation in Vietnam and on preparations for the Moscow summit.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 709–13. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 10:51 to 11:03 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Senators Mike Mansfield (D–Montana) and Hugh Scott (R–Pennsylvania), majority and minority leaders respectively, visited the People’s Republic of China April 19–22. For an account of their trip, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 223.
  3. Kissinger met Huang Hua, Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, in New York on April 18 from 5:30 to 5:55 p.m. to report on his upcoming trip to Moscow; ibid.
  4. See Document 113.
  5. Document 110.