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

Nixon: What I am concerned about is something you talked about [unclear]. I thought that when you talked to Dobrynin, you told me, [Page 399]you gave him assurance that we would not hit the Hanoi–Haiphong area—

Kissinger: That is correct.

Nixon:—while you’re there. Well, the feeling that we’re going to sort of keep to the level relatively and then down, let me tell you, that we have a desperately difficult problem with our domestic situation if there is any indication—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon:—that we aren’t bombing the hell out of them now.

Kissinger: No, no.

Nixon: It would be just—You see, what ruined Johnson was to start and stop; You remember how many bombing halts he had. Now we cannot be in that position, even though you’re going, because you don’t know what you’re going to, what we’ll be doing here. What I’d like to see is in this next week, I mean this week while you’re gone, I think on the battlefront, I think everything that can fly should be hitting the whole battlefront, including the stuff up to the 19th Parallel.

Kissinger: Of course.

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

Nixon: I don’t want anybody in the Haiphong–Hanoi. I think that’s a fair deal with the Russians. Incidentally, you’ve got to pick up on the point that Bob [Haldeman] told me that Butz feels he’s got to report to me on his trip.2 So has he reported to you?

Kissinger: No, I’ll talk to him today.

Nixon: Well, no, I’ll see him say around 3:30. he’ll be in here to finish it up because—

Kissinger: At 3:30 I’m—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger:—going to be—3

Nixon: Well, you talk to Bob. You talk to Bob. I want you to be there because he’s becoming a great problem—I told Bob that the great problem in sending anybody abroad is, if it’s Romney, or Butz, or [unclear], or anyone they let him come in to report—

Kissinger: Well, and also—

[Page 400]

Nixon: They should report to you; they shouldn’t report to me. But they don’t know it. But anyway, look it’s an interesting little flap. Beam thinks that Brezhnev is personally not hostile to the President; and he, Butz, is convinced that Brezhnev is personally hostile to the President, says that he didn’t like the way that the President conducted himself officially. Well, now it doesn’t mean anything. Goddamn it. Beam doesn’t—Beam’s evaluation I don’t give one shit about. He doesn’t know anything. Or Butz’s even less.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: I mean Brezhnev—You see these people are all, they’re all confusing this business of personal hostility. Who in the hell cares? I don’t make decisions based on whether a person is still hostile or not. He is an enemy. I know that. Isn’t that the silliest—What, why does Beam—? Oh, Christ. What gets me now though is how our people are so goddamned naïve.

Kissinger: He had—

Nixon: Brezhnev. Brezhnev is, he might, if he would—Whether Butz is right or Beam is right is irrelevant. And anyhow we’ll have to listen respectfully to him because he’s a nice fellow and he’s trying to do well. But, goddamn, why do they have to get into this?

Kissinger: Well, Butz is a bit of an egomaniac. He goes there. We told him before he went that this was to be the President’s show. He doesn’t know the big game.

Nixon: Yeah. He wants to [unclear] a press conference and announce the grain deal?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Well, he’s not going to do that. He didn’t do it, did he?

Kissinger: He didn’t do it but it was very good. We had to let a lot of blood—

Nixon: Did we?

Kissinger: —to get it done.

Nixon: Well, you see, Henry, isn’t it amusing when, when I’m going to see Butz because [unclear] that he and Beam disagree as to whether Brezhnev is personally hostile to the President? The point is that has nothing to do with it.

Kissinger: I believe that Brezhnev has committed his whole prestige to this, to this policy. And to see what—

Nixon: As a Communist, Dobrynin is personally hostile to the President. You know that.

Kissinger: Oh, personally—

Nixon: Totally. Totally.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

[Page 401]

Nixon: And I am personally hostile to him. But in a, but in a social way, we get along fine.

Kissinger: The vitality of your foreign policy is shown—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger:—by the fact that you could knock off, you could attack Hanoi and Haiphong and get really only the most mild, mumbling—

Nixon: To this point.

Kissinger: No, now it’s not going to happen anymore. Because today in China—for 2 days they didn’t cover it in the press at all. Today they have an editorial in the People’s Daily which was so mild. And then when they protest about over-flying them, instead of making it public they send it through the secret channel,4 and they say one plane violated, they give the time and they don’t say you must stop the bombing of Haiphong.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on Democratic criticism of the bombing campaign in Vietnam.]

Nixon: The timing basically was: we didn’t pick the time. Son-of-a-bitch. They attacked. That is the provocation.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I must tell you I know no President who would have had the guts to do it now.

Nixon: That’s what Laird thinks.

Kissinger: To do it with a—

Nixon: They think it’s wrong to do it politically. Or isn’t that really what they’re—?

Kissinger: To do it with an invitation to Moscow for you in the pocket, and a secret invitation to me, it really shows a lot of gall. They invite us on Thursday5—I mean on Thursday they make it definite and on Saturday we clobber Haiphong to tell them, “All right, you bastards.”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: “This is the game that’s going to be played in Moscow.” But it so strengthens my hand in Moscow. That it was a risk that had to be taken.

Nixon: You couldn’t have gone.

Kissinger: I could’ve gone but in a very weak position.

Nixon: Well, in a position of only talking about the summit.

[Page 402]

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Now we’re in the position of talking about Vietnam. Oh, the only other thing I wanted to tell you. It seems to me, Henry, that the least you should get out of your game with the Russians is that when we return, that the President should be able to announce that Vietnam would be first on the agenda at the Moscow summit. You get my point? That would put it to them hard. Why not? Just—understand, I’m not, I’m not concluding this. Let’s discuss this tomorrow. But, you see, anything like that that would come out of your trip—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon:—that even if you would get only that, even though you don’t get a settlement, if we could say, “Vietnam would be on the agenda of our discussion.” Now that, of course, makes it necessary for us to get something out of Vietnam in the summit.

Kissinger: It would be—The only hesitation I have, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger:—is we, they are now scared. They have to be.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: you’ve got a massive armada there. We have to make sure they’re not just playing for time.

Nixon: Yeah. So maybe they would agree to that.

Kissinger: Well no, this is playing for time; this gives them 5 weeks.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah. Oh, no, no. I’m just thinking though—

Kissinger: No, no. We—

Nixon: I think, I’m thinking that when you return, if you’ve got nothing, we’ve got to bomb the hell out of them.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: Or blockade.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: One of the two.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: If we blockade them, do you think there’ll be a summit?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Well, then do you think we should take that risk? That’s the real danger.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: We may have to.

Kissinger: You and I should act towards everybody—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger:—as if we were going right off the cliff.

Nixon: That’s right.

[Page 403]

Kissinger: That’s the only way we can make it work.

[Omitted here is discussion of political leadership in the Pentagon and of the military situation in Vietnam.]

Kissinger: Joe Kraft has an article this morning. Considering that he’s violently opposed to everything we’re doing, it’s very mild. Of course, he’s saying again that we should knock off the summit. Oh yeah. The Democrats would like nothing better.

Nixon: He’s so desperate to want to knock off the summit.

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: Isn’t he—

Kissinger: But it’s helped our game with—

Nixon: The Chinese summit killed him.

Kissinger: Yeah. But it helped us with the Russians.

Nixon: Yeah. The Chinese summit killed him. He knows the Russian summit will help us. He’s desperately trying to knock it off, isn’t he?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Isn’t that what Kraft is trying to do?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Son-of-a-bitch. Wouldn’t he die if he—? Well, anyway, we’ll see. The Russians are going to have to have this summit, Henry. They are, because [unclear] I think that we must have no illusions after your conversation yesterday that if they don’t have the summit, we have no other choice than to blockade. I don’t really see any other choice.

Kissinger: That isn’t going to be part—oh no, that’s clear but what isn’t clear is what—

Nixon: If you don’t get anything, what—

Kissinger: If we don’t get anything, whether we then blockade—and we can directly knock off the summit.

Nixon: If we knock off the summit. That’s right.

Kissinger: That’s the question.

Nixon: That’s the tough one. Well, we may. We may. Because we sure aren’t going to let them knock it off if we can help it.

Kissinger: Well, we’ll know by Sunday what there is.

Nixon: Do you have that note [unclear] North Vietnamese?

Kissinger: No, but that I wouldn’t expect. If you think about it, Mr. President, I gave Dobrynin a note—6

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 404]

Kissinger: —for the North Vietnamese between our first and second wave—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —of attacks. That note must have reached Hanoi the day that Haiphong was burning. And for Russia to transmit a note to them is, in itself must be, an unsettling experience for them because—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —up to now Russia has taken—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —that they wouldn’t, that they wouldn’t [unclear] while the bombing was going on. But they never—You remember that for 3 years we tried to get them engaged and they never did it.

Nixon: Well, we shall see. I’m not sure it will go to that. It seems to me though if you don’t get—Well, we’ll have to judge it by what you get. But I think that the credibility of our position if you come back with nothing, that the mountain [unclear] produces a mouse, would be totally impaired. If only the—only alternate to blockade was the massive bombing—

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: That we might do.

Kissinger: That is better than a blockade, because with massive bombing we might still have the summit.

Kissinger: Exactly. Exactly.

Nixon: They have got to know if you come back with nothing that the man in the White House is going to go berserk.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: Is that what you’re going to do?

Kissinger: Yes.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 711–5. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 11 to 11:24 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. For discussion of Butz’ trip to Moscow, including the meeting among Butz, Nixon, and Kissinger that afternoon, see Document 110.
  3. Kissinger left the White House at 3:45 p.m. to meet Huang Hua, Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, in New York. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) For information on the meeting that evening between Kissinger and Huang, see footnote 3, Document 116.
  4. That afternoon Huang Hua met Peter Rodman in New York to deliver a note protesting the recent entry of a U.S. aircraft into Chinese airspace over Hainan Island.
  5. April 13.
  6. See Document 103.
  7. Kissinger called Dobrynin at 2:48 p.m. on April 18 to discuss the handling of lend-lease negotiations. Kissinger: “On the lend lease negotiations you people are linking the two—financial and MFN which our delegation is not authorized to do at this point. Our original proposal shows you combine it to the sums and so forth. You and I understand that when Patolichev come here you will link them together …” Dobrynin: “You see, Henry, while in Moscow they give it as a matter of principle to link it in a way … what you mention. And I am prepared to tell them once more. Patolichev will be here on the 7th of May so I am sure he will discuss it privately with [Nixon?].” Kissinger: “I am trying to get these present discussions off a stalemate course. Look, here we are prepared to look at this matter with an understanding rather than say, ‘No, we are not going to discuss it.’” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)