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

[The recording began while the meeting was in progress. Omitted here is discussion of domestic support for bombing Vietnam.]

Nixon: We have got to play it out. We must not now disappoint—

Kissinger: I could not—

[Page 428]

Nixon: You see. That is why if you come back and we’ve say we’ve agreed to resume our talks and stop the bombing—

Kissinger: Oh no. No, no.

Nixon: That’s why I—

Kissinger: No, no, no. But, Mr. President, the point is the talks resume while the bombing goes on. Oh no, we won’t stop the bombing. Absolutely not.

Nixon: We indicated that we might.

Kissinger: Oh—

Nixon: Retrogressively, but—

Kissinger: No, no. We will retrogressive, if they pull their troops out of South Vietnam.

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: That’s the proposition—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: First let me make one other—

Nixon: Understand, I’m not criticizing. I’m just trying to state, when you come back, I’d like to be able to say something in my press conference about—Oh, did you talk to him about the time of announcement?2

Kissinger: No. I’ll do that there, but I’ve told him that we—because I don’t want—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —to get them thinking that there will be an announcement ‘til—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —‘til my last day there.

Nixon: That’s right. Now look, presently though, Henry, for my own planning, you will be back Sunday night.3

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: Because you’re going to see the son-of-a-bitch4 Friday.

Kissinger: And then Gromyko wants to spend all of Saturday with me.

Nixon: On the details of other things?

Kissinger: Well, I don’t know, he—

[Page 429]

Nixon: Well, we’ll see.

Kissinger: I have to admit, Mr. President, I would never say to anyone who comes into your office: “Don’t spring any surprises on him, because he may not be able to handle it,” which is in effect what they told me.

Nixon: Uh-huh.

Kissinger: Now—

Nixon: Oh, I see. That’s what you mean.

Kissinger: That’s what—

Nixon: Do you think you might see Brezhnev alone?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Or do think you’ll have Gromyko there?

Kissinger: They said—

Nixon: —or whatever they want.

Kissinger: I have to be there. I don’t know.

Nixon: The point is, if, if—Let me say this. There’s one, there’s another way this could be played. I’m trying to think of the minimum we need. Let me, let me figure out a way, and then we’ll come back to your, to what you were saying. As we were saying over there early this morning, earlier this morning,5 what we must not assume, which is what we have been assuming to an extent, and I’m willing to do this in the event they, in the event they cancel the summit or we have to cancel the summit, you know, which we of course are prepared to do. Totally—

Kissinger: Not going to happen.

Nixon: they’re not going to do that. We know that. Hell, they wouldn’t be having you, if they—Look—

Kissinger: May I—

Nixon: These guys would be crazy to have you over there—

Kissinger: May I make two—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —other points, because you need that for your own thinking—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —before you [unclear]. One is, I told him again, I said “Anatol, I want you to know this. We will continue to bomb while [Page 430] I am in Moscow. I don’t want Mr. Brezhnev to feel that while he’s seeing me and his ally’s being bombed that you didn’t know that.”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: “Don’t consider that a surprise.” He said, “I understand.” He said, “But you promised me no escalation.” I said, “No, I promised you no attacks on Hanoi–Haiphong.”

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: He said, “That’s no escalation.”

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: So now, Mr.—you know that’s not a sign of strength.

Nixon: Ha!

Kissinger: The second point I’d like to make to you, Mr. President, is there is this port6 about 60 miles south of Haiphong—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —which is just snuggling up on the 20th Parallel.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Now, our bombing line is the 19th for this week.

Nixon: So you might take that out this week?

Kissinger: But, if I might suggest, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —we ought to try to take that port tomorrow night.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: Because a) it’s a good signal to the Russians.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: As long, as I’ve said, no Hanoi–Haiphong. Secondly, they’ve given us another holding reply out of Hanoi. Every time they give us an unfavorable reply, they get another back.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Good, take it tomorrow night.

[Omitted here is discussion of recommendations of bombing Vietnam.]

Kissinger: Now, another, what I think we can have next week, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 431]

Kissinger: —assuming I have to look at that message from the god-damn North Vietnamese—7

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —is—

Nixon: What do I announce, for example, on Wednesday?

Kissinger: Well, you can announce—8

Nixon: Or do you want me to go Monday? I can go Monday.

Kissinger: Well, you might well consider Monday. But I can cable you from Moscow. Or let’s see what that message is.

Nixon: I see. Do you have adequate communications in Moscow?

Kissinger: Yeah. That’s why we took one of your backup planes.

Nixon: Oh, you communicate through the plane?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Good. You don’t have to use Beam?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: Ah—

Nixon: Great, great. Go ahead.

Kissinger: Well, but we could announce, you could—you see if you could announce that I’ve been in Moscow, that tomorrow morning we’re going to ask for a plenary session, you don’t have to say any more.

Nixon: I should do it Monday. You see, Monday’s a better day for the Congress.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Isn’t that your point?

Kissinger: That’s my point. I think that’s enough. I mean that would shut up everybody—

Nixon: And then I’ll make the troop announcement too.

Kissinger: Why not wait with that ‘til later in the week?

Nixon: Just say I’ll have an announcement on that later in the week.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the announcement on troop withdrawals.]

[Page 432]

Kissinger: And, you see, next week the mere fact, Mr. President—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —that the Soviets discuss Vietnam with me—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —in the week that we bombed Hanoi and Haiphong, which these sons-of-bitches are condemning—

Nixon: Now they will ask, “Whose initiative is this meeting taking place?” I think we, and that I’ve got—and that’s another thing. We’ve got to say that it was at their initiative. I don’t want to hear that we went hat in hand to Moscow.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I—

Nixon: Or we can just say mutually.

Kissinger: I’d say it was mutual. These things always are mutual. We have, it’s important—What they are doing is really screwing Hanoi.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I mean, imagine if they were bombing Iran and then you received Gromyko here at the White House the same week that they’re bombing one of our allies, what impression that would make on the Shah. There is no possible—

Nixon: Yeah. [unclear] Let me go over a few of the items now.9

Kissinger: [unclear]

Nixon: Take some notes. One thing that on the very limit of what we want to get out of these bastards. We’ve got to get something symbolic on the POW thing. Now what I would say is that if we could get the POW’s that have been there 5 years or something like that or sick POW’s. In other words, we release so many and they release, something along that. The second point is that we’ve got to and—

Kissinger: That I must include in the proposal.

Nixon: Huh? Just include that in the proposal.

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: Yeah. We just need something. Just a human, a humanitarian gesture. You understand?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Don’t you think we can include it?

Kissinger: Essential.

Nixon: I don’t think you’re going to get it.

Kissinger: No, I’ll, I think we must hold out—

Nixon: Yes.

[Page 433]

Kissinger: Mr. President, we’ve got some sweating on our—

Nixon: Well, we’ll do this.

Kissinger: I’m not—The risk, with your permission—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —but because it’s your risk—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah.

Kissinger: If I fail there, it may be because I’m turning the screw too much rather than not enough. Now—

Nixon: No, no. If you turn it too much—There’s no greater pleasure frankly that I would have than to leave this office to anybody after having destroyed North Vietnam’s capability. Now let me tell you, I feel exactly that way and I’ll go out with a clean conscience. But if I leave this office without any use of power, I’m the last President—frankly I’m the only President, the only man with the exception of Connally, believe me, who had the guts to do what we’re doing. You know it and I know it. The only man who had the possibility to be President, and Connally’s the only other one who could do what I’m doing. Reagan never could make President to begin with and he couldn’t handle it.

Kissinger: Connally would do it without your finesse though.

Nixon: Well, Agnew, Agnew would—

Kissinger: Agnew. Well, Agnew would have a—Agnew would be in a worse position than Johnson was.

Nixon: But you know what I mean. The point is, as you know, considering electability, I’m the only person who can do it. Now, Henry, we must not miss this chance. We’re going to do it. I’m going to destroy the goddamn country, believe me, I mean destroy it if necessary. And let me say, even the nuclear weapon if necessary. It isn’t necessary. But, you know, what I mean is, that shows you the extent to which I’m willing to go. By a nuclear weapon, I mean that we will bomb the living bejeezus out of North Vietnam and then if anybody interferes we will threaten the nuclear weapon.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic opposition to bombing in Vietnam and of the U.S. Presidential election.]

Nixon: So, all we really need out of this at the present time is enough momentum, enough of this situation where it appears, frankly where we go forward with the Soviet summit because that’s a big plus for us and where we cool Vietnam enough through the summer that after November we can kill them. Make any kind of a promise at all that we’ll do everything to get it past November and then do it. I don’t care whether it’s a year, 8 months, 6 months, whatever the case is.

Kissinger: The only problem is—

[Page 434]

Nixon: You see what I’m getting at. Now within that context, however, let me say that if we cannot get that kind of situation, if there is a risk that somebody else will be here after November who will sell out the country, then, by God, I’ll do it. I’ll throw, I’m willing to throw myself on the sword. We are not going to let this country be defeated by this little shit-ass country.

Kissinger: We shall not—

Nixon: It’s not going to happen.

Kissinger: we’ll never have these guys more scared than now.

Nixon: You think so?

Kissinger: The Russians. In November, you’ll be in a good position too, but I agree with you in principle.

Nixon: I see.

Kissinger: My judgment, what we ought to get out of this, if we can get the offensive stopped, Mr. President, if we can get back to the levels of March 29th say—

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: —before this started—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —get talks started which the Soviets guarantee, have the Soviets engaged—

Nixon: Right. All right.

Kissinger: —then we will have won this—

Nixon: Then, yes, talks are started—But now wait a minute. Talks are started but are we, but we’re going to insist that they be held back over the DMZ?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: They won’t do that. But, on the other hand, on the other hand, that’s what you’ve got to insist on. I think we’ve got to get that, they get back from the DMZ and so forth. What I’m getting at—

Kissinger: You see, but—

Nixon: But it mustn’t appear that we gave up the bombing for talks. That’s the thing.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: If we give up bombing for talks, we do what Johnson did.

Kissinger: No, no, but Mr. President, we will continue bombing during the talks. That’s the difference. Now I believe, Mr. President, if the Soviets deliver this package that the North Vietnamese will settle during the summit. They’ll settle because they will have to figure, having thrown their Sunday punch and having been in effect not supported by the Chinese, not supported by the Russians, in fact squeezed [Page 435] by the Russians, and bombed by us. Why would they be better off next year at this time than this year?

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Therefore I would bet, if we can get this—

Nixon: They misjudge American public opinion.

Kissinger: Mr. President.

Nixon: You don’t see these people—

Kissinger: No, no. But I will bet that American public opinion—If on Monday night, if everything works well, you can announce this trip, what are the goddamn peaceniks in this country going to say? That a week after, and the talks start again while we are bombing, what are they going to say about bombing then? And if Haig’s report is correct—Haig is back, Mr. President.

Nixon: I’m going to talk to him tonight. I thought that you had to go to dinner and—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And I want to be sure Haig—I want to take him out on the Sequoia and brief me a little.10

Kissinger: Oh good. Wonderful.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule, including the announcement of Kissinger’s trip.]

Kissinger: I sort of hinted it to Dobrynin but I’m afraid that if we tell them we want to do it—

Nixon: They may want to leak it.

Kissinger: —then they’ll start leaking it to their allies ahead of time.

Nixon: That’s right. I think what you should do is tell Dobrynin that we will announce this.

Kissinger: Well we may tell him after. Let me see what—

Nixon: Tell him, you can even put it this way: look, we can’t keep it secret. And, that’s the way I’d do it. We drag it into—

Kissinger: Oh, no, they’ll agree to announcing it; that won’t be the problem. The problem is—

Nixon: Whether it gets out before—

Kissinger: Well, we would have to keep them—We don’t want to encourage them to leak it before. And therefore the later they know [Page 436] we’re to announce it. The sons-of-bitches always score cheap little points.

Nixon: Well, let’s see. That’s all right, Henry. Don’t worry too much about the leaking. Just so we don’t leak it. I mean, if it just leaks a little, we’ll then, that will build up the press conference a little. We’ll just maintain total dead silence here about everything, where you are and everything. We’ll going to play it cold as ice.

Kissinger: I’m with—I’m in Camp David.11

Nixon: That’s correct.

Kissinger: What I thought I would do, Mr. President, to take care of the problem, is when I arrive I’ll chopper up to Camp David—

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: —then come back with you.

Nixon: Good. Sunday night. What time will you arrive back?

Kissinger: Well, I’ll have to let you know. I won’t know my schedule ‘til I get there.

Nixon: Well, right. But you’ll arrive sometime during Sunday afternoon, won’t you?

Kissinger: On present plans, yes. By 6 o’clock, I think.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: If I leave Moscow by 2 I’ll be there at 6. And so—I think, I think that the North Vietnamese will settle this summer if we can get them to call off their offensive now. That’s the main thing.

Nixon: Call it off. I’d punish them a hell of a lot more before [unclear]. But we’ll get a lot of [unclear] won’t we?

Kissinger: Well, this thing won’t end—You see, if out of this meeting, just to war-game it. The best we can get out of this meeting is your announcement on Monday night that I was in Moscow, the strong indication on Vietnam and announcing that we are going back to a plenary on Thursday. It won’t fool anybody.

Nixon: Right.

[Page 437]

Kissinger: Then they will say about secret talks, say we never comment on secret talks.

Nixon: Right. That’s right.

Kissinger: But once we have already—We can finesse that so that everyone will—

Nixon: —know there’re secret talks. That’s right.

Kissinger: You could just say Le Duc Tho will come back, as you know. Besides the less you say the better—

Nixon: Or I can say so damn little that it doesn’t mean much. You know I—

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: I have no problem with that.

Kissinger: So that’s what will happen on Monday if we’re lucky. On—then there’s a private meeting with Le Duc Tho on Friday. We bomb the living bejeezus out of them all week long if everything goes well.

Nixon: Including this one tomorrow night, right?

Kissinger: Including that one tomorrow night. Then shortly after that we get the de-escalation thing done. So that would give us 2 more weeks of military action, it would, and then if that happens I would guarantee a settlement this summer because they have literally no place to go. Especially—

Nixon: The bombing tomorrow night, do you think, will help [unclear] to understand how we started the diplomatic line?

Kissinger: Yes. Mr. President, I’ll bet—

Nixon: I think it will. But what do you think?

Kissinger: Right. What I think is that it’s, we’ll have some anxious moments. It’s a gamble, one of these wild things. No other man in this country would have bombed Hanoi and Haiphong having an invitation to Moscow in his pocket—or in the pocket of his assistant. Now here we’re bombing a port while I’m in Moscow. What we are saying—

Nixon: But we, but we’re not breaking the deal with Dobrynin.

Kissinger: No, it’s right up at the—it will be just what I told him.

Nixon: Right. Not in the Hanoi–Haiphong area.

Kissinger: That’s right. And I’ll tell Gromyko, you say, tomorrow night, I’ll say that, listen, that this is—The more we do now the better. The more reckless we appear, because after all, Mr. President, what we’re trying to convince them of is that we are ready to go all the way. The only way we are able to convince them is to do reckless things. For example, all Soviet ships on the way to Haiphong have been stopped—I don’t know whether I’ve had a chance to tell you this—not just the ones from Vladivostok, from everywhere. And they are backing off, or at least they want to avoid them.

[Page 438]

Nixon: Well, they don’t want to be in the harbor while it’s mined.

Kissinger: So, I must tell you, maybe they’ll tell me Friday morning, “You son-of-a-bitch. You’ve just bombed Dong Hua while you are here. There is a limit. Go back on the next plane.” That’s the risk we are running. But it’s precisely, I don’t think, that isn’t the way Dobrynin talks to me.

Nixon: Well, we’re just, we’re just going—You told him today that we would continue bombing.

Kissinger: I told him that the only things we will not bomb is Hanoi and Haiphong. My instinct is—

Nixon: That’s enough to give them.

Kissinger: My instinct is the more we—After we’ve taken out Dong Hua then I’d go back to the 19th Parallel and stay there. That still gives us 140 miles to bomb.

Nixon: That’s pretty good. With regard to your points here.12

Kissinger: Excuse me.

Nixon: I think I would say that, in talking about our relations, I think you could say that you’ve often heard the President discuss this matter, and he’s aware that there are a number of important countries in the world these days, but he says there are only two countries that really matter in terms of power, as of now—the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Others, for example the PRC and Japan, could matter very much in the future. And we have to therefore make our plans accordingly. But today the Soviet Union and everything depends on us. Secondly, that this summit, as distinguished from other summits, comes at a time when the President agrees that we are equal. I would say that. When neither can push the other around. And also at a time where neither can or will allow the other to get an edge militarily. In other words, that is one of the reasons why they are [unclear] arms negotiations with us and the whole purpose of that is to tell them I am not going to allow them to get an advantage. See? That is they’re escalating. So we’re, this is how it differs from ‘59, ‘61 and ‘67. The other thing, in terms of cosmetics, is to say the President, as a student of history, knows that there have been spirits that have been raised and then dashed. We had the spirit of Vienna. We had the spirit of Camp David. We had the spirit of Glassboro. He does not want this to be that kind of a spirit. He thinks we should think incidentally of a place to meet outside of Moscow or find a different name than Moscow. In other words, that’s why I think where we might have a meeting and then we could have the spirit of Dacha or Yasnaya Polynana or something like that. And that this, [Page 439] however, will be the real thing. Because Brezhnev has talked about the spirit of Yalta, you know, remember when the Agricultural Minister said it would be better to go back to that. Well, we’re not going to go back to the goddamn spirit of Yalta. But nevertheless it shows that he’s thinking in those terms. So this is in your soft-sell in the beginning.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The President says let’s don’t have the spirit of Camp David; that failed. Let’s don’t have the spirit of Vienna; that was a failure. Let’s don’t have the spirit of Glassboro; that was a failure. I mean you’re reflecting of course on, you’re conceding that but it was a god-damn foolish thing. But this is the real thing. Here we’re not only going to have the spirit, we’re going to have the substance. And that’s why this summit is by far the most important meeting in this century. Right? Lay it right out there, you know, in those terms. The President considered the Chinese meeting enormously important because of the future. But we’re talking now about the present here in Russia. And he’s aware of power. He’s aware that China is potentially a great future power. He’s also aware of the fact that the Soviet Union is a great present power. And for that reason we have things that bring us together. So—now, one thing I want you to be extremely hard on is, they have a single standard. We can’t have this crap in effect that they can support liberation in the non-Communist world but that we, the Brezhnev doctrine must apply in their world.

Kissinger: That’s a strong—

Nixon: Let me put it this way. Tell them the President doesn’t know the particulars of the Brezhnev doctrine. Now, and the President realizes that the world has changed since 1959 when all over Russia he was harassed by directors of Khrushchev about the Captive Nations resolution.13 The President has no illusions about what we can do about liberating Eastern European countries. I’d just put it that way—by arms, force of arms. But the Soviet Union should have no illusions that it can directly or indirectly use force of arms to liberate non-Communist countries. I think you’ve got to say there’s got to be a single standard on that. Now what we’re really saying to them in effect, look we’ll divide up the world, but by God you’re going to respect our side or we won’t respect your side. Don’t you think that point should be made?

Kissinger: Absolutely. I’ll—The one thing, Mr. President. They’ll undoubtedly tape what I say.

[Page 440]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I shouldn’t say this is the most important meeting of this century because if they play it for the Chinese—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: But I—the thought—

Nixon: In terms of substance, you can say—

Kissinger: Oh, oh, oh. Its immediate impact or something.

Nixon: In terms of its immediate impact on substantive matters it could be, it could be you say, the most important, depending upon what we agree upon in terms of substance. The other was enormously important in terms of changing the whole world, because, you know—All we mean about that is the President thinks his China initiative is the most important thing he’s done so far. I’d say that. Because we have to look to the future.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Have to look to the future. But we’re talking now about the present. And, we might say, it’s very different from when Mr. Kosygin and Mr. Johnson talked about their grandchildren [unclear] at Glassboro. Say that President Nixon wants to talk to Chairman Brezhnev about ourselves and our children. Right now. It’s not grandchildren. Children. They like that. The Russians like to use that kind of business [unclear]. Point out, give them a little bullshit to the effect that the President has great respect for Mr. Brezhnev—he’s a strong man, a determined man.

Kissinger: I should start with it.

Nixon: He is not, the President is a, the President is a deeply believing ideologue just as Brezhnev is. He has no respect for weak men. He thinks, he thinks Brezhnev’s strong. As a matter of fact, and I’d throw in, that’s one of the reasons the President respects Mr. Chou Enlai and Mr. Mao Tse-tung, because they are strong men. If you want. Just stick in a little needle there. He respects them. He totally disagreed with them, but we found mutual respect. And the President, however, he sees Mr. Brezhnev, he believes he’s a strong man, he deeply believes in his system, but that, and he’s not going to do anything that will be detrimental to the security of the Soviet Union, he doesn’t expect him to, but the President isn’t going to do anything detrimental to the security of the United States. There can’t be any winner. No winner in this contest. We both have to win or it will not be successful. In other words, unless the agreement is one that both have a vested interest in preserving, the agreement isn’t going to be worth the paper it’s written on. And he believes, that this, that you believe, having met, knowing the President, studied Mr. Brezhnev, that they will, that they are the kind of, they are two men who despite their differences in [Page 441] backgrounds and the rest, could make very great progress, because they’re direct men, they’re strong men, but they’re honest men. I’d put that crack in there. You see? Hey look, you might as well use flattery. You know the Russians use flattery. They’re horrible that way. And also they’re susceptible to it.

Kissinger: Okay.

Nixon: Now, say, on the other hand, that you’re not using flattery. You know, you’ve got all that [unclear]. The other point is that you ought to get in a very strong line that you’ve heard, the President is very fatalistic about his position. You know he differs, tell them, you knew and respected President Johnson, you did some missions for him, and President Kennedy, you did some missions for him. But this President, each of them had his strong points, this President differs from them in one important fact. All three were politicians or otherwise they never would have been elected President. But President Nixon is one that you have heard say to the top officials when he decided to go forward on the Haiphong–Hanoi, he said politics be damned. That every one of his advisers have said to you, you can say, Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense were not suggesting, every one of them, Rogers—well you would say didn’t oppose it, but point out the political risks. Say it that way. That the Presidents said politics be damned we’re going to do what’s right. And the President is going to take that line right down to the election. I don’t want them to have any impression that I was affected one iota by public opinion, by polls, by anything of that sort. Don’t you think that’s a good point to make?

Kissinger: I think it’s crucial.

Nixon: The other point that you’ve often made to the Chinese. The President is in a rather unique position. He can deliver what the so-called liberals promise because he has the confidence of the right in our country. And there’s no President who could go to Moscow at this time, at a time Moscow is fueling a war that has cost 50,000 Americans. No President could go at this time and come back with an arms control agreement and so forth and sell it to the American people except this President. He would have a riot in the streets of the right wing. Now, tell them, now there are still a lot of McCarthyites in this country, Mr. Chairman. You know, tell them that. You know, Mr. Wallace.14 Scare them with Wallace. You see my point? But this President can deliver. He’ll never promise a thing that he doesn’t deliver on and he will deliver. In other words, what we have here is two hard-edged, strong [Page 442] men who can, can make this deal. [unclear] But to have a successful summit it’s indispensable, not just necessary, but indispensable, to have some progress in Vietnam. That’s all.

Kissinger: But some significant progress.

Nixon: Oh yeah. Fine. You know what I mean. You’re going to sell them on it. I would point out on the trade. I don’t think they care much about trade any more than the others.

Kissinger: Oh yeah. Oh, no, no, no, no.

Nixon: They do? But on the trade, you could say the President has looked this over. You could say, “Do you realize, Mr. Chairman, that there isn’t a chance that the Congress would approve favored nation treatment, which has to be passed by our Congress, with the present state of Soviet-American relations, particularly in view of the Soviet support of North Vietnam? Not a chance. Now the President can get it through and he will. But that’s why a cooling in Vietnam is essential. And then if we do that more is to come, favored nation, credits,” all as I told Gromyko,15 a whole new world opens up. And I’ll sell it to the Congress and I can do it. I think you need a little of that in the talks. Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: Congress won’t approve credits, won’t approve favored nation treatment, if political tensions exist at the present level. [Nixon appears to be talking to someone else.]

Kissinger: On SALT, Mr. President.

Nixon: Yeah, let’s go through some of those.

Kissinger: You don’t have to make a decision on these various options except, are you prepared—

Nixon: I might with these things. I didn’t mean that.

Kissinger: —are you prepared to give up on the submarines?

Nixon: Am I? Of course. I’m prepared to give up on it—I think we can sell it, can we?

Kissinger: Well, I think I’m going to tell that son-of-a—I’m going to tell Moorer the President has just said, your bloody honor, that you are going do it.

Nixon: But on that, let’s give it up provided we have a hard-line that we immediately send our negotiators back to work on the SLBMs, you know, [unclear].

Kissinger: Right.

[Page 443]

Nixon: But on that, I don’t know, get what you can, but I must say that, you know—Let me put it—that we get everything we can, recognizing that we cannot have an arms control agreement that looks as if we got took. They’re going to analyze that son-of-a-bitch right down to the wire teeth. So do the best you can. That’s all I can say. And the same is true about whether we have a Washington and a Malmstrom, and all the rest. You know. Do the best you can.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: you’re a hard worker. Do the best you can.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: Fair enough?

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: I’ve looked at all these things. But if I were to start to say well take this, don’t take that and so forth, this is a matter that will have to be determined—

Kissinger: Frankly, Mr. President, whether we get a 150 more interceptors or not is just of no consequence.

Nixon: Yeah. Listen, I don’t think it makes a hell of a lot of difference. On the SLBMs, actually I think, I think it’s to our advantage, if they don’t settle, to continue to build some. Maybe not. Maybe we—You know we’ve got a hell of a budget problem. We’ve got to cut it down, we’ve got to cut 5 billion dollars off next year’s defense budget. So, I don’t want to [unclear] unless we’ve got some settlement with the Russians.

[Omitted here is further discussion of the budget and of the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: On SALT, I know [unclear] but—Of course, Gerry Smith would give it all away, wouldn’t he? What’s he say about SLBMs? Does he want to give them away?

Kissinger: Well, what—Gerry would settle for—

Nixon: [chuckles] Right.

Kissinger: —for one—

Nixon: Zero ABMs. Right?

Kissinger: —for one site each. Plus giving up SLBMs. But we cannot—

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: Now, the only trouble is that we face two sites and one of them could be Washington. That puts them into the—If we say each side can complete what it’s building, that’s a reasonable proposition.

Nixon: All right. Let’s do that.

Kissinger: But if we say we will scrap Malmstrom and go to Washington—

[Page 444]

Nixon: I don’t want to do that. I don’t want Washington. I don’t like the feel of Washington. I don’t like that goddamn command airplane or any of this. I don’t believe in all that crap. I really don’t.

Kissinger: But we may be—

Nixon: Do the best you can not to add Washington. I think the idea of building a new system around Washington is stupid. Now that’s my view. Very stupid. I do feel strongly about that.

Kissinger: Well, let me—

Nixon: I’d even rather build one-on-one than build Washington.

Kissinger: No, no. One-on-one is morally wrong for us.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: Because we’d just be getting a [unclear].

Nixon: All right. Good. Now my point is, I just don’t see what’s in it for us to do Washington. I just don’t see what’s in it for us to do Washington. I think we should complete what we’ve done. Both of us. Then maybe, and then maybe we’ll give on SLBMs.

Kissinger: Laird has recommended Washington. Gerry Smith has recommended Washington. Now—

Nixon: Well. Why?

Kissinger: I think anything we get so that we can say we got a better deal on ABM.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We have to get an advantage on ABM, a little bit. Not that it makes a hell of a lot of difference. But—

Nixon: I know you didn’t want to accept it if it doesn’t look all right to the folks.

Kissinger: Well, that was in—probably do. As you say—

Nixon: I don’t know. I—It’s hard for me to figure it out from the stuff I read here. [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, it is a terribly complicated thing. Basically we’d be better off with a two—with a simple formula that each side can complete what they’ve got. However, that runs into some problems with Laird. Therefore, if they’d let us have Washington and Grand Forks—what screwed us on Malmstrom was the strike. If that strike hadn’t happened there’d be no issue; it would be two-thirds finished now.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: If we can have Washington, Grand Forks, and they finesse it somewhat so that we can say we got one, somewhat more than they did on the ABM, it would help us domestically. It would also help us in our position vis-à-vis them.

Nixon: All right.

[Page 445]

Kissinger: But, you see, the problem is to make that plausible, we’d have to crash on submarines. And say that we’re doing more submarine building.

Nixon: [turning pages] European security concerns me. I think we’re getting sucked in there.

Kissinger: But there we’re pretty well sucked in.

Nixon: Now, what are you going to do? Have European security without any linkage with MBFR?

Kissinger: Well, that’s what most of our allies want. And that’s what—

Nixon: I know. Let me tell you, when you have European security you can damn near forget NATO. It’s going to be very—

Kissinger: That I’m convinced of too.

Nixon: But I am also rather convinced that NATO is done anyway so that’s—just between you and me. That’s nothing to—

Kissinger: I think European security won’t hurt it as much as MF—MBFR will.

Nixon: Well, maybe then we’ll just take European security and talk about peace and good will and exchange. Is that what you mean?

Kissinger: That would have a slight advantage. But that is not a decision, which we now need to take.

Nixon: No, I know.

Kissinger: Because—

Nixon: On the other hand, they’ll want to announce a European security conference.

Kissinger: At the summit.

Nixon: That’s right. But you’ve got to be in position to tell them we’re willing. Bilateral issues—just don’t give anything, you know, we won’t [unclear] a goddamn thing—unless we get something on Vietnam. It’s cold turkey. And I mean not a goddamn thing. [unclear] They know that—they know that Vietnam is an indispensable ingredient of anything we do in the other area. Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: You see, the understandings of ‘6816 being in historical perspective. Jesus Christ. We’ve been having the understandings of ‘68 for 4 years and killed thousands of Americans in that period. I know. I [Page 446] don’t think many Americans are going to like that. Well, I guess you’re just saying we’re going to continue the bombing.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: But the understandings of ‘68 must be implemented with positive negotiating. That’s the difference. That’s what has not happened. We’ve had the understandings of ‘68, but not to go back to the talk-talk phase. We’re going back to the negotiate-negotiate phase now.

Kissinger: Also—Mr. President, I think, leaving aside whatever we agree on, I think if they force them to call off their offensive, particularly since this camp had been for another 2 to 3 weeks where they suffer some more horrendous casualties—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah.

Kissinger: —so that the visible outcome of this was an offensive that failed—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —through a massive demonstration of U.S. power—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —that Moscow talked about Vietnam with us while we were bombing Hanoi and Haiphong, if all of this can be done, then, I believe, Hanoi during the course of this summer will settle with us. What’s their prospect? They would have to be sure you lose. It isn’t enough for them to think that you might lose.

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: I cannot, I don’t know what your polls show, but I cannot believe that you would be anything other than even money—any thing less than even money.

Nixon: By the time of the election?

Kissinger: Well, by the time they have to make their decision, Mr. President. See, if they run you right down to election day, they’re in bad trouble.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It will be an even money election.

Kissinger: If by July it looks 53–47 for a Democrat, then I think they’ll play it out to November. But in my view it’s going to look more likely 53–47 for you.

Nixon: Could be.

Kissinger: And if it does—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: Well, assume the scenario that I have described.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: If you assume that scenario, then there will be a negotiation on Vietnam and you will have been in Moscow and had had a [Page 447] very successful Moscow meeting. Therefore by July, I cannot see anything that would put you into a minority position in the polls. That’s when they have to make their decision whether they’re going to settle or not, because if they play it to October and you get even further ahead in the polls, you may not want to settle in October.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: So, if they’re going to settle, they’re going to settle in September. By September. So in my judgment, we are now in a really crucial period, and the practical effect of this proposal is going to be that they will have to settle.

Nixon: You have to realize too that they are quite aware of American political things because there isn’t any question but that they agreed to the bombing halt before the election because Johnson convinced them that that was the only chance of defeating Nixon.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: And Harriman

Kissinger: As I told you all that fall, what the game was.

Nixon: That’s what they were doing. Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: Oh yeah. And that’s why, now they’ve tuned it too finely.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Because—

Nixon: They held out too long on—and Harriman didn’t get, or whoever it was didn’t get Thieu lined up.

Kissinger: You would have to appear to be in a hopeless position—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: For them to—

Nixon: We don’t even have to be ahead in the polls. We just got to be close.

Kissinger: If you are—

Nixon: We got to be close.

Kissinger: You have to be even or slightly ahead or very tinily behind.

Nixon: Well, they aren’t that fine-tuned, the polls are not, so they’d be scared to death if they showed 52–48 against us.

Kissinger: Yeah. That’s what I mean.

Nixon: We still win.

Kissinger: But it won’t—I don’t honestly see how it could show 52–48 against you.

Nixon: Who knows.

Kissinger: I think, Mr. President, in fact, that once there’s a Democratic candidate your polls are going to go up.

[Page 448]

[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in Vietnam, the President’s schedule, and arrangements at Camp David, including the cover story for Kissinger’s trip to Moscow. Kissinger left the White House at 8:20 p.m. and returned home before attending a private dinner in Washington. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) In his memoirs Kissinger noted that he departed for Moscow on a Presidential aircraft shortly after 1 a.m. on April 20, accompanied not only by six staff members and two Secret Service agents but also by Dobrynin, “since it was the quickest way for him to get to Moscow.” (White House Years, page 1124) Dobrynin also described the departure in his memoirs: “In deep secrecy, I drove in the dead of night in an embassy car to a prearranged place, where a station wagon from the White House was waiting for me. It took me to a military airfield near Washington [Andrews Air Force Base]. Kissinger also arrived secretly. On our way to Moscow we made a refueling stop at a NATO air base in Britain. Kissinger told me, half-joking, not to get out of the plane for exercise because they would faint if they saw the Soviet Ambassador walking around their super-secret base. To preserve the secrecy of our mission, he did not get out either.” (In Confidence, pages 244–245) According to his trip itinerary, Kissinger was scheduled to arrive in Moscow at 7:50 p.m. on April 20. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [1 of 2])]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 713–1. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 3:27 to 5:01 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Kissinger met Dobrynin in Scowcroft’s office on April 19 from 2:35 to 3:17 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) No other record of the meeting has been found.
  3. April 23.
  4. Brezhnev.
  5. Nixon met Kissinger twice in his office in the Executive Office Building that morning, 9:20–9:55 a.m. and 11:20–11:47 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Tape recordings of the conversations are ibid., White House Tapes, Recordings of Conversations between Nixon and Kissinger, Executive Office Building, Conversation Nos. EOB 331–13 and EOB 331–16.
  6. Thanh Hoa.
  7. Reference is to a North Vietnamese proposal on talks, which Colonel Guay in Paris forwarded in a backchannel message to Colonel Kennedy in Washington on April 19. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1041, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, USNVN Exchanges, January–October 5, 1972)
  8. During his address to the nation on April 26, Nixon announced the withdrawal of further U.S. troops from Vietnam by July 1; see Document 171.
  9. See Document 125.
  10. Nixon met Haig and Haldeman that evening aboard the Presidential yacht Sequoia on the Potomac River. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to Haldeman, “the Sequoia dinner with Haig was partly a report on Vietnam and partly the P blasting the press and our enemies in Vietnam.” (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 442) No other record of the meeting has been found. Regarding Haig’s trip to Vietnam, see Document 111.
  11. In an April 18 memorandum to Kissinger, Jon Howe described the cover story for his trip as follows: “If pressed to explain your absence and that of other members of the staff, it will be acknowledged that you, Sonnenfeldt, Lord, Rodman, Derus, Pineau have gone to Camp David for intensive preparations for the Moscow summit. The President will go to Camp David on Thursday afternoon [April 20] and remain there until your return. He will be reviewing the international situation with you, after meeting with you in Washington on Thursday morning.” “Due to the high probability of leaks for this mission,” Howe added, “it is important that you bring a hat and not wear your glasses when in exposed areas.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [1 of 2])
  12. See the draft opening statement, attached to Document 125.
  13. Reference is to the resolution passed by Congress annually during the 1950s requiring the President to proclaim a week of prayer for the “captive nations” of Eastern Europe. President Eisenhower issued the proclamation several days before Vice President Nixon left on his trip to the Soviet Union in July 1959. For his account of the Soviet complaints about the resolution during the trip, see Nixon, RN: Memoirs, pp. 205–207.
  14. George C. Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, was then seeking the Democratic nomination for President.
  15. Nixon met Gromyko at the White House on September 29, 1971; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–October 1971.
  16. Reference is to the understanding announced by President Johnson on October 31, 1968, that the United States would no longer bomb North Vietnam, and that North Vietnam, in return, would no longer violate the demilitarized zone. See Public Papers: Johnson, 1968–69, vol. II, pp. 1099–1103. Also see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VII, Vietnam, September 1968–January 1969, Document 169.