127. Memorandum From President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

After reflection on your briefing book,2 I believe the opening statement should be much briefer. The general themes should all be mentioned. But I think we have to have in mind the character of the man we are meeting—Brezhnev is simple, direct, blunt and brutal. The sophisticated approach we used with the Chinese is neither necessary nor wise with him. On the contrary while you should, of course, be gracious and forthcoming, particularly at the beginning of your statement, I think you should very quickly get to the heart of the matter. You will find that his interest during your talks with him will be to filibuster in order to spend relatively little time on Vietnam. Our goal in talking to him is solely to get action on Vietnam. Anything you accomplish with him on the summit you could have accomplished just as well with Dobrynin. In other words, you should approach these talks recognizing that Brezhnev and probably Gromyko as well, will have as their prime aim getting you to talk about the summit. Your primary interest, in fact your indispensable interest, will be to get them to talk about Vietnam.

I know this is your goal and the latter part of your opening statement gets to that point and makes it strongly. But I think it would be well not to spend too much time on general philosophy, what kind of a man the President is, etc., having in mind the fact that he may pick you up on those subjects and delight in digressing in those fields so as to avoid coming to the tough question of discussing Vietnam which, of course, is your primary interest.

I think you can get across to him in asides what kind of a man the President is, but I think the most effective way you can get it across is to be tough as nails and insist on talking about Vietnam first and not [Page 450]let him get away with discussions of philosophy, personalities or other summit agenda items until you have reached some sort of understanding on Vietnam.

I realize you are going to have to play this pretty much by ear, depending on developments, and I have the utmost confidence in the decisions you will make on the spot. I have had some additional thoughts with regard to what you might seek to get out of the meeting.

First, it might be worthwhile to indicate quite bluntly that from now until the summit, the Soviets should desist from strong rhetoric in support of Vietnam. This was no problem before your trip. However, after your trip if the Soviet continues to indicate that they are giving all-out support to Vietnam our critics will jump on your trip as being a failure. This will be much more the case with the Soviets, incidentally, than with the Chinese. With the Chinese, we made no pretense about having made progress on Vietnam. On the other hand, with the Soviets we are going to try to leave the impression that we have made some progress.

With regard to a statement that could be issued jointly, one possibility would be along these lines: “The Soviet Government and the Government of the United States have agreed that Vietnam will be one of the priority agenda items at the summit meeting. The two governments will work toward achieving a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”

To recap, I recognize that it will be important for the first half hour or so of your meeting with Brezhnev to set the stage with some of the personal observations and the historic opportunity of having a different spirit out of this summit than others. But I think that after you have gone through that for about a half hour you should quite bluntly turn to Vietnam and say, in effect, “Mr. Chairman, there are many important matters we should discuss. I can assure you that the President will be very forthcoming in meeting you half-way in reaching agreement which will be to our mutual advantage and of historic and profound significance in terms of creating conditions which could lead to a more peaceful and prosperous world. But I know that you are a very direct, honest and strong man. The President, as Mr. Dobrynin and Mr. Gromyko have probably reported to you, is also a very direct, honest and strong man. He believes in coming to the point, just as you believe in coming to the point. The point we both have to recognize is that we cannot have useful discussions on the other items on the agenda unless and until we get down to brass tacks on Vietnam and make some progress on that issue.”

You are absolutely correct in your concern that we do not get ourselves tied down insofar as restricting our bombing activities because of the possibilities, either of another plenary session or of the upcoming Russian summit. Brezhnev must directly be told that as long as the [Page 451]invading North Vietnamese are killing South Vietnamese and Americans in the South the President will have to resort to bombing military installations in the North that are supporting that invasion. When the invading armies withdraw to the North, the bombing of the North will stop but not until then.

Our meeting with Haig was excellent,3 but one thing that came through loud and clear is that our action in hitting Haiphong and Hanoi has had a dramatic effect on the morale of South Vietnamese forces and, perhaps just as important, the morale of our remaining forces in Vietnam. We both know that it has also had a significant effect in building up the morale of that decreasing number of Americans who support us on attempting to avoid a humiliating defeat in Vietnam. If our understanding with the Russians in any way indicates that we have been taken in and consequently are letting up on our bombing while the enemy continues its own level of fighting, we will have the worst of both worlds—the contempt of the left and total frustration of the right.

This brings me to the announcement of your visit in the event the Russians will agree to one. It must, at the very least, include some wording to indicate, directly or indirectly, that Vietnam was discussed and progress made on it.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]. Eyes Only. Rose Mary Woods transcribed the memorandum from Nixon’s taped dictation; copies of the final version, and of a draft with Nixon’s handwritten revisions, are ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, April 1972 Kissinger Trip to Moscow. In a message forwarding the memorandum to Kissinger, who was en route to Moscow, Haig wrote: “The President wanted you to have the attached memorandum as soon as possible.” A stamped notation indicates that the White House Situation Room sent the message at 12:03 p.m. as Sitto 5 from Haig to Kissinger. (Ibid., NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]) According to Kissinger, he was “on the plane heading for Moscow” when the President’s memorandum arrived. (Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 1136–1137)
  2. Document 125.
  3. See footnote 10, Document 126.
  4. Kissinger sent an immediate response from Moscow: “President’s message received. Please assure him it will be carried out meticulously.” A stamped note indicates that the White House Situation Room received the message at 12:16 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]) For the more substantive reply, see Document 130.