128. Editorial Note

On April 20, 1972, President Nixon met with Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman from 8:41 to 9:38 a.m. in the Oval Office to discuss the Moscow trip of Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Kissinger. During the discussion Nixon mentioned his memorandum to Kissinger (Document 127), which he had just given Rose Mary Woods, his personal secretary, for correction.

Nixon: “I woke up early, about 3 o’clock this morning, and I’ve written a memorandum to Henry. I didn’t want to say it while he was here because, you know, he was so uptight, he worked so hard. But he had a very, very long, long, long statement he was going to make in [Page 452] the open—he calls it an opening speech. He’s always got this fetish for making an opening speech. He does it to the Vietnamese. Now he’s going to do it to Brezhnev. With the Chinese, I think, it was all right. With the Communists, the Soviet, it is not all right. He’s writing for history, you see, that’s his point. And I put the thing, I’ll let you see the memorandum, it’s ‘Eyes Only,’ after I finish it. I’d like to cable it to him tonight in a couple hours. I put it to him this way. I said what you have to realize is that Brezhnev’s and Gromyko’s purpose will be to filibuster on Vietnam and talk about the summit. Your purpose is to talk about Vietnam. In other words, their desire is to talk about the summit, your desire is to talk about Vietnam. I’m saying that for two reasons. One, because Henry wants to talk about the summit. He just loves this excuse for going over there.”

Haldeman: “you’re damn right. He—”

Nixon: “You see?”

Haldeman: “There’s no question.”

Nixon: “And he’s, he’s believing now that he’s getting to do what he’s always wanted to do. To set up the summit. So I put this brutally to him, very tough. And I’m also saying—I read his statement again and I thought it was very good on the substance but he has to be brief—that Brezhnev was as distinguished as Chou En-lai, he was a simple, direct, brutal man. So he should be very simple and very direct after a few, just a few, you know, courteous remarks at the beginning. You see Henry is fine in negotiation after, when you get down to the specifics and the rest. He doesn’t, Bob, have—[sigh] Well, he gets so wound up and writing for history and the rest that sometimes he misses the point that you just don’t have to beat a goddamn subject to death.”

Haldeman: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “Sometimes you just go at it, you flick it, and you come back and so forth. You see what I mean?”

Haldeman: “But that’s not Henry’s way—”

Nixon: “No.”

Haldeman: “—and I don’t think we’ll ever get him to.”

Nixon: “No. [Nixon banging the desk] You go on this as I have—”

Haldeman: “Be specific.”

Nixon: “I’ve told him that, goddamn it, he’s got to get it simple, and he’s got to be direct and he’s got to get them on the subject of Vietnam [unclear]. Otherwise, what will happen is he’ll spend the day with Brezhnev. And I know the Communists. And they’ll—and Henry has a lot of philosophical stuff in there about how the cold war had changed, how obviously that, that Nixon in the old days thought of the whole Communist world as being monolith, which is true, that they thought the United States was being a threat to them, which is not true. [Page 453] He’s dead wrong on that, that’s such an old Harvard line. As Dulles once said to me, the Soviet army don’t believe we’re surrounding them and the rest. That’s just bullshit. It’s like, Bob, he says—”

Haldeman: “It’s rhetoric for their own purposes.”

Nixon: “The thing is that he—And then a lot of stuff about, you know, in a very, in a way that Chou En-lai would enjoy enormously. But, you see, if you go into that kind of subject, let me tell why the danger of it is. The danger of it is if you go into that kind of subject, Brezhnev will immediately seize on that, pick you up on point after point after point, and Henry will be involved in that debate all day long. And then about 5 o’clock, Brezhnev will have to go and Henry will say, just a minute Mr. Chairman, can we talk about Vietnam? You see the point? That’s exactly what he’ll do. Exactly what he’ll do. I predict it. Well, Henry, my way of handling him would be to go ahead and say, ‘Mr. Chairman, I first want to say on the summit, it’s going well. I’ve been talking with Dobrynin and we’re all, and the President, everything is possible, the President will meet you half way on every major issue. Now, and I want to talk about that after we’ve concluded. However, without some settlement, some progress on Vietnam, significant progress on Vietnam, there can be no successful summit, and there may not even be a summit. ‘Cause I have to be very direct with you. And I want you to know that. I know you’re a direct man, and the President is a direct man. And you like it straight from the shoulder. And here it is. And I think we ought to talk about Vietnam and see what we can work out.’ And get right into it from the start.”

Haldeman: “In about the first paragraph.”

Nixon: “Well, Henry said, I, he came in, and he belabored this, and I, because, I didn’t push him, he was pretty emotional, you know, getting ready to go. But he, believe it Bob, he had, with translation, it would have taken about an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half, of general stuff, before he ever got to Vietnam. He got to Vietnam. He said I’m doing this is in order to sort of pave the way to Vietnam. But he talked about all the summit issues and he talked about all of those philosophical issues and then came to Vietnam and said now we’ve got to talk about Vietnam. That ain’t no way to do it.”

Haldeman: “I don’t think so.”

Nixon: “You see? Well, I know it’s not the way because I know these bastards. These, these people are too smart and Henry will get his pants taken off. Look—”

Haldeman: “He ends up playing their game instead of ours.”

Nixon: “Bob, his eight meetings with the North Vietnamese are not examples of good negotiating. They were in terms of the little nitpick crap, you know, that he got to but they didn’t give him anything in terms of substance. I mean he, you know, he farted around and this, that, and the other thing.”

[Page 454]

Haldeman: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “But the point is that, Henry, when he gets into this, he spends hour and hours and hours on philosophical bullshit, you see, and arguing with them. And that is totally irrelevant to the whole thing. Now Rogers goes too much the other way. Rogers solely goes for what can be agreed on, you see?”

Haldeman: “Yeah.”

Nixon: “And doesn’t put it—you’ve got to put a little subtlety around it, you know. You’ve got to make it appear that you’re talking philosophically. But very, very early in the game you’ve got to hit them in the solar plexus. You’ve got to get their attention. Stick that knife in deep and turn it. Well, that’s what I was doing last night. But it’s important, you know.”

After Woods returned with a revised version of his memorandum, Nixon read much of the text aloud. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Haldeman, April 20, 1972, 8:41–9:38 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 714–2) Haldeman later commented in his diary: “Henry isn’t going to like it, because it doesn’t follow his style, but he may still go ahead and do it the way the P told him to.” (The Haldeman Diaries, page 443)

As soon as Haldeman left, Secretary of the Treasury Connally entered the Oval Office for a wide-ranging discussion on domestic politics and foreign policy. After revealing the fact of the secret trip, Nixon reported the gist of his memorandum to Kissinger.

Nixon: “I dictated it last night at 3 o’clock ‘cause I wasn’t satisfied with his talking points; they were too long. I said be direct, be blunt, say [unclear] we’ll do everything you want on the summit, the President will meet you half way, but we can’t do anything unless you do something about Vietnam. So it’s going to be cold turkey and we’re going to find out. Now if they don’t do anything on Vietnam, if they filibuster, if they don’t give anything, then we’re going to be up against a hard spot. The hard spot will be that then we may have to go to a blockade, because we cannot bluff on this and not carry it out.”

Connally: “No.”

Nixon: “If we go to a blockade, there will be all hell to pay around here. But, we will, you know what I mean, riots and all that sort of thing, but we will put in on the basis that we’re going to remain until they withdraw their forces from South Vietnam and return our POWs.”

Connally: “I think, I think it’s wise.”

Nixon: “Now that’s going to be, that’s the game we’re playing. Now it’s an enormously—”

Connally: “Tough.”

Nixon: “—tough game.”

[Page 455]

Connally: “It sure is.”

Nixon: “Because you see, the thing where the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese misjudged, and where Moscow misjudged, is that they thought that because of the political situation, that I would cave—”

Connally: “Right.”

Nixon: “—as Johnson did.”

Connally: “That’s right.”

Nixon: “And they read that I’m a political man. They’re quite correct. But what they didn’t realize is that I know that nobody can be President of this country, and have a viable foreign policy, if the United States suffers a defeat fighting the miserable, little Communist country, fueled by Soviet arms, and that the world is going to be a very dangerous place to live in. If the Soviet succeeds here, it will try the Mid-East, it will try everywhere else, and the United States will roll over and play dead. So therefore this is the supreme test.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Connally, April 20, 1972, 9:38–11:06 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 714–4)

In a meeting with Deputy Assistant to the President Haig at 12:30 p.m., Nixon reviewed the Soviet role in Vietnamese peace negotiations, including plans to resume both plenary sessions and secret talks in Paris. The two men also discussed Kissinger’s memorandum (Document 125) and Nixon’s response, which the White House Situation Room had just relayed to the plane en route to Moscow.

Nixon: “Well, I woke up last night, and I read Henry’s thing yesterday. And I didn’t want to disturb him when he was getting ready to go. I think it’s so vitally important for him to know, to trust—You know Henry. We have to face the fact, that he wanted to take this trip purely for the summit and would have taken it purely for the summit if we hadn’t vetoed. That wouldn’t have worked. Now Henry, of course, [unclear] priority, but on the other hand, he would consider it to be a success, if he just comes back and says well we worked out the agenda for the summit and the communiqué. No, no, no. It will not be. And—Did you read the memorandum?”

Haig: “I did. And it’s—”

Nixon: “What did you think?”

Haig: “—precisely what I told him when I saw him last night. I said my greatest fear, and I think it will be the President’s, is that we’ve done this now—”

Nixon: “That’s right.”

Haig: “—and it cannot appear to be a backing away. And I said that was Thieu’s concern. And somehow we’ve got to be sure that Vietnam is the purpose of this trip and is portrayed as that.”

[Page 456]

Nixon: “What did he say?”

Haig: “He said he agreed completely. And he said that what we have to do is, hopefully, if they agree, to come out on Tuesday, announce that, announce the plenary, and we will defuse these bastards totally.”

Nixon: “Well, if, for example, on Tuesday, you saw a very little simple line, I would continue to think I couldn’t agree with that.”

Haig: “I don’t either.”

Nixon: “[unclear] So you would agree that they would work toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Now that, that is a hell of a—They should say that.”

Haig: “That’s right. What worried me was that we would announce the plenary, you see, without having referred to Moscow and then it would look like we backed down—”

Nixon: “The plenary? No, I thought we turned that down today.”

Haig: “Yes, sir. But in order to meet secretly, you see, now we’re going to have to announce the 27th.”

Nixon: “Yeah. When is the secret meeting? When is that? Did you read the message?”

Haig: “May 2nd. May 2nd.”

Nixon: “Well, that’s all right. That’s the bottom line—”

Haig: “And it would be ideal if we can have the Soviets—”

Nixon: “But on the other hand, on the other hand, does this mean that the moment we make the announcement we have to de-escalate the bombing?”

Haig: “No, sir. He’s not going to do that. And of course we might drop down from the Hanoi area and keep it down low as a sign of good will ‘til we have our meeting. But we’ll keep, we’re going to bang tonight.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Haig, April 20, 1972, 12:30–12:57 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 714–14) The editors transcribed the portions of the conversations printed here specifically for this volume.