137. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

H: I have a message from Henry finally. Some garble in it but it is fairly clear.2 Here is what he said. [Reading]3—”Had 4½ hour meeting with Brezhnev. Atmosphere was extremely cordial, almost effusive. His protestations of eagerness to have the summit no matter what the circumstances was at times almost maudlin, certainly extremely strong. Brezhnev is very forceful, extremely nervous, highly unsubtle, quite intelligent but not in the class of other leaders we have met. His mood can best be summed up in the following concluding quote:”

P: Yeah.

H: “Before we end I would like very much for you to convey to President Nixon that I can confirm and reconfirm our views and the desire of our government to hold the Soviet-American summit meeting.”

P: That doesn’t mean a thing, all that is bullshit.

H: “We attach immense importance to it and we believe that it cannot only be historic but epoch-making. We believe it would serve the best interest of the US Government and Soviet people. We believe in this way both our sides can exert a beneficial influence on world affairs.

We believe the main issue is the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, our two countries.”

P: Right.

H: “⅘ of the meeting dealt with Vietnam. I gave him just enough about the summit to whet his appetite but nothing concrete and refused to discuss any specifics. Brezhnev read me a telegram addressed [Page 512]to him from Hanoi which in effect restated the position Hanoi gave us on April 19.4 It rejected a meeting in Moscow in particularly insolent terms. Brezhnev indicated considerable readiness to help bring about a meeting. He seemed less sure about how to help in substance. I did not advance any substantive ideas nor even our formula on how to get talks started. This will be the first item of business tomorrow.”5

P: Yeah.

H: “It seems improbable that we can be back before Monday night. We have not yet discussed one substantive issue other than Vietnam. Tomorrow I shall submit our proposal and they said they had some concrete ideas about Vietnam to present tomorrow. I was brutal in explaining that a guaranteed deescalation for a year was the minimum we could settle for.6

Brezhnev said that they are now doing everything to help the President get re-elected.”

P: Did you get to Henry my ideas about this?

H: I got them to him.

P: Good, just so he knows.

H: Fine, Mr. President.

P: we’ve really got to get Henry stiffened up. All that bullshit about gives us lunches and all that crap. Despite the fact that he is brutal—you get a message out to Henry and tell him I am rethinking this thing; that I have reached conclusion that it has to be absolutely concrete. I have ordered an urgent study [of strikes to be conducted in North].7 Under no circumstances is he to stay. He is to be back Sunday night. They asked him to stay but we are not going to have it. Tell him he has got to be back Sunday night!

H: [Reading again] “What about the Thanh Hoa operation? It is essential that it take place while I am here. The bombing last weekend was an absolute necessity. We certainly got their attention.”

P: What bombing?

H: Last weekend.

P: I understand all that. But Henry better understand that Brezhnev is playing the typical sickening game. He is being taken in. We [Page 513]have got to stiffen him up. He loves to sit back and philosophize for the history books. You tell him in cold turkey that he can not stay till Monday8 and bullshit about the summit. He can not stay till Monday for reasons I can not explain. Unless he gets absolute agreement tomorrow, strike is going Sunday night. Don’t you think he needs this? The sound of it doesn’t sound right to me. Henry is so easily taken in by flattery. He is great but—

H: He thinks the summit is more important to you than Vietnam.

P: It is not. We have got to give up the summit in order to get a settlement in Vietnam and he has got to have that tomorrow! He has got to come back Sunday night. He can not stay till Monday. If he says he can be there three days, they will keep him three days. That ploy that Rogers talked about is one they are pushing.

H: We got a message from Gerry Smith, which I sent to Henry, which pointed out your concern. That will just sweeten—

P: Sweeten the pot. You tell Henry, first, he has got to come back Sunday night. The extra day is so [omission in the source text]. You tell him in not subtle terms I have decided that Vietnam is ten times more important than the summit. Vietnam tomorrow; summit is not to be discussed further until Vietnam is settled. He should know that I have ordered a three-day strike period to begin Sunday night.

H: I have talked to Laird.9

P: Send that line to Henry. Shake him up hard! He’s already started though, hasn’t he? What time is it now?

H: 10:00.

P: They are 8 hours ahead so it’s 6 o’clock there now. Reach him before his morning meeting and tell him no discussions of the summit before they settle Vietnam and that is an order!

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons [–] 1972 [2 of 2]. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon placed the call from Camp David to Haig in Washington. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. The message was initially garbled in transmission. (Ibid., NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File) In his conversation with the President, Haig apparently read from the message as retransmitted; substantive discrepancies between the text as read in the transcript and the text of the message itself are noted below. (Message WTE 006 from Kissinger to Haig; ibid.) Haig also forwarded a retyped version of the message to Nixon on April 22. (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, April 1972 Kissinger Trip to Moscow)
  3. All brackets in the source text except the last one citing an omission.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 126.
  5. According to the transcript, Haig did not read the following passage here from the message: “Brezhnev’s attitude can perhaps be summed up in two quotes about Vietnam: ‘We must remove all obstacles to the summit.’ ‘In finding a solution, let us try tomorrow to find the positive.’”
  6. The message itself continues here with the section, as subsequently read by Haig, on the Thanh Hoa operation.
  7. See Document 136.
  8. April 24.
  9. Haig talked to Laird via secure phone on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. According to a transcript, Haig began the conversation: “I know you have been trying to get Henry. I wouldn’t try. This is all I can say.” After an exchange on redeployment and cloud seeding, the conversation continued as follows: Haig: “Don’t say anything about not being able to get Henry. And the President wants to be sure another strike for the Hanoi–Haiphong area—we will be ready.” Laird: “We are ready—this weekend?” Haig: “No.” Laird: “It is always better if we have 48 hours but we can do it in 24.” Haig: “I don’t foresee it over the weekend.” Laird: “I think we should do it.” Haig: “That was an interesting TDCS in Paris.” Laird: “Yes. They must have miscalculated.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons [–] 1972 [2 of 2]) For discussion of the TDCS report, which noted that the North Vietnamese were concerned about the impact of the U.S. bombing campaign, see Document 136.