145. Editorial Note
As he waited for a report from his Assistant Henry Kissinger on April 22, 1972, the second day of secret talks in Moscow, President Nixon assessed the situation at Camp David with his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. According to Haldeman’s diary entry for the day, Nixon began the 3-hour discussion at 11:30 a.m. by issuing instructions for Dwight Chapin, his appointments secretary, who was also in Moscow leading an advance team for the upcoming summit. “He gave me a lot of instructions for Chapin,” Haldeman wrote, “on taking some very firm positions on the things that we want to do, such as using our car, using our plane, going to Leningrad on Saturday, not on Sunday. The P’s convinced that the Soviets are pushing for Sunday in order to avoid the P getting a good crowd there, such and so on.” (The Haldeman Diaries, page 444) On the basis of these instructions, Haldeman sent a backchannel message that afternoon in which he further admonished Chapin “not to lock any schedule or any arrangement commitments until you return and have the opportunity to review the entire trip.” Deputy Assistant to the President Haig forwarded the text of the message to Kissinger “in case your hosts attempt an end-run on any of these subjects.” (Telegram Sitto 33 from Haig to Kissinger, April 22; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Trip to Moscow Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2])
In addition to the instructions for Chapin, the President was preoccupied with Kissinger’s trip, the military situation in Vietnam, and the impact both would have upon his plans to deliver a television address on April 26. Haldeman recorded Nixon’s views in his diary on April 22.
“He’s concerned about the effect of K’s trip, whether the people in this country will think he’s there because the Russians are pressing us and that this is a sign of weakness or not. He feels that we can’t show any overt weakness and he called Haig several times during the meeting. Each time he emphasized the important of maintaining our bombing and other attack levels. He’s especially concerned about the effect on our people, the hawks, who are now enthusiastic, but could be turned off pretty rapidly if, as a result of Henry’s trip, we backed off.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
According to Haldeman’s handwritten notes of the discussion at Camp David, the President saw Kissinger’s private session with the North Vietnamese in Paris on May 2 as an important turning point. If the session was inconclusive, Nixon insisted, the United States would bomb Hanoi and Haiphong for 3 days. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Staff Member and Office Files, Haldeman Files, Box 45, Haldeman Notes, April–June 1972, Part I)[Page 558]
During his meeting with Haldeman, the President spoke twice by telephone with Haig in Washington. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although no other record of the first conversation has been found, Haig called Nixon at 12:34 p.m., presumably to report on Kissinger’s latest message, which had arrived at the White House an hour earlier. In lieu of his forthcoming message on the second round of discussions, which had been “mostly devoted to Vietnam,” Kissinger briefly reported that the Soviets had agreed in principle to a public announcement of his trip on April 25. “Believe announcement should be made at Tuesday noon by President,” Kissinger maintained. “Given Soviet sensitivities, announcement of our willingness to return to Paris plenary should be held for Tuesday PM briefing. Point will be clear but it has benefit of dissociating the President from it.” (Telegram WTE 009 from Kissinger to Haig, April 22; ibid., NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 1972, TOHAK/HAKTO File [1 of 2])
Nixon called Haig back at 1:06 p.m. to discuss Kissinger’s message. According to a transcript, the two men had the following exchange:
“P: I want to keep some running room—whether I have to announce Henry’s trip. You see there is a very strong argument having Ziegler do it. On the China trip I wasn’t announcing Henry’s trip, I was announcing I was going to Peking. I have already announced that I was going to Moscow. That I would spend three days in Moscow, it isn’t right—what I have to do later. Is he committed to me to make the announcement.
“H: No he isn’t committed. The message says he believes.
“P: I want the option to be made but I don’t know if I want to make the announcement.
“H: You want to assess the announcement.
“P: Yes, I want to read it first. You haven’t gotten his message yet.
“H: No.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons [–] 1972 [2 of 2])
Nixon then raised a report, issued the previous day by the Associated Press bureau in Moscow, stating that, “in apparent reprisal for resumption of American bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviet Union has downgraded the status of President Nixon’s scheduled visit here next month.” (Telegram Sitto 20 from Haig to Kissinger, April 21; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Trip to Moscow Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]) On this point the President was adamant: “I have told Chapin we are not going to take this crap about downgrading the visit. If we are going to stay at the Kremlin it is going to be a State visit. We will not accept it otherwise and they have to clear it up.” Nixon concluded his discussion with Haig by further outlining the hard-line adopted in his instructions for Chapin. (Transcript; ibid., NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons [–] 1972 [2 of 2])[Page 559]
In the wake of the message from Kissinger, including the report on possibly downgrading the summit, Haldeman reflected the President’s views as follows:
“Part of our problem here is K’s unbelievable ego, in that he’s really pushing to have the P announce this Moscow trip and make a big thing out of it. Also apparently he hasn’t followed instructions from the P as to what he’s to be negotiating. He’s spending his time on the Soviet Summit agenda rather than on getting Vietnam settled. The P was clearly disturbed by the information he had received on Henry last night. He waited all day and into the evening for a message today, and then at the last hour it still hadn’t come. It now appears that Henry won’t come back until Monday, which is again the ego thing, because he was determined to have a three day meeting and he’s managed to do it.” (Entry for April 22; The Haldeman Diaries, page 444)
During his conversation with Haldeman, Nixon said he had opted for a televised address, arguing that he could explain the background of developments on Vietnam and the summit “in an uncluttered atmosphere of a speech rather than in a press conference.” After an extended discussion of preparations for the speech, Nixon told Haldeman to relay the plan to Haig: the White House would announce Kissinger’s trip to Moscow on April 25; the next day, the President would announce both the withdrawal of troops and the agreement with North Vietnam to hold a plenary session in Paris on April 27. (Entry for April 22; The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)