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

P: Hello. I’m dictating a message to Henry.2 Observations on his talk with Brezhnev. Nothing new I haven’t seen yet?

H: Just got another message—4 hour meeting with Gromyko.3

P: On the summit?

H: Middle East bilateral (reads message).

P: Good.

H: …. extend bombing to 20th. I would agree with that.

P: All bombing authorities on the 20th. Would you do that please?

H: Yes sir. (continues reading) “Despair making my position clear here to Washington. So far they have made all the concessions. On Vietnam they have helped by inviting me…. This visit should put ceiling on the domestic opposition.”

P: That’s not true. Go ahead.

H: (continues reading).

P: 1500. What do you mean?

H: 3:00 o’clock their time. That would get them back about 7:00 or 8:00.

P: He has already got your message.4 I thought the argument was whether they should leave at 12:00 their time or 3:00 their time.

H: He did not get my message. The message he has is to leave there at 1:00 o’clock.

P: So now we have told him he could leave at 3:00?

H: I haven’t told him anything.

P: He could leave at 3:00 or 4:00 as far as I am concerned. Tell him to make it 4:00 o’clock their time if necessary. Don’t have him extend beyond what they really want. Leave it flexible; 3:00 is fine, or 4:00. He isn’t going to get in in time for us to go back by midnight.

[Page 592]

H: Gromyko apologized about downgrading. Said it came from western sources. I have a message from Bunker here.5

P: OK.

H: On the Abrams recommendations for troop levels.6 They don’t draw any more down. Understand other considerations which President will have to take into account.

P: What do you feel?

H: Take the 20 out.

P: We had to do it takes them out anytime he wants. No 10 and 10. I think it should be 20 but tell him things are going over here. He could take all 20 out in the next week.

H: That would ease his problem.

P: That will be put out as guidance here—20 over two months.

H: Goes to new ceiling, 495 by 1 July.

P: 1 July is all right. 2 months is enough. If he needs more flexibility. Let’s leave it. Let’s say 20 over 2 months but we will indicate no bitching here. He has total flexibility as to when. He can balloon it at the end if he wants. He could take none out in June if he wants, or May. You and I know a few other things may have happened.

H: I am confident by this time this thing will be settled.

P: You will get a message to Abrams 7 re assessment? Just like Cambodia, how many times has Phnom Penh been lost—about 30 in the past….?

H: Exactly right. It looks better around An Loc.

P: We will give him this.

H: Yes.

P: Apparently Henry didn’t get the message. I thought we were going to send him. I told you to be sure to send message on Rogers’ call to me Saturday with regard to Semenov talking to Smith.8

H: I did send it to him.

P: Why does Henry say at my request they stopped Semenov from going to Bush?9 Here’s what Rogers said, Semenov had just come back from meeting in Moscow.

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Offered to include SLBMs to accept 2 ABMs. What has Henry got here, Semenov has not told Smith.

H: I think he is wrong.

P: Don’t you remember that is what Rogers called and told me. Smith already knows that.

H: Smith knows it. Henry got a message telling him he accepted through departmental channels. Wasn’t that far-reaching on the SLBM.10

P: Smith made it that. Said at my request that….

H: He is wrong. They have lied to him.

P: I think they have. Unless as you say, maybe it’s not quite as specific. But I don’t know what they are talking about. Old Communist trick here—they will always sell you the same thing 15 times. I don’t know what they stopped Semenov from getting done, do you?

H: No.

P: I am not questioning Henry. I am just wondering what Brezhnev told him.

H: The only difference is in the case of Smith they said they would consider SLBM and Henry got a firm commitment they would include them.

P: That’s fine. Rogers said they are going to include. Of course, Rogers feels they got a victory. Only a small thing—just wanted to be sure that this note to Henry, the message did go to Henry—what Rogers told me about Smith.

H: Yes, I sent it immediately.

P: No clinker in this. Dobrynin stressed if we confine bombing to present limits there is no chance…11

H: Yes.

P: I cannot agree to that. Don’t you agree that we hit Hanoi and Haiphong? We have to have option to hit that.

H: I agree completely.

P: I know Henry’s great concern. He believes the summit will cool the domestic critics but it isn’t going to do it. Criticism isn’t that bad. You did get Henry a little of that feel didn’t you.

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H: Yes. I think on the bombing Haiphong and Hanoi that all Henry should do is to say that we will not be bound by any limitations. I put that in the message yesterday to him.12

P: Good, good. I remember you and I discussed it.

H: And I added other messages.

P: Including blockade.

H: Both these messages13 are on their way now, sir.

P: On the military front?

H: It looks better today than yesterday. I don’t understand what the press is yacking about.

P: I don’t think it’s TV so much, but the press talks about cutting the country in half. Means cutting a road, or what? They can open a road again, can’t they?

H: Surely. An Loc—sporadic artillery.

P: That was yesterday.

H: ARVN probes outside. Enemy’s attacks around An Loc have decreased. I think they are running out of gas.

P: Why don’t you message that channel to Bunker and ask him.14 I want it indirect form. Get Moorer to get it for you. Understand we don’t want any snow jobs like on Laos. It will stir Pentagon to knock down a little of this stuff. What do you think?

H: I think it will be useful. It will help you to know what you will get on Wednesday.

P: Right. If you will do that I would appreciate it. Fine, fine.

H: All right sir.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological File, 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. Document 157.
  3. Document 152.
  4. Document 149.
  5. Backchannel message 0071 from Bunker to Haig, April 21. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages 1972, From: AMB Bunker—Saigon)
  6. See footnote 4, Document 147.
  7. See footnote 6, Document 155.
  8. See Document 136.
  9. The reference, presumably to Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bush, is in error. In his message regarding the meeting with Brezhnev on April 22, Kissinger reported: “At my request they stopped Semyonov from giving Smith new ABM position which he already had instructions to do in next few days.” See Document 148.
  10. Although it does not claim acceptance “through departmental channels,” reference is evidently to backchannel message 0328 from Smith to Kissinger, April 21; see Document 136.
  11. Haig interrupted the sentence, which concludes as follows: “of cancelling summit and they were extremely anxious to have it.” See Document 148.
  12. Document 146.
  13. Also see Document 149.
  14. In a backchannel message that afternoon, Haig asked Bunker to assist Abrams in drafting his appraisal of the military situation in Vietnam for the President’s upcoming televised address. Haig also briefed Bunker on Kissinger’s trip to Moscow: “Henry’s discussions in Moscow suggest Soviets may wish to be helpful on Vietnam because of their concerns with other areas. They have been most adamant that they were not aware of the timing and scope of the enemy’s offensive. They also have been extremely forthcoming in commitments for maintaining the summit at all costs and in achieving progress in bilateral and multilateral issues planned for the summit. There is of course a degree of healthy skepticism here but in any event the fact that they have received Kissinger to discuss the war at a time when we have been intensely bombing North Vietnam must be disconcerting to Hanoi. We are very hopeful that the revelation of Henry’s meeting in Moscow will do much to add to the President’s flexibility in continuing air operations in the North.” (Backchannel message WHS2053 from Haig to Bunker, April 23; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 854, President’s File—China Trip, Camp David, Vol. XIII)