154. Editorial Note
On April 23, 1972, President Nixon called Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman at 11:22 a.m. to assess the trip to Moscow of Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to Haldeman’s handwritten notes, Nixon began by reviewing the conflicting requirements of secrecy and publicity for the trip. Kissinger’s decision to remain in Moscow meant that Nixon could not return to Washington until late the next evening, since, under the agreed cover story, both men were supposed to be at Camp David. At least, Nixon told Haldeman, they had not gone to Key Biscayne, where—with public access heightening speculation—they would have been “dead ducks.” If the press still questioned the whereabouts of his Assistant, the President concocted yet another cover story: Kissinger was in Paris (presumably for secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese). Looking beyond Kissinger’s trip, Nixon continued to prepare for his upcoming televised address on Vietnam, directing Haldeman to arrange for someone on the National Security Council staff to draft a 500-word statement.
The principal subject of conversation, however, was linkage between the summit in the Soviet Union and a settlement in Vietnam. Nixon complained that Moscow had done nothing on Vietnam, except agree to deliver a message to Hanoi, and that Kissinger had been “completely taken in.” To emphasize the point, Nixon read Kissinger’s report on his second meeting with General Secretary Brezhnev (Document 148), including the assertion that, while the Soviets could not vouch for the North Vietnamese, “the mere fact of positive steps following my trip is good.” To make matters worse, Kissinger was “effusive” on the prospects for the summit, writing that Brezhnev had spent more time with him than any other foreign leader. (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) As Haldeman noted in his diary, this claim drove Nixon “up the wall.”
“P’s problem is he just doesn’t agree the trip itself will have a big effect. K justifies it as cooling the domestic furor here and sending huge shock waves in Hanoi, but the point is we’ve sent the shock waves to Hanoi for months. That’s typical K gobbledygook, and we don’t have a domestic furor here, at least to the degree that we have to worry about getting it back. P’s worried about the effect in this country, especially amongst the hawks and our supporters, of his going back to talks in Paris.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
When Haldeman called him later that afternoon, Haig expressed concern about the way Nixon and Haldeman were “bludgeoning” [Page 596] Kissinger. Haldeman noted in his diary: “[Haig] says Henry’s not getting snookered over there, and that we shouldn’t imply it to him. He thinks that P’s putting too much heat on Henry and he thinks Henry will overreact.” The President showed little sign of letting up, however, summoning Haldeman for an impromptu meeting at 2:30 p.m. As Haldeman summarized Nixon’s position: “Our real problem is that the Soviets want the Summit, but they won’t help us in Vietnam in order to get it. Which leaves us on a bad wicket, in that we will be meeting with them during a Soviet supported invasion of South Vietnam.” (Ibid.) According to Haldeman’s handwritten notes, Nixon took this argument one step further: that he could not “survive Moscow trip if VN doesn’t decelerate.” (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)