158. Editorial Note

On the evening of April 23, 1972, President Nixon met Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig at Camp David to discuss Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger’s trip to Moscow. Before Haig arrived, the President reviewed the situation, in particular, the linkage between summit preparations in Moscow and military developments in Vietnam, with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. In an effort to assure the “best possible news stories” before his upcoming televised address, Nixon suggested that Director of Central Intelligence Helms divulge how “things are bad in Hanoi” and that Ray Cline, Director of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State, “leak the intelligence (CIA) stuff” on North Vietnam. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, H.R. Haldeman, Box 45, Notes, April–June 1972, Part I) Nixon then addressed his primary concern “that Henry must be controlled about any briefing of press or Senators or anyone else, on the basis that there’s nothing in it for us to do any briefings on [Page 604]the Summit, that we’ve got to keep the whole focus on Vietnam, and the problem is Henry doesn’t have anything on Vietnam.” The President insisted, however, that he was not discouraged. “We just have to wait,” he explained. “We’re on a sticky wicket at the moment about dealing with the Russians while they’re supplying North Vietnam.” (Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries, page 445)

According to the President’s Daily Diary Haig arrived at Camp David shortly before 8 p.m.; his meeting with Nixon, which Haldeman also attended, lasted until 9:15. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) The President began by emphasizing the importance of public relations: for the next several days, the White House would face a “very rough story” on Vietnam, as the press demanded to know “why we’re going back to the conference table at the time that the Russians are pushing this invasion.” Nixon would answer this question in his televised address on April 25; Kissinger meanwhile must play the “mystery line” by declining to brief the press. Haig suggested, however, that, even without a public relations strategy, “we would have had all these problems anyway.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) The North Vietnamese had agreed to hold a private meeting with Kissinger in Paris on May 2. If they still remained intransigent, he argued, then the President had the political basis for “leveling” Hanoi and Haiphong. Haig also rejected the proposition, advanced by Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in Moscow, that the summit was assured if the United States did nothing to the two North Vietnamese cities. For Nixon to shake hands with men who had “blood on their hands won’t look good here.” Haig recommended a hard line instead: if the Russians wanted a summit, they could have it; but Nixon might want to give up the summit in order to save Vietnam. (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)

Haldeman recorded the conclusion of the meeting in his diary as follows:

“It was agreed that there should be no statement about SALT before the Summit, that we’ve got to keep Rogers and Smith locked up on this one. Also there must be no implication that we asked the Soviets for K to come, it was at their invitation that Henry went there. It’s important for Haig to be sure that K doesn’t blab on a background basis in any way on his trip. P seemed to feel better as we ended the meeting.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)