176. Editorial Note

On April 30, 1972, President Nixon, who was on vacation in Key Biscayne, Florida, spoke by telephone to his Assistant Henry Kissinger in Washington from 10:39 a.m. to 11:04 a.m. to discuss the impact of the continuing North Vietnamese offensive upon the prospects for the upcoming summit in Moscow. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A relevant excerpt of the transcript of this conversation reads:

“P: Wonder if you ought not to cancel your trip over there. I have decided to cancel the Summit unless we get a settlement. Can’t go to Russians with our tails between our legs. We get a settlement or the Russians agree they are going to do something.

K: We can’t go if we are totally on the defensive as a result of Russian arms.

“P: No way. Wonder if I ought to do the SALT thing in light of all this.

K: Think so. Could do it in low key way.

“P: The image of our putting our arms around the Russians at the time their equipment is knocking the hell out of Vietnam—

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K: It gives the Russians a stake. Here is the man of peace who has done everything—rather than be truculent to the Russians.

“P: On public relations it may be a very dangerous line.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

Nixon and Kissinger spoke again from 1:23 p.m. to 1:32 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A transcript of this conversation reads:

K: Moscow Summit is confusing people here.

“P: Agree. If by 15th of May we are where we are now. Time is on our side this time. If on the other hand we are in a very weak position, we are in a hell of a position to go to the Summit.

K: Go only two days. Don’t say that we can take three days. Or we can go four or five days if Summit has gone.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons[–]1972 [2 of 2])

On May 1 President Nixon, who then traveled to the Texas ranch of Secretary of the Treasury Connally, called Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Haig at 8:37 a.m. to discuss the military situation in Vietnam, including the option of responding with intensive bombing strikes against North Vietnam. The President stated: “The problem is that he [Kissinger] is so desperate… anxious about the talks. He doesn’t want to hurt them. He doesn’t realize that what hurts us most is to appear like little puppy dogs when they are launching these attacks. What really gets to them is to hit in the Hanoi–Haiphong area. That gets at the heartland. I think we made a mistake not doing it sooner. We may have to update that strike. There’s a good reason to do it for American public opinion. I feel there is much to be said for hitting them now. You are to ride herd to see that we get all the positive things out of this we can.” Nixon later added: “And you tell Henry I think we have got to step these up and to hell with the negotiations, and he may have to reconsider going there at all.” (Ibid.)

According to his Daily Diary, the President called Haig 20 minutes later. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Haldeman recorded the following notation in his diary: “[Nixon] said he had just talked to Haig, and QuangTri, Vietnam, is still going to pieces, and that we should let it drop. Problem is that K is so interested in his talk in Paris that he’s delaying the plane raids, and keeps arguing that we need to set up public opinion in order to go ahead with the raids. The answer, of course, being that we’ll lose public opinion if we delay the raids; it’s the raids that they want, not the talks. He says he shook K about the Summit and made it clear that we won’t go into a Summit if we’re in a bad position on Vietnam at the time, so he’s got to get Vietnam worked out.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) The President arrived back in Washington at 1:06 p.m. that afternoon. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)