180. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of State Rogers and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion on SALT, Germany, Vietnam, and the summit, and Secretary of State Rogers’ upcoming trip to Europe.]

Nixon: On this thing too, I would take every opportunity to level them hard on Vietnam. I’d hit the Vietnam issue extremely hard, and say that we’re prepared—that for emphasis this is actually true—as far as I’m concerned, we’ll do what’s necessary to carry it out, that their interests are deeply involved. And if they say well it risks the summit, say that we’re prepared to risk it. I think there should be no—our best bet, particularly when you talk to Brandt, it’ll get right back to them.

Rogers: What’s your—do you have your positions made on the next week or so? Are you going to play—I’m assuming—

[Page 666]

Nixon: Oh, while you’re gone?

Rogers: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, as you know, Henry’s going tomorrow, and I suppose that—

Kissinger: I’ll get word to Berlin.

Nixon: he’ll get word to you. My inclination—my—well, who’s going to get what. My feeling is that we’re going to get nothing out of it. And unless its very substantial, very substantial, we’ll go with what we have in mind, is to hit, is to hit the Haiphong–Hanoi complex on Thursday and Friday—a 48-hour strike—en lieu of their offensive, not because of the failure of this. So that’s where it stands. Now, actually where will you be those days? You see, it’ll be Thursday or Friday, or Saturday or Sunday,2 dependent upon weather—

Rogers: I’ll be—

Nixon: But of course it won’t be over. It’s not going to be longer than 48 hours. But it’ll be big. It’ll be the biggest we’ve had. It’ll be—Abrams has got it at a 100 minimum B–52s, and of course all of the naval gunfire we’ve got up there. The [U.S.S.] Newport News will be up there by the time with 8-inch guns. And, in addition to that, of course, about 400 TacAir. So, it’ll be by far the biggest strike on the Hanoi– Haiphong area. It will be limited to military targets, of course, to the extent we can. It will hit some new things, like there’s a big troop training area that Moorer and Abrams has selected; we’ll try to clean it out. That’s about where it stands. Now, that whole regime could change in the event—but only in the event there is something really done on this occasion. Henry’s prepared to talk very directly. Is that right, Henry?

Rogers: Will you stay more than 1 day, Henry, or will you—

Nixon: Oh, no.

Kissinger: Well, you know, if they come with this spectacular proposal, conceivably—

Nixon: Oh sure, [unclear exchange] I think you might remember raising your earlier—I think this meeting will blow quickly. And I think, therefore, that upon his return, it should be announced that it has been held.

Rogers: Oh, sure. [unclear] Nobody knows about it.

Nixon: Well, the [unclear] would know. I don’t think we should announce it in advance, because then all the press will be there and want comments by the two. But if you could meet without having to go out and face the television cameras. But I think immediately upon [Page 667] your return we announce, so have it in mind. And I think you need to cable to Bill, of course—

Kissinger: Tomorrow night—

Nixon: Tomorrow night at 10 o’clock. Well, wait a minute, he’ll be there. He’s going to be in Europe the same time you are.

Kissinger: Yeah, but he’ll be in England and—

Rogers: I’ll be in England.

Kissinger: England. So I’ll backchannel him tomorrow night.

Nixon: All right. So we will announce the meeting. And—

Rogers: I think the real question that I’m going to be faced with is, is the summit—

Nixon: Yeah, of course, they’ll be—what’ll they want to know?

Rogers: Well, they’ll want to know what we think the chances are for a summit meeting. And the President said while you were out, Henry, that it was all right for me to say that it’s possible the summit meeting might be canceled and he was prepared for that.

Nixon: But we don’t think so.

Rogers: We don’t think so?

Nixon: I’d play it in the terms that the plans for the summit are going on on-schedule; that nothing we have done so far has affected it detrimentally. And that is totally true. As a matter of fact, it’s affected it positively. But on the other hand, that we cannot anticipate what the Soviet reaction will be in the event that the North Vietnamese continue their offensive and we react, as we will react with strong attacks on the North. And if strong attacks on the North bring a reaction from the Soviets, then it will happen that way. It is our judgment, I might say, it is my judgment, and you can say—and you can very well say that it is my judgment that the summit will move forward because I think that they—that they aren’t going to like it—but I think they’re going to go forward. But I don’t want the Europeans to get the feeling any more than the American people to have the feeling that we will pay any price in order to sit down with the Russians. And, I would say also that if the situation in Vietnam is seriously deteriorating with no—nothing by the time we get closer to the summit, there isn’t going to be any—we aren’t going to go to the summit there. Because you can’t put your arms around the Russians at a time when they’re kicking the hell out of us in Vietnam. I don’t think its going to happen, from all—did we get Abrams report today—

Kissinger: We haven’t gotten that yet, but he, of course, he probably is—

Rogers: I think, Mr. President, the best thing for me to do is to stick with the position that I talked to you and you feel the summit will go ahead—

[Page 668]

Nixon: Right.

Rogers: That there’s always [unclear exchange]. You know it’s a possibility, but you feel confident that it will go ahead on schedule.

Nixon: Well, I think so. What do you think, Henry?

Kissinger: I think, yes, of course—

Nixon: It depends on various people. Certainly the British, with PompidouBrandt is the key one, don’t you think? Is there any difference there?

Kissinger: No. I think Brandt has to take advantage and he’ll go right back to the Soviets.

Nixon: Yeah. That we expect it to go forward. And I think you might say this: We believe, and we think the Soviets also believe, based on things that have happened up to this point, that there are major concerns at the summit that completely override the Vietnam issue, and that Vietnam should not be an issue that should stop the summit. But that on the other hand, that as far as we’re concerned, we have to take the actions necessary to defend our interests in Vietnam, and we’ll do so with the thought that the Soviets will go forward with the summit. And we’re prepared to if they don’t react to it. With Brandt you can’t talk nearly as frankly as you can with Heath, naturally.

Rogers: As for the SALT talks, I thought that on the SALT talks I would give them sort of a general path, but say that Gerry [Smith] would come and give them any specifics after the discussions he’s had in Helsinki, because we don’t want to get into this.

[Omitted here is further discussion on SALT and the enemy offensive in Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 716–2. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Rogers and Kissinger in the Oval Office from 4:11 to 5:29 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. May 4, 5, 6, or 7.