182. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of State Rogers, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1

Kissinger: Got a letter from Brezhnev.2

Nixon: Another one? What is it this time? Is he raising hell?

Kissinger: Oh, he’s thanking you for sending me, and as a result of these conversations—

Nixon: That’s probably in response to my letter.

Kissinger: Yeah. And taking into account all of the other negotiations underway, it can be definitely said that quite a bit has been done [to] ensure the success of the meeting.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 672]

Kissinger: The matter as you—Then he goes into Vietnam. And he says: [At this point, Kissinger reads most of the passage on Vietnam from the letter. (Document 181)] And the rest is just garbage.

Nixon: Who did they say will undertake the military action? That we were?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, they’re going to get it—they’re going to find out. That’s why we pop them. And Haiphong’s going to be made.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: There’s not going to be any of this business of who the hell is attacking.

Kissinger: On—and also, what Dobrynin told me, they’re willing to agree to everything on the technical arrangements—

Nixon: Except the plane?

Kissinger: Except the plane.

Nixon: [unclear exchange]

Kissinger: they’ll let you go on Saturday3 to Leningrad. They’ll let you go live on television, although they’ve never done that before. The only thing they ask is if you go on live is to give them the text an hour in advance so that their interpreter can do a good job.

Nixon: Oh, we’ll do it more than that.

Haldeman: We told them we’d give them the text well in advance.

Kissinger: All right. Well, I’m just telling you what their reply was. And, every other technical issue, I forget now what it was, I told him to get in touch with Chapin.

Nixon: He told you about church?

Kissinger: Church is okay. So Brezhnev

Nixon: Really?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, don’t tell anybody, though. I don’t want—now, that’s one thing I don’t want Scali or any of those people to know a thing about. I want to go low-key—much the better way. I’ll just go that day to church, not with a great big hullabaloo, because after all, I am a—I mean that’s what I do on Sunday, not if I can help it.

Haldeman: [laughter]

Nixon: But that’s what I’m going to do in Moscow. So, I go to church. And they’ll be one hell of a play, right?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

[Page 673]

Nixon: And it will help us here with, you know, with the Billy Graham types.

Kissinger: It will be great symbolism. But—so they gave you a favorable answer on all of that.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But on the [use in Soviet domestic airspace of an American] plane, they say—

Nixon: I understand—

Kissinger: —the humiliation to them that we—

Nixon: Yeah. I told Bob we’re going to do it, so we’re going to do it. Let me ask you something else.

Kissinger: So, if I may call him tonight and say the [Soviet] plane is okay.

Nixon: Yes. Yes.

Kissinger: Then they will call Chapin tomorrow and confirm it.

Haldeman: Is the plane for Leningrad and Kiev, or just Leningrad?

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Leningrad and Kiev.

Haldeman: You sure? Because they said Kiev would—

Kissinger: No. That’s what he mentioned to me.

Nixon: I don’t really give a damn. It’s perfectly all right. Go ahead. So then, on the other one, it’s done now. I don’t want to argue about the plane. This is a small thing. There are other things—I’ve ridden their planes many times before. If you could get the—they don’t want to cancel this summit, Henry?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: I think that’s why the Hanoi–Haiphong things just got to be—

Kissinger: But they may have no choice.

Nixon: All right. Fine. So we—

Kissinger: But neither do we.

Nixon: I’d sure as hell rather cancel ourselves.

Kissinger: But you can’t go to Moscow anyway if you’ve just being run out of Vietnam.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: So, it’s —

Nixon: Well, get the point that if we’re run out of Vietnam, we will then blockade North Vietnam to get our prisoners back. Let’s face it. We’re not going to run out on anything. That’s further down the road. Hell, this battle has taken 4 weeks to get Quang Tri.

[Omitted here is additional discussion on the North Vietnamese Spring Offensive.]

[Page 674]

Nixon: I wonder if we don’t really have to go to the blockade, Henry. Not now, but I mean if this thing collapses [unclear] then you do.

Kissinger: If this thing collapses, we have no choice except to go to the blockade—say our prisoners must come back and blockade them.

Nixon: That would be the basis for it, wouldn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: We get our prisoners back? But then we’re defeated, aren’t we?

Kissinger: Yeah. Then we have to tighten our belt.

Nixon: Tighten our belt?

Kissinger: Then we should make the goddamn Soviets—

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: Then we should make the Soviets pay for it.

Nixon: Yeah. Got much to do with it?

Kissinger: Oh, yes. They made it possible, Mr. President.

Nixon: [unclear] We wouldn’t have any bargaining position with the Soviets.

Kissinger: No, no, no. Pay for it—I don’t think you could go to the summit then.

Nixon: Oh, sure you could. Blockade cancels the summit.

Kissinger: That’s what I mean.

[Omitted here is further discussion on the North Vietnamese offensive and SALT.]

Nixon: What you’ll find out more from your meeting tomorrow is just how strong they are.

Kissinger: What I’ll find out tomorrow—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: They will certainly not make an acceptable proposition.

Nixon: Oh, I know that. But you’re going to find out—if they think they’ve got the South Vietnamese by the balls. You know damn well they’ve got them heavily infiltrated. If they think they’ve got them by the balls—they’re probably getting everything from a lot of our Americans over there as well—then, they’ll just be as tough as hell, and tell us to go to hell. That is why we’ll have to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong. If they are taking that attitude, you’ve got to get right to the heart of it. Right [unclear]. If, on the other hand, they’re taking the attitude, which I have [unclear] of trying to buy time, bomb anyway, because we can’t accept it.

Kissinger: Well, I think we can give them time as long as we bomb them.

Nixon: Oh, give them time. I meant that they must not by promising to discuss things, keep us from bombing.

[Page 675]

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: Now, the other thing is that I think that only bombing that really seems to affect these sons-of-bitches is the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong.

Kissinger: That’s correct.

Nixon: You think that’s true?

Kissinger: The only thing that will—

Nixon: Don’t you think that’s true? They don’t think they’re going to win the battle anyway.

Kissinger: The thing that I must warn you, in all fairness, is that it is very conceivable to me that the Russians will cancel the summit after your next bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. I’m still in favor of doing it. And then you will unleash—right now we are in the position—the reason we are doing not as badly in the press as we might is because the pro-Soviet guys are buffaloed by this, by the Moscow maneuver, and that will be then unleashed. I am still strongly in favor of bombing Hanoi and Haiphong, and really wrapping it up.

Nixon: If they cancel it, I only hope we can get a little advance information so we can cancel it first. Is there any way we can? How will they cancel?

Kissinger: I can say under these conditions.

Nixon: How will they cancel? I mean is there any way we can [find out]? Yeah, we can find out. You’ve got to keep in very close session with Dobrynin so you can sense one word, and if he ever raises the subject of cancellation, we’ll just have to go out and say that the President has cancelled the summit. Not let those sons-of-bitches say that they did.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: See my point?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: We’re not going to let them cancel first if we can possibly have helped it.

Kissinger: Well, if they—you know—they might start a press campaign, and if they do, we can cancel it. That would be a pretty good tip-off. And—

Nixon: We have a little problem [unclear].

Kissinger: Ah, we may bring it all off, Mr. President. We’ve gone through other periods before. We’ve sat in this office—

Nixon: Well this is [unclear], in a sense, because all the chips are on the line; they weren’t in Cambodia, and they weren’t in Laos.

Kissinger: And we are winning

Nixon: Now, it’s win or lose. And frankly, it’s better that way. It’s better to get the son-of-a-bitch war over with.

[Page 676]

Kissinger: In Cambodia, we were winning,

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: In Cambodia we were winning, and then Laos, we weren’t losing.

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: This time, it’s got to be over now by summer.

Nixon: The war will be over?

Kissinger: By July–August. It’s going to be one way or the other now. I mean, clearly, the South Vietnamese can’t keep this up for another 3 months.

Nixon: And the North?

Kissinger: Well that’s the question. I doubt it.

Nixon: Oh, I don’t think they can at all.

[Omitted here is additional discussion on Vietnam and SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 716–4. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Rogers, Kissinger, and Haldeman in the Oval Office from 6:01 to 6:47 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 181.
  3. May 27.