184. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

[Omitted here is discussion on Kissinger’s trip to Paris wherein Haig noted that Kissinger had described his meeting with North Vietnamese negotiators as “the least productive on record.” Haig noted that Kissinger would return by 6 p.m. that evening.]

Nixon: Looks like our views and my expectations are a bit different from his. Henry said he thought they’d kill the summit. Not when they’re on the offensive.

Haig: No. When they’re making—

Nixon: No. That’s shows that we’ve got the goddamn Russians—either didn’t try or have no interest. What do you think?

Haig: Well, my view is, sir, that—

Nixon: The Russians aren’t going to help?

Haig: they’re not going to help a goddamn bit.

Nixon: Is that what you felt all along?

Haig: All along.

Nixon: See, that’s been my view. That’s why I was so bearish on Henry’s trip to Moscow. Oh, Henry, despite what he really felt, we’ve [Page 680]got them coming now, they’ve got their attention, you know, and now, they’re going to do something, and so forth.

Haig: I—why the hell should they?

Nixon: I think we’ve got to take a hard look against the summit right now. What do you think?

Haig: Well, I think we have to rack ‘em, and rack ‘em good. Then see what the reaction is after the 2-day strike. I don’t think they’ll cancel it based on this, especially when I—

Nixon: [unclear] wouldn’t let them cancel it first?

Haig: No, and then I think if they don’t, then we make an assessment in what it’s going to take militarily to continue on more slaps up there.

Nixon: Why do you feel that we shouldn’t really impose the blockade? [unclear]

Haig: Well, my view is, sir, is that I don’t discount the blockade, but I think—

Nixon: You see, assume you’ve got to break it off with the Russians, Al. The blockade doesn’t matter.

Haig: Oh, if you decide to cancel the summit—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —and to go to the limit on this thing in terms of a confrontation, then that’s fine, that’s one thing. You can risk both at the same time.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: Or announce one and do the other concurrently. But I think there’s a good chance with the kind of bombing that we’re going to do in there, that we may get that port closed without that kind of direct confrontation with them. That you can only assess after we see what happens. We can’t bomb their ships, obviously, but we can come pretty close to making that a scary place for them to be. And then see what they do. On the other hand, if after assessing that, we may want to mine it. We may even want to let the South Vietnamese do it. After all—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —they’re mining all over the Mekong River and every thing else, and there are U.S. ships and friendly ships that are being menaced by that kind of activity.

Nixon: It will be a big disappointment to Henry if this trip [is cancelled].

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: It’s so shocking. See, it really is. Al, I’ve always had the fear that the Russians would help us, you know, because of something, you know. I had the uneasy feeling, despite what he says, and I’m sure [Page 681]he was pretty tough and everything, that they still come away with the feeling that, by God, they invite Henry to Moscow [unclear]. So that’s why I was,—and I frankly didn’t pick out half a loaf. I didn’t want to go out and announce the SALT thing myself. I think I was very organized about it myself.

Haig: True.

Nixon: Don’t you think so?

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: And I just—it had to be played in a lower key way, as you know. We didn’t say that all these things and so forth. We just sent him back with new instructions. But my point is that—my assessment of the Communists is different than Henry’s. I do not believe that they will ever react to anything unless there’s very, very powerful incentives. I don’t think the incentives are powerful enough now. I think they see those sons-of-bitches succeeding.

Haig: That’s right. And that’s the incentive. And that incentive, in the short-term—

Nixon: That is why Henry was wrong in not wanting the strikes before he went. You don’t agree with that? See my point? I think for Henry’s meeting to be any success at all, we had to hit those sons-of-bitches before he went. I know what he would say. He’d say, “Well, then, that will risk the meeting.” The point is he went there in the end.

Haig: Oh, he had no cards to play at all—

Nixon: He had no cards.

Haig: Short of a collapse.

Nixon: Huh?

Haig: Short of a collapse, and they didn’t even give him a chance to do that.

[Omitted here is discussion on likely offensive actions in North Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 717–10. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Haig in the Oval Office from 11:27 a.m. to 12:08 p.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.