194. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion between President Nixon and Kissinger about discussions he had with Secretary of the Treasury Connally concerning what to do about the Vietnam peace effort. The President noted that he thought Connally’s “first judgment” was rarely accurate but that if they “let him sleep on it” Connally then could offer useful commentary.]

[Page 733]

Kissinger: Well, I think, Mr. President, what we ought to consider is just, they have put it to us, that it’s just no good way of losing it. Your first instinct was right. I asked myself, well, maybe I should have offered to Le Duc Tho to throw Thieu to the wolves. But it wouldn’t have done us any good, because these guys—

Nixon: Well, then he’d say, open the prisons. I know. Henry, I told you your negotiating record was brilliant in the last meeting.2 You asked all the questions and you got the son-of-a-bitch on the record.

Kissinger: That I did achieve, and we got—

Nixon: Now, can I run over a couple of things with you to think about before our noon meeting. I have a couple thoughts. Thinking back on the issues, the only backup position that you could take with the Soviets would be—I mean, I’m just thinking of something that the enemy certainly would do, I don’t know whether it’ll work—is to say that we have to have a—that we cannot have an enemy offensive between now and the end of summit. If they’ll stop they’re going to see we’ll stop bombing in the North. Now, that’s probably an unanswerable question for them. I’m not just thinking of the Soviets, but for the North Vietnamese. For us, it gives us what we would need—the idea that being that right after the summit we blast the shit out of them. And of course the weather’s worse then.

Kissinger: Not in [Military] Region One. But—

Nixon: I don’t care where. But I mean—and then we don’t have to concentrate in other regions—we just throw it all into Region One.

Kissinger: Well, that’s a possibility.

Nixon: You see my point? See, I look back to what I think Laird is setting us up for in terms of the recrimination. He’s going to set us up for the fact that before China, and during China, and for 3 weeks after China, that we, the hawks, were insisting that we bomb these things, you know—

Kissinger: No, no. Mr. President, we have a good record on that because all he recommended was that we bomb the missile sites. The missile sites are a waste of effort. That was the basis of our rejecting it.

Nixon: Yeah, I know.

Kissinger: No, before China, he didn’t recommend anything. After China, he recommended that we hit the missile sites. The missile sites don’t affect the operations in the south. We wanted to hit the supply dumps.

Nixon: Yeah. I’m just telling you what I think he’s going to do.

[Page 734]

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. We have him on record that that isn’t what he recommended.

[Omitted here is discussion whereby the President then argued, and Kissinger agreed, that Secretary of Defense Laird was allowing Nixon and Kissinger to be subject to “recrimination” for the bombings. Kissinger added that the U.S. Government should have bombed the supply depots in February and not the missile sites as Laird wanted. But the 3-day strike did not make any difference. Kissinger, in noting further bureaucratic interference, that the strikes did not harm Hanoi and Haiphong last weekend because Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer said that air assets were needed to be held in reserve in defense of Quang Tri. A frustrated Nixon and Kissinger discussed support for a temporary South Vietnamese invasion of North Vietnam. Kissinger also mentioned his belief that the North Vietnamese would not negotiate until the offensive had run its course. In a related move, Nixon recommended deploying F–4 fighter aircraft to Israel in order to irritate the Soviets. Kissinger advised caution, as Israel was like North Vietnam in that it was an ally that a superpower could not control.]

Nixon: I had another point. I think you should get Rabin in.3 See what they could use. I have an idea that might kick the Russians pretty good—if we could get some more F–4s or something into there. I don’t know if I understand, I’m just thinking.

Kissinger: Well, let’s take it easy on that, because the Israelis are pretty wild and if they get it—I mean, they may be like Hanoi, as far as we’re concerned. We may not be able to hold them. But—

Nixon: That bad?

Kissinger: No. But we should do it after the things get a little worse. The way to play the Russians is if we break the summit is to give—keep holding out a lot of the things they want from the summit as a possibility. In bilateral relationships, it’s in our interests to avoid—to keep them from going ape, and only after they’ve gone ape should we play the Israeli card. I mean, it’s not in our interests to have the Russians go ape against us. And if—I think if we cancel the summit it should be in a very gentle way—I mean, a very gentlemanly way—that says [unclear exchange] all of the leaders will meet when—that we cannot meet while Russian tanks and Russian guns are shooting and annihilating us.

Nixon: Sit down here. We’re gonna—it seems to me that before canceling, the one you should inform is the Chinese.

[Page 735]

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I mean, let’s make it a point to write direct letter, a message from me to Chou En-lai, saying [why we’re] doing this; that the Russians have been—not—say not only in this but in other areas have proved to be not trustworthy. See what I mean? Actually, [unclear] in Vietnam. And what we do now in Vietnam is not directed against them but against the Russians. We can make some awful good points.

Kissinger: Oh, yes. Mr. President, we have come back from every crisis stronger, and I think we’re going to become stronger because of this one.

Nixon: Well, we have to be quite aware of the fact, Henry, that there’s one difference. In the other crisis, there was always beneath the surface a majority would be for us. This time, if they’re canceling the Russian summit, there isn’t any way that I can do it. I could make the greatest goddamn speech that has ever been made in the history of this office, and the people are going to be terribly, terribly put down because of this. So, let’s face that. That is all right with me. I mean, I think in the long run what counts is what happens. I think we have to realize though in canceling that people are going to be disappointed, a few hawks will [unclear] that’ll be hawk-wire, which is not a majority. In the meantime, it will unleash our political enemies on the Hill, who will have—will then pass probably resolutions that will just knock the hell out of us and make fund cut-offs and everything else. Got to figure that will happen. You’ve got to figure—this is what I mean, when you figure consequences, you’ve got to figure that the Russians, of course, will unleash their worldwide propaganda. They’ll go all out in their propaganda here. If you think Joe Kraft has been bad to this point, if he gets orders from the Russian Embassy to beat Nixon, he will plant things, lie, steal, anything. I remember this in ‘60, you see? Perhaps you may not remember.

Kissinger: I remember that.

Nixon: Khruschev very deliberately helped [John] Kennedy. He did it the last 2 weeks. And he helped him all the way. It’s all right. And the Russians will do the same on me.

Kissinger: Well, they may or may not. It depends on—

Nixon: Well, they will for the reason that we will take a bad offing public opinion-wise. We’re going to get squeals, and this and that and the other thing. And as they see then the possibility of a Democrat winning, they’ll say, no, we’ll push this son-of-a-bitch right down the tubes. I mean, I’m just looking at the worst of both worlds.

Kissinger: That’s one of the things, in my judgment.

Nixon: And let’s not have any illusions about that. I—you see, you and I talk—we talk about those things—the government—Hoover today, patriotism, loyalty, principle, and the rest, and that we say we hope [Page 736] to God that there’s enough of that in the country. Well, there certainly is enough to support the bombing in the North in order to avoid a disaster. Whether there is enough to support bombing of the North and then give up all hope of peace. You see, it’s the hope thing.

Kissinger: Yeah, but I’m not sure—

Nixon: The hope thing. The China thing was important from one standpoint only—hope. The American people are suckers. Getting to know you—all that bullshit. They’re for people to people.

Kissinger: Yeah, but it’s for precisely that reason to go there under these circumstances and to cater to that group, it’s just—

Nixon: It’s not—it isn’t that group—I don’t mean [unclear] The gray, middle America—they’re suckers.

Kissinger: But therefore, to bring it off, you would have to do it, not to bomb there, to have a plausible case—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —that you brought peace, which means that you’ll have to give credit and you have to sign the joint statement of principles, to which I’ve already agreed, more or less. I mean, such a correct—

Nixon: Well the joint statement, in fairness, and I’m just being the devil’s advocate, the joint statement of principles might well be interpreted by some as leaning to the Russians, and we have agreed we’re going to quit this kind of adventurism like Vietnam.

Kissinger: Only when we are strong. Not in the present context. If we go over to Vietnam, sure.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: That’s—I think we will pay—

Nixon: When will you get your speech ready by?

Kissinger: My speech? Oh, the speech for you.

Nixon: Tomorrow?

Kissinger: No, no, by this afternoon. By noon.

Nixon: Okay. Don’t say that, because you and I are going to meet at 3 o’clock, so give until this evening, ‘til 7 o’clock.

Kissinger: I have a WSAG meeting.4

Nixon: Get that out of the way.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Is there anything you can tell that you need help on?

[Page 737]

Kissinger: Just about Rogers, otherwise I’ll get into that same situation.

Nixon: Remember, we’re making a perception that—we’ve got a lot of possibilities to use.

Kissinger: No, I—

Nixon: Tell the Russians we’ll only—that a minimum condition for a summit is basically, is that, as there was for the Chinese trip, there must not be an offensive while we’re in Moscow, for 10 days before and during the period. After that, do what they damn please. It probably won’t sell.

Kissinger: That’s a good—that’s a possibility. Of course, it [unclear] if they cancel the summit. But then so be it. We will have the record of having tried.

Nixon: Okay.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 719–4. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 9:35 to 9:59 a.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 183.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 198.
  4. The meeting was held on May 5 to discuss Vietnam. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H-116, WSAG Minutes, Originals)