212. Conversation Among President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and his Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1

[Omitted here is discussion on the political ramifications of blockading North Vietnam.]

Kissinger: The Russians apparently have ordered their ships to stay in port.

Nixon: In Hanoi?

Kissinger: In Haiphong.

Nixon: Why do you think they’ve done that?

Haldeman: So we can’t blow up the docks.

Kissinger: So we can’t blow up the docks. Well I’ve never been all that sure that we should blow up the docks, because if we do, we are really taking away an asset. As long as the harbor is mined, they can’t go in anyway. So it doesn’t make any difference.

[Page 792]

Nixon: they’re not going to have anything to do—that’s the main thing. I wouldn’t blow up their docks when their ships are there anyway.

Kissinger: No, I’d leave it alone. We’re going tonight after that railway bridge in Hanoi and after the—tonight we’re taking out the POL around Hanoi and the railway bridge and the marshaling yards. They think they got about a thousand trucks in the strike the other day. And they’re just going to grind them down now. Tomorrow they go after the Haiphong POL and other railways and marshaling yards.

[Omitted here is discussion of the domestic political impact of the blockade.]

Kissinger: I think the Soviet Union has one problem only, which is how can they maintain their Communist virginity in the face of this challenge. That’s—they’d like to get out of it. They don’t want to confront us over this.

[Omitted here is discussion of briefings by Secretary of State Rogers, Secretary of Defense Laird, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer.]

Kissinger: Well our real trouble will start when the Russians cancel the summit.

Haldeman: You’ll get another psychological—it isn’t going to be as bad—that’s not going to be as bad as you think ‘cause it still will be discounted.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, when you say our real trouble starts, Henry, we have to realize, not only do we have it this time, but we thoroughly expected it. In other words, we had no doubts about the damn thing.

Kissinger: No. The North Vietnamese, they’ll be getting [unclear] an attack on Hue. If we can knock that okay, if we can defeat that I think—

Haldeman: [unclear]

Nixon: They are.

Kissinger: Well, he’s now—finally Abrams is doing what the President has been wanting. Because he’s got 30 B–52s he’s using like tactical air. He doesn’t give them targets. He just keeps them and they can go in when something develops. They’re now systematically leveling the area between on the north of Hue right on up to the DMZ. They threw in 10,000 rounds of artillery into it—our people—yesterday.

Nixon: That’s great.

Kissinger: And 30 B–52 strikes. Now, if there’s any living thing left in there, it’s just hard to imagine.

Nixon: What is the—, looking at the situation with regard to the cancellation of the summit. Is there anything you think we can do, Bob, to handle that problem?

[Page 793]

Haldeman: No, I think you just say that’s—it’s—you—that’s the position he’s knocked you out now. It’s on the Russians’ hands if they cancel the summit. You stated your position.

Kissinger: You stated it very well.

Haldeman: You moved for peace. I don’t think you’re going to have any problem with it. We’ll give it a squeaker some more.

Kissinger: The goddamn Chinese put out a statement today saying that it’s a challenge to Moscow, saying that—

Nixon: they’re trying to break up the summit.

Haldeman: [unclear exchange]

Nixon: Well, they know, they can see the speech didn’t mention them.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Haldeman: Yeah.

Kissinger: Well, what they put out was the speech didn’t mention them because they know it doesn’t do any good to appeal to them when we saw this in Moscow.

[Omitted here is discussion of a vote in the Senate regarding actions in Southeast Asia.]

Nixon: Should the Russians move on Thursday,2 I then think that our best reaction to that, in addition to a statement, is for Abrams to divert a helluva strike the very next day. What do you think?

Kissinger: I think we should not gear anything particularly to that.

Nixon: Maybe not. Well—

Kissinger: Because they have a lot of options. They can cancel. At some point, if you’re just canceling the summit it’s a softer option if they keep everything else going. Supposing we get SALT and all the other things anyway. Hold the statement of principles for another occasion.

Nixon: They can cancel, then, or they can postpone.

Kissinger: They can cancel. They can postpone. They can cut all relations with us. I mean—

Nixon: Can they withdraw diplomatic recognition?

Kissinger: Oh, no, no, no. But they could just knock off all negotiations.

Nixon: It doesn’t bother me a damn bit.

Kissinger: Mr. President.

Nixon: It doesn’t bother me a damn bit.

[Page 794]

Kissinger: they’ll be back. They’ve got to be back. We’ve gone through these periods, up and down, and they’ll be back. The next significant question is whether my June 21 visit to China is still on.

Nixon: Has that been announced?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: You just let it play? Was that going to be public?

Kissinger: We were going to do that during [unclear] on Sunday.3

Nixon: Well, we’ll just play it if it isn’t. I’m sorry too. My own view is this. I think we have seen the issue clearly. I mean, we’d like to keep the Chinese game going; we’d like to keep the Russian game going. But if we get socked in Vietnam, both games will collapse at this point.

Kissinger: No question. Now, what would be sort of a good move is if the Russians postponed the summit and I wound up in Peking again.

Nixon: Oh, boy.

Kissinger: That would sort of put it to them. After this thing settles down in 2 or 3 weeks, we can ask the Chinese. Well, if the Russians aren’t going through, then certainly Peking can go through. If the Russian summit gets postponed—

Nixon: Then the question is whether they’ll—

Kissinger: Then I’ll just ask whether there’s still [unclear]

Nixon: I’d put it like the basis such that if they cancel, you’re still willing to come. But if you don’t want to cause any embarrassment to them, you know, you just might—a number of things we could talk about.

Kissinger: You know, we’ve got a lot of money in the bank with the Chinese. That was really a devilish statement. It was put out as a common [unclear] article. Of course, this makes Hanoi much more dependent on China. And a lot depends on whether Russia will accept the blockade. If Russia accepts the blockade, of course China will fulfill its duty and ship more supplies.

Nixon: Do they mean the Russians should try to run it?

Kissinger: Well, they can afford to be tough at Russia’s expense.

Nixon: Yeah, of course they want to bust the summit.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 722–14. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Haldeman in the Oval Office from 5:57 to 6:13 p.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. May 11.
  3. Apparently May 7.