218. Editorial Note

In three telephone conversations on May 12, 1972, President Nixon and his assistant Henry Kissinger discussed the possibility of Soviet cancellation of the summit as well as Kissinger’s scheduled meeting with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that day. An excerpt from the first conversation at 8:40 a.m. reads:

K: I think it’s slightly better than 50–50 now that they won’t.

“P: Yes.

K: And in fact with every passing day it’s more probable that they won’t.

“P: Well, we have to remember that it poses awfully serious problems for them to cancel it at this point.

K: Not just immediate problems, but also long-term problems. If they cancel this it will take them 18 months under the best conditions to get back to this position.

“P: With us?

K: With us, yes.

“P: If they cancel this they’re gambling on somebody else winning the election. And that’s a helluva tough gamble right now because they know that we’re going to put it to them. If they cancel, then they know we are then going to play it much harder militarily with the Vietnamese too.

K: Right. I don’t believe they’ll cancel, Mr. President, for the reasons I gave you yesterday. If they were going to cancel this was the week to do it. There’s almost no percentage in it for them to cancel it next week.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

In the second conversation at 3:50 p.m., Kissinger informed Nixon that he would be meeting with Dobrynin at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon. Kissinger noted that during the meeting Dobrynin would probably deliver a message from the Soviet leadership. Kissinger also speculated that the message would refer to plans and agenda items for the summit conference. (Ibid.) The third conversation took place at 4 p.m. when Nixon and Kissinger talked briefly on the telephone.

K: Mr. President.

“P: Oh, Henry, one thing I just wanted to be sure that we have on the line. In the unlikely event that they move in the other direction, I think it’s extremely important to be awfully cold about it.

K: Oh yes.

“P: I don’t think they’re going to, but, I mean, I don’t think he would have approached it this way. He probably knows what the message is already.

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K: He may not—well, he certainly has some idea of the content. There may have been a change of mind but it’s just unlikely.

“P: Yes. He has to deliver it to you personally, eh?

K: Yes, but that’s normal. All of the messages for you get delivered to me personally.

“P: Right. I see. But my point is that that isn’t the way they would do it if they were going to bust it off. I think they wouldn’t have let it go along so long.

“P: I would be amazed, but they might have had a change, but it’s unlikely.” (Ibid.)