225. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: Sorry; I was with Dobrynin.2 It’s highly complex, but nothing you want to bother with. It’s how many radars should be at an ICBM defense site.

P: As you and I both know, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. Just so we can defend it.

[Page 836]

K: No, no; I agree with you, Mr. President. The only point is they are playing the game keeping it a Brezhnev/Nixon [issue?]. And therefore before they submit anything in Helsinki, they clear it with me. And therefore, it’s time-consuming. I am just trying to explain to you why I’m seeing him.

P: No, no; I’m in no hurry. I just had one other thought. I wanted to pass it on to you. Were you able to get into the gift field?

K: Yeah, they [Brezhnev] want a car in the worst way. They are already looking through catalogs. Now their mind, however, is in the direction of a small Cadillac.

P: Fine.

K: I told him to call me back later today so that we can get on it. It must be black.

P: Yeah, I know. But we’ll give them what they want.

K: And I said, “Now listen,…”

P: I can give him a sports car, if he prefers.

K: No, he doesn’t want a sports car. He wants a medium-size Cadillac.

P: Well, that’s a damn good car, incidentally. In other words, he doesn’t [want] one with the jump seats, but just a medium-size, good-looking Cadillac.

K: That’s right. I guess … In fact that’s what he means is a hardtop Cadillac.

P: Right.

K: I think that’s what he has in mind.

P: You tell him we picked the hydro-foil?

K: Yes.

P: Well, that’ll be an interesting trade.

K: And they’re going to give you a picture. Oh, God, he’s just drooling.

P: You told him I didn’t want modern art.

K: There’s absolutely no danger of that … I’ve told him that, but they are against modern art.

P: Oh, are they?

K: Oh, yeah.

P: Well, they weren’t a few years ago. Khrushchev was against it but …

K: No, there’s no danger of that at all, but I told him that.

P: It doesn’t mean that much to have modern art.

K: No, they won’t give you modern art. They have three things in mind. They want to give you a painting; they want to give you a [Page 837][silver?] coffee service; and then they’ve got a third thing—I think a table or something.

P: Did the matter come up of those passports that are on the way or anything?

K: Well I talked to him. I talked to him first of the stories of the mines being deactivated. I said, “Anatol, that’s total nonsense, and don’t you base any policies on this. They cannot be deactivated except after many months when they deactivate themselves. The President cannot do it if he wanted to, and he wouldn’t want, but he cannot.” Secondly, I said, “I read all these stories.” He said, “Look, if we want to challenge you; we won’t have it put out by the Ministry of Merchant Marines.” Thirdly, I said, “I hope you are not planning to cause any embarrassment to the President.” He said, “I give you my word.” He said, “We want to start an epoch; we don’t want to … this is a minor incident,” he said, “Two years from now people won’t remember it.”

P: He wouldn’t have said that unless he was in touch with them would he?

K: Mr. President he is in daily, frequent touch with them. And therefore I just do not believe—after they sign common principles with us how the hell are they going to challenge us then. Even an attempt—if they wanted to challenge us they should have done it last week.

P: Let me ask you this, two things. I am sitting here starting to read two books. I must say it is hard going but if you got a minute I would like to ask you which one you think is the best one.

K: Which books are you reading?

P: Well this is the book—background reading for the President on the Soviet Union and there are so many different theories. There is the Danelle Bell(?) piece on Ten Theories in Search of Reality.3 I am plowing through that—that’s probably worthwhile isn’t it?

K: That is worth reading.

P: But I am not going to read Ezie(?) Stone.4

K: No, no. I just put that in.

P: And I don’t know I never had much confidence in Brezensky(?).5

K: Well he is sort of—he is slightly. [. .]

P: Forty-three pages on this. And the First Circle6 I think that is too historical to get into. Robert Conquest7 that might be good.

[Page 838]

K: That is good. That I would read.

P: All right. On foreign relations Richard Pipes(?)8

K: I would read that.

P: And Melvin Chrone(?)9 on troops in Europe. No, there is nothing on troops that we are going to discuss with them.

K: No, it will come up, but I wouldn’t bother.

P: But what the hell—whatever you have in your briefing papers is going to be better than what these idiots write.

K: Absolutely.

P: But you would recommend Beezensky(?)

K: Well, I just sort of … Conquest and Pipes(?) by all means.—

P: Good. Alright. Now the other thing I will read, I will read your subject by subject with Brezhnev and if you will in preparing your own papers … You know what I mean when I finally get down to it I only have a few minutes to get it all in my head at the last.

K: And I will also have the Dobrynin—anything I said to Dobrynin on any of these subjects put in.

P: The one I will do—we will play more to you in this case than we did in China. There it was important that they know me but here they all know we are talking—and he will be playing to. You know what I mean.

K: Well he knows who he is dealing with by your actions last week. By what you have done in September.

P: Yes. I don’t have to carry the whole monologue.

K: No.

P: One other thing. As you know there is a vote on Tuesday.10 I spoke to Haig about it. You are going to see some of the Republican doves to try to keep them in line. The point Colson made to me is that somebody between now and Tuesday to get across the fact that first it has a good chance to work. The people who criticize it are all going back to that CIA study in 1968 where they said it wouldn’t work.11 Well pointing out as I told Haig three solid differences—if not more than that. First Cambodia is cut off. Second that this is now a mechanized army requiring oil [and lubricants?]. Third as distinguished from the bombing we are allowing a hell of a lot more targets—you know what we mean in terms of what [Page 839]we are getting at. And fourth of course a total cut off from the sea. My point is—doesn’t this make sense. The only one who had written on it—I have looked at a few columns—got at it a bit was Alsop.12 [omission in the source text] I wonder if you shouldn’t tell him that and also wondering if you should get about ten of our most influential columnists for a backgrounder. Or do you think it is not worth it.

K: My strong conviction on the news Mr. President is that the events are going to speak for us.

P: Well in other words. We will probably lose this vote.

K: No.

P: You don’t think this is the wrong signal to the Russians(?)

K: No I think the Russians, I think understand that you have defeated these guys before. I mean this is the sense of the Senate. It is almost our program, it is a lousy thing to cut off funds. I would much rather win the vote and I will bleed my heart out to these liberal Senators and I think[—]

P: Then in other words as far as the effect of the actions just let them speak for themselves.

K: I would just absolutely act cold bloodedly confident.

P: True, we are, we are.

K: That is my impression. Because I think Mr. President they have got one more [omission in the source text] around Hue. And we may actually win this goddamn thing now.

P: Well that is what we are going to try to do now—I mean do now.

K: Xuan Thuy: saw Chou En-lai yesterday—no one has said yet what they are going to do.

P: Where did he see him in Peking.

K: In Peking on the way back to Hanoi.

P: With the Chinese—I know you are going to tell them—remember I told them and you told them too we will make absolutely no deal with the Russians that we are not prepared to make with them. So in my letter to him will you make that point.13 There will be some agreements—agreements that have been going on for a long time and are absolutely bilateral. They are not related to anything else. We are ready to do any that you are interested or any others that we have discussed. I think it is very important that they know—for trade for example, we are going to give them the same things we are going to give the Russians. Don’t you think this is important.

K: Absolutely, it is crucial.

[Page 840]

P: And we don’t want our Russian things to be misinterpreted in anyway. That he can be sure—oh one other thing. Have one of the fellas that was there at the meeting, you know Lord. You may remember at one point Chou En-lai spent thirty or forty minutes telling me things he wanted me to tell the Russians. Do you remember? If you could refer specifically in the letter that I give to him that I have noted that in the conversation I will cover that. He can be sure that we will stand firm with regard—you know.

K: Absolutely. Excellent.

P: You remember that don’t you.

K: I remember it very well.

P: Something about [conflict?] on the borders thing and the rest. But also putting it in a very hard line in a sense. He was doing that, I think, for the record.

K: Absolutely. He doesn’t want you to talk about their problems to the Russians.

P: Right, right. And that he can be sure that I will not disclose to the Russians any part of the conversation I had with him. He has my personal assurance of that.

K: Absolutely.

P: And then you can proceed to disclose the part of the Russians to him.

K: Right. I think we can handle it, Mr. President.

P: Let me ask you one final thing. I was thinking a week ago when we were discussing this … You remember, you said you expect all of your staff were unanimous in their agreement that the Summit would be cancelled. Helms was of that opinion. And Rogers and Laird. And you thought it was 80 per cent. What changed your mind—not your mind—why did our intelligence prove to be so inaccurate?

K: Our assessment was that they would … Let me give you my assessment. I thought they would have to do something. The reason I thought they would cancel the Summit but do nothing else is because that would look dramatic but wouldn’t mean anything. I thought they would postpone it to a fixed date later on. We had underestimated how badly they want the Summit. I don’t think intelligence could possibly help one on that.14 But it also has an ominous character to it. I think they are determined to hit China next year.

[Page 841]

P: You do?

K: Yeah. That’s the real explanation for this. They want to get their rear cleared and then they are going to jump China.

P: In other words, in going over this—and this is what your experts and Helms and the rest take adequately into account—is their morbid concern about China and their recognition that if they did … one of the things they would have to assume was that we would turn very hard toward China.

K: That’s right.

P: Do you think that might have something to do with it.

K: That may have something to do with it. I thought they’d cancel it; but cancel nothing else. But I must say, I thought the chances were 80 per cent that they would cancel it.

P: It may be that a number of factors may have entered in—who knows: (1) that it was mining rather than a blockade; (2) that it was put so carefully in both the speech and your backgrounder; (3) they’re just plain taking the contract—I think that’s important.

K: Oh, I think so, and also I think that the fact that these meetings we’ve had with Dobrynin and also with Brezhnev personally gave them the confidence that, on the one hand, they could do business with us but, on the other hand, we were very tough to monkey with.

P: Yeah. Well, in any event, we’ll continue to pitch this stuff. All right, then don’t bother with any press people. Do the Senators and try to keep them from pole-jumping the traces. Tell them for their own good they should do it and put in a little about—this damn malarkey about the decision being made out of pique and anger and all that crap. You are the only one who can knock that down.

K: That I’ll be glad to do. That I think should be knocked down. That hasn’t been written. What I might do if you think well of it—I could meet perhaps with some of the senior people, not so much to say that this blockade will work, although I can work that in.

P: But how it’s different from the situation of 1968.

[Page 842]

K: And also where are we pre-Summit—say Wednesday15—including Vietnam, of course.

P: Yeah. Well, it might get us out on a limb, though, if something should happen. It’s too Pollyannaish.

K: Well, I think on the whole …

P: Let the damn thing go.

K: The best posture is to say nothing.

P: Because basically let’s face it. They’ll give us another pop, we’ll say “well, that’s what we expected.”

K: And we have so much news coming in the next two weeks, Mr. President, that—this mining will be drowned in it.

P: Haig looks at these reports very carefully. He says these guys are fighting a lot better.

K: Much better now.

P: Do you agree with him on this?

K: I agree with him, yes.

P: He says he notes the various places where they’ve really done a hell of a job. You never know, the main effect of what we’ve done, Henry, may have been the psychological.

K: Not the main result but this was one of the big results.

P: On the South Vietnamese. Well, they weren’t doing a damn thing before—let’s face it.

K: Well, they weren’t doing as much as they are doing now.

P: Well, they were sitting in their holes.

K: Because they were petrified that they were going to be sold down the drain.

P: Okay, fine. We’ll let that other thing go. Also, I don’t think you ought to take the time off talking to the press. There are more important fish to fry. Okay, we’ll leave it that way.

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, President Nixon placed the call. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 224.
  3. Reference is to the article “Ten Theories in Search of Reality” by Daniel Bell.
  4. Reference is presumably to Polemics and Prophecies by Isidor F. Stone.
  5. Reference is presumably to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict.
  6. Reference is to The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
  7. Reference is presumably to Russia After Khrushchev by Robert Conquest.
  8. Reference is presumably to Formation of the Soviet Union by Richard Pipes.
  9. Melvin Croan, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin Madison.
  10. On May 16 the U.S. Senate adopted, by a vote of 47 to 43, an amendment to a Department of State appropriations bill cutting off all funds for U.S. military operations in Vietnam 4 months after reaching an agreement with North Vietnam on release of prisoners of war and on an internationally supervised cease-fire.
  11. Not found.
  12. Reference is to columnist Joseph Alsop.
  13. No copy of this letter has been found.
  14. In a May 15 memorandum to Haldeman, Nixon noted the “rather ironic situation that after initially reacting to the Monday announcement with almost hysterical predictions that we had blown the Russian summit and our whole ‘Generation of Peace’ foreign policy, the columnists and commentators—with a considerable amount of egg on their faces—now have the gall to say that the Monday decision was wrong and reckless but that the Soviet Union is showing great restraint in continuing the summit nevertheless.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 3, Memoranda from the President, Memos—May 1972) In telegram 4666 from Moscow, May 16, Ambassador Beam reported that although he had received reports that the Soviet leadership had not yet made a final decision on the summit, Hedrik Smith of The New York Times, who had earlier reported a Politburo split on whether to cancel, said that the same sources now were saying that the summit was definitely on. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 US/NIXON)
  15. May 17.