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

P: Hello.

K: Hello Mr. President.

P: Henry I … I just had a chance—just got here—to read the first draft by Price. Let me make three or four suggestions. One, I don’t think we ought to go into Vietnam on this speech.2

K: Absolutely.

P: Second, I think that it’s important not to go on and on about liberty and freedom and all that sort of …

K: I said exactly …

P: No use to throw that to them.

K: I just saw it this minute and I said exactly the same thing to them.

P: The other thing is I think we should talk about our … something about our alliance in World War II, the great suffering of the Russian people in war. I think something about that should be thrown in.

K: Right.

P: I think some of the other things the words are fine. But the point being that they don’t know America, we wish that they did and I just want to tell them that I speak for the American people, I know our people, I know what they want in the world. We like our system and, you know, something about but on the other hand we’re not trying to impose it on anybody else. But we … and we want peace in the world, that that means that great powers have a particular responsibility to use their influence to preserve peace and not to break it and that … [Page 922]so we would like to have that kind of relationship with … that I respect the Russian people as a great people and … sort of along those lines.

K: I don’t think it is proper for you to start lecturing them about freedom of speech.

P: Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no ….

K: And all that USIA stuff.

P: No, this is not for that purpose and it should be … The other thing is, and this always a weakness of the speechwriters, the Russians not only love but have to have some anecdotal material. They just got to have a story or two, you see?

K: Yeah, I’m not sure on Russian television Mr. President.

P: Well no, what I mean is, if it related to something that I’ve seen while I’m there. In other words, if you’ve read my speech when I was at … when I spoke in 1959, the most effective parts of it was when I referred to the Russian children as … you know, when they threw flowers in the car.

K: Oh, that sort of thing. I thought you meant stories.

P: No, no, no, I meant examples …

K: Oh yes, absolutely.

P: So that it relates them rather than just cool tough logic, you see.

K: Right.

P: Our people just don’t know how to …

K: No, that is a definite sentimental streak.

P: There needs to be that, that as I … as I saw … in Samarkan in ‘67 a Soviet citizen who was … you know with one leg gone; he had lost it in World War II and he said we want to be friends with America. Something like that; that’s what Win (?) [Lord?] wants; that’s the kind of thing that he ought to put in but … Well, I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but if you can get them … It’s not his fault because he was flying blind and he says so, but if you could sort of give him the feeling of what we’re doing, not too much substance, not too much … I don’t think we ought to go into the rigamarole about we have an agreement on arms control, an agreement on trade, an agreement …

K: they’ll read that in the newspapers anyway.

P: That’s right. It’s more in terms of saying, look, I’m an American, the first one on an official visit to this great country. I wouldn’t slobber over them too much; I’d be very proud of what we stand for, but on the other hand I would say that we respect you, we want you to respect us and we can assure you on peace but peace is not something that we have simply by being for it, that we have to act responsibly [Page 923]through the world, you know in our relations with small nations and others and respect all other peoples in the world. We say something to China at the same time.

K: And we can say this can be the beginning of a new era; we have started it … something like that.

P: Yeah, the first steps, but I would say that it means that the great nations, you know what I mean,… Well, that’s sort of the [gist?] of the thing but you could get Ray back on that track that will be fine.

K: Right, I’ll do that immediately.

P: And you may have told him most of it already but those are my reactions and I just didn’t want him to get bogged down in some of the things that we know we don’t want to … we can’t use.

K: The German vote has come out very well.3

P: Oh.

K: They fell short of an absolute majority by one, but they have a relative majority so now it has to go to the upper house. They were going to vote on it Friday, but two German states have … it has to lie before that house for six days unless they unanimously vote to accept the consideration immediately.

P: And they didn’t?

K: They refused … they couldn’t get a unanimous vote so now they will vote next on the 24th, next Wednesday, and then it won’t get signed until the following Friday. So that will cover most of your visit there. That removes even the one percent chance that they might kick over the traces.

P: Yeah, they … they’d be playing a damn dangerous game.

K: That’s right.

P: That’s right. Well they’re not anyway… they can’t now anyway Henry; it’s too late.

K: No, exactly.

P: Well, they can but they’re … then they’re proving that they’re utterly stupid, and if they’re utterly stupid we should be smart.

K: But it also means that we have a pretty clear run for the better part of that week while we are there. I mean we would have it anyway, but this gives us a little insurance.

P: Incidentally, with regard to these talks, it would be helpful when you’re talking to Dobrynin if we worked it out that we did it sort of in line and subject by subject. What I meant is that I don’t have to [Page 924]prepare each one. See, then I can brush up on a certain subject rather than read all three … You got four books up here on issues now.

K: Absolutely, Mr. President.

P: And you know, I can’t read four books before each meeting.

K: No, we will have a subject or two and maybe we can get that even worked out before we get there.

P: That’s right. And what I was going to say is that what you might do then, you and Sonnenfeldt, and he’s obviously done a lot of this work—you tell him it’s just a brilliant job; it’s an excellent job—but the point is that whoever worked on it …

K: Right, Sonnenfeldt and Lord.

P: … and Lord, I would think that if we did that then before each meeting you could have one of them go through the talking points there and even boil it down more, say these are the things when they’ll bring up things you should emphasize.

K: Absolutely.

P: So that I … because the mental … I can retain most of this and I can fly blind pretty well but it would help very much to have it done that way.

K: No, that’s exactly what we’ll do. The purpose of these is to give you the general feel, then before each meeting we’ll give you two pages …

P: Good. Have you told Dobrynin to call on Rogers?

K: Yes, and that’s set for tomorrow afternoon.4

P: Oh. Oh, he’s going to come back and then call on him.

K: Right.

P: And you’ve told him so. Good.

K: Well, that’s perfectly normal. Then he’s made all his calls in one day.

P: Right, right, right, right.

K: And I suggested today, but for some reason they prefer to do it tomorrow.

P: Um-hm. Going to see us first.

K: It may have been State wanting to do it.

P: Well, whatever it was, fine. At least he’s going to do it.

K: Right. Oh yes, that’s all done.

P: Now with regard to that … when you’re talking to Dobrynin you do work out like, you’ve got to let Gromyko and Rogers haggle [Page 925]around about the Mid East and European Security and all these other things.

K: Oh, that’s all done.

P: Now, the statement of principles5 of course is, as you issued it will be one that they’ll try to nit-pick like hell and I don’t know quite how we’re going to be able to handle it. I know Rogers will be smart enough to know that Brezhnev and I didn’t sit down and concoct the whole thing. How do we explain that to him or …?

K: Well, we can say that you asked Dobrynin and me to work it out.

P: Or we can say that they submitted some things and I said well we’ll, let me submit some things and you’re working on it.

K: I think as a face-saver he’ll accept this. I mean he knows it won’t be true, but he won’t want … the alternative put out.

P: Yeah, that he had nothing to do with it. Right, right.

K: we’ll have one horrible day, there’s no question about it.

P: Well, it can’t be for me cause I’m not going to take it again.

K: No, I’ll take it. But the point is if we don’t have one we’ll have five. We have never … we played for example the SALT thing absolutely straight and we gave it to him the second I came back to America. And that didn’t ease the attacks on it.

P: No. It sure didn’t. Well, we won’t borrow trouble if I … if you could find something to call him about today or tomorrow I hope you will do so.

K: I’ve called him every day and I’ll call him …

P: What I meant is to say that we’re working on it; I’m reading the book.

K: I don’t think he’s in too belligerent a mood.

P: No, I don’t think so either. I’m just trying to set him up for what he’s going to do there. Now he’s going to apparently going to go to NATO and then come back to Poland.

K: Mr. President, it’s childish, really nuts …

P: I don’t know what the hell he wants to come to Poland for …

K: Oh because there are going to be…he thinks there are going to be crowds in the streets.

P: Oh what the hell. But the point is even if there weren’t, does he want to go to Iran?

K: No.

P: Well, that’s my point. Why to Christ does he go to Poland and not to Iran? You see I think that’s an affront to the Iranians.

[Page 926]

K: Well, and it’s a childish move because there isn’t anything to talk about. But he’s made such an issue of it; he’s called me three times; he called Haldeman three times….

P: All right; all right, do it.

K: It doesn’t make any sense; there’s no good reason except that he’ll be moping around for two weeks if he doesn’t. Then that way he can come back with you; I think that has something to do with it.

P: No problem. We’re arranging the schedules you know in such a way that when I go to Leningrad and what’s the other city, Kiev now or …?

K: Kiev I think he won’t be with you.

P: Do I go to Kiev?

K: Yes.

P: Yes. Well, anyway when we go to these cities, these other places you know, I’m being really brutal. Haldeman is arranging that all the party, all the party goes in Leningrad and Moscow and others, when we do go out, goes separately from me. They go see some things; I go see other things.

K: I think that’s right.

P: Rather than having them all tag along with me because I have seen most of the things in these places where we’re going to be.

K: I think that’s much better.

P: They want to call it … that’s too bad if people don’t like it. That’s just it.

K: Mr. President, I think it’s a lot better.

P: One thing we’ve certainly got to do is … in briefing this … I think we have to recognize we have totally different, I mean relationships with Brezhnev and Gromyko and myself and Rogers. Brezhnev does rely on Gromyko and the main reason is Gromyko does not try and upstage; he does what he’s told.

K: Right.

P: And does a hell of a lot and so I hope Dobrynin understands the difference in the relationships.

K: Totally, Mr. President, totally. And Gromyko understands that he’s got to keep Rogers occupied.

P: Uh-huh. Right. And have them agree on some things that they can.

K: And he’s a pro, I mean Gromyko is really good.

P: Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh God, I wish he were working for us.

K: He is outstanding. Actually he is the sort of Secretary of State you would want.

P: He’s exactly that because he’s … carries out things meticulously; he works his tail off; he has some ideas of his own; he [Page 927]never tries to upstage … and as a result of course Gromyko has become a very great figure in the world.

K: That’s right.

P: That’s the way to do it, you know, rather than trying to do it in your own right. Well, that’s another problem. I just have a feeling of this, that is was just a mistake. If I ever do any more foreign travelling I don’t think any Cabinet people should go along, none, none at all.

K: “I think in your second term, Mr. President, you should set these things up the way you are comfortable with them. You’ve been babying and carrying your associates now for four years and in your second term you ought to do it the way it’s best for you.

P: Yeah. We have to…

K: You shouldn’t have to worry about someone’s morale.

P: … the people who are going along; who’s not going along. Nobody’s going to go with me.

K: To fly people back from Bonn to Warsaw for a 22-hour day is really nuts, but if he wants it, fine.

P: Well it’s … we have to pay that price.

K: Yeah, but I just mean the second term you ought to …

P: Oh well, don’t worry, don’t worry.

K: … do these things the way you are comfortable.

P: I shouldn’t be even worrying about these things and I’m not going to now that I’ve mentioned it to you. It’s all done now and Haldeman understands and that’s the way it is going to be. And you’re going to set up two plenary sessions I understand.

K: That’s right.

P: And, have you told Bill that?

K: Uh, yes.

P: He knows that.

K: Right.

P: I’m not sure that you ought to set up the separate meeting. Haldeman told me something about and I don’t think you ought to set up the private meeting between him and Brezhnev.

K: Well, I think …

P: I just don’t think we ought to do that.

K: You do that and you’re going to get publicity that makes it sound as if it were all done there.

P: That’s right. And, so I hope you haven’t mentioned that.

K: No, no.

P: Has [Brezhnev] suggested it?

K: No, I suppose they’ll do it if we ask for it.

[Page 928]

P: No, no, no. Well, but there’s no reason for it, damn it. Brezhnev talks to me, right.

K: That’s right.

P: And basically I think this thing should be that Gromyko and Rogers meet and sometimes Gromyko, Rogers, Brezhnev and I will meet. But I’ll be damned if I think we ought to have a situation where I ask Brezhnev to meet with Rogers.

K: Well, I don’t see any …

P: Let’s not do it. Because you have the plenaries, I see there’s no reason to now. How does Kosygin fit into this whole thing?

K: Well, when there is a plenary, Kosygin will be there.

P: Oh I understand that.

K: And my guess is that Kosygin may be there once or twice when …

P: Yeah, now is Kosygin going to … is he going to see Rogers separately?

K: Well actually, Mr. President, I think they have the same problem we have without an ability to resolve it.

P: Yeah.

K: I think they want to keep it open until you get there.

P: Yeah. What I think we ought to do. I think you ought to tell Dobrynin that the best thing to do is opposite number-opposite number, period. In other words, Rogers and Gromyko should meet, either together or in the plenary and as far as the others are concerned it should be exactly the same way. I’ll meet with Brezhnev … do they plan me to meet with Kosygin alone at all?

K: No. I think you will either meet with Brezhnev alone or with Brezhnev, Kosygin and Podgorny together.

P: Podgorny. And sometimes Gromyko.

K: And sometimes Gromyko. But then that would make it a plenary. Because then Rogers would have to be there. Also, Brezhnev wants you at his country place one evening or two.

P: Now I don’t want … I don’t want … I don’t want … under no circumstances, you make it clear, I don’t want Rogers to go to that now.

K: Right.

P: Isn’t that right?

K: That’s right.

P: And I think that is basically a personal visit.

K: And there, of course, it doesn’t make any difference … you know, he can have anyone he wants; that wouldn’t be public.

P: That’s right.

[Page 929]

K: Except that you were there.

P: Right. And I would simply say that … Incidentally Rogers doesn’t have to be sensitive about that Henry because God damn it when I’m here, I don’t have the Foreign Secretary along with Heath when I see him.

K: Exactly. No, you don’t.

P: Of course not. I think particularly since we’re having the plenaries …

K: That’s right.

P: Yeah, and I’d put it all on the Russians; that’s the way they want it.

K: Exactly. No, we … that part of it is well worked out I think. And in any event I’m going to see Gromyko and Dobrynin privately as soon as we get in and then nail it down.

P: Good. All right.

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 from Camp David, Maryland, to Kissinger in Washington. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. Reference is to a draft of the President’s planned radio and TV address to the Russian people on May 28. During a May 14 telephone conversation, Nixon told Kissinger that he just couldn’t go through “the agony of trying to do a speech in Moscow,” and said: “I want this done so I can just get up and read the son-of-a-bitch.” He added, “It doesn’t make any difference how I look to the Russian people,” to which Kissinger replied that he agreed completely. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) See Document 294 for discussion of the President’s speech that day.
  3. The West German treaties with Poland and the Soviet Union were ratified by the Bundestag on May 17, and by both houses with a joint resolution on May 19.
  4. No record of Rogers’ meeting with Dobrynin on May 18 has been found.
  5. See Document 233.