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

Kissinger: Mr. President

Nixon: Hi, Henry.

Kissinger: I just wanted quickly to—

Nixon: Right [unclear]

Kissinger: They were sending up another book today.

Nixon: That’s all right. I’ve got enough books.

Kissinger: It’s on bilateral things—

Nixon: I’ve got that.

Kissinger: —and I’ve got something coming on SALT and that nuclear agreement. Well, I spent the morning now going over the communications and it’s 15 pages. And they threw in a few curve balls, of course. But it’s in better shape than we were in China. I think in a day or two, we’re there. We can settle it. It’ll be a very significant communiqué, in addition to the principles. But it’s been a tremendous leap. And for the first time, people are going to see in one document everything that’s been done.

Nixon: Yeah. I was looking at the—I mean I was looking here at the schedule that you laid out and you suggested that I sign the space cooperation agreement which I have is good. I noticed that Train thinks I should also sign the environmental agreement. I see no reason—I think—

Kissinger: I think space and SALT and the principles—

Nixon: Space, SALT, principles, though—and I have plenty of signings to do.

Kissinger: You want—anything you want to sign we can—

Nixon: I see no damn reason why I shouldn’t be up front and center. Now they’ll say that the environment thing was worked up before we got here. The hell with it, though.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, the fact of the matter is that—I mean, for example, on the science agreement—I don’t bother you with these things because I know what you want.

Nixon: I—

[Page 943]

Kissinger: No, but I just want to give you as an example. That thing has been kicking around for years. I got David [Dr. Edward David, the President’s Science Adviser] and I said: “let’s go over these points and you’re going to settle it in 3 days,” so he did. Then—then—we gave it to State to do some drafting. The total deadlock developed immediately because they came up with 30 nitpicks, so we settled that yesterday afternoon. On the incidents—

Nixon: State doesn’t know that we settled it.

Kissinger: No. On the incidents at sea, for example, you remember the issue about the draft that came to you, six distances and so forth. I knew this would drive the military up the wall. We didn’t want the military yelling at it since we need them on SALT. So I went to Dobrynin and I said—and I suggested a formula to him by which they accept our terms this year and we agreed to review it at the end of next year. We all agreed then that so on—and I had breakfast with Laird on Monday morning and with Moorer and told him we’d do what we could. And that evening at 9 o’clock the Russians yielded and accepted our position. Laird called me up and said he couldn’t believe it. He said in 18 hours we’d settled something that they had negotiated 4 months over. So your influence, whether you physically have done it all, and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We can demonstrate that of these agreements not one could have been done without your personal channel to Brezhnev.

Nixon: Now we will have some of the requirements. Peterson will try to claim that he did—

Kissinger: He can’t. He can’t argue that.

Nixon: Naturally Smith will say he did SALT. And—

Kissinger: Mr. President, I think what I ought to do when we get back—

Nixon: You gotta to have a—

Kissinger: I ought to get in some of the leading journalists and maybe go on television.

Nixon: You may have to do more than that. You may just have to—you’ve got—we’ve got to really set it in. It just can’t be in three or four columns. Get my point? It’s got to be something that has national impact where they know—

Kissinger: Well, I have no great desire to do it but the way I’m doing it would be—

Nixon: We’re not going to let the State’s boys get away with everything this time.

Kissinger: Because the way to do it would be instead of arguing who did what, would be just to have somebody ask me on the biggest forum that you see consider as suitable.

[Page 944]

Nixon: How will it be done?

Kissinger: You could say the President has been exchanging correspondence with Brezhnev. This is how their replies came back. This is how we handled it. This is how we—At that point, we don’t give a damn because they’re all done. I mean to bring these agreements all to a head all at the same time—

Nixon: Now with regard to the signing, there are two different ways. Maybe it’s not as well for us, but to be in on all sorts of signing things. It’s as well to hold back and do SALT and principles.

Kissinger: Oh, you should do it with the space because that’s got so much imagination to it—and I—

Nixon: Also in my 1959 speech,2 remember I said: “let us go to the moon together.” And, that’s a good point—

Kissinger: He told me that that evening—your first evening—there’ll be a very positive speech and the toast. It will be a short speech, they said, so—

Nixon: I told Haldeman that mine had to be 200 words.

Kissinger: Not the first evening, Mr. President. You have to give a substantive speech—about 15–10 minutes.

Nixon: 10 minutes of copy or 10 minutes translated?

Kissinger: 10 minutes copy because they’re going to give at least 15.

Nixon: 15–30 minutes? You see what we’re talking about is the translation.

Kissinger: At Spaso House, you can wing it.

Nixon: I’m not going to wing anything. I’m going to—

Kissinger: No, no, I mean at Spaso House, you could read—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah. My point is I want to find out what the length of their speech is—

Kissinger: I just found out.

Nixon: —in words. Well, if it’s 15 minutes in Russian, that’s 30 minutes.

Kissinger: They told us 15 minutes. They said a short speech. Now I asked him what does that mean and he said that means between 10 and 15 minutes in Russian. And it will close with a toast to you. But it will—

Nixon: Who the hell’s working on that?

Kissinger: I’ve got Andrews and Safire working on it with one of my people.

[Page 945]

Nixon: And we have Price working on the television?

Kissinger: And Price is working on the television one. We spent an hour and a half together yesterday in the light of your [unclear]. We spent some in the morning but then after you called me, I got them all together again. And—

Nixon: they’ll come around.

Kissinger: I think the television speech; actually, we have plenty of time for.

Nixon: Yeah. But the first speech—

Kissinger: The first speech is very important

Nixon: I’ve got to have the damn thing on the plane.

Kissinger: That is very important. That’s got to—that should be rather sober. And—

Nixon: And rather meaty.

Kissinger: And rather meaty.

Nixon: All right. And on the signing of agreements, what is your view? Should we be up there signing agreements over there? Does that take too much away—well, the space one. The environment I don’t have to sign. I don’t care much about the environment—Do you want Rogers to sign the environment?

Kissinger: The goddamn [unclear] doesn’t know anything about it.

Nixon: The point is there’s no reason for him to.

Kissinger: Is it put in the schedule?

Nixon: Yeah, it’s on the second page. Here, I’ll get it for you. [pause]

Kissinger: Well, if you did environment and space, then You’d do one each day. Except Thursday or Friday.

Nixon: Might as well start out with a bang. Environment’s a big thing in this country. Might as well do it, environment and space. And then you get the feeling that’s another way to get it across that a lot is being done—environment and space, SALT. On the statement of principles I noticed that you had—well, we can talk about this later—some doubts as to whether I should sign it because—

Kissinger: [unclear exchange] I’ve changed my mind. You should sign it.

Nixon: What the hell, why not? It isn’t a treaty.

Kissinger: Yeah, I’ve changed my mind.

Nixon: If it is a treaty. If they want it, let’s do it. Big deal.

Kissinger: I think you should sign it. It should be jointly signed by Brezhnev and you. And the combination of this really—

Nixon: It’s a hell of a thing.

Kissinger: —a meaty communiqué, which is really—

[Page 946]

Nixon: A communiqué, a statement of principles, and these agreements. Kennedy, Kennedy could never get even that, that space thing, something people have been talking about for years—

Kissinger: Now, what I would recommend though, Mr. President, is that you’re very low key with the Congressional people. I wouldn’t say that this is going to be the most significant—

Nixon: No, sir. No, sir.

Kissinger: I’d just say there’re a number of things we’re going to try to advance or—

Nixon: Or you give us some talking points as to what number, what they say are. I’ve got to say all these people have been working on SALT.

Kissinger: I think that is—I think the lower key we are, the more impressive—I mean nobody has any idea. They all think it’s—I mean the newsmen that I see all think it’s going to be like Peking—nothing. And then at the end a communiqué.

Nixon: Each one of these—well, space is a major story. Environment is a major story. Health is not. Science and technology’s not. Maritime is not. Incidents at sea is not. The joint commercial commission is and SALT is. So you got—you got four major stories.

Kissinger: The joint commercial agreement might be good. But, also, incidentally there is a good chance that we’ll get an agricultural agreement for 3 years worth a billion dollars. I haven’t put that on there yet. The [unclear]

Nixon: Well, I think we’ve got Dobrynin—I—well positioned—

Kissinger: Oh, that was beautiful.

Nixon: —[unclear exchange] Rogers thing—

Kissinger: And the way you handled Vietnam was beautiful. And the way you put the Middle East after. And then another thing I did with him, I went over his paper with him on the Middle East and we—For the first time, the Soviets are willing to talk sense now. In addition to the withdrawal of their forces—well you said there’re some things you can’t ask Israel to do. He said, all right now. Just put down concretely—I think the best position for you is to come out of this meeting without an agreement on the Middle East because it sure as hell that, with a—with a plan by which to move it ahead.

Nixon: What do we say about the Middle East, that we discussed it?

Kissinger: [unclear] that Jarring should redouble his efforts or something like that. Maybe—The trouble with pressing too hard on the interim agreement, which we may get, is that it may raise more questions about the final agreement than it’s worth. Because we don’t need any more agreements after this, I don’t think.

[Page 947]

Nixon: Except there’s going to be great interest in the Mid-East. I don’t give a damn about it except—Well, we can do that later.

Kissinger: Well, we can get that before November.

Nixon: We might do it in September.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Now Vietnam, though—But I think it’s well we now agree we bring Vietnam up. No use to bring it up at an early point ‘cause we’re not going to give a goddamn inch and neither are they.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: This idea that we’re going to—

Kissinger: Well, I wouldn’t say to them—The one thing I’d—can I perhaps suggest, Mr. President, don’t say they won’t give an inch because I think they’re beginning to give an inch.

Nixon: No, I mean I’m telling you that. I’m not going to tell them that.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Moscow summit.]

Kissinger: you’re going to kill them next week, Mr. President. No one has any idea what you’re—

Nixon: The main problems we’ve got, Henry, I think, as you’re quite aware, is not with the left but with the right. This is great with the left. It’s terribly difficult for the right. Particularly SALT and the statement of principles and that’s—we’ve just got to be sure that on SALT that we’re not freaked. They’ll do two [three] things: One, that we let down our allies: Two, that we put our arms around our enemies; And three, that we froze ourselves into inferiority. Those are the things we’ve got to answer—

Kissinger: That last one they just can’t make. I’m going to get—MacGregor’s getting them together for me tomorrow morning—

Nixon: Wonderful. Good.

Kissinger: —and I’m going to brief them, together with Moorer.

Nixon: Moorer?

Kissinger: Yeah, and—

Nixon: That’ll pull the rug out before Rogers and his people get a chance to piss on it. How can Rogers’ people piss on it now though? I mean, Smith is going to be for it.

Kissinger: Of course, oh, yeah. He’s giving us more trouble than the Russians right now. Every day—again if it weren’t for your channel, this thing would never have—Well, every breakthrough that was done by you—the May 20th, the submarines, every solution was worked out in the Brezhnev channel. And every detail this last week—I just don’t bother you because I don’t believe you give a damn whether it’s 18 radars or 16 radars but—

[Page 948]

Nixon: I haven’t got the time to look at them.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: Experts have to determine.

Kissinger: But there’s—

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Moscow summit.]

Nixon: Incidentally, Dobrynin will call on Rogers this afternoon?3

Kissinger: At 4 o’clock.

Nixon: And give him a little song and dance.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Because we, we’re not just going to have this Rogers thing [unclear]. We’re not going to have any pissy-ass stuff anymore. It’s too, too late now.

Kissinger: It’s too late. And you’ve gone through too much and you’ve carried this—

Nixon: And, you know, goddamn it. If he doesn’t like this, it’s too bad. He tells me for my own good, this is what he did about the Shanghai Communiqué, and all the things he worried about didn’t amount to a damn. We know there’re problems. There’re problems in all this—the SALT agreement and so forth. The point is: how could he have done better? The point is he couldn’t. This, this sort of ideal that you’ve got to do this ideal and you’ve got to do that. He never comes up with anything that just [unclear]. Here’s something we oughta do. I mean—except signing the Berlin agreement. Thank God that’s no problem, is it?

Kissinger: No

Nixon: Because the German treaty won’t be done.

Kissinger: But signing it—we negotiated it and when it was done, he pissed on that. He gave, gave Rush nearly a nervous breakdown by thwarting something we had worked 6 months to bring about.

Nixon: You see, the point is that we’re not going to—we’re not going to—

Kissinger: he’ll piss on the principles too, I’ll guarantee you. If you take the negative, it’s always possible to—

Nixon: That’s right. He didn’t show us, for example, what their first—their first paragraph, for example, paragraph 3, was the much tougher than what they finally agreed on. Goddamn it, we’ve got it down to a few things.

Kissinger: And we’ve got them, in effect, to put in a renunciation of the Brezhnev Doctrine. I’ll have lunch with Dobrynin and then we’ll go back.

Nixon: Well, he’s—

[Page 949]

Kissinger: Well, he is delighted. And I think you have—This is going to be a tremendous [unclear]—

Nixon: we’ve also got them on the mountaintop, too, in terms of—

Kissinger: Well, I like the way you handled the Brezhnev visit here.

Nixon: Show him this and stay here. You know, like they told you, what you were doing, so this is only reciprocity.

Nixon: Oh yeah. And hell, they’ll love it.

Kissinger: You’ll probably see this guy so insecure if you feel—if the thing is going well, you could even dangle perhaps before him that when he’s here you might take a trip out to California to greet a [unclear]. I’d play that.

Nixon: Well, there’s no—nothing—give me brief, brief, brief talking points for [unclear].4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Camp David, Conversation No. 191–18. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger from 12:25 to 12:45 p.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. For text of Vice President Nixon’s speech to the people of the Soviet Union on August 1, 1959, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1959, pp. 887–894.
  3. No record of Dobrynin’s conversation with Rogers on May 18 has been found.
  4. The tape ends at this point.