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

Nixon: Henry, regarding the press, I don’t have any talking points. Can I use the same talking points that I used with the bipartisan leaders?

Kissinger: Let me—I’ll get to you within a half an hour.

Nixon: Now, let me—Bob [Haldeman], I don’t mean to [unclear] let me go over this with Henry. Point two. I don’t know whether we want to tell the leaders this much, do we?

Kissinger: This is already cut down by half.

Nixon: This says there will be—no, no, I’m not talking about the length. But do we want to say that there will probably be agreements on scientific exchanges, on environmental controls, on all these understandings—

Kissinger: No, no, that was supposed to be taken out.

Nixon: All right, fine. I’ll just say that we’ve had discussions. We don’t know what’s going to happen on these things but we hope for the best.

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: And I’ll say SALT, we, we—I think we can speak with some confidence on SALT.

[Page 952]

Kissinger: Well, not actually yet. I had a personal message from Gromyko

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —saying that they had the impression that Smith was dragging his feet, which was also my impression. And I’m just sending a scorcher to Smith.2 He’s suddenly—

Nixon: You think he wants to kill it?

Kissinger: Well if he—not kill it, but he’s now suddenly the hardliner in this operation. I mean after driving us for two and a half years the issues have become so abstruse—I could explain them to you but—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: He’s throwing in a lot of hedges, which are not in them selves that bad. It’s just his attitude has changed from being the soft guy to being the hard guy. But we’ll get it done.

Nixon: [unclear exchange]

Kissinger: That’s Haig’s suspicion.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: That is exactly Haig’s suspicion.

Nixon: Yes, that we’re still having some rough go on ABM.

Kissinger: And we are on the final stage of SALT, we are hopeful but not yet certain.

Nixon: That’s right. Proceeding with Europe, Vietnam, and the Middle East will be covered. Shall I say that?

Kissinger: No. The Middle East may be cut out.

Nixon: Shall I say Vietnam? I’ve got to say that.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That will be on the agenda. Europe? Oh, European Security—I mean the European Security Conference.

Kissinger: Well, European issues.

Nixon: European issues. But obviously not without the permission of our allies. In other words, I [unclear] The more important ones are not these assholes, but—

Kissinger: The press.

Nixon: Trying to set the press in a proper frame. I—let me just say, I don’t know what to say. Should we tell them that they’re going to be briefed twice a day?

Kissinger: Are they going to be briefed twice a day?

[Page 953]

Nixon: [unclear] That’s what you told him.

Kissinger: No, I didn’t read him anything of the sort.

Nixon: I’ll just say there will be a daily briefing.

Kissinger: I’d say a daily briefing.

Nixon: There’ll be a daily briefing.

Kissinger: I think it’s a mistake to commit ourselves to twice a day.

Nixon: Okay. Just talk off the top of your head as to what you want me to say to the press.

Kissinger: I would say, I would say—

Nixon: I’m not going to have a chance to prepare, or the time, if you think about it.

Kissinger: I would say to the press that we have—that this summit is the culmination of 2 years—

Nixon: Here’s what I was going to start, I was going to start along those same lines. I was going to say we have, we—our countries—that, that I have noted—and I think the very justifiable criticism of summitry by many of you ladies and gentlemen of the press. I am one of the critics of summitry. We had the spirit of Vienna, the spirit of Camp David, the spirit of Geneva, the spirit of Glassboro That’s one of the reasons why we have not up to this point had a top meeting. We thought we had to have something concrete come out of it, not just a spirit. As a result of this, I would say that this is the best prepared we have been for a meeting with Soviet leaders. [unclear exchange] Now, having said that, I would not want to leave—I would not want to raise your hopes too high, because basically there are a number of unresolved issues. I have been in correspondence with Mr. Brezhnev, very extensive correspondence—

Kissinger: I’d say I’ve made extensive “contact” with Mr. Brezhnev.

Nixon: Yeah, plenty of contact—

Kissinger: Cause correspondence, then they’ll say where is the correspondence?

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, extended contact with Mr. Brezhnev, and messages as well. Uh-huh. And we—and we—and under the circumstances we now, however, come to the point that we have to make decisions, decisions that affect both countries, affect their vital interests. And they can only be made at the highest level.

Kissinger: And the future peace of the world.

Nixon: And I think we should say we have nothing against third countries. That is, we consulted with our allies.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And others. [unclear] I won’t mention that. The Chinese, they don’t need to hear it.

Kissinger: No, they know what we’ve done.

[Page 954]

Nixon: And we will of course submit to the Senate in the only area where we expect a treaty is in the area of SALT. Is that correct?

Kissinger: No, there are a lot of treaties.

Nixon: Several of these will be treaties?

Kissinger: Yeah. Most of the others will be treaties. Say, “of course any treaty will be submitted to the Senate. And I’ll give the full report to the American people.”

Nixon: You want me to report when we return?

Kissinger: I think on this one you might consider a brief television speech.

Nixon: And not do the Q and As? Just leave it out? Vietnam and everything? Why don’t we just forget Q and As? Christ just—

Kissinger: Today? Oh I’d give a speech when you come back. Why let them nitpick you?

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I’d do what you did on arrival last time. I’d do this time on television. I think—

Nixon: You don’t want to do it on arrival this time?

Kissinger: No, I think it’d be—you can have a nice arrival ceremony.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But I think there’s something to be said for having the American people see you—

Nixon: Moral support?

Kissinger: —not talk about Vietnam.

Nixon: That’s right. Oh, can I tell them, if it’s all right with you, that I will be making—tell the press that there will be, that we will have the usual number of toasts and arrival statements and so forth. The first one at the first banquet will be a substantive one.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The first one we agreed would be substantive.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And also that I am making a speech to the Russian people on television.

Kissinger: Right. From the Kremlin.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: From the Kremlin.

Nixon: From the Kremlin.

Kissinger: they’ve now agreed to that. And you can say you hope that you can turn a new page or start a new period. Or maybe you’ll say that at the end. Better—

[Page 955]

Nixon: No, no, no. I’m not going to get into any rhetoric. I’m just going to tell them [unclear]. In the meantime, I must say—Henry, remember I told you, I told you time and again, watch these damn second guesses. Those people are only looking out for their own asses. And first of all—I mean, I know you think that I’ve been bugging you too much on this psychological warfare.

Kissinger: No, no, no, Mr., President—

Nixon: I mean I had—

Kissinger: You were one thousand percent right. I had to be naïve. I thought there was a Presidential order. They had all agreed to it in my presence. So I thought it was being done. So when you went after Haig this week, I thought his answers that he would get was this was in full swing. I was shocked and outraged that they had done nothing. So I then went after Rush. I said how could that happen? Well, it turns out that Laird and Abrams had been in collusion. Similarly, for 5 weeks you’ve been bugging us all, and correctly, to pour equipment into South Vietnam, partly for psychological reasons.

Nixon: That’s right. Not done.

Kissinger: It had not been done. And now Rush, to his enormous credit, why wasn’t it done? Because Laird had given orders to all the service Secretaries to keep it away from Rush. Well Rush this week, to his credit, he’s now come in with a good program. And if You’d authorize it today before Laird comes back we’ll get it done.

Nixon: All right. I’ll authorize it.

Kissinger: Everybody’s agreed on it now. So what we have is a government, which is unbelievable. We have a negotiator sitting in Helsinki who instead of throwing his hat in the air, we’re doing his work for him. We’re not taking credit for it.

Nixon: He should resign.

Kissinger: He’s—Well, no. He’s just dragging his feet so that he can prove he was the tough guy. Instead of—well, so we have just a massive series of problems.

Nixon: You know it might be better to have Rogers and you come to this thing tonight, come to think about it. What do you think?

Kissinger: Whatever you want, Mr. President. I think he can come.

Nixon: If there’s a chance. Otherwise, I think he’s going to feel—

Kissinger: he’ll be over here anyway for the Congressional leaders.

Nixon: he’ll feel affronted that he wasn’t there.

Kissinger: And he’ll expect I was.

Nixon: Yeah. I think he should come. And I’m going to get the hell out of there. Let him—he’s going to gas with these guys anyway. But then you can do there too, you understand?

[Page 956]

Kissinger: But I’ll—

Nixon: I’ll tell you, I’m—you know Henry, I don’t know how the hell we’ve done this thing with the kind of son of a bitch that sabotaged. Like this thing that Abrams got. Abrams, of course, is always whining. Why didn’t he—you know, he’s just a whiner. But goddamn it, Henry, we have given the military carte blanche practically. Now what the Christ is the matter with the goddamn—

Kissinger: They are covering their asses in case anything goes wrong out there. But we are having—I’m having Haig put together for you—We are getting massive reports now. The Indonesian Ambassador has now reported from Hanoi the debt, the threat of riots, that the population is extremely disturbed. Now I cannot believe that when the Indonesian Ambassador, the French Ambassador, the Polish Ambassador separately report to their governments these things that there isn’t something going on.

[Omitted here is discussion of the military situation in Vietnam].

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 726–11. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 1:08 to 1:27 p.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. For a summary of Gromyko’s message, and Kissinger’s instructions to Smith, see Document 247.