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

Kissinger: I had to do a little missionary work with Stennis,2 who didn’t understand the substance. That’s what he was referring to. [unclear] they’re willing to keep the offensive weapons out of the deal.

[Page 958]

Nixon: Well, we can’t do that.

Kissinger: Look, the first impact of this—Scoop Jackson3 went through the roof because he said [unclear]. He’s more worried about the ABM. He doesn’t care about the offensive ones. What is your take on the individual initial talks I’ve made with these guys? I have Scoop in my office. Down there, he went through the roof. He said: “I’m through with you all.” When I was in my office, he said—

Nixon: He doesn’t want ABM?

Kissinger: No. He thinks we’ve screwed it. But I explained to him how it came about. I showed him the military recommendations. So he said: “All right, I won’t—of course I won’t oppose you.” But before I handle the bill again, I wanted to talk to you.

Nixon: Goddamn, get Moorer down there.

Kissinger: I had Moorer with me.

Nixon: Okay.

Kissinger: Then Stennis—I’ve gotten aboard now. But it will take some selling. You’re quite right. Your instinct was right; we’ll have problems with the hawks on this. Partly because they’re so dumb, most of them, that they don’t understand what we’re doing.

Nixon: Goddamn it. If Smith and Rogers would understand it.

Kissinger: Well, Smith and Rogers don’t want to understand it. Smith understands—doesn’t want to understand—

Nixon: [unclear] Of course he understands it. Rogers [unclear].

Kissinger: Now with the press, Mr. President, I’d be very careful about saying something that can be quoted. That we, two great powers have a special responsibility because—

Nixon: Oh, yes.

Kissinger: That will drive the Chinese crazy.

Nixon: I won’t change it.

Kissinger: And I wouldn’t give them quite as much as you gave the Congress; What you did with Congress was very skillful, but I wouldn’t—

Nixon: We have to give them—

Kissinger: Oh, no, no. Because you can—

Nixon: Congress is going to be just pissed off as hell if we don’t know.

Kissinger: Oh, no.

Nixon: What part would you want to leave out to the press?

Kissinger: I would go a little easier on space, environment, and so forth.

[Page 959]

Nixon: Don’t even mention it?

Kissinger: Just—I’d make one or two statements. For example—

Nixon: Which is the best one, space or environment?

Kissinger: I imagine one or the other. But—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I’d mention maybe space and then I’d say you already know about the commercial—

Nixon: Well they all know about commercial, they all know about SALT. How about space, those three?

Kissinger: Yeah, I’d mention those three.

Nixon: Fine. Of course I’ve put these guys to the point where they don’t think much is going to come out.

Kissinger: Oh, I thought this meeting was handled masterfully.

Nixon: They know it’s going to be tough.

Kissinger: But we had a piece. One thing we’ve done is we’ve got Stennis all steamed up now about putting Helms through.

Nixon: Do we need him? Well, on the other hand, did you—well, it was good that you had your meeting now, wasn’t it?

Kissinger: Essential.

Nixon: Yeah. You don’t think there’s any more you have to do be fore you leave?

Kissinger: No. I’m booked up through the evening. I mean with meetings here. I have to work with Price on this speech. The toast for the first evening is coming along in pretty good shape.

Nixon: Who’s doing that?

Kissinger: Safire. But really, I’m beginning to think more and more that these big-shot writers aren’t worth it. Andrews is, you know, it’s just too much of a struggle with Safire. He’s got too many ideas of his own.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: You were absolutely right. It’s just—

Nixon: Price is a man who really senses what you want and he writes it.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Safire comes in with something that’s totally different from what you ever came up with.

Kissinger: That’s right. And then he gets committed to it and then he finally changes it after 15 minutes of argument but it’s terribly time-consuming.

Nixon: we’ll get it out of the way and from there on the big speech.

Kissinger: Price has done a pretty good job.

[Page 960]

Nixon: Price has done a great—Look, that should be one that has sort of a good feel to it.

Kissinger: And that has a good feel to it.

Nixon: Toasts, I don’t know. Do you want to put Andrews to work on the toast?

Kissinger: Well, I think—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: It’s coming along—it’s coming along fine. But I think except for being too specific about the various areas, I think you’re in very good shape.

Nixon: You would say SALT.

Kissinger: I’d say we’re hopeful about SALT because—

Nixon: I’ll say there’s an awful lot still left to be worked out.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: And there’s some—and then the commercial side—

Kissinger: Actually, the way it stands now, unintentionally, you will have to break some deadlocks in Moscow on SALT, the way it’s working now.

Nixon: All right. We are certainly going to have—we just can’t have a situation of coming back and having the hawks as enemies, screw the country.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: Maybe we don’t want a deal?

Kissinger: No, Mr. President, I really think, the one we really screwed ourselves is on the ABM because we just gave over a period of years because we got driven back too much. I told Scoop goddamnit—

Nixon: How were we going to get it through the Senate?

Kissinger: That was the problem. Every year we had a bigger fight in the Senate. So that part of it is—I think the ABM is going to give more heartburn. The offensive one, once it is explained—John Tower4 is aboard now. I talked to him. Stennis is aboard and—

Nixon: And you emphasized, of course, we’ve still got MIRV, we’ve still got ULMS, they’re giving up the old ICBMs—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: —we’ve still got our aircraft, you know. That’s the thing to do.

Kissinger: Mr. President, we’ll go through a couple of days in my judgment, very similar to what we did in the China communiqué and [Page 961] then we’ll pull it around and it doesn’t hurt to have a little screaming. It will help us with the Russians.

Nixon: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t want, though, having taken a strong stand in Vietnam, to throw it all, to piss it all down simply by—

Kissinger: The only problem is how we’re going to do the selling back here.

Nixon: When you’re there?

Kissinger: When I’m there.

Nixon: Well, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. I think Laird and Moorer are going to [unclear] That’s what I think. I don’t know but they—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You can’t come back and [unclear].

Kissinger: Of course, I’ll be working on the communiqué and five principles and—

Nixon: Of course, I don’t agree with Scoop on the ABM. He never got a goddamn thing that we could do for him. We couldn’t get any more ABM sites if it were flying. And we still are keeping the system. Right?

Kissinger: Right. No, I think it’s a good treaty, Mr. President. You also are going to get very widespread acclaim so that’s not—no, you have idiots like Dominick5 who went up like a rocket but he’s so dumb that it’s almost a—

Nixon: What’d he go off on, ABM? He doesn’t understand ABM.

Kissinger: No, no, he said that you won’t get any money out of Congress if you make any SALT agreement because he said therefore when we freeze ourselves, we ruin ourselves. But that has nothing to do with the specific provisions. That’s just among the ones there. The argument they were making—that Buckley6 and Dominick were making—was once you freeze—they all agreed that it’s a good deal if we are pushing ULMS. But they—

Nixon: Are we?

Kissinger: Yeah, but what they were saying was Congress wouldn’t vote money for ULMS.

Nixon: Oh, we’ll insist on it.

Kissinger: Well, that’s right. So I think we are in a tolerable shape about it. And the alternative was not to have the SALT agreement. There was no other alternative. If you didn’t have the submarines in there, you would face the other argument—that their continuing to build nine a year—the was one the chiefs were making. And at the end of the freeze, they’d have 90. This is, this is why the chiefs—the chiefs [Page 962] are delighted with it. And they will resound their arguments for it, and Moorer supported us very strongly down there.

Nixon: Interesting they didn’t press us on Vietnam.

Kissinger: Fulbright was very positive.

Nixon: Shit.

Kissinger: I think, Mr. President, that this summit is going to be an enormous success.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 726–15. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 5:25 to 5:35 p.m. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Senator John Stennis (D–Mississippi). Nixon and Kissinger met with the bipartisan Congressional leadership from 4:13 to 5:23 p.m. A record of this meeting is in a Memorandum for the President’s File, May 19, 1972. (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 88, Memoranda for the President, Beginning May 14, [1972].)
  3. Senator HenryScoop” Jackson (D–Washington).
  4. Senator John Tower (R–Texas).
  5. Senator Peter Dominick (R–Colorado).
  6. Senator James Buckley (R–New York).