55. Editorial Note
In a March 7, 1972, conversation with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs Ehrlichman, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger, President Nixon noted the difficulties he was having with [Page 190] Secretary Rogers over Rogers’ role at the Moscow summit. In particular, Rogers expected to play a larger role in Moscow than he had during the Beijing visit.
During the course of the conversation, Nixon noted that the Soviet protocol was very different than that of the Chinese. “You can also point out that it’s not unusual in the case of totalitarians,” he told Kissinger; “it is a totally different game. Rogers came away insulted, he said the Foreign Minister is fifth on their protocol list. But to have sent the Secretary of State to talk to Chou En-lai would not have worked.” Nixon added: “But the reason it would not have worked is that they do not consider Secretaries of State to be negotiating people.” For example, he noted that Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko had more power than most foreign ministers, but never negotiated directly. Nixon stated: “We can’t go through with the meeting if we’re going to have the same damn thing with the Russians. We can’t go through with that. We need to find a way to deal with it before then.” He did not want to have the “same damn thing” with the Soviet summit as had occurred in China. Haldeman suggested that the President inform Rogers that he must handle it the way that the administration wanted it. Ehrlichman added that the Soviets needed to know foreign policy was made in the White House and that the Department of State only played a secondary role. Haldeman added that all Rogers needed to do was “to tie himself to the kite because it’s soaring.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, March 7, 1972, 11:41 a.m.–12:31 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 679–8)
That evening, the same participants met with Rogers to discuss summit arrangements. Rogers suggested that, since the principal subjects to be discussed during the Moscow trip would be the Middle East and European security, either Haig or Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand should be sent on an advance trip. The President responded that no advance trip would occur. Haldeman noted that the administration had avoided advance contact with a government other than at the protocol and security levels, and that arrangements would be much tighter in Moscow. Nixon also added that he did not want to stay in a Russian guest house but in the Embassy, on American soil.
Rogers asked that the President “get the word out” that Rogers was planning and supervising the Moscow trip. Of course, Rogers said he would be working closely with Kissinger. Rogers’ main concern in this regard was the impression being created in the press that the Department of State was cut out of everything. The President noted that the planning had to be done from the White House. Rogers countered that the logistics would not be done by the White House. Haldeman added that such an announcement would downgrade Rogers rather than building him up. Since Kissinger always stated that he had consulted [Page 191] with the President as well as the Secretary of State on the agenda and backgrounders of similar meetings, the optimal role for Rogers was to be “a principal rather than the guy doing the background work.”
The President noted that the first few days in Moscow would simply “be talk.” Then announcements of agreements would begin occurring daily. Nixon assented that Rogers could make the initial announcements and could brief the press on the daily agreements reached, which would be an appropriate role for him. Rogers noted his concern that the Department of State had to be included in the planning process. Nixon pointed out that having Rogers make the announcements would prove that the Department of State was substantively involved. Haldeman said that this would avoid press reports saying that the Department of State is humiliated, which had been a problem of the Department on the China trip. Rogers believed that the current “flak between the White House and the State Department” was based upon the negative reporting of the press. (Ibid., March 7, 1972, 4:56–6:18 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 679–15)