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

Kissinger: Well, I had a long talk with Dobrynin. And I put the Polish proposition to him. And I said, “You know, the basic departure that we are doing here is that we want to build policy on the recognition of we’re two superpowers and that we don’t want to interfere in each other’s basic concerns.” And I took—I showed him the cable we had from Warsaw2 and the reply we gave. I said, “This is the spirit which we would like to deal with you. We don’t need to ask you whether we want to go there but we want to show you the President is particularly concerned in what your reaction is.” So he was practically in tears. He said, “This is the most generous thing I’ve heard. You will—I cannot tell you, Henry, how much this will impress Mr. Brezhnev.”

Nixon: That we asked because he knew what we did on Rumania.

Kissinger: Yeah. I said, “I want you to know, when we went to Rumania, we knew it would annoy you. We’re going to Warsaw because, and if it raises any problems for you, we’ll look [unclear].” And he was practically in tears. He said, “Speaking informally and as a member of the Central Committee, I am certain that they will say yes. But if you can wait ‘til Monday,’3 he said—so that he is formally—“so that you get a formal reply from us, it would mean a great deal to us. But I can tell you now that it will be yes. It will almost certainly be yes.” But he was practically in tears.

Nixon: You see, they, we have to realize we’ve got some chips to play too here.

Kissinger: Oh yeah.

Nixon: And they, they know we can just, that, but it does show we’re trying to cooperate.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: And you told him that I would not embarrass them and that I—

Kissinger: I said you will say nothing that would embarrass, and I said it [unclear] to our support in domestic considerations.

[Page 246]

Nixon: He understood that?

Kissinger: Oh yeah. And I said, “We are not doing this for the same reason as we did Rumania, which wasn’t done to annoy you, but in which we were willing to pay the price.”

Nixon: Um–hmm.

Kissinger: “In this case, we frankly want to stay on the same.”

Nixon: You told him that—did you reiterate that I felt that the importance of the summit was utmost on my mind?

Kissinger: Oh, well, that’s how I started.

Nixon: He liked that, didn’t he?

Kissinger: Oh God, yes. And then on Vietnam I said, “You know, you’ve been mentioning now two or three times that Vietnam may be discussed.” And I said, “First of all I want you to know what the President just said to me.” And I mentioned—

Nixon: That’s why I called you.4

Kissinger: That’s what—

Nixon: I didn’t know you were there. I called him here to talk about it. And then when I found you, I thought, what the hell, I’ll just call. That impresses the son–of–a–gun. He knows that we are in contact.

Kissinger: Secondly, he said, “Now let me make a proposal to you which just occurred to me.” He said, “It’s got no official standing; it’s just my own idea. But how would this be.” He said, “Why don’t you offer a withdrawal for a deadline?” I said, “Well, if we do that then they’ll say you have to stop military aid too and we can’t do that.” He said, “But maybe we can help there.” He said, “Supposing you made, this were the proposal: that you withdraw in return for a deadline: you give a deadline for withdrawal in return for prisoners, and you and we agree not to give any more military aid—we to North Vietnam and you to South Vietnam.” That wouldn’t be a bad deal.

Nixon: Ha. I’ll say.

Kissinger: So I said, “You know,” I said, “Frankly the President thinks he’s got this war won. You know I—.” I played it very tough. I said, “We feel that if we can last ‘til November, which I’m sure we can, [Page 247]that we have four years to settle accounts. So your, we don’t feel any pressure. You stage an offensive, I’ll tell you right now we’re not going to have any secret or other meetings.” [unclear]

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule.]

Kissinger: [I told Dobrynin] “That if you want to find out how Moscow reacts to this proposition, the President has always said that he’d be open–minded and I’ll explore it in the meantime with the President.” I frankly think if we could get that sort of a deal, it would be—

Nixon: What, you mean that they would stop their aid, we’d stop ours, we could agree to that?

Kissinger: Military aid. We can continue to give economic aid.

Nixon: Why the hell shouldn’t we give military aid if the North—

Kissinger: I think if the North doesn’t get military equipment, why should the South then get military equipment?

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 698–2. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 3:17 to 3:27 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 76.
  3. April 3.
  4. When he called Kissinger in the Map Room at 12:45 p.m., Nixon assumed that Kissinger was there for a meeting with Dobrynin. A tape of their brief telephone conversation on U.S.–Soviet relations is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, March 30, 1972, 12:45–12:47 p.m., White House Telephone, Conversation No. 22–53. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger and Haig, however, met Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin in the Map Room from 12:29 to 1:15 p.m.; Kissinger then left for his luncheon with Dobrynin at the Soviet Embassy. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)