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

Kissinger: I think we’re [unclear], to him, Mr. President.

Nixon: Dobrynin?

Kissinger: No. No, he’s blubbering. He says Moscow can assure me—First of all, he’s been told he can’t go back to Moscow this week. They have a communication for him. The second thing he can assure me: they are in the most urgent touch with Hanoi. He said they have a terrible problem. For once I believe him, because—

Nixon: Yeah. What did he say?

Kissinger: He doesn’t give me that bullshit about peace [unclear]. And he doesn’t claim he’s put upon when he’s here. He said [unclear]. That’s not your [unclear] what can be done. He says, “We can’t turn, we can’t turn them off from one day to the next, vis–à–vis when to get our military equipment”—which is very interesting. “It will take 3 months to take effect.” He said, “we’ll get them there on the 24th [of April], even though you canceled the plenary session.” He said that he can assure me—or he thinks he can assure me.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But I told you that. He said, however, they have one problem. He said right now all they can say to Hanoi is that it hurts the summit but Hanoi doesn’t give a damn about the summit.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: Therefore he cannot make some proposition, any proposition that they can transmit to Hanoi. I said, “Anatol, the President has set the eight points. We can’t fool around.” He said, “Can we at least tell them that you’re willing to negotiate?” He said, “We, for the first time, are prepared to tell them you are serious and it’s important.” I said, “Anatol—.” Frankly, I could have given him some garbage. I don’t have—

Nixon: I know. I know.

Kissinger: I said, “I’ve got to talk to the President. He’s very determined on this. The war has got to end.”

Nixon: Yeah. Good.

[Page 301]

Kissinger: He said, I said, —He said, “Are you sure you can see me tomorrow?” I said, “I’ll talk to the President.” He said, “May I tell them you’ll give me something tomorrow?” I said, “I’ll tell you tomorrow what the President said. What he will decide I can’t promise you because he makes these decisions very much on his own. But, I can tell—we are involved in a crisis [unclear]. I can tell him you guys are serious.” Then he said something. It may look, sound wrong again but I must tell you that, all he said. [unclear]. He said he believes that if I could talk to Brezhnev, if I could go there secretly, [unclear] and could I go for a few days prior to the Paris meeting, they would guarantee total secrecy and they would let me fly in on military routes, you know, uncovered by European radar—

Nixon: Uh–huh.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: What do we tell him about—?

Kissinger: Well, I believe—

Nixon: That doesn’t give them [Soviets] anything to tell them [North Vietnamese].

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Yeah. Why don’t they tell them? Why don’t they tell Hanoi that?

Kissinger: But you see, I believe, Mr. President—

Nixon: You see my point?

Kissinger: If it turns out—

Nixon: Rather than our giving anything to Hanoi now, why don’t we say that you’re going to go talk to Brezhnev?

Kissinger: Well, we can do two things, Mr. President.

Nixon: And the other thing I was thinking. It’s been doing a little [unclear] Do you, don’t you have to catch the plane?

Kissinger: I’m not going. I put off the meeting with the Chinese. But he was really serious. He said, “How about the Chinese? What if the Chinese turn against us if we do that?” I said, “Anatol, if you and we can pull off Vietnam, we don’t need the Chinese.” And—

Nixon: [laughter] That got him blubbering, didn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah. But I can easily—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —give him a general formula tomorrow that doesn’t give him anything. Just—Plus if I said I’ll go there secretly before the 24th, provided there is a meeting on the 24th.

Nixon: How about this? How about telling them that you’ll go to Hanoi?

[Page 302]

Kissinger: Well, that’s too confusing.

Nixon: Well, let me see. You see, I’m trying to think of gimmicks now, for a minute, that don’t—You know, I’m all for atmospherics and I’m not much for substance on a thing like this now but that is, giving them atmospherics is nothing.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President—

Nixon: I just want—

Kissinger: For me to go to Hanoi, now—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: It looks like—

Nixon: We’re hat in hand.

Kissinger: I think—

Nixon: I think your going to Russia’s fine.

Kissinger: Well, secretly.

Nixon: If they can guarantee secrecy to Russia, I think you should go to Russia.

Kissinger: But, you see, I believe, Mr. President—

Nixon: Also there’s some advantage in your sort of finding out what Brezhnev is like for us.

Kissinger: You see, I could also set up the thing for you there in such a way that—The way we had the Chou thing set up.2

Nixon: If he’ll guarantee secrecy, then you tell him, “Now look, You have to know the President says that he’s got a hell of a problem to be quite frank, with Rogers [unclear] you’ve got to show him every courtesy [unclear] you can say that, that is, that you can go. The President says that you can go, and you think it would be a good chance for you to discuss the summit at the same time. That will—You see this will put more heat on the Russians.

Kissinger: We have to make two conditions. One is I can go only if they deliver the North Vietnamese in Paris on the 24th.

Nixon: Yeah. But it isn’t just delivering them. They’ll be there on the 24th. But, Henry, they’ve been delivered 12 times and they haven’t done anything.

Kissinger: Well, they’ve never been delivered to me.

Nixon: Well, all right. OK.

Kissinger: This time I told them—

Nixon: You mean, delivered—well, I understand. They will talk maybe this time, but you understand we haven’t got any more talk left.

[Page 303]

Kissinger: Mr. President, if they see me—First of all, if Brezhnev sees me after what we are doing to Hanoi—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I said to him, for example, “Look, we are going to take increasingly strong military measures before the 24th. I just want you to know this so that your people don’t feel we are fooling them.” He said, “Are you going to attack our ships?” I said, “I can’t tell you anything—”

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: But until the 24th we will try to exercise as much restraint as the situation permits.” But, if these guys see me while we are clobbering Hanoi, either way, if they keep it secret—They have more of an incentive to keep it secret than we.

Nixon: Yeah. The Russians?

Kissinger: Yes. Because it—

Nixon: But I mean, what I’m getting at, I still get back to the fundamental thing. Now what, who’s going to, [unclear] what effect does it have on Hanoi?

Kissinger: On Hanoi it will have a disastrous effect.

Nixon: The fact that you’re going to Russia?

Kissinger: If I go to Russia before I see them?

Nixon: [unclear] want you to go.

Kissinger: I told him, again it puts us into, if it ever does come out, but it won’t come out. They have every—

Nixon: We don’t care. You understand?

Kissinger: But I think, Mr. President I’ve got—

Nixon: He’s got to worry about it.

Kissinger: I have a lot of experience with these guys now. And I can assure—I can tell you they are grappling. He said Mrs. Dobrynin was moved to tears by Mrs. Nixon3 and has written a personal letter to Mrs. Brezhnev. I told him, “Look, at this—.”

Nixon: I think the Russians want the summit, don’t you?

Kissinger: I think the Russians must. The whole position of Brezhnev depends on the goddamn summit. I told him, he asked me about SALT. I said, “I can’t make a new proposition to you. I can’t go to the Navy while we’re moving our fleet into—.”

[Page 304]

Nixon: What you should have told him too, if you didn’t, was how tough the Leaders were this morning.4

Kissinger: I told him that.

Nixon: They want to break off the summit and fight.

Kissinger: I told him. [unclear] But, well, he said that you are the greatest mind, one of the greatest psychologists he’s ever seen. He said that he is in awe—We talked [unclear]. Well, I said to him, he said—Well, now, he asked me what I thought about this [unclear]. And I said, “Listen, Anatol, the thing that bothers me about you people is that you always pick up all the loose change that’s lying around and you lose all your good will that way.” He said, “Well—.” And I said, “By contrast, frankly I will say this about the President: he never picks up loose change but when he moves, he moves for all the marbles. Remember that when you see our fleet moving out.” I said, “Do you think—?” He said, “How about an armistice? Armistice for a month.” I said, “Anatol, do you think you’re going to keep our fleet sitting out there?”

Nixon: [When] the fleet moves, it means something. They even thought it meant something with India.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: What do you think?

Kissinger: We have them buggered. And I believe really that a secret trip by me—

Nixon: That’s right. I approve of that.

Kissinger: —has the advantage they’re so panting after it that any slight chance there might be of their attacking us for what we’re going to do will disappear.

Nixon: Right. For the secret trip to be taken, let’s figure out what you can give to Hanoi.

Kissinger: Nothing.

Nixon: But this is before. What are you going to say to them? What are you going to say to him?

Kissinger: I’ll just give them gobblygook—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Which restates my—

[Page 305]

Nixon: we’ll be glad to discuss the eight points5 and the modalities of the elections.

Kissinger: Mr. President, it would be a mistake to give them anything this early.

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: we’ve got their knees shaking now.

Nixon: That’s right. But the point is, what Dobrynin is saying, “Can’t you give us anything?”

Kissinger: I’ll say, “we’ll go there—.”

Nixon: I think giving, going to Russia is giving them something.

Kissinger: I’ll say, “Tell them we will go there with an open mind, that our eight points are, of course, we are willing to negotiate about them—.”

Nixon: But we’re not going to negotiate a surrender.

Kissinger: And, “Of course, we won’t ask you to surrender.”

Nixon: Or we won’t—

Kissinger: I’ll just give him then general gobblygook which commits us to nothing.

Nixon: But also that it has to be done now.

Kissinger: But we must now bring it to a conclusion.

Nixon: Before the summit.

Kissinger: And I tell you, Mr. President. Every instinct I—I have never said to you that we have a chance—at any particular time period. But we’ve never had the Russians begging us for specifics.

Nixon: Right. Well let’s just keep in our Canadian speech [unclear].

Kissinger: Let me think. Let’s wait until tomorrow. He may have a message. He said he was coming with a message. So—

Nixon: Well, the message will just be to give you a little crap.

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

Nixon: But, on the other hand, what harm does it do to leave it in?

Kissinger: I would leave it in. My best instinct is to leave it in. But—

Nixon: What harm does it do to them? I mean—

Kissinger: But, what I think I would like to do now is to tell him that you are considering this trip idea, because when you hit them with B–52s they’ll be under pressure to protest.

[Page 306]

Nixon: You’ll tell him that way?

Kissinger: I won’t tell him that you are, that you have approved it.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But I’ll tell him you are actively considering it—

Nixon: Tell him that he can tell his government.

Kissinger: —that there is a chance—

Nixon: Tell him, “The President is going to Camp David tonight. And he says that he will, he thinks there’s a, that he will, there’s a chance that you should take the trip. But we’d like to see what, but he wants to see their message first.” How’s that?

Kissinger: But, they didn’t say definitely that they’d leave a message.

Nixon: Well then tell him he—

Kissinger: Just say you want to think about it.

Nixon: I think we ought to still make the Canadian thing. I’ve got a domestic problem here too, you know.

Kissinger: Then make it.

Nixon: You see my point?—It’s fine. Can you [unclear] It was de cent language.

Kissinger: I read it. I’d make it—

Nixon: That ought to be said for the Chinese too.

Kissinger: Mr. President, if you pull this one off, I’ll—I think we should spend the Fall killing the goddamn Democrats.

Nixon: I’m sick of them. I’ll tell you one thing. If it does come off, what we have to do is to get them further out on the limb too. I think we ought to force Kennedy and the others—

Kissinger: Well let’s wait until we get that meeting. I will guarantee you one thing, Mr. President. Not guarantee—I think there is a two chance out of three that we can stop the war for the rest of this year. That’s the minimum I think we can get. But if we can stop it altogether, I don’t know. But that I think we can get.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 330–36. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger from 2:47 to 3:01 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files.) The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Reference is presumably to arrangements for Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing in July 1971.
  3. Reference is to the meeting the previous afternoon between Irina Dobrynin and Pat Nixon; see Document 89.
  4. The President met 19 Republican congressmen, 9 senators, and 10 representatives, in the Cabinet Room from 8:05 to 10:14 a.m. After the meeting, Nixon met Senator Hugh Scott and Congressman Gerald R. Ford, minority leaders in the Senate and House, respectively, in the Oval Office until 10:26. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  5. Reference is to the proposal for a peace settlement, which the United States first gave to North Vietnam in Paris on October 11, 1971. For text, released by the Department of State on February 1, 1972, see Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1972, pp. 229–230.