94. Meeting Between President Nixon and the Bipartisan Congressional Leadership1

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic and Latin American economies.]

Nixon: We have not mentioned the MFN thing. It’s a very delicate matter, I know. I just want to leave this one thought with those—I real [Page 309] ize that an overwhelming number of the Senate would be useful and would like to have a vote at the present, have indicated that we should not go forward with MFN, Most Favored Nation, unless—In other words, going forward with it, as far as the Soviet Union is concerned it’s a condition on their doing something with regard to Jewish emigration. Now, I have respectfully suggested [that] I understand how important it is with the domestic political situation. I’m keenly aware of that because I’ve talked to all these people, too, you know. I would also respectfully suggest, however, that I—and this is not exactly parallel, but as you might recall, that when I went to China, and then later when [unclear] Mike [Mansfield] went later, and Gerry Ford and Hale Boggs2 with him, that there were many in this country that thought that the China initiative should be conditional on their release of [CIA employee John T. “Jack”] Downey.3 Now, let me say: had we publicly ever said that Downey would still be there? Let me say also that if we publicly indicated that that was something we were conditioning our new relationships on it, that not only would he be there, but we wouldn’t move forward on the relationship, which is, as I said, it’s still a dialog, a negotiation so to speak. But he’s out now. But they had to make that decision.

Now, if you look at the Jewish emigration thing, nobody could feel more strongly than I do about not only that kind of policy of the Communist government of the Soviet Union and of most Communist governments, but others, not only with regard to the Jewish minorities, but of any other minorities as well. But if you condition—if you condition publicly, the Congress does—action in the field of most favored nation on the basis of what they do internally about Jewish emigration, they’re going to do three things: One, the door will come down hard and there will be no Jewish emigration. None, because we, the major advocates, the major proponents of it, will have no voice there. And they can’t do anything with the Congress saying to them, “Look, you do this or else.” It’s like we wouldn’t be able to do it if the Soviet Union would say to us, “Look, we’re not going to buy your grain unless you have a better program of equality of opportunity for black people in the United States.” It’s an internal matter for us, that’s an internal matter for [unclear]. We’re both probably wrong, but the point is it’s our problem just as it’s theirs. But let’s not argue that, because, first, publicly doing it isn’t going to help the Jewish emigration. Second, it will mean that the initia [Page 310] tive with regard to arms limitation, which we’re going to discuss this year, it means that the discussions we’re going to have with them—and need to have—with regard to the Mideast, it means that the discussions we’re going to have with them and other countries later on in the year, this is subject Bill [Rogers] was raising with regard to MBFR—Mutually Balanced Force Reduction—will be seriously jeopardized. Now, what is the alternative? All that I can say is this, and I mentioned this to a couple of the leaders that have raised this, and all I can say is that: Believe me, we are doing everything that we can. Not only on these public things that we’ve talked about, but on matters like this. But, I must respectfully suggest that before the Congress specifically puts down a condition of that sort, think about what effect it’s going to have on our foreign policy generally in these other fields, and also think of the counterproductive effect it will have without question in terms of helping those we’re trying to help. I want to say finally, too, that progress has been made in this field. I won’t say what at this point. We expect some more, but it’s progress that they have to make, rather than doing it because we demanded it. And that’s what we would do, too. Now, I have talked quite frankly with you about this and I know how strongly others feel about it, but I think you should know how we feel and what we’re trying to do.

Mansfield: Mr. President?

Nixon: Sir?

Mansfield: May I just say this before we adjourn? I put the bill in in the House with [unclear name]. After I did, this deputy came to visit me from the Russian Government. He was most interested in learning just one thing. Now, if we actually do this on our own before you legislate are there going to be other conditions that you impose on us later? Because there—that has been the history of all this in our situation. We’ve had one condition this year, another condition next year, and so on. I assured him that if his government would move on its own to ease this situation that I would do everything within my power to get the House to pass Most-Favored-Nation treatment for Russia. There would be no further conditions and I would resist any further conditions being imposed by people debating in the Congress or the administration. He left me saying that he was going back to the Polit’s, uh, Bureau [Politburo], whatever it’s called—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Mansfield: —to insist that they make this change and do it over a period of a few weeks before we could get to final consideration of Most-Favored-Nation treatment. Now, I think—George, you probably found that to be the case when you were in Russia, didn’t you? That they wanted to—?

Shultz: They wanted to make the grain deal.

[Page 311]

Nixon: Yeah.

Shultz: It was very much on their minds—

Mansfield: Yep.

Shultz: It’s not only substantive, but symbolic—

Mansfield: Well absolutely. With this matter of extending Most-Favored-Nation treatment is not [unclear]. Now, [unclear] hits the fact that they belong to the human rights organization at UN and [unclear] they’re committed under its treaty [unclear] to do exactly what we’re asking them to do. Well, I think they ought to do it.

Nixon: Now, Mike, I’m going to stop you on this and suggest—let us reserve judgment on this. Give some, see what happens, and then—but being in a position where we are—where we don’t in effect torpedo our whole foreign policy because of this one issue. That’s the whole point.

[Omitted here is discussion not related to the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 122–1. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. This conversation took place sometime between 8:37 a.m. and 10:19 a.m. A list of attendees is in the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Senator Mike Mansfield (D–MT) visited China from April 18 to May 3, 1972. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 223. Representatives Hale Boggs (D–LA) and Gerald Ford (R–MI) visited China from June 26 to July 5, 1972. See ibid., Document 229.
  3. Downey was captured in 1952 and remained imprisoned in China until his release on March 12, 1973.