247. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of State Kissinger and James B. Reston of The New York Times1

K: Scotty how are you?

R: You are off are you?

K: That’s right.2

R: To what purpose—is there something useful that can be said about this.

K: I am in despair. I am going knowing full well everyone will shout at me. The thing to do would have been to say I am not going under these conditions. The strategic arms limitation is more important than the ups and downs of our domestic debate and I think we should give it one more try. If we fail at least we will have known we have done everything we could.

R: You must have some reason for believing . . .

K: I believe since the Soviets were the ones that asked for this trip—since we told them they have to modify their position—we have changed the date three times and they have accepted that—they must have a strong reason for wanting an agreement and they must realize that with Angola and the mood in this country another failure would be a significant setback. If we mortgage everything to secure debating points we will be in bad shape.

R: It is worth a try and you do the best you can against the historical problem. It is a hell of a problem. I don’t think they would want you to come and fail.

[Page 914]

K: If I go and fail because of their intransigence they will have one hell of responsibility.

R: Is that the kind of thing you can talk to Dobrynin about in advance and have some indication of where you are going?

K: You can be sure I have talked to him in advance.

R: They must be more worried about this decline of trust in this country; it is not in their long-term interests.

K: That is true, but you and I know that a year into a confrontation with the Russians many of the most vocal attackers of détente today would be screaming for more peace moves. We would be where we are today but with less favorable positions for us. It is hard to conduct negotiations over a period of time.

R: Angola can’t be that important to them.

K: They may not know how to get out of it. It is a serious matter now there are 8,000 Cuban troops. We can’t even send money to friendly governments who want to help Angola and the Cubans can send in 8,000 troops.

R: Have you had any talks on the Hill about this before you went away or is it so political.

K: I have talked to Hubert3 and to Javits and a few members of the Foreign Relations Committee. My impression is we can get support for a SALT Agreement.

R: What is the alternative?

K: There is no alternative. Without SALT the gaps will be larger against us. It is too bad that the intellectual community is turned off, because they could explode these charges if they wanted to with some analysis.

R: I had a funny point I wanted to put to you. When you first came here I said I thought there was a role the press could play if there was an understanding.

K: Yes.

R: What has been going through my mind was that if in the spring we had had enough trust so that you could have told us what the Soviets were doing in Angola there were many views that would have been printed. Congress would then have implored you to go into Angola.

K: We couldn’t have done it before this summer. We didn’t know it before July.

R: There was a lot of time between July and the end of the year.

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K: We started briefing the Congress in August. We briefed eight Committees 25 times.

R: You are going from Moscow to NATO and coming back when?

K: Sunday afternoon.4

R: Well, my best wishes go with you, my dear friend.

K: Thank you Scotty and let’s get together when I come back?

R: Look forward to it.

K: O.K. Good.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Electronic Reading Room, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts. No classification marking.
  2. Kissinger left Washington that evening for his last official trip to Moscow.
  3. Senator Humphrey.
  4. January 25. Kissinger stopped in Brussels January 23 to brief NATO officials on SALT. He also made a stop in Madrid on January 24 before returning to Washington.
  5. While Kissinger went to Moscow, Reston wrote a column based on their telephone conversation in which he assessed the implications of Kissinger’s trip in terms of both domestic politics and foreign policy. “[E]ven a limited compromise in the Kissinger–Soviet talks this week in Moscow,” Reston concluded, “would be a political event in the [1976 Presidential election] campaign if nothing else. It would help the President ease the pressure on détente and the Russians, and this may have been what Moscow had in mind by inviting Mr. Kissinger to the Soviet Union in the first place.” (Reston, “Kissinger’s Mission,” The New York Times, January 21, 1976, p. 35)