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

K: How are you?

R: I am fine. How are you?

K: It is going the way my friends predicted.

R: It is getting a little rough but you anticipated that.2

K: Nothing unexpected.

R: The thing that worries me about it is what the reaction will be in Peking and elsewhere—the Soviet Union. This is all perceived over there.

K: The biggest foreign policy problem we have is the foreign perception of where the United States is going because this debate on foreign policy isn’t discussing any real issues. The margin available for change isn’t that great and therefore to the extent that people believe there could be a major change here it is bound to be unsettling.

R: I can’t make out the Peking thing at all, Henry.3

[Page 1035]

K: I think it is 75% domestic in the sense that the radicals—that Teng went too dramatically towards—too far towards—he is a Chou En-lai disciple but he stressed economic progress too much. He could have survived that except for the fact that he moved the armed forces commanders out of their fiefdoms. When it came down to it—he had no friends left. He became more dispensable as the Chinese perception of their need for us declined. This is for your information only, but I had the distinct impression that he was going to be kept on as a symbol of their continuity with us, this is an impression I gathered when I was there last. The fact that they could dispense with him is indicative that they are prepared to give themselves the option of moving away from us. That hasn’t happened yet.

R: Do you see any reaction, besides the Jews in New York, out of Moscow.

K: Moscow has restrained themselves in this period—détente has essentially worked. The anti-communist movement is as strong now as it was at the height of the war. They might conclude that it is just hopeless.

R: Which would be silly.

K: Right.

R: That would be confusing policy and public opinion with campaign rhetoric.

K: There is a great unanimity among the candidates that détente has been a one-way street. I could make a strong case that it has been. It has been a one-way street in our direction rather than theirs.

R: That is an argument you can’t make.

K: It doesn’t help them to make that argument.

R: How do you proceed?

K: I believe the basic elements of our foreign policy are sound. I think if the Democrats come in to office they will pursue them. I think the most useful thing I can do is keep the basic structure of our foreign policy alive.

R: But basically you don’t really see any serious lurch from either Peking or Moscow.

K: No. I think they are both giving themselves the option of pulling away. We are beginning to use up our fat. The point will be reached where it won’t take much more to push them over the edge. We are not there yet. For example, there could be a Middle East crisis where détente will be less restraining than it would have been a year ago.

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R: The Carter thing is picking up some considerable steam.4

K: It looks that way.

R: Up here at the Pulitzer Board today when people were asked who would be the candidates about three to one thought it would be Humphrey.

K: Not knowing much about domestic politics, I personally would say it depends on the Pennsylvania primary. If Jackson wins Hubert will probably get the nomination. If Carter wins the vote I don’t know how they could stop him.

R: If he took that and they were to broker it the nomination wouldn’t be worth much.

K: I have to go to a ceremony for Peter.5

R: On the Peter thing, the whole thing looks very bad, but Pete is taking the view that it is an incident.

K: I have made it a longer speech than I planned and I am making it about the press and the government rather than totally about Peter alone.

R: Is Nancy back?

K: She will be back Monday.6

R: Oh, sorry about tomorrow.

K: That’s O.K. Let’s get together soon.

R: Yes. All the best. Bye.

K: O. K.

  1. Source: Department of State, Electronic Reading Room, Kissinger Transcripts of Telephone Conversations. No classification marking. Kissinger was in Washington; Reston was in New York
  2. During the previous month in the Republican primary campaign, Reagan repeatedly attacked, and Ford defended, Kissinger’s conduct of foreign policy, especially his advocacy of détente with the Soviet Union.
  3. On April 8, Hua Guofeng was formally selected over Deng Xiaoping to succeed Zhou Enlai as Premier of the People’s Republic of China. Three days earlier, the traditional day of mourning in China, thousands of ordinary citizens gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to honor Zhou and protest political developments in the wake of his death. Reston addressed the seemingly random process of selecting political leaders in the United States, United Kingdom, and China in his column that morning.
  4. In the most recent Democratic primary, Carter narrowly defeated Congressman Morris Udall (Arizona) in Wisconsin on April 6.
  5. Reference is to a retirement ceremony for Peter Lisagor, Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Daily News.
  6. April 12.