120. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

P: I had a couple of thoughts on this. One with regard to the Bruce2 thing which seems to me may pose to them a difficult problem because of him being directly involved in the Vietnam negotiations. Secondly, let me think of whether there is something else—how about. Nelson?3

K: No.

P: Can’t do it, huh?

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K: Mr. President, he wouldn’t be disciplined enough, although he is a possibility.

P: It would engulf him in a big deal and he is outside of the Government, you see.

K: Let me think about it, I might be able to hold him in check.

P: It is intriguing, don’t you think?

K: It is intriguing.

P: How about Bush?

K: Absolutely not, he is too soft and not sophisticated enough.

P: I thought of that myself.

K: I thought about Richardson but he wouldn’t be the right thing.

P: He is still too close to us and [I don’t think it would set well with Rogers].4 hare?] running around.

K: I think for one operation I could keep him under control. To them a Rockefeller is a tremendous thing.

P: Sure. Well, keep it in the back of your head.

K: Bush would be too weak.

P: I thought so too but I was trying to think of somebody with a title.

K: Nelson has possibilities.

P: A possibility, yeah. Of course, that would drive State up the wall.

K: He would take someone from State along but he despises them so much he will take our direction and I would send someone from our staff to go along.

P: Send Haig. Really, he’s really tough.

K: And he knows Haig.

P: Henry, it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t stuck to your guns. We played a game and we got a little break. It was done skillfully and now we will wait a couple of weeks.

K: We have done it now, we have got it all hooked together; Berlin is hooked to SALT. Nelson might be able to do it, particularly if I sent Haig.

P: Oh, we would have to have Haig; and a State guy but not that Green guy.

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K: Oh, Green could go. On foreign policy, Nelson would take my advice.

P: He would be a special envoy in a sense.

K: Actually, Mr. President, that’s a very original idea and he’s tough.

P: Particularly if you get him in right at the mountain top and say look, it will make or break you, boy.

K: Oh, he would do it and I could tell him on this one. On the long operation he would be hard to control but on this one he would be good.

P: If Dewey were alive, he could do it.

K: Nelson would be better.

P: But Dewey isn’t alive.

K: If you can hold on a minute, I can get you—I have the oral note that the Pakistans sent me. Here it is—the Pakistan note to Yahya which Yahya passed on to the Chinese that asked him (read portion of note5— In reply to questions from me, Mr. Kissinger said…)

P: They opened that up on Taiwan.

K: On this ambiguous formulations could make that clear in the exchange and announcements.

P: Their reply is can not come over and talk about Taiwan. There is no limit to that because there is no meeting.

K: The difference between them and the Russians is that if you drop some loose change, when you go to pick it up the Russians will step on your fingers and the Chinese won’t. I have reviewed all the communications with them and it has been on a high level.

P: Yeah, they have.

K: The Russians squeeze us on every bloody move and it has just been stupid. They cannot trick us out of Taiwan, they have to have a fundamental understanding.

P: Put Nelson in the back of your head. What did Haig think about this?

K: He thinks it is a great diplomatic move and if we play it coolly and toughly as we have until now, we can settle everything.

P: He said that.

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K: Mr. President, I have not said this before but I think if we get this thing working, we will end Vietnam this year.6 The mere fact of these contacts makes that.

P: Another thing, of course, our little problem of time. In terms of wanting to announce—

K: We ought to be able to announce it by the first week in June anyway.

P: We would have to if we are going to be there in June. Is SALT going to turn them off?7

K: No, no.

P: Particularly, if we are going to drag our feet with the Russians on the Summit. They are fiddling around with it; well, let them fiddle.

K: They won’t move fast because of the protests in this country. A more sophisticated analysis of the report was made by Chou En-lai.

P: His analysis in effect realized what we were doing.

K: A very subtle analysis of the international situation.

P: Well, anyway, there is another player we can keep. Bruce is another possibility too. It would be quite dramatic to pull Bruce out of Paris and send him to Peking.

K: For that reason, they might not take him.

P: In terms of Bruce, he is our senior Ambassador and we feel he is the best qualified man.

K: They would jump at Rockefeller, a high visibility one.

P: Visibility and it would be enormous. Can’t you just see what that would do to the Libs in this country, oh, God. Rockefeller over there, Jesus Christ.

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K: That has great possibilities.

P: Here is Rockefeller—he is lined up with us all the way; he has lined up with us on foreign policy all the way. Anyway, that is something to think about.

K: That’s a good problem to have.

P: It is a good luxury to have.

K: Once this gets going—everything is beginning to fit together.

P: I hope so.

K: You will have to hold hard on Vietnam on Thursday.

P: I intend to hold it hard. What’s happening on the prisoners?

K: I have three proposals which I am putting in writing—they will release 1,000, they are opening their camps and calling on the North Vietnamese to do the same, and proposing that all prisoners be held in a neutral country. This should be announced by Bruce in the morning—

P: Good.

K: And you can hit it in the evening.

P: They might hit that play if we build it up a bit. They will all think it is about bugging out but it will be on prisoners.

K: We are beginning to hold the cards.

P: That’s true but we are going to hold it. The demonstrators may overplay their hand.

K: John Chancellor, whom I had lunch with today, thinks the tide has turned.

P: What turned it?

K: He thinks what happened this week has ruined them.

P: John Chancellor

K: Absolutely. He doesn’t exactly know what you have up your sleeve but—

P: I am not saying anything about China except that the proposals are at a very sensitive stage and I don’t intend to comment on the future and next question, gentlemen.

K: Right.

P: I don’t want to get into the proposal of a two-China policy, UN membership, Taiwan and so forth. I am going to finesse all questions by saying that developments here are significant and I don’t think the interests of the nation will be served by commenting on it further.

K: I think that would be the best position to take, Mr. President.

P: Haig was pretty pleased.

K: If anyone had predicted that two months ago, we would have thought it was inconceivable.

P: Yeah, yeah. After Laos—

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K: After Cambodia, the same thing—

P: Yeah. But look at after Laos, the people over two to one thought it had failed and yet here comes the Chinese move, the Ping Pong team and something more significant that pales that into nothing. It can have an enormous significance. Well, look, Nelson’s tongue made that statement to Snow. How can we get the Mansfield thing turned off. I don’t know how we can do it but one way we could do it is to invite him to go along.

K: No. Why give this to him?

P: He could go along with me.

K: He can go along with you when you go.

P: We could invite Mansfield and Scott.

K: If you want to share it with the Democrats.

P: Share it; the Chinese will treat them very well but they will know where the power is.

K: But they actually haven’t invited anyone yet.

P: Could you get a message to him?

K: Think I can get some oral message to him.

P: Two weeks away and I wonder if they will move on Mansfield before then.

K: No, but they may.

P: As a temporary action, can you say that the President will be in California and—

K: I have already told them and that a constructive reply will be coming.

P: If you could add to that, that any other visits should be held in abeyance until we give our reply.

K: I will get that across.

P: There will be many requests and we feel that political requests…

K: Right.

P: Good idea. Okay, Henry.

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1031, Files for the President—China Material, Exchanges Leading up to HAK’s Trip to China, December 1969–July 1971. This transcript was prepared by Kissinger’s staff. There is also a tape of this conversation. (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, April 27, 8:16–8:36 p.m., White House Telephone, Conversation No. 2–52) There are no substantive differences between the two versions.
  2. Reference is to David K.E. Bruce, former Ambassador to Great Britain and personal representative of the President with rank of Ambassador at the Paris talks with the Vietnamese. The President and Kissinger were discussing who might represent the United States in high-level meetings with officials from the PRC. Discussions between the President and Kissinger concerning contacts with the PRC continued on April 28. The two men, with H. R. Haldeman, re-hashed the previous day’s list of potential envoys. John Connally and Kenneth Rush were also considered. The April 28 tape of this conversation, which took place in the President’s office in the Executive Office Building, is of poor quality and much of it is unintelligible. Nixon and Kissinger were under the assumption that the first high-level meeting would be in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, although they discussed the possibility of meeting with PRC representatives in Paris. This secret meeting was to prepare for a subsequent trip by Nixon to Peking. While the first meeting would be private, it would be followed by a public envoy if the Chinese requested one. Kissinger suggested that he serve as the secret envoy, stating, “actually I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I happen to be the only one who knows all the negotiations.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, an. Haldeman, April 28, 1971, 4:51–6:08 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 252–20)
  3. Reference is to Nelson Rockefeller, businessman, philanthropist, and Governor of New York, 1958–1973. In his April 28 conversation with Kissinger, the President commented:

    “Well my point is that he [Rockefeller] does not have the subtlety of moving around. He is the kind of a guy that wants to make a quick shot, dramatic, you know, bold. Now goddamn it, we’re going to do things bold, but we don’t want to fall down doing it. You can do it. The best thing, the best thing to do is this: Set up a secret negotiation. But the way I would start the telegram, I would say the President has considered, and he would like to arrange a visit to Peking. He believes, he would like to come to Peking. He thinks, however, that the best way to arrange that is for his, must be arranged at the highest level, the agenda, the modalities, et cetera should be arranged by Dr. Kissinger and whatever.” (Ibid.)

  4. Brackets in the source text.
  5. All ellipses are in the source text. See Document 118.
  6. Vietnam figured prominently in their discussions. On April 28 the President told Kissinger: “What we are playing for basically is the Chinese summit, that’s my plan. That is the big play. Now, that’s only half of it, the other part of the play is to do something about this war. That’s the other half of it.” Kissinger responded: “With that, I think, those guys in ‘54 they needed peace, and they settled Vietnam then. They need peace now, it’s got to have effect on Hanoi. That’s one advantage of a public emissary.” After a brief discussion Nixon allowed that they could send a public emissary later “for cosmetics.” Nixon later added: “Well, let me say, before I get there, the war has to be pretty well settled. I’d just simply say, we can’t come there until we have some idea. The fact must be known in the United States that the war is settled. I can’t come to China before that.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, and Haldeman, April 28, 1971, 4:51–6:08 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 252–20)
  7. During the April 28 discussion, Kissinger observed: “They’re [the Chinese] so scared of the Russians that they’re better off having your visit next May or April and keeping it hanging and keep daring the Russians to attack them with the Presidential visit. That’s what I think they want. I do not believe they want you now. That would be too quick a turn-around time for them.” (Ibid.)