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285. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of State Kissinger and the White House Chief of Staff (Haig)1

K. The crazy bastard really made a mess with the Russians.

H. What?

K. Didn’t you listen to his press statement.2 First we had information of massive movement of Soviet forces. That is a lie. Second, this was the worst crisis since the Cuban missile crisis. True, but why rub their faces in it. Third, Brezhnev and I exchanged brutal messages. That has never been acknowledged before. Four, Brezhnev respects me because I was the man who bombed Viet-Nam on _________ 18 [May 8?] and mined the harbors on May 18.3

H. I don’t think that is a third of the problem. He just let fly. He got all he had about the Middle East from you. I assumed you had cleared that. I was surprised.

K. Compare it with my press conference when I said there was no confrontation with the Russians.4 . . . He has turned it into a massive Soviet backdown. Brezhnev is known to his Politburo as a man with a special relationship with Nixon and he is being publicly humiliated.

H. How about the rest of it. Disaster.

K. Yes, a disaster of something that is already a disaster. We are getting a hot line message tonight. Would you call Dobrynin. It doesn’t do me any good to call him. You better call in the name of the President and say he wanted to stress his close personal relationship with the President. In a replay on television it may look like he is taunting Brezhnev. He wants him to know he places the greatest stress on the personal relationship. This is inadvertent and will be corrected. This guy will not take this. This guy over there is a maniac also.

H. I will take care of him. The rest is just as bad. We are off to the races.

K. I don’t know what significance the other answers have. He just looked awful.

H. He took on the press like I have never heard.

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K. They treated him in an unbelievable way.

H. I will get to Dobrynin right away.5 If you talk to him tonight, take it easy. He is right on the verge.

K. The UN observers. Everything is nuts. There was no reason to make a special . . .

H. They understand. They are having trouble with their leader also.

K. They cannot stand public humiliation.

H. I will get back to you.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Transcripts (Telcons), Chronological File, Box 23. No classification marking. The blank underscore indicates an omission in the original.
  2. For text of the President’s October 26 press conference at 7:01 p.m. in the East Room of the White House, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 896–906.
  3. Kissinger is referring to Nixon’s decision to bomb Hanoi and mine Haiphong harbor in May 1972.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 277.
  5. Haig spoke with Dobrynin at 8:04 p.m. He stated: “I just came back from the President and I told him that his remarks tonight were I thought overdrawn and would be interpreted improperly . . . And I wanted you to know that he did not in any way have the intention of drawing the situation as sharply as he did. What he was trying to do—and I don’t think it came across—he thought he was doing it but as being a member of the audience, I didn’t think he did it, was trying to emphasize his strong personal relationship with Mr. Brezhnev and it not come across that way to me at all . . . And he is quite upset about it because he did not intend it to be that way.” Dobrynin replied: “General, I would like to say only one private observation . . . they [Soviet leadership] are very angry because they consider that you created all these things by reasons we don’t know—we don’t want to discuss it—but artificial crisis, why? And when you compare it with the even Cuban crisis, it is really—excuse me—but it is going beyond any comparison.” Dobrynin also objected to not being informed in advance of the U.S. decision to move to a military alert, having learned of the decision on the radio, and stated that the crisis would damage relations between Washington and Moscow. “I’m telling you without anger, without specific emotions, but I’m really feel sorry about this episode because it damaged very much of what was done, by what reason we don’t know really. It was so good trip of Henry to Moscow. Brezhnev spend with him so many hours that the President never spends with Gromyko, by the way. And it looked so it was quite all right. But then he created this [unclear] crisis that you are real and we are just weaker partners standing looking against braver United States. Really, we have our people too around Moscow.” Haig replied: “Well, Mr. Ambassador, that worries me, I don’t think it’s a reflection of the attitudes here at all.” (Kissinger, Crisis, pp. 384–387)